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Group calls for end to website block in Kyrgyzstan

Reporters Without Borders calls for an end to Kyrgyzstan's 13-month-old blocking of the Ferghana news website and urges the Kyrgyz judicial system to overturn last week's court decision dismissing Ferghana's attempt to get the blocking declared illegal.

The leading source of Russian-language news coverage of Central Asia, Ferghana has been blocked in Kyrgyzstan since February 2012 as a result of a parliamentary resolution and a formal request that the State Communications Agency (GAS) sent to Internet Service Providers without reference to the courts.

The legal action that Ferghana brought against the GAS in November, accusing it of blocking the website illegally and extrajudicially, was unexpectedly terminated on 27 March by a judge, who ruled that the legally permitted period for such a lawsuit had expired.

The head of the GAS meanwhile said that ISPs could unblock the site but has not issued any formal instruction to that effect.

Reporters Without Borders calls on the courts to reopen the case on appeal and to issue a clearly ruling that the blocking was illegal. At the same time, it urges Kyrgyz ISPs to unblock access without waiting for any ruling or instruction.

“It looks as though the Kyrgyz judicial system is trying to wriggle out of an embarrassing case, but this is unacceptable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The illegal blocking of Ferghana is an extremely dangerous precedent for freedom of information and the rule of law, and it must be explicitly condemned so that it does not recur.

“Kyrgyzstan's honour is at stake. Treating Ferghana in the same way that Turkmenistan's and Uzbekistan's autocratic rulers do is unworthy of a country that aspires to be a regional model of parliamentary democracy.”

The Kyrgyz parliament called for access to Ferghana to be blocked on the grounds that its coverage of violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010 was “subjective” and “provocative.”

Reporters Without Borders thought the news agency's coverage was “exemplary” and wrote to the parliament asking it to reverse this decision. However, Ferghana was also criticized by some politicians for frequently raising questions about the future of Kyrgyz democracy and the rise of nationalism in the country.

Throughout the case brought by Ferghana, the GAS tried to place all the responsibility for the blocking on the parliament and the ISPs. The head of the GAS, Almaz Kadyrkulov, claimed that the letter it sent to the ISPs asking them to block the site was just a “recommendation.”

The day after last week's court decision terminating the hearings, Kadyrkulov told the newspaper Vecherniy Bishkek: “Operators have the right to unblock the website, and I don't care at all.”

But Ferghana managing editor Daniil Kislov told Reporters Without Borders that Kadyrkulov's comment would not suffice.

“According to our sources, some ISPs are going to ask the GAS to confirm in writing whether they can lift the blocking of the site,” he said. “They will not stop the filtering until they have received [explicit] authorisation. The other ISPs, which pay even more attention to the authorities, will maintain the status quo.

“As far as we are concerned, the judge's decision to terminate the hearings on far-fetched grounds and the comments by the head of the GAS do not change anything. We are going to continue our fight to obtain justice and respect for legality in this case, however naïve this ambition may seem.”

Kislov added: “Our goal is get the parliamentary resolution on the blocking of our site rescinded and obtain a properly argued court decision on the banning.”

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