Kyrgyzstan Allows Local RFE/RL Service to Resume Work

A Kyrgyz court approved an agreement on Wednesday that allows the local branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) to resume its work in the country, nine months after the government shut it down due to a video officials disliked.

Later that month, the Kyrgyz National Security Agency froze Azattyk’s bank account, citing money laundering regulations. In April, the Leninsky district court in Bishkek ruled in favor of the Ministry of Culture and permanently shut down Azattyk as a media organization in Kyrgyzstan.

Now, an agreement has been reached after RFE/RL informed Kyrgyzstan that the "disputed video is no longer available on RFE/RL websites" due to a new policy announced by the media outlet, which states that content will no longer be preserved indefinitely. It is unclear whether any other Azattyk videos have become unavailable.

On Wednesday, the Kyrgyz president’s press secretary, Erbol Sultanbayev, stated that RFE/RL’s new CEO, Jeffrey Gedmin, had informed the president that Azattyk had removed the video from all its platforms.

Sultanbayev noted that the same solution had been proposed to Gedmin’s predecessor at RFE/RL during a meeting with the Kyrgyz president in February of this year, but they had failed to reach an agreement at that time.

"This once again demonstrates that no one in the country is going to infringe on freedom of speech or discriminate against any media," Sultanbayev said. "At the same time, I want to urge and remind everyone to strictly observe national legislation and not to disseminate false information."

Local activists and journalists celebrated the agreement and congratulated each other on what many believe is a victory.

"The authorities realized that they messed up— the editorial office is recruiting new employees, and the number of subscribers on social media is growing—and they decided to pull out. Well, that’s good too. Congratulations, colleagues!" wrote Dina Maslova, the head of the local outlet Kaktus Media.

However, not everyone sees this as a victory.

Anna Kapushenko, the editor-in-chief of OCCRP’s Kyrgyz partner Kloop, thinks RFE/RL’s deletion of the offending video is cause for serious concern.

"In fact, rather than being a victory for freedom of speech and a free media, this is a victory for the Kyrgyz authorities," she said. "It seems to me that this will not only lead to increased pressure from the authorities but also to self-censorship by journalists."

"It is very sad that journalists in Kyrgyzstan have allowed this act of censorship by the authorities to take place and are also happy about it and calling it a victory," concluded Kapushenko.