Leading Journalist Murdered in South Kyrgyzstan

Alisher Saipov was a highly respected journalist who made it his mission to write for Central Asian as well as foreign readers.

Leading Journalist Murdered in South Kyrgyzstan

Alisher Saipov was a highly respected journalist who made it his mission to write for Central Asian as well as foreign readers.

Wednesday, 31 October, 2007
There must be something deeply wrong with our society if the life of one of our brightest, youngest journalists can be stolen away so easily.

When we heard the news that Alisher Saipov had been murdered in cold blood, our initial reaction was not to believe it – it just couldn’t be him.

Alisher, who was 26, was a prominent journalist working in Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan. He was known for his courageous first-hand reporting not only on Kyrgyzstan but also on neighbouring Uzbekistan.

He was murdered on the evening of October 24 on the city’s main thoroughfare, Masaliev Street. Someone shot him three times with a pistol.

I met him two weeks ago in Bishkek, and he was proud to share his stories of sleepless nights as he helped his wife take care of their two-month old daughter.

Alisher filed several excellent stories for IWPR in 2005 on developments in southern Kyrgyzstan, and was recently a trainee and consultant at a workshop for IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia news agency project.

He was a friend to IWPR and its Central Asia team, who looked up to him as a model of journalistic grit and courage.

A long-term correspondent for the Uzbek services of Voice of America and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), he had earlier been editor-in-chief of two Osh newspapers, and regional editor of the Fergana.ru news agency.

Most recently, he founded an Uzbek-language newspaper called Siyosat (Politics) and was its chief editor.

“We hope to win readers by providing objective information… the paper will differ from others by providing balanced information and analysis,” Alisher said when he launched the paper earlier this year.

Siyosat soon became extremely popular not only in the Kyrgyz part of the Ferghana Valley, but also in neighbouring regions of Uzbekistan. Alisher told how Uzbeks of all kinds - traders and farmers - would cross the border into Kyrgyzstan just to get their copy of Siyosat.

The last entry on the newspaper’s blog which he produced (at http://siyosat.uzbek.kg) was headlined “Bye, Bye, Bye”. The piece was about a poem in an Uzbekistan newspaper lauding the cotton harvest in Andijan, but the title now looks like an ominous portent.

Alisher was young and full of ambitions, all cut short by his murder. An ethnic Uzbek, he was a patriotic citizen of Kyrgyzstan and also of Central Asia as a whole, not least in his reporting on Uzbekistan.

He set great store by the highest standards of journalism, and saw his mission as being to provide information to the average person in the region.

Perhaps for that reason, the Central Asian internet space witnessed an unprecedented smear campaign against him in recent months, with numerous articles posted depicting Alisher as an enemy of Uzbekistan and urging the Kyrgyz authorities to take action against him. Some of these postings were anonymous; if they were signed, the likelihood is that pseudonyms were used.

“Saipov’s activities are directed against the constitutional foundations of Uzbekistan,” said one of these stories.

Another alleged that he had contacts with Islamic extremists and darkly hinted at “concerns for his future”.

Earlier this month, Alisher told us that a Fergana Valley regional television station in Uzbekistan had aired a programme attacking what it said was his “anti-Uzbek” attitude.

Whoever is behind this terrible murder, it crosses an important line – it is the first time a journalist has been killed in so brazen a fashion in Kyrgyzstan.

It is now incumbent on the Kyrgyz authorities to ensure that an investigation takes place under proper supervision and that the culprits are identified and punished appropriately.

Kumar Bekbolotov is IWPR’s Central Asia Programme Director.
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