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Kyrgyzstan Accused Of Punishing Reporters, Fearing Kazakh Backlash Over IS Video


A screen grab from "Race Toward Good," a video released by the Islamic State militant group showing Kazakh nationals, including children, in training in Syria

A screen grab from "Race Toward Good," a video released by the Islamic State militant group showing Kazakh nationals, including children, in training in Syria

The co-founder of a Kyrgyzstan news portal that published a video showing Kazakh children being trained by the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Syria has slammed the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry after he was asked to remove the report.

Bektur Iskender of the Kloop.kg news website said that the Kyrgyz government was punishing Kyrgyz citizens in order to appease Kazakhstan.

Iskender’s comments came after Kyrgyzstan’s Interior Ministry issued a press release on November 25, criticizing the media for publishing material from the video. While it did not mention Kloop.kg by name, the ministry said it had sent a letter to “the editors of one of Bishkek’s news agencies” asking him to “remove material about Kazakh children trained in an Islamic State camp.”

The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry also warned that it had sent material regarding the Islamic State video to the prosecutor-general.

The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry’s comments came after Kazakhstan said it was moving to ban distribution of the Islamic State video, stating that its dissemination was illegal.

In recent months, Kyrgyzstan has increasingly expressed its concerns about the domestic threat posed by the influence of Islamic State ideology, and about Kyrgyz citizens traveling to Syria and Iraq to fight with Islamic State.

On November 26, an official representative of Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security, Rakhat Sulaymanov, said that eight Kyrgyz nationals have been killed in Syria and that there were around 150 Kyrgyz citizens fighting in Syria.

However, while these concerns reflect a genuine threat, there are signs that the Kyrgyz government has to some extent used the “IS threat” as a “useful enemy” to impose tighter controls on religious freedoms.

The move to insist that Kyrgyz news outlets remove the IS video about Kazakh nationals could also be seen as a move to impose more control over journalists. A report earlier this year by Freedom House noted that the government occasionally pressures outlets regarding the coverage of certain subjects.

In its statement, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry argued that the Internet and the media were essential in helping to spread the extremist ideology of Islamic State and other groups.

“Any terrorist activity in modern conditions, whatever slogans it hides behind, is meaningless without radio and TV, without the Internet and the mass media and their ability to instantly spread information around the world about a terrorist act, or to intentionally or unintentionally sow panic among people,” the statement said, noting that “media activities in our democratic society are governed by a number of regulations and guidelines -- these are the principles of freedom of speech, reliability and objectivity, but there are also the principles of journalists’ social responsibility, respect for public interest, and universal values.”

Kloop.kg co-founder Iskender said that the Interior Ministry statement showed the ministry’s “impotence in the fight against terrorism, if the only way to react to the information that emerged is to try to deal with the media.”

“This press release shows how our Interior Ministry fears backlash from Kazakhstan and because of that it is prepared to punish any number of its citizens, just so that our northern neighbor won’t be offended,” Iskender said.

Iskender added that the ministry was only pretending to act instead of trying to find a real solution to the problem of terrorism.

“I’m really sad that we did not get a press release about how the Interior Ministry is preventing Kyrgyz children being sent to Syria,” Iskender added.

Iskender said he had also refused a request by the Kazakh authorities to remove the material, saying that his article was neutral and did not promote terrorism.

“Dissemination of information about the activities of terrorist groups is not a violation of any international law,” Iskender said. “Otherwise, all the world’s media covering the activities of the Islamic State group would have been subjected to massive persecution long ago. But this has not happened.”

As of November 26, Kloop.kg’s article about the video, which includes stills from the footage and a link to the video itself via the Mail Online website, remains online. However, the website has been blocked in Kazakhstan.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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