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HRW: Kyrgyzstan Supreme Court upholds rulings that muzzle free speech

Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court dealt a heavy blow to freedom of speech today by upholding three defamation rulings punishing critics for apparently insulting the «honor and dignity» of the now former president, Almazbek Atambaev. The human rights organization Human Rights Watch stated concerning the lawsuits against Zanoza website.

«Ironically, President Atambaev just made a name for himself by being the first elected president in Central Asia to voluntarily step down from office last week at the end of his term. That comes following elections in October dubbed by international monitors as having «contributed to the strengthening of democratic institutions,» statement says.

According to the organization, these defamation lawsuits have exposed the weakness of Kyrgyzstan’s judiciary — a key democratic institution. The rulings also undermine a free press and freedom of speech — another important component of a functioning democracy. They will leave a stain on Atambaev’s record in office.

Kyrgyzstan’s international partners should take note — today’s Supreme Court rulings don’t bode well for democracy building either.

President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, whose campaign platform noted «the President should act as the guarantor of freedom of speech, media, and internet,» should indeed uphold the right to freedom of speech, and ensure that on his watch, no journalist, media outlet, or human rights defender is unjustly prosecuted for defamation on his behalf, human rights defenders stressed.