A prominent voice of political dissent in Kyrgyzstan was silenced today when opposition journalist Gennady Pavlyuk died from injuries sustained when he fell from a high-rise building in Kazakhstan.
Investigators are treating his death as a murder.
Pavlyuk's body was discovered outside an apartment block in Almaty on December 16 with multiple injuries, including a cracked skull and broken ribs. His feet and hands were bound behind his back with duct tape.
Pavlyuk worked for several newspapers in Kyrgyzstan, including as editor in chief of the Bishkek edition of the Russian weekly "Argumenty i fakty" and for the Russian "Komsomolskaya Pravda v Kirgizii." Pavlyuk, an ethnic Russian, often wrote under his Kyrgyz penname, Ibragim Rustamek.
The 51-year-old never regained consciousness following the attack, remaining in a coma in an Almaty hospital until his death.Attack On Press Freedom
Supporters have described Pavlyuk's murder as an attack on press freedom and follows a spate of violent incidents against Kyrgyz journalists and civil society representatives this year.
His work as an opposition supporter and outspoken critic of the Kyrgyz government has led to speculation that his death was related to his work.
He was reportedly planning to launch an online publication called atameken.kg, the same name as the Kyrgyz opposition party Ata-Meken.
Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebaev has reportedly said he held a meeting with Pavlyuk earlier this month and that the "plan to set up the publication was in place."
However, Tekebaev insists that atameken.kg was going to be an independent, "patriotic" website, not an official party newspaper as some media have reported.
"I think this is a politically motivated crime," he said on December 21. "It's yet another attack in order to restrict freedom of speech in Kyrgyzstan."
“During the past several months," Tekebaev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Pavlyuk "published several articles and interviews in which he criticized the current Kyrgyz authorities, explaining the real meaning of their newly initiated reforms." Lured Away?
Police are reportedly considering Pavlyuk's "professional activities" among the possible motives for the crime, although it remains unclear what brought the journalist to Kazakhstan.
Tekebaev suggests that Pavlyuk "was possibly lured away to the neighboring country to eliminate him there."
The Kyrgyz government has come under increased criticism following a number of attacks on journalists and political activists this year.
Ilim Karypbekov, chief spokesman for the Kyrgyz president's secretariat, acknowledged the problem during an interview with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service today.
"You are right. Recently, attacks on journalists, the use of force against them in the Kyrgyz Republic have increased," Karypbekov said. "It's a very sad thing, but if we look at [police actions], they are trying hard to investigate these cases. And even though we can't say they are always successful, they are trying."
The attack on Pavlyuk marked the third incident involving journalists working in Kyrgyzstan in December alone.
Aleksandr Evgrafov, a correspondent for Russia's Rosbalt news agency in Bishkek, was beaten up in the Kyrgyz capital earlier this month.
Days later, an envelope carrying a threatening message and a shell from a Kalashnikov was sent to the “Osh Sami” newspaper in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh.
The parliament's Social Democratic faction said on December 21 that at least 60 attacks on journalists have taken place in the country since 2006.
Independent journalists Alisher Saipov and Almaz Tashiev were murdered in 2007 and 2009, respectively.
At least six journalists have left the country over the past three years and sought political asylum abroad because they said they feared for their lives.