Authorities in Kyrgyzstan blocked access to the website of local Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) on Wednesday after the outlet broadcast a video about clashes on the border with Tajikistan, which the Kyrgyz culture ministry claimed contained fake news and was against the national interest.
Press release Produced by a local RFE/RL affiliate called Azattyk, the video “contains elements of hate speech” and contains “unverified information about the Kyrgyz side’s alleged attack on Tajikistan”, released by the Ministry of Culture.
It added that the suspension was “in response to unreliable publications in the country’s information field, contrary to the national interests of the Kyrgyz Republic” and would last for two months.
The ministry said it had issued two letters asking Azatic to remove the video and protect the public from inaccurate information online. According to the ministry, the outlet ignored the first letter and replied to the second letter, saying Azattyk was “taking appropriate measures and carrying out technical work to remove designated publications from its platform.”
But since the video was not removed from the YouTube channel of the TV channel “Current Time” produced by RFE/RL, the ministry decided to suspend Azattyk’s website for two months through web hosting services, internet providers and telecom operators.
RFE/RL Jamie Fly President commented that Radio Liberty takes its commitment to balanced coverage seriously.
“We have reviewed the content of this video and found that it did not violate our standards. We will not bow to pressure to remove balanced content from our website, whether from the Kremlin or the Kyrgyz government,” he said.
Azattyk’s website was last blocked in February 2010—two months before the uprising that overthrew then-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
The current suspension has been criticized by activists, lawyers and social media users.
Lawyer Akmat Alagushev argued that the decision was illegal because the same agency that complained about the video also decided to suspend it.
“So, it turns out that the ministry itself filed a complaint and considered it,” Aragoshev said.
Lawyer Saniya Toktogazieva echoed her colleague’s arguments.
“Can you imagine that the Ministry of Culture made a complaint on its own and then suspended the website itself. What kind of mess is this?” she asked in a Facebook post.
She claimed the Kyrgyz Ministry of Culture’s actions against Azatik were untenable and called it “absolutely incompetent, illegal, heinous and arbitrary!”
Azattyk’s website has been blocked by several internet providers in Kyrgyzstan, but on the day the ministry’s decision was made, the media published instructions on how readers can continue to use the VPN and its app to access the site.
The Ministry of Culture’s decision is based on the Protection of False Information Act, which came into effect in August last year, which prohibits the publication of any false information.
If the false information is not removed after anyone complains, the outlet can be banned for two months.
The NGO sector called the law a restriction on freedom of speech and activists, and former judge Clara Sorenkulova pointed out that it served the authorities, not the citizens.
“If a certain piece of information harms a person’s dignity or honor, then in order to resolve the issue, that person can appeal to the court,” Sooronkulova said. “This is the only mechanism that should be used. But under this law, the work can be transferred to an authorized body without litigation. In any case, everything should be enforced by a court decision. In court, the parties must present on an equal footing. their arguments.”
Other activists and journalists also criticized the law last month, saying it contradicted the country’s constitution and was approved despite objections from media experts who claim the legislation does not define any precise criteria or methods, nor does it Definition information is considered wrong.