Naryn Idinov (also known by the name Naryn Aiyp), the co-founder of ProMedia, which runs the popular Kyrgyz news site Zanoza.kg, told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) recently that he expected guilty verdicts in the five lawsuits brought against him and ProMedia.
His expectations have proven correct, so far.
On June 30, a court in Bishkek sided with the prosecutor general against four defendants: Idinov, Zanoza editor-in-chief Dina Maslova, Zanoza.kg and former member of parliament Cholpon Dzhakupova. According to EurasiaNet, Zanoza.kg was found “guilty on two counts of besmirching the honor of President Almazbek Atambayev, to whom they must now pay 15 million som (around $215,000)” and Dzhakupova ordered to pay 3 million som ($43,000).
This particular case related to comments made by Dzhakupova in March, reported by Idinov in Zanoza. According to EurasiaNet Dzhakupova said “that the president was a ‘personality with maniacal inclinations’ who should ‘read the constitution.’”
Dzhakupova, who left parliament in December over her disagreement with the constitutional referendum, runs a legal clinic. In April, when the suit was filed, Fergana interviewed Dzhakupova. She commented that the authorities were trying to stamp out dissent:
Actually, the main goal is to intimidate the society: see what they will do with the one that dares to criticize and object to the president… reading their gobbledygook is simply [a] delight. I am accused, because ‘the stylistic construction of speech contains emotionally expressive elements, irony and sarcasm. The lexical and semantic and contextual analysis of words and expressions showed that they have negative information’… Irony and sarcasm are now being banned, as well as any criticism of the President … I just can’t find the language to describe my outrage.
In comments reported by EurasiaNet, Dzhakupova called the verdict predictable and said the lawsuits were a “terrorizing tactic” ahead of October’s presidential elections.
On July 1, the same court sided again with the prosecutor general against Idinov and Zanoza, this time in relation to an October 2015 article about Atambayev’s “lavish lifestyle.” The article, titled “The President’s Millions: Who Really Paid For The Banquet?” was considered insulting, Idinov wrote for openDemocracy in March, because of two sentences. “The General Prosecutor considers that the sentences in question ‘unambiguously lead the reader to believe that president Atambayev has committed a crime, in particular, theft,’” he wrote.
Idinov and Zanoza were ordered to pay 3 million som ($43,000), each.
On July 3, the same court (each case had a different judge) upheld the prosecutor general’s charges that Idinov and Zanoza had defamed the president, this time in relation to a pair of March 2017 articles. One article was about parliamentary discussions regarding the arrest of Omurbek Tekebayev, and another about authoritarian leaders. Notably, the second article did not, apparently, reference Atambayev directly. But the prosecutor general called as evidence the testimony of a linguist to support its claim that the article defamed the president. 24.kg reported that the prosecutor general insisted “at the tone of the article was negative and comparing Kyrgyzstan with other countries… thereby causing moral sufferings to the President of the country.”
Idinov and Zanoza were again ordered to pay 3 million som ($43,000), each.
Two more suits remain open, but the outlook is not good for Idinov, Zanoza or Kyrgyzstan.