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New criminal legislation: Interests of journalists not taken into account

Presentation of drafts of the Criminal, Criminal Procedure, Criminal Execution and Penitentiary Codes has been completed in Bishkek.

The Independent Union of Journalists sent an open appeal to the Prosecutor General of Kyrgyzstan Kurmankul Zulushev.

Media representatives expressed concern that the interests of the country’s journalistic and media community were not taken into account when discussing the issue.

«Moreover, not a single representative of the country’s media community was invited to the working group on the development of new codes. Discussions of the working expert group took place behind closed doors, and the media representatives did not have an opportunity to contribute to the development of the draft codes,» the Independent Union of Journalists notes.

Article 10 of the current Constitution reads: «The mass media are guaranteed the right to receive information from state bodies and local self-government bodies, to disseminate them, and the right to freedom of expression. Censorship is not allowed in the Kyrgyz Republic. The media are free and operate in accordance with the law. Information security in the Kyrgyz Republic is protected by the state».

«As you know, the 1997 version of the Criminal Code contains an article that protects the interests of journalists. Article 151 of the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic established responsibility for obstructing the legitimate professional activities of a journalist. After the 2017 legal reform, this provision was transformed into the Code of Offences. The only article protecting the interests of journalists in the draft codes proposed by the working expert group is referred to the Code of Offenses. The sanctions under this article allow officials to avoid punishment in the form of deprivation of the right to occupy certain positions,» the appeal says.

The draft of the new Criminal Code also has a number of special norms that protect persons with a special status, as well as those who are subject to a certain risk due to their activities. These include law enforcement officials, members of the judiciary, medical workers and lawyers. However, the interests of journalists, who have recently been exposed to not less, if not hogher, risks, unfortunately, have not been taken into account. Meanwhile, practice shows that these are journalists who are increasingly being attacked, they are faced with obstruction of their activities, they are denied access to information.

As practice has shown, investigations by journalists are increasingly revealing corruption schemes, with the help of which crimes were committed with multimillion-dollar damage to the state.

Following the journalistic investigations, law enforcement agencies began their investigative, pre-trial proceedings and brought to justice a number of officials accused of corruption. This proves that journalistic activity requires special legislative criminal-legal protection from the state.

In connection with the mentioned above, in order to bring legislation in line with the current Constitution, as well as to protect freedom of speech and legal activities of journalists, as one of the constitutional principles of the rule of law, the Independent Union of Journalists and the country’s media community make the following proposals:

  • To return to the draft Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic the article on «Obstruction of professional, legal activities of a journalist»;
  • To expand the article taking into account all the requirements and threats of modern realities, in particular, add the notion of «gathering information», since most crimes against journalists occur at the stage of collecting the necessary information; it is also proposed to qualify non-provision of information to a journalist within the time frame established by law as an obstruction of legitimate professional activity;
  • To supplement the article with qualifying features, in particular, when preventing journalists from covering mass and other rallies during their investigation, since the journalist is at particular risk in such cases;
  • To return the sanction under the Article «Obstruction of the lawful professional activity of a journalist» in the amount of 200 to 300 calculated rates, as well as return the sanction against persons who use their official position in the form of a ban to hold a certain position or engage in certain activities;
  • If obstruction of a journalist’s lawful professional activity is associated with violence (not associated with causing grievous bodily harm) or the threat of violence, destruction of his or her property, it is proposed to interpret this as a particularly qualifying feature of the article and provide for a punishment in the form of imprisonment.

Workers of the media and the media sphere propose to present the article «Obstruction of the legitimate professional activities of a journalist» of the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic in the following form:

1. Obstruction of the lawful professional activity of a journalist by forcing him or her to disseminate or to refuse to provide and disseminate information is punishable by a fine in the amount of 200 to 300 calculated rates.

2. The same act, committed by a person using his or her official position, is punishable by a fine in the amount of 600 to 1,000 calculated rates, as well as deprivation of the right to hold certain positions or engage in certain activities for a period from one to two years.

3. Acts provided for in part 1 and part 2 of this article, coupled with holding of journalistic investigation, special reporting, coverage of rallies, marches or other events, shall entail a penalty in the form of a fine from 1,000 to 2,000 calculated rates, or imprisonment for a period of up to 3 years old.

4. The same act, combined with the use of violence that is not dangerous to life or health, or the threat of such violence, or with damage or destruction of property, entails a penalty of imprisonment from 3 to 5 years.

«We would like to believe that the public discussion of the codes will have a real basis and the working group will take into account the opinion of all the media, the fourth branch of government of the country and will introduce the only article in the Criminal Code that protects the rights of journalists,» the Independent Union of Journalists notes.

Earlier, the Prosecutor General of Kyrgyzstan Kurmankul Zulushev said that the Codes would be sent to the Parliament before June 7.

«There will be additions and changes before the Codes come to the committees. After it they will be submitted to parliamentary hearings, there will also be discussions. Everyone still has the opportunity to submit their proposals from today until the hearings in the Parliament,» he said.