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Kyrgyzstan: Ministry Annuls Registration Of New Media Outlets

Earlier this year, Kyrgyzstan's Justice Ministry registered 16 new print and broadcasting media sources. Last week, the ministry annulled all 16, citing a previously unannounced freeze on new media registrations. Two journalists who are known critics of the government filed charges this week against the ministry, saying it was the discovery of their publications among the new registered sources that prompted the annulment. RFE/RL's Bruce Pannier has the story.

Prague, 28 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- It is unusual to hear a government official anywhere in the world admitting to a mistake. In the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, it is especially rare. Which is why remarks by Kyrgyz Deputy Justice Minister Erkinbek Mamyrov, made this week to RFE/RL, seemed out of the ordinary:

"It is the fault of the ministry's employees, and -- one could say -- mine also."

Mamyrov was discussing the Justice Ministry's seemingly sudden decision late last week to annul the recent registrations of 16 Kyrgyz media outlets. The move took many by surprise. The Justice Ministry shrugged off complaints by explaining the new outlets were accidentally registered during a temporary freeze on new registrations. The freeze is meant to allow the ministry to re-register all existing media outlets in the country.

Mamyrov confirmed that all 16 outlets registered between April and June this year were done so in error. He blamed the mistake on the Justice Ministry's heavy workload.

"We have a lot of work to do in the ministry. We have more than 100 documents to check every day and we have to decide if they are legal or not, including those on media. We have to work on many problems, so there are mistakes."

Others are not so sure this is true. Two journalists -- Melis Eshimkanov and Aleksandr Kim -- have already filed suits against the Justice Ministry with the arbitration court in the capital Bishkek. Eshimkanov and Kim in the past both worked with independent newspapers that were often critical of the government and its officials. They contend the decision to annul the registrations was sparked by the ministry's sudden discovery that they were among those who were registering new media. In Kim's case, the decision came on the eve of the launch of his new paper, "My Capital City."

Eshimkanov and Kim are both influential journalists. Eshimkanov was the owner of "Asaba," which had the largest readership among newspapers in the Kyrgyz language. Kim was the chief editor of "Vecherny Bishkek," which had the largest circulation among Russian-language newspapers. Eshimkanov's paper went bankrupt earlier this year in part because of a series of lawsuits, some filed by government officials. Kim left "Vecherny Bishkek" in 1999 when a group of pro-government businessmen took control of the paper.

Eshimkanov tells RFE/RL it was not the Justice Ministry that was responsible for the annulment:

"The head of the presidential administration, Amanbek Karypkulov, found out the [new] paper 'Agim' belonged to former 'Asaba' journalists and ordered that its printing be prevented at all costs. I heard this from a very high-ranking government official who works on the sixth floor [where President Askar Akaev's office is located] of the government building."

Kabai Karabekov, the chairman of the parliament's committee on mass media and public organizations, condemned the Justice Ministry's decision. He told RFE/RL his committee sent a letter to the ministry asking for clarification. The ministry has yet to respond to that request.

Kyrgyz government spokesman Farid Niyazov said on 26 June the government has the right to annul any registration. The Justice Ministry now says the freeze on registration of new media will last longer then the originally announced deadline of 1 July -- possibly extending until autumn.

(Naryn Idinov of the Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)