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Freedom of speech is at threat: Media experts on harassment of journalists

The Media Policy Institute issued an emergency appeal.

It says that the media community of Kyrgyzstan expresses its extreme concern at the new massive threat to press freedom in connection with the harassment of Kyrgyz journalists and activists on the Internet.

We believe that such actions are aimed at drowning out the alternative opinion in the country and seriously undermine our democracy.

From the appeal by Media Policy Institute

The appeal also states that over the past year, more and more journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan have been subjected to massive online attacks with threats of violence, such attacks are especially frequent against women-journalists.

«As the experience of other countries shows, this form of persecution can be either ordinary «hating» (a feeling of hatred towards any person), or a real invasion of paid «armies of trolls», in which online mercenaries affiliated with political and government structures take part. Online threats of violence can often escalate into threats to the physical safety of journalists. Therefore, online attacks often have and are often accompanied by similar consequences to attacks on the street. Therefore, we take them seriously as a real threat to freedom of expression,» the appeal says.

Media experts remind that the reason for online attacks on journalists in Kyrgyzstan in 2019 was their investigation into corruption at the Kyrgyz Customs. In September this year, online attacks on journalists continued — now due to the upcoming parliamentary elections and due to critical materials about parties and their leaders.

Harassment of Kyrgyz journalists and activists on the Internet has become even more massive and aggressive now, including threats of physical violence and attacks. According to media representatives, the reason for attacks against journalists now is criticism of the new version of the Constitution or informing the public about the procedural violations committed regarding the process of amending the Constitution.

«These days, journalist Kanyshai Mamyrkulova, Aizada Kasmalieva, Nazira Aitbekova, presidential candidate Klara Sooronkulova, lawyer Saniya Toktogazieva and others were subjected to massive online prosecution for criticizing the new version of the Constitution. Journalists and activists are exposed to personal threats, intimidation, insults, and discrediting so that they stop talking freely about the events taking place in the country and express their opinion,» the appeal stresses.

Media experts believe that individual politicians play an incentive role in persecution of journalists on the Internet: either directly provoking or not condemning such attacks, and thereby contributing to the creation of a general atmosphere of impunity.

«In this regard, we urge political leaders not only to refrain from insulting journalists and other citizens who legitimately exercise their constitutional rights and express their opinions, but also publicly and unconditionally condemn such online threats and attacks on journalists and activists from side of their supporters. We believe that all political forces in order to build a truly rule-of-law state that observes universally recognized principles of human rights must strictly follow the requirements of the Constitution, the norms of international law and provide an opportunity for all citizens to freely express their views on political processes in the country, within the framework of respect for the rights of others,» representatives of the media community say.

Law enforcement agencies should be involved in investigation of cases of online attacks on journalists.

Earlier, unknown persons came to the headquarters of Ata Meken party in Bishkek and made a scandal there. They demanded from the founder of the political association, Omurbek Tekebayev, to apologize to the people. The members of the party turned to the police with a statement.

Users who criticize the amendments to the Constitution are massively insulted by trolls and fake accounts on the social media.