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US Criticizes Press Crackdown in Kyrgyzstan


The United States Friday protested a raid by security forces in Kyrgyzstan on a facility where opposition newspapers are printed. The police action in the capital Bishkek early Friday followed several days of protests against the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department is expressing disappointment over the action by Kyrgyz authorities, and it is calling on the government in Bishkek to respect the right of the media to report and publish information and opinions on recent events there without interference.

The written statement by State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack followed an early-morning police raid on a printing facility - supported by the U.S. non-government organization Freedom House - where two opposition newspapers are published.

Freedom House, which appealed for U.S. officials to speak out on the case, said the police confiscated all copies of the latest press run of the two papers, as well as the printing plates, and demanded that the newspapers' electronic files be deleted.

Freedom House said the Kyrgyz security officers at the site said the raid was in response to anti-government demonstrations that have been underway since April 11th.

Spokesman McCormack said the act of censorship by the Kyrgyz government, which he said has benefited from a free press and publicly declared its support for independent journalism, is disappointing. He also said political disagreements in Kyrgyzstan must be resolved by the Kyrgyz people in a lawful, peaceful and constitutional manner.

The Washington-based Freedom House sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier Friday, calling the raid a serious violation of press freedom and urging her to take up the matter with the Kyrgyz government.

The private organization's advocacy director, Paula Schriefer, told VOA human rights conditions in the country have been mixed, since the Bakiyev government was swept into power in a street revolt in 2005, promising democratic and economic reforms:

"Certainly you've seen on-going issues of censorship in regards to the press, you've seen things like the demonstrations being broken up yesterday, in perhaps not the kindest way possible. So it's really been a mixed picture, and our feeling is at Freedom House is that now is really the time to make sure the U.S. increases its emphasis on supporting human rights and free press in Kyrgyzstan, as it's undergone a lot of change with the new government," she said.

The newspaper facility raided by the authorities, called the Media Support Center Foundation, contains the only independent printing press in the country.

The two papers based there have been critical of the Kyrgyz government and its handling of the latest demonstrations, which turned violent Thursday and were broken up by police using teargas and stun grenades.

Protestors accuse the Bakiyev government of corruption and failing to live up to reform pledges.

Freedom House, which monitors and evaluates respect for human rights in countries world wide, rated Kyrgyzstan partly free this year in its annual survey, Freedom in the World.

The Central Asian state was given medium-to-low ratings on civil liberties and political rights, and the organization said the overall trend there was downward, because of renewed authoritarianism on the part of President Bakiyev.

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