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TV stations shut down in Kyrgyzstan; prominent journalist held in Uzbekistan

(CPJ/IFEX) - New York, June 14, 2010 - The Committee to Protect Journalists is disturbed by reports that local television stations in the southern Kyrgyzstani city of Osh were ordered to cease transmission on Friday by the city government in the wake of interethnic violence in the region. Osh residents now have access only to the state television channel, KTR, and several Russian television channels, the independent news agency Zpress reported.

"We call on the Kyrgyzstani government to allow all television stations to resume broadcasting immediately," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "It is critical that the government does not censor independent journalists during this breaking story in the south of Kyrgyzstan."

According to local press reports, on Friday, the independent Osh television channels Osh TV and Mezon TV, and the recently nationalized, Russian-language channel Piramida, stopped broadcasting on the orders of the Osh city government, which did not publicly explain why it was shutting down the stations. Since the order to stop broadcasting, Mezon TV and Osh TV have both been vandalized, the independent regional news Web site Ferghana reported. The news Web site Vesti reported on Saturday that the regional television station in Jalal-Abad was in flames.

Kyrgyzstani official estimates put the death toll from ethnic clashes in Osh and Jalal-Abad, which have been raging since Friday, at 125. But according to the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), the count stands much higher; The New York Times reported today that an ICRC spokesperson put the estimate at more than 700.

International news reports say tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks have fled the two cities and crossed the border into Uzbekistan to escape the violence. What prompted the clashes remains unclear, but armed criminal gangs of men in their 20s have been attacking ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods in both cities, setting houses and stores on fire and shooting people trying to flee. The Kyrgyzstan interim government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, declared a curfew on Saturday, deployed troops to the region, and gave "shoot-to-kill" powers to security forces in the south, according to news reports.

In a separate incident, Uzbekistani police in the city of Andijan are holding a prominent independent journalist for a second day. The reporter, Aleksei Volosevich, who is based in the capital, Tashkent, had travelled to the border with Kyrgyzstan to report on the humanitarian crisis resulting from ongoing clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks in the Fergana Valley cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad. Volosevich, who was reporting for Ferghana, was detained when he tried to get to the Yor-Kishlok village in Uzbekistan, where Uzbek refugees from the clashes have been arriving from Kyrgyzstan. At around 7 p.m. yesterday, Volosevich was photographing buses transporting the refugees, Ferghana reported, and did not have his personal documents on him - they were in a bag he had temporarily handed to a colleague at the time of the arrest. His mobile phone is turned off, and CPJ was unable to make contact with him. Volosevich is currently being held at the Andijan regional police department, Ferghana said.

"We call on Andijan police to immediately release our colleague Aleksei Volosevich and stop obstructing him and other reporters from doing their job," Ognianova said.

Ethnic Uzbeks comprise one-fifth of the population of Kyrgyzstan - the biggest minority in the country; most live in the south. Since the ousting of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April, tensions have grown between ethnic Uzbeks, who largely support the interim government, and ethnic Kyrgyz, who largely back Bakiyev in the south. Over the weekend, Otunbayeva blamed the exiled Bakiyev for instigating the clashes from abroad to destabilize the country ahead of a referendum scheduled for June 27 to adopt a new constitution. Bakiyev categorically denied the claims from his temporary home in Minsk, Belarus, according to international news reports.

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