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Crisis on Radio “Liberty” leads to restriction of freedom of expression in Central Asia

RadioSv

Dear Mr Kevin Klose,

We are concerned about the current situation at the Radio “Liberty” services, which broadcast to the countries of Central Asia.

The materials of the Kazakh and Turkmen services of RFE/RL duplicate the information contained in the government press. The time of broadcasting on short waves to Uzbekistan has been reduced by half; labour rights of the Kazakh and Tajik correspondents of RFE/RL are violated.

Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) – is a mass media outlet, whose mission is to be a channel for democratic values. However, cases of the violation of the rights of the employees and a step back from international standards of freedom of mass media, which we see in the activity of some of the Radio Liberty services, cause resentment among journalist and human rights community of Central Asia.

Authoritarian leaders in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are not going to give up their positions. In the beginning of May 2013 Rovshan Yazmukhamedov, an RFE/RL correspondent in Turkmenistan, was arrested. It is rather disturbing that at first the leadership of the editorial board suppressed the fact of his arrest. Only four days after the arrest, owing to the persistence of the employees who reminded the Director of the Turkmen service M. Tahir about the death of the journalist Muradova, the director dared to announce publicly that Yazmukhamedov was detained. Journalists’ right are being violated in Tajikistan as well. Recently, Abdukayum Kayumzod, an RFE/RL correspondent in Tajikistan, was refused an accreditation.

Attack on the rights of journalists is taking place in Tajikistan as well: Tajik correspondent of RFE/RL Abdukayum Kayumzod was refused accreditation. Despite the fact that Kayumzod has worked for 12 years in RFE/RL and had a permanent contract with the employer and support of the accreditation is a responsibility of the employer, the leadership of the Tajik service of the Radio unilaterally terminated the labour contract with Kayumzod and left him in limbo. Correspondent referred to court for protection of his labour and professional rights. This is not the first case: in 2012 Gulnora Ravshan, correspondent of the Uzbek service of RFE/RL covering Tajikistan was forced to leave the country with her underage children due to refusal of accreditation and personal threats to her. However, the leadership of the respective Radio service did not take effective measures to protect the rights of its correspondent.

In conjunction with the fact that the leadership of the Tajik RFE/RL service systematically violates the labour rights of journalists, six media organisations and one political party of Tajikistan decided to abstain from collaboration with the Tajik service of RFE/RL. The boycott will continue unless the correspondent of the service Abdukayum Kayumzod is reinstated in his former job via court decision.

Analysis of the materials of the Kazakh service of RFE/RL shows that the crisis in the editorial staff has achieved its highest point. Since 2008, it has been broadcasting mainly via Internet; currently the air broadcasting has entirely stopped. Initiators of the reform did not take into consideration the fact that in the remote districts of Kazakhstan and other countries of Central Asia there is no access to Internet and people experience power cuts. Internet services are not accessible for many people even in urban areas.

Materials of the Kazakh editorial board do not always reflect the situation in Kazakhstan accurately. They do not touch upon acute political topics and virtually duplicate the government press.

The Kazakh service of RFE/RL was actively collaborating with an Astana-based NGO “WikiBilim», an organisation, which administers the Kazakh language section of Wikipedia at the expense of the government. This looks like a cynical political promotion of the authoritarian government of Kazakhstan. Collaboration with the Astana-based NGO “WikiBilim” started right after the shooting of the peaceful demonstration in Zhanaozen (Western Kazakhstan) in December 2011. The Kazakh service of RFE/RL publishes materials agreeable to the authorities and then Wikipedia uses them as “reliable sources”.

The Kazakh editorial board routinely suppresses information, which is uncomfortable for the Kazakhstan authorities. Thus, it ignored the attempted kidnapping of an emigrant Ainur Kurbanov by the National Security Committee during the protest in Moscow in December 2012. However, the Kazakh RFE/RL service widely covers the official government events and creates a positive image of Nursultan Nazarbaev and his authoritarian regime.

At the same time leaders of the Kazakhstan opposition are discredited. The example is the recent interview with the public figure Bulat Atabaev (“Fear defeated by laughter” of 3 March 2013) and Karlygash Zhakiyanova (“Karlygash Zakiyanova. Interview from Bostom” of 6 May 2013).

Since 2010 a lot of materials have been published on the Kazakh service site propagating Kazakh radical nationalism and chauvinism, openly insulting Russians, Uzbeks, Uighurs and Chinese. For example, in the article «A Kazakh arrested in Uzbekistan has been convicted”. Uzbekistan is presented as a country where Kazakhs are imprisoned for being Kazakhs. Photos do not correspond to the text. Readers’ comments to this article contain outright insults towards Uzbeks although the moderator should not have allowed that. Thus, the editors are abusing the trust of the American leadership, which physically cannot review the content of the site.

This is not all. “New Liberty” says: “Promises of the President of the corporation Radio Liberty Steve Corn to conquer new audience turned into the appearance of the ugly gutter press, obscene, vulgar, and racist. Since August 2012, on the internet site of the Kazakh Radio service “Liberty” a new video project has been launched. At first glance, it looks like a satirical overview of clumsy amateur video records or faulty professional video clips, but in fact this is a humiliation of the readership of the site and morals. Executives of this video project are young Kazakh actors Nurmakhan Mukhauly, Nurjan Erkinuly, Abyl Esentai, Makhambet Beibitshilik base their creativity on obscenity, racism, homophobia, promotion of dirty sex and low quality gutter press”.

Mr Kevin Klose,

Developments at the Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) touch upon the interests of all audience of the radio: be it a lonely mother of a prisoner or a student or a correspondent of your radio working in the field.

Lately, fundamental rights of the citizens of Central Asia are being violated under the pretext of “global security”. However, this important problem is directly related to the human rights and liberties.

Access to reliable information is of critical importance to the audience of Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) to maintain its trust to the Western democracies and to the American democracy, in particular.

Therefore, we kindly and earnestly ask You:

- to create an independent commission to examine the situation at Kazakh, Tajik, Turkmen, and Uzbek services of Radio Liberty in order to objectively evaluate the extent of observance of the principles of freedom of expression, professional rights and journalist ethics, Charter of RFE/RL. It is necessary to find materials on the RFE/RL sites, which do not correspond to the said criteria, for which it is necessary to engage experts with the knowledge of relevant languages;

– to conduct objective investigation and find out why multiple complaints of the employees of the Kazakh service of RFE/RL against its director Edige Magauin and his deputy Galym Bokash also sent to the former President of RFE/RL Steven Korn, to BBG and to the permanent revision service of the Department of State have been ignored;

– to see to it that labour rights of the employees of RFE/RL are respected and to review the decisions on selective dismissal of a number of correspondents (Kazakh service: Saida Kalkulova, Nazira Darimbet, Sagat Batyrkhan, Ukulyai Bestai, Sultankhan Jussip; Tajik service: Abdukayum Kayumzod; Turkmen service: Nazar Khudaiberdy Jakhan, Guvanch Gere, Oguljamal Yazlieva, Murat Nurgeldy);

– to pay attention to the fact that Kazakh and Turkmen RFE/RL services frequently  duplicate unreliable information obtained from official governmental sources;

– to objectively evaluate the extent, to which the principles of the freedom of expression and journalist ethics are observed by the services broadcasting to Central Asia, whose main objective is to provide alternative information to the audience;

 

With respect,

Nadejda Atayeva, President, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, France;

Vyacheslav Mamedov, Chair, Non-governmental Organisation “Democratic Civil Union of Turkmenistan”;

Nouriddin Karshiboyev, Chairman, National Association of Independent Mass Media of Tajikistan (NANSMIT), Tajikistan;

Arif Yunus, Candidate of Science (PhD, History), Head of the Conflictology and Migration Department of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, Expert of the International Network of Ethnology Monitoring and Early Conflict Prevention, and of the Independent Research Centre on migration in CIS and the Baltic States; expert of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia;

Lyudmila Kozlovskaya, President, Open Dialogue Foundation, Poland;

Sergey Ignatyev, Representative in the USA, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia;

Dmitry Belomestnov, Representative in Russia, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia;

Dinara Khakimova, Representative in Sweden, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia;

Alisher Abidov, Representative in Norway, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia;

Leyla Yunus, Director, Institute of Peace and Democracy in Azerbaijan, Laureate of the International Theodore Hacker Prize for honesty and political courage;