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Kyrgyz Officials Impound TV Station Property Owned By Opposition Politician Babanov


Officials Raid Kyrgyz TV Station
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BISHKEK -- Court officers in Kyrgyzstan have raided the independent television station NTS, which is owned by opposition politician Omurbek Babanov.

NTS said court executors and police officers arrived in the afternoon on December 19 with what they said was a court ruling allowing them to impound the station's property.

Police cordoned off the area around the building in the capital, Bishkek, where the TV station is based and were not allowing people to enter.

Video on the station's Facebook page showed police officials inside the station explaining the situation to employees, several of whom were arguing with them.

"We are still researching the document issued by the interdistrict court in Bishkek, which says all our properties, assets, equipment, and everything else must be seized," NTS TV Director-General Jainak Usen said at a news conference.

"We asked for time until 11 a.m. on Wednesday [December 20]. Right now we can say openly that it is a very clear attempt to attack press freedom and to shut down the leading independent TV channel in Kyrgyzstan," he added.

NTS TV, which broadcasts countrywide and is the largest private TV station in Kyrgyzstan, remained on the air during the incident and court officials said they were present to calculate and register all property and equipment at the station and did not intend to interrupt broadcasting.

The Prosecutor-General's Office, the Interior Ministry, and the State Committee for National Security told RFE/RL they had no information about NTS's property being impounded.

Supreme Court officials told RFE/RL they were seeking to find the reason for the actions taken at the TV station.

Usen said that Grexton Capital Ltd and Ayant LLC were the applicants of the seizure application, and that before the December 19 action, "we did not receive any claims from the two companies, either in the form of statements of claim, or in the form of notices that there are any claims to our organization."

"It said that the NTS is a third party," he said. "One reason [for the seizure] is to close NTS."

Usen said NTS will challenge the court ruling.

A spokesman for Grexton Capital told reporters that the procedures for inventorying NTS’s assets "are not intended to interfere with broadcasting at all."

"The court executors will do their job -- describe the equipment -- and broadcasting will continue. To say that broadcasting will be terminated is simply an initiative of the NTS staff to create a sensation," the woman, who refused to introduce herself to journalists, said.

NTS is owned by Babanov, a successful businessman who finished second in the October 15 presidential election but left the country after an investigation was launched into charges he incited ethnic hatred while campaigning for the election.

Babanov's current whereabouts is unknown.

NTS's branch radio station, Sanjyra, went off the air in November after Kyrgyz authorities refused to extend its license.

The move comes four months after a district court in Bishkek ruled that the digital private television channel Sentyabr (September), which was known for its criticism of President Almazbek Atambaev, must stop operations both online and on air because it broadcast "extremist" content.

Atambaev was succeeded by Sooronbai Jeenbekov, his protege and a former prime minister, who took office on November 24 after winning the presidential election in October. Atambaev, who was barred by the constitution to run for a second term, did not seek reelection.

The station remains off the air, but company officials launched a new Internet TV channel called Jalbyrak (Leaf) and is currently broadcasting online.

Also on December 19, the European Union and Kyrgyzstan launched negotiations on a new bilateral agreement.

The EU announced that foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini and Luc Devigne, the director of a department overseeing ties with Central Asian countries and others in the region, held talks with Kyrgyz Deputy Foreign Minister Emil Kaikiev.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service is a contributor to the NTS channel and other independent media in Kyrgyzstan.

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