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Kyrgyzstan: Four Journalists Convicted For Criticizing State Company

By Narynbek Idinov and Bruce Pannie

Prague, 27 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Four journalists from the weekly Kyrgyz newspaper "Res Publica" were convicted in a district court in Bishkek last week. Two of them, Chief Editor Zamira Sydykova and correspondent Aleksandr Alyanchikov, were sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. They authored two articles - one in 1993, the other in 1996 - harshly criticizing the activity of Kyrgyzaltyn, the state gold company, and its president Dastan Sarygulov.

Another two journalists, editors Marina Sivasheva and Bektash Shamshiev, were barred from engaging in journalism for 18 months in a decision by the same court, though they were not the authors of the articles. All four journalists were accused of insulting and libeling Sarygulov in four articles, published between 1993-1996. The author of the two other articles was Yuri Glushkin, a former employee of Kyrgyzaltyn, who emigrated to Israel in 1996. He was not sued by Sarygulov. Bektash Shamshiev translated Alyanchikov's article from Russian into Kyrgyz, and Marina Sivasheva edited the copy.

Sarygulov came to court to demand its support for him as a manager of a state company. The journalists asked judge, Kuban Kyrgyzbayev, to invite to the trial former members of the parliamentary commission on gold issues, who investigated the situation in the gold industry in 1993-1994. The judge rejected this proposal. The journalists asked that linguistic specialists be invited to the trial to determine whether the words used in the articles could be considered defamatory. This request was also denied.

The journalists' lawyers, Yuri Maksimov and Sagynbek Ashyrbekov, said the articles were neither personally insulting, nor libelous, and that the trial was politically motivated. The public defender for the journalists, Ramazan Dyryldayev, said the trial, and other recent trials in Kyrgyzstan, were part of a Government campaign against independent journalists and press freedom. Dyryldayev is Chairman of the Human Rights committee of Kyrgyzstan, a former member of Parliament, and a former member of the parliamentarian commission on gold issues.

This was the third trial against opposition journalists in Bishkek this year. In February, the opposition "Kriminal" paper was closed. After the first edition, containing several articles with harsh criticism of the Government, the Justice Ministry sent a letter to the Uchkun state publishing house, demanding it stop printing the paper. The Parliamentary Commission on Media and Information denounced the action of the Ministry as illegal. The Justic Ministry then sued the paper. The paper was accused of insulting several members of the Government by printing unflattering nicknames commonly used by citizens. But the plaintiff was the Justice Ministry, not these members of Government.

Another trial against an opposition journalist is under way in Bishkek. A correspondent with the same "Res Publica" weekly, Yrysbek Omurzakov, was accused of insulting and libeling a Bishkek factory director. Omurzakov has been in detention since March.

This is not the first time in the courtroom for some of these journalists. In 1996, Omurzakov was accused of insulting President Askar Akayev and given a two-year suspended sentence. Zamira Sydykova, Chief Editor of "Res Publica," also was accused of insulting President Akayev and given an 18-month suspended sentence.

Amnesty International this month named all four journalists in this most recent trial (Zamira Sydykova, Aleksandr Alyanchikov, Bektash Shamshiev and Marina Sivasheva) as Prisoners of Conscience.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki and Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers have sent several letters to President Akayev, asking him to ensure Kyrgyzstan's judicial system conforms with democratic standards - but there has been no response. Presidential Press Secretary, Kanybek Imanaliev, told RFE/RL's correspondent in Bishkek last week that Akayev has no time to pay attention to such letters.

The New York-based Freedom House in its report released May 3, International Day of Press Freedom, excluded Kyrgyzstan from the group of "partly-free" countries, and placed it in the group of "not free." Previously, Kyrgyzstan was the only Central Asian state in the "partly-free" group.