Ban Ki-moon 'troubled' by crackdown on freedom of media in Kyrgyzstan

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday said he was "troubled" by a crackdown on independent media in Kyrgyzstan and urged officials in the Central Asian state to respect people's basic rights.

Ban's tour of Central Asia is being watched closely for how strongly he pushes human rights issues in the vast Muslim region wedged between Russia, China, Iran and Afghanistan.

Advocacy groups have accused the West of putting oil and security above democracy in its contacts with Central Asia, a region lying on vast energy reserves and serving as a transit route for supplies headed for Nato-led troops in Afghanistan.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Just days before Ban's visit, Kyrgyz police seized equipment in a raid on a local television channel, effectively taking it off the air in what the opposition said was an attack on press freedom.

On the sidelines of Ban's closed-door meeting with foreign minister Kadyrbek Sarbayev, a senior UN official said the UN chief had particularly stressed he was "troubled" by steps taken by the authorities to limit independent reporting. The UN official quoted Ban as telling Sarbayev: "How do I answer such questions from the media and how do you answer the world?"

As talks were under way, dozens of activists rallied outside the UN office in the capital Bishkek, waving banners saying "Reporters under threat" and shouting "Freedom to journalists".

Two prominent journalists were killed in the region late last year. Several independent media websites and radio stations have not been accessible in Kyrgyzstan since early March. "We are deeply disturbed by the actions of Kyrgyz authorities to systematically unplug their citizens from independent and opposition news sources," the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

Although Ban is likely to stick to diplomatic language during his tour, his visit has emboldened local human rights defenders to speak up about problems in Central Asia.

"We want Ban Ki-moon to start paying attention to what is happening here, to the fact that human rights are being violated here and that Kyrgyzstan uses repression against its own people," said Asiya Sasykbayeva, an activist at the rally. "There is no media freedom in this country. There is no alternative information. Dissent is being suppressed."

Ban said on Friday he had won human rights concessions from leaders in Turkmenistan, another Central Asian nation with a history of autocratic government.

Few of Kyrgyzstan's 5 million people have benefited from massive foreign investment in gold mining and other industries since the collapse of the Soviet Union.