The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is calling on Kyrgyz authorities to investigate the harassment of journalists working for independent outlets while they were covering the country’s nationwide constitutional referendum on April 11.
Police detained at least four journalists covering voting in the southern city of Osh and in the capital, Bishkek, while election onlookers attacked at least one reporter in Osh, the New York-based media freedom watchdog said in a statement on April 13.
Kyrgyz authorities must investigate the police detentions and ensure that “all members of the press can cover events of national significance freely and safely,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator.
“If Kyrgyzstan’s elections are to be seen as free, fair, and legitimate, journalists must be able to cover them freely and without fear of detention and harassment,” she said.
In Osh, a group of people confronted two correspondents for the independent news website Kloop, Bekmyrza Isakov and Aliyma Alymova, while they were trying to interview a group of voters at a polling station, according to CPJ.
It cited news reports and Ayzirek Almazbekova, coordinator of Kloop’s election-monitoring program, as saying that the group called the journalists “traitors,” with one woman pushing Isakov, striking him in the arm, and taking his phone.
When Isakov took out a second cell phone to film the altercation, a man in the group stole it as well, along with the phone of a volunteer election monitor who was assisting the Kloop team.
Police officers who were present at the scene only intervened after the woman who struck Isakov refused to return the phones except at a police station, according to reports, which said that the two journalists, the election monitor, and the woman were taken to a police station for questioning.
The woman filed a complaint accusing the journalists of “hooliganism”; the journalists filed a countercomplaint, Almazbekova said.
Police later returned the two cell phones to the journalists, who were released without charge. However, police kept the election monitor’s phone.
Police in Osh also detained a reporter with the independent news website Eldik.media, Ayarbek Joldoshbaev, while he was filming at another polling station, according to news reports and an Eldik.media representative.
Police told Joldoshbaev that he did not have permission from the polling station’s chairman to film there and held the journalist for about an hour at a police station.
Authorities are continuing to investigate the case, according to Eldik.media.
In the capital, Bishkek, a Kloop reporter was detained while she was filming at a polling station, according to Almazbekova.
She said the journalist, Aijan Avazbekova, was held for at least two hours and was released after giving a statement.
In both Joldoshbayev and Avazbekova’s detentions, police reportedly claimed that the journalists lacked the necessary permission to film.
But under Kyrgyz laws, media workers have the right to film within polling stations during elections and referendums, CPJ said.