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Interrogation Hospitalises Newspaper Editor
Svetlana Krasilnikova, deputy editor of the independent daily newspaper Delo No... (Case No...), was hospitalised last week with a serious heart condition following a prolonged interrogation by Kyrgyz national security officers.
The security services summoned Krasilnikova, her editor-in-chief Viktor Zapolsky, and journalist Vadim Nochevkin on August 16 to answer questions relating to the newspaper's coverage of the trial of Felix Kulov, leader of the Ar-Namys (Dignity) opposition party, who stood accused of abusing his former position as national security minister.
Kulov, former Kyrgyz vice-president, was acquitted "due to lack of evidence" in early August. He was arrested almost six months earlier, shortly after announcing his intention to run for the presidency in the October elections.
In the run-up to the trial the pro-government press presented Kulov as a hardened criminal in flagrant breach of sub judice regulations. Not a single reprimand was forthcoming from the relevant authorities.
Delo No...'s editorial policy on Kulov, meanwhile, was based on the presumption of innocence.
The National Security Ministry's complaint against Delo No... stems from an article entitled, "Sensational Discoveries Behind Closed Doors", written by Nochevkin. The Ministry claims the article passed on state secrets.
For security reasons, prosecutors said, the Kulov trial was conducted in secret. During the hearing, Nochevkin claimed, Kyrgyz Deputy National Security Minister Boris Poluektov had named a secret agent in connection with a report on unregistered bugging equipment obtained in Moscow on Kulov's orders during his spell as security minister. Nochevkin's article included the agent's name.
Kulov's lawyers, Yuri Maximov and Lubov Ivanova, believe Delo No's publication of the article is being used as a pretext to intimidate an independent paper, which dared to step out of line.
From the moment Kulov was arrested Delo No provided a platform for his supporters to express their point of view. On April 12 the paper published an interview with Kulov's wife, Naila.
"I'm worried they'll start using drugs on my husband," Naila said in the report. "That they'll start to force feed him. After all, Boris Poluektov promised to do that. They'll make an invalid out of him, or poison him."
On May 24 the paper published an interview with Ivanova, Kulov's lawyer.
"Studying the case has only increased my conviction that Felix Kulov is innocent of the crimes he is accused of," Ivanova was reported as saying.
"In my personal opinion," Zapolsky said "the National Security Ministry is returning to its previous functions as the KGB [the former Soviet security service]: taking part in political measures."
Nochevkin said he was waiting to be questioned at the ministry, when he noticed an article in the Evening Bishkek paper which quoted the Minister of National Security Tashtemir Aitbaev as saying criminal proceedings were underway against "the correspondent of Delo No..., Vadim Nochevkin."
"Naturally, I asked the investigator if my status had changed - I mean, the minister himself is making this kind of announcement. In what capacity am I being questioned: as a witness or as the accused? If it's the latter, I should have a lawyer," Nochevkin said.
"The reply I received was along the lines of, your brother journalist lied about what the minister said, you haven't been accused, and so you don't need a lawyer," Nochevkin added.
The three Delo No... journalists were questioned for eight hours a day over two days. When asked what the security ministry were so interested in, Nochevkin said, "Well, they wanted to know how we got the information from a closed hearing..."
Zapolsky said of his questioning, "I asked the investigator, Captain Melis Abdukhalykov, well, this the second day - for eight hours each time! - Over 16 hours of continual questioning, can we really not find the truth? The investigator replied: 'I can go for 32 hours, and search for the truth for 32 hours, and question you for 42 hours - it's none of your business...' Clearly I'd offended his sense of professionalism."
Abdukhalykov for his part declined to comment.
Krasilnikova too was unavailable. Doctors said she could not be disturbed for fear of further medical complications.
Several theories are circulating for the Security Ministry's actions. Some argue it's a straightforward attempt by the government to apply pressure to the only Russian-language mass media publication presenting an opposition point of view.
Others believe Poluektov is settling old scores with Delo No. The newspaper had earlier published reports into illegal copper and tantalum sales, which implicated the deputy minister.
A third theory maintains the government has simply tripped over its own feet and that someone within the ruling circles is deliberately trying to cast President Askar Akaev in a bad light ahead of the elections.
The interrogations and especially Krasilnikova's subsequent hospitalisation have provoked a storm of protest in Kyrgyzstan. Campaigners have alerted international press freedom organisations. News conferences have been organised for all media outlets in Kygyzstan and journalists have expressed their support for Delo No....
The Delo No... case is the latest in a series of repressive measures by the authorities ahead of the presidential elections. First the Akaev government turned on the "unwanted candidate" Kulov, and now it seems they are attacking those who supported him.
Krasilnikova is not yet well enough to return to work and future issues of the newspaper are in jeopardy. But Zapolsky remains confident of the newspaper will survive and that the rule of law will prevail.
Svetlana Suslova is a regular IWPR contributor.
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