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Kyrgyzstan: Publisher Undaunted By Closure Of 'Moya Stolitsa'

The independent Kyrgyz newspaper "Moya Stolitsa" (My Capital)" closed this month after the owner acknowledged that court fines have left the publication bankrupt. But Aleksandr Kim is not giving up. He is starting up a new opposition paper.

Prague, 23 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- People in Kyrgyzstan have different opinions about Aleksandr Kim. But the one thing they never say about the opposition newspaperman is that he surrenders easily.

Kim's newspaper "Moya Stolitsa" (My Capital) closed on 11 June. The reason cited for the closure was bankruptcy. In a country where the average monthly wage is about $20, Kim was facing some $90,000 in damages and fines from 31 court cases "Moya Stolitsa" has faced over the last two years.

But Kim is not looking to retire from the publishing business. Talking about the closure of "Moya Stolitsa," he was already looking ahead to his next venture:

"Yes, we announced that it would be the last issue of 'Moya Stolitsa' and that we were going to start publishing 'Advokat.' We don't know for sure yet if it is going to be published. In accordance with the law, they have to let us print it, if they obey the law."

As Kim tries to put his latest paper, called "Advokat" (Lawyer), into production, the closure of his previous paper has been taken up by the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), a nonprofit group that monitors violations of press freedom worldwide.

Last week, RSF Secretary-General Robert Menard issued a statement about the "Moya Stolitsa" case saying, "No one should be fooled by the pseudolegal methods used: it was a clear case of censorship in a country that poses as the 'good student' of Central Asia with regard to press freedom."

Some of the cases against Kim and "Moya Stolitsa" include a libel suit filed by Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev over an article accusing him of embezzling public health funds. A Bishkek court fined the newspaper $11,200.

The court levied a fine of another $11,200 for a series of articles alleging malfeasance on the part of high-ranking aides to President Askar Akaev.

Akaev's son-in-law, Adil Togonbaev, sued "Moya Stolitsa" over an article accusing his fuel company of tax fraud. He won the case. The fine? Another $11,200.

Kim told RFE/RL it was impossible to salvage his paper once it became the target of senior government officials: "It turned out that resolving these [lawsuits] was impossible without the political will of President [Askar Akaev] himself, because a lot of the economic problems [in the country] are mixed up with the businesses of his family members."

Akaev's press secretary, Abdil Segizbaev, said matters of the court are beyond the influence of the president or any government officials, despite the belief of Kim and others that cases against opposition media are politically motivated.

"In many cases, when court procedures start [against independent media outlets], some people say that this was because of the impact of the authorities, or the authorities had a role in the process," Segizbaev said. "I would never agree with such accusations. If we live in a democratic country, we must respect the verdict of the court."

But groups like RSF say Kyrgyz courts are little more than the instrument of the government. Most, if not all, of Kyrgyz opposition media have had their day in court. Many have been ordered closed, but -- like "Moya Stolitsa" and "Advokat" -- have found ways to eventually resurface.

The opposition newspaper "Kyrgyz Ordo" was closed down in January after a Bishkek court found the paper guilty of insulting a customs official. The paper's staff found a temporary savior in Zamira Sydykova, the editor in chief of the opposition newspaper "Res Publika," who published editions of "Kyrgyz Ordo" from March to May this year.

Sydykova -- the first journalist jailed in independent Kyrgyzstan for articles she either wrote or published -- said the state used financial pressure to force her to give up the "Kyrgyz Ordo" project:

"[Several issues] of "Kyrgyz Ordo" were published with our [newspaper's] help. But after we published nine issues, [the authorities] put pressure on us, saying 'you cannot hire [the staff] until the 'Kyrgyz Ordo' newspaper pays money [to the plaintiff] in accordance with the court verdict.' That is why we stopped publishing 'Kyrgyz Ordo.'"

It remains to be seen whether Kim's "Advokat" project will follow suit and be forced out of business. But chances are that even then, Kim would not give up. He has already become accustomed to reinventing his paper. Before "Moya Stolitsa," he had another opposition newspaper, "Vecherny Bishkek" (Evening Bishkek).

That paper's editorial board in 2001 took control of the publication away from Kim. It continues to come out under the same name, but with a strong progovernment bias. Kim, undaunted, went on to create "My Capital," and now, "Lawyer."

(Tynchtykbek Tchoroev of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)