December 23, 2009 / 2:14 PM / 10 years ago

OSCE urges action on Kyrgyz press "safety crisis"

ALMATY (Reuters) - The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe urged Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday to prevent attacks on journalists after a leading opposition reporter was killed in neighbouring Kazakhstan this month.

Gennady Pavlyuk, a staunch critic of Kyrgyzstan’s government, died in hospital on Dec. 22 after he was thrown out of a tall building with his hands tied behind his back.

Kyrgyzstan’s opposition described it as an attack on press freedom by the authorities. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s office said it had nothing to do with the case.

“Violence against journalists has risen further in the last months,” the OSCE quoted its media freedom representative, Miklos Haraszti, as saying in a statement.

“The Kyrgyz government must publicly acknowledge the safety crisis of Kyrgyzstan’s press and stop treating it as ‘crime as usual’.”

In a letter to Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Kadyrbek Sarbayev, Haraszti cited several other cases when journalists were attacked or threatened in the strategic ex-Soviet republic where the United States operates a military air base.

The OSCE said two other Kyrgyz journalists had been murdered and seven others attacked during the past year. None of these incidents has been solved, it said.

“As international experience demonstrates, impunity leads to further violence,” Haraszti said in the statement.

Pavlyuk was attacked while on a visit to Almaty, the financial capital of Kazakhstan about 250 km (150 miles) north of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek where he was based. Kazakh police said they treated the case as murder.

In Bishkek, family and friends held a wake for Pavlyuk as dozens of journalists and politicians filed past his coffin to bid him farewell. The funeral was scheduled for Thursday.

In a separate statement, U.S.-based press freedom group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was concerned.

“We call on Kazakh authorities to thoroughly and aggressively investigate the apparent murder of Gennady Pavlyuk, including the possibility that he had been killed in retaliation for his critical reporting on the Kyrgyz government,” it quoted its regional coordinator Nina Ognianova as saying.

Kyrgyzstan’s opposition has accused Bakiyev of tightening his grip on power since a disputed presidential election in July. Bakiyev’s administration says it is committed to promoting democracy and press freedom.

Bakiyev, who has denied opposition allegations of vote rigging in the July poll, came to power in 2005 after violent protests toppled his long-serving predecessor, Askar Akayev.

Initially hailed in the West as a liberal leader in an otherwise authoritarian region, he has gradually consolidated power and fostered closer ties with Russia, which also operates a military air base in Kyrgyzstan.

(Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Additional reporting by Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek; Editing by Maria Golovnina)

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