OSCE, RSF call on Kyrgyzstan to allow opposition TV channel resume broadcasting

BISHKEK (TCA) — The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, on August 14 expressed his concern over the closure of the TV channel Aprel in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and called for respect for diversity in the media in the Central Asian country.

Aprel is an opposition TV channel owned by former President Almazbek Atambayev, who surrendered to security forces on August 8 following a deadly two-day standoff at his residence near Bishkek.

On August 9, the TV channel Aprel was shut down after security forces sealed off the office’s headquarters in Bishkek, as part of a security operation. The TV channel’s journalists have nonetheless managed to continue broadcasting on the Internet.

“I am concerned by the seizure of assets of the TV channel Aprel and the suspension of its operations,” the OSCE Representative said. “While I am fully aware of the exceptional circumstances under which this decision was taken, I call on the relevant authorities to review this decision. Freedom of the media and media diversity should be preserved even in difficult situations.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on August 13 it regards the closure of Aprel TV as a press freedom violation and calls on the authorities to allow it to resume broadcasting.

The authorities claim that Aprel TV’s closure was just one of a series of measures taken to freeze the assets of Atambayev, who was arrested on 8 August on corruption charges. The culture ministry insists that the TV channel’s closure has nothing to do with its journalistic content or its criticism of the current government.

But Aprel TV points out that it had been unable to broadcast by satellite since 7 August, when its signal was disconnected while it was providing live coverage of an initial, unsuccessful attempt to arrest the former president.

“The investigation into Almazbek Atambayev’s assets cannot be used to justify a violation of press freedom of this kind, especially as Aprel TV is not accused of breaking the law,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We urge the authorities to rescind this disproportionate measure and to protect media pluralism.”

A joint statement by a dozen of Kyrgyz associations, media outlets and experts has described the closure as a “fatal error,” pointing out that “the ability to read or listen to news from any source whatsoever” was one of the leading gains of the 2005 and 2010 revolutions. Kyrgyz media pluralism “has always distinguished this country from its neighbours and has given it a higher ranking in international indexes than the rest of Central Asia,” the statement added.