Kyrgyz court officials on December 19 raided the independent NTS television station, owned by opposition politician Omurbek Babanov, the runner-up in October’s Kyrgyz presidential election.
Authorities have been cracking down on Babanov since as the main opposition contender he lost the election to Sooranbai Jeenbekov. The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office announced on November 4 that it had opened a criminal case against Babanov, at the centre of accusations that Kazakhstan tried to meddle in the election. Now former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev publicly accused Kazakhstan of openly supporting ex-prime minister Babanov in the race for the presidency.
The criminal case against Babanov accuses him and other unidentified individuals of "stoking ethnic, racial, and religious hatred" and "publicly calling for the violent change of the constitutional order." The first accusation is based on claims that Babanov tried to gain the support of ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan by discussing the Uzbek community’s alleged discrimination and inequality at the hands of the Kyrgyz government "after which he called for them to actively fight against this situation." Babanov has since stepped down as the leader of the Respublika-Ata-Jurt parliamentary faction.
NTS said police officers and court executors arrived with a court ruling that allowing them to impound the TV station's property. NTS posted a video on Facebook showing police officials inside the station’s headquarters arguing with NTS employees, as they tried to explain the situation to them. The court officials were supposedly there to calculate and register all property and equipment at the station and did not intend to interrupt broadcasting. NTS remained on air during the incident.
"We are still researching the document issued by the interdistrict court in Bishkek, which says all our properties, assets, equipment, and everything else must be seized," NTS TV director-general Jainak Usen said at a news conference. "We asked for time until 11 a.m. on Wednesday [December 20]. Right now we can say openly that it is a very clear attempt to attack press freedom and to shut down the leading independent TV channel in Kyrgyzstan."
The Prosecutor-General's Office, the Interior Ministry, and the State Committee for National Security told RFE/RL they had no information about NTS's property being impounded.
Supreme Court officials told RFE/RL they were seeking to find the reason for the actions taken at the TV station.
Usen said that two companies, Grexton Capital and Ayant, were the applicants for the seizure of the station’s property, and that prior to the December 19 action "we did not receive any claims from the two companies, either in the form of statements of claim, or in the form of notices that there are any claims to our organisation."
"It said that the NTS is a third party," Usen added. "One reason [for the seizure] is to close NTS."
NTS is the largest private TV station in Kyrgyzstan. Usen said NTS will challenge the court ruling.
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