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Two media owners sentenced in absentia

(CPJ/IFEX) - November 15, 2011 - On October 28, a regional court in Jalal-Abad, southern Kyrgyzstan, announced its verdict in the trial of six men - all ethnic Uzbeks - charged in connection with violent ethnic conflict in June 2010. Among the defendants were owners of what was once the region's most influential media - Khalil Khudaiberdiyev of Osh TV, and Dzhavlon Mirzakhodzhayev of Mezon TV. The Jalal-Abad City Court declared the defendants guilty on separate counts of incitement to ethnic hatred, organizing mass disorder, creation of armed military groups, separatism, and abuse of office. Khudaiberdiyev was sentenced to 20 years in jail, and Mirzakhodzhayev to 14 years; both men had fled Kyrgyzstan in 2010 and were tried and sentenced in absentia.

CPJ research, including interviews with local journalists, human rights activists, and government officials, showed that charges against Khudaiberdiyev and Mirzakhodzhayev were fabricated and levied in retaliation for their journalism. The two are guilty only of broadcasting, in the spring of 2010, a protest rally in Jalal-Abad against ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. At the rally, leaders of the Uzbek minority called on the people to abstain from violence and to support the interim government of then-President Roza Otunbayeva.

At a May meeting with Kyrgyz government officials in New York, CPJ asked whether reporting on protest rallies is a criminal offense in Kyrgyzstan. Mira Karybayeva, a presidential administration official, said it was not; but when quizzed about the media owners' prosecution, Karybayeva was unable to explain the reasoning behind the case.

The court verdict follows repeated calls on Kyrgyz authorities, including President Otunbayeva, from CPJ and local and international press freedom groups, to drop the fabricated charges against Khudaiberdiyev and Mirzakhodzhayev and allow them to return to Kyrgyzstan to practice journalism without fear of retaliation.

Click here to read CPJ's conversation with Dzhavlon Mirzakhodzhayev

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