Kyrgyz authorities on Wednesday blocked access to the website of the local branch of Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) after the broadcast of a video on the border dispute with Tajikistan which, according to the Kyrgyz Ministry of Culture, contains false information and contradicts the national interest.
The video, produced by the local branch of RFE/RL known as Azattyk, “contains elements of hate speech” and contains “unconfirmed information about an alleged attack by the Kyrgyz side against Tajikistan”, according to a press release issued by the Ministry of Culture. .
The suspension was imposed in “response to unreliable publications in the country’s information sphere, contrary to the national interests of the Kyrgyz Republic”, and will last for two months, he added.
The ministry said it sent two letters asking Azattyk to remove the video and protect the public from inaccurate information on the web. The outlet ignored the first letter, according to the ministry, and responded to the second, saying Azattyk was “taking appropriate action and performing technical work to remove the specified post from its platform.”
But because the video was not removed from the YouTube channel of the “Current Time” television channel produced by RFE/RL, the ministry decided to suspend Azattyk’s website for a period of two months by the through web hosting services, Internet service providers and telecommunications operators.
RFE/RL chairman Jamie Fly said Radio Liberty takes its commitment to balanced coverage seriously.
“We have reviewed the content of this video and found no violations of our standards. We will not succumb to pressure to remove balanced content from our sites, either from the Kremlin or the government of Kyrgyzstan,” he said. -he declares.
The last time Azattyk’s website was blocked was in February 2010 – two months before the uprising that toppled then-president Kurmanbek Bakiev.
The current suspension has been criticized by activists, lawyers and social media users.
Lawyer Akmat Alagushev believes the decision is illegal because the same institution that complained about the video also decided on the suspension.
“So it turns out that the ministry itself filed a complaint and looked into it itself,” Alagushev said.
Lawyer Saniya Toktogazieva echoed her colleague’s arguments.
“Can you imagine that the Ministry of Culture itself filed a complaint and then suspended the site itself. What kind of chaos is this? she asked in a Facebook post.
She claimed that the actions of Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Culture regarding Azattyk do not hold water and described them as “absolutely incompetent, illegal and outrageous arbitrariness!” »
Azattyk’s website has already been blocked by several internet service providers in Kyrgyzstan, but on the day of the ministry’s decision, the outlet issued instructions on how readers can continue to access the site at using a VPN and their app.
The Culture Ministry based its decision on the Misinformation Protection Act, which came into force in August last year and prohibits the publication of any false information.
If the false information is not removed after a complaint is filed by anyone, the outlet can be banned for two months.
The non-governmental sector called the law a restriction on freedom of expression, and activist and former judge Klara Sooronkulova noted that it served the authorities, not the citizens.
“If any information discredits the dignity or honor of a person, then to solve the problem, the person can appeal to the courts,” says Sooronkulova. “It’s the only mechanism that should be used. But by this law, this work is transferred to an authorized body without litigation. Either way, everything should be enforced by a court order. In court, the parties must present their arguments on an equal footing.
Other activists and journalists also criticized the law last month, saying it violated the country’s constitution and was approved despite objections from media pundits who said the legislation does not define no specific criteria or methodology, nor any mechanism or procedure by which the information is recognized as false.