Judicial harassment forces Bishkek newspaper to suspend publishing

    MONTREAL, July 3 /CNW Telbec/ - Cholpon Orozobekova, the editor of the
Biskhek-based newspaper De Facto, announced on 1 July that she is suspending
publication until 20 August at least because of harassment by the authorities.
The staff have found it increasingly difficult to bring out the newspaper's
two weekly issues since it was charged on 14 June under article 329 of the
criminal code with "deliberately publishing false information."
    The newspaper has been searched twice, financial documents have been
seized, and its assets and its bank account have been frozen. Furthermore,
Orozobekova recently began getting anonymous phone calls warning that a
misfortune will befall her if she continues to edit the newspaper.
    "The decision to bring a criminal prosecution against the newspaper
instead of a civil suit, the freezing of its accounts, the threats received by
its editor and the speed with which the judicial authorities acted are all
disproportionate and suggest that real aim is to force De Facto to close,"
Reporters Without Borders said.
    "We expect the authorities to use the same diligence to identify and
punish the person or persons responsible for the threats against Orozobekova,"
the press freedom organisation added.
    De Facto's 12 June issue included a letter from reader Zamira Moldoeva
complaining about corruption in the Bishkek tax department and calling on
President Kurmanbek Bakiev to intervene. The next day, the head of the Bishkek
tax department, Taalaibek Dalbaev, filed a libel action, to which the
prosecutor's office responded by immediately opening a criminal investigation.
    After quickly concluding that Moldoeva did not exist, the prosecutor's
office obtained a warrant for the search of the newspaper's offices without
first questioning the staff or notifying them of the warrant. A court hearing
was held on 14 June, a Saturday, without any representative of the newspaper
attending. Orozobekova was sent a summons for 16 June.
    The newspaper was then raided a second time, its bank account and assets
were frozen and, despite donations from readers, it was able to bring out
subsequent issues only with great difficulty and tardily.
    Speaking at the Bishkek press club on 1 July, presidential spokesman
Nurlanbek Chakiev claimed to be a regular reader of De Facto and insisted that
the authorities had no intention of closing it down. But he accused it of
violating professional ethics.
    Orozobekova told the 24.kg news agency on 1 July that, despite all the
financial help, the newspaper would not be able to continue publishing for the
time being and that its staff has gone on holiday in the hope that subsequent
developments will allow it to resume operations at a later date.

For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4188, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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