Kyrgyzstan seeks to close US-funded radio station

Tuesday, Jan 24, 2023

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyzstan is seeking to shut down the local service of US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty over a report on last year´s fatal clashes with Tajikistan, the authorities said on Monday.

The culture ministry said it had filed a lawsuit to shut down award-winning Radio Azattyk, one of the main media outlets in the Central Asian country. The former Soviet republic enjoys relative freedom of speech compared to other countries in the region but rights groups have repeatedly denounced growing pressure on the media.

A representative of the culture ministry confirmed to AFP that a lawsuit had been filed. Earlier in the day, Azattyk said the radio station was in hot water over its refusal to remove a video about last year´s deadly clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in September, in which around 100 people died.

Azattyk has nearly two million subscribers on its Youtube channel. It regularly reports on the political opposition and investigates alleged corruption. The move to close down the station comes three months after the authorities blocked Radio Azattyk´s website and bank account.

Officials accuse the station of spreading “hate speech and unconfirmed information about an alleged attack by the Kyrgyz side on Tajikistan”. Last week, US senators Bob Menendez and Jim Risch wrote to Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov expressing their alarm over “the crackdown on independent media”.

“We are concerned the decisions to block Radio Azattyk websites indefinitely and freeze the service´s bank account jeopardize your country´s international reputation as a beacon of free speech in Central Asia,” said the letter, a copy of which was published on Friday.