A court in Russia-allied Kyrgyzstan on Thursday ordered the closure of the local branch of US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which criticised the “outrageous” ruling.
Award-winning Radio Azattyk is a prominent outlet in the Central Asian country that regularly reports on opposition groups and investigates alleged corruption.
A court in the capital Bishkek said in a statement that it had granted the culture ministry’s request to stop the outlet’s work.
“The decision of the court has not entered into force and can be appealed within thirty days,” the statement from Bishkek’s Lenin district court said.
In a statement carried by the Radio Azattyk, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said it would appeal the “outrageous decision”.
“Our history has shown us that when people want truthful information that is censored by their government, they will find ways to access it.”
Rights group Amnesty International also condemned the court ruling as “a major blow to freedom of expression in the country.
“The Kyrgyzstani authorities have taken a further step towards silencing critical coverage of events in the country and muzzling journalists,” said Marie Struthers, its eastern Europe and Central Asia director.
Media rights campaigners Reports Without Borders condemned the ruling as “a major new obstacle to press freedom” in Kyrgyzstan.
“These violations reflect a desire to establish a new hierarchy of ‘truth’ that puts government discourse above the law,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
– Russia’s advice –
In January, the culture ministry said it had filed a lawsuit to shutter the media organisation over its refusal to remove a video about clashes last year between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that left around 100 people dead.
The former Soviet republic enjoys relative freedom of speech compared to other countries in Central Asia, but rights groups have decried what they say is growing pressure on the press.
Unlike some ex-Soviet countries, Kyrgyzstan has retained close ties with Russia after President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Kyrgyz parliamentary speaker Nurlanbek Shakiev this week held talks with Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the State Duma, the Russian parliament’s lower house.
According to a statement released by the State Duma, Volodin told Shakiev that Moscow and Bishkek could swap notes on how to “counteract foreign interference.”
“Russia has adopted effective laws in this area,” the statement said.
Russia has launched an unprecedented crackdown on civil society groups and independent media, with most opposition figures and media workers jailed or exiled.
Public criticism of the Ukraine war is banned.
Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov is expected to be the only foreign leader to travel to Moscow for May 9 celebrations marking Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.