“Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, rebuke and expose them.”
Ephesians 5: 11
Reporters Without Borders reported that more journalists have been executed in the Philippines than anywhere in the world (they started counting in the 1980s), except Iraq. This is the list so far in 2007, just for the Philippines:
12 October 2007 – Iligan City radio journalist shot in the stomach;
26 June 2007 – Radio journalist gunned down, colleague wounded in Tawi-Tawi;
25 May 2007 – Photojournalist on critical newspaper murdered;
20 April 2007 – One journalist beaten and shot dead, another shot and wounded;
11 April 2007 – Radio journalist gets four and a half years in prison for defaming legislator;
23 February 2007 – President Arroyo urged to take energetic measures to end impunity;
19 February 2007 – Newspaper editor gunned down in Mindanao, first Filipino journalist killed this year.
But executing journalists is a phenomenon that is growing around the world; e.g., a Kyrgyz reporter killed this week. The allegation is that the Uzbekistan Government is crossing borders to silence its foes in any place where perceived enemies may expose the regime’s corruption.
In the Philippines, a proposal was explored to make it easier for journalists to get “away from home permits”. Apparently, “mainstream” Philippine journalists protested, arguing that such a move takes the onus off the government to protect people from violence. In the good old USA, however, the courts have stated unequivocally that the government has no such duty. Does this surprise you?
The reality is that corrupt government factions are behind many such executions. In the Philippines, journalists have alleged that the army is cooperating with rebels, Yakuza and other criminal enterprises. In many countries, distinctions between terrorist, bandit, soldier and politician are almost indistinguishable. Armed journalists that are trained to defend freedom of the press may be the best thing since Wyatt Earp when it comes to cleaning up Dodge Cities and Tombstones around the world.
Alisher Saipov’s courage in reporting the truth is being honored posthumously, however, and such journalists deserve international respect.
By DAVID L. STERN; New York Times
Published: December 3, 2007
OSH, Kyrgyzstan — In his short career as a journalist in this Silk Road city in Kyrgyzstan’s south, Alisher Saipov gained a reputation for being driven, thorough, impassioned, brave and insatiably curious — though sometimes arrogant and abrasive. Above all, he was known for being outspoken.
Colleagues, academics, diplomats and government officials described Mr. Saipov, 26, a former contract reporter for Voice of America and a Moscow-based web site (see link) that focuses on news from Central Asia, as one of the top reporters here, if not the best.
Mr. Saipov was renowned for his scoops and his extensive network of inside contacts, ranging from Islamic extremists to foreign ministers. For visiting journalists, including those from the BBC and The New York Times, Mr. Saipov’s offices were a required stop for a pot of green tea and a debriefing on the latest intricacies of the Ferghana Valley, the ethnically diverse geographic pocket that encompasses portions of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
But Mr. Saipov achieved a different sort of notoriety on Oct. 24 when around 7 p.m., while waiting for a taxi with a friend on one of the main thoroughfares here, a gunman stepped out of the tree-lined darkness and shot him in the leg, according to news reports. When Mr. Saipov fell to the ground, the gunman fired two shots to his head.
The shooting was apparently the first contract killing of a journalist in Kyrgyzstan, a country known for its relative media freedom compared with its authoritarian neighbors, and it sent shock waves through the region and beyond. The American Embassy in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, joined by the European Union and the British government, called for a thorough investigation of the “outrageous crime.” The Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, announced that he was taking personal responsibility for the inquiry.
Among many international observers and the country’s news media, primary suspicion has fallen on the Uzbek security services. Mr. Saipov, who was a Kyrgyz citizen and an ethnic Uzbek, was a well-known opponent of the government of the Uzbek president, Islam A. Karimov.
His shooting, they maintain, is evidence of the long reach of the National Security Service of Uzbekistan, or S.N.B., using its Russian initials. Uzbekistan strives to suppress all opposition voices, even those outside the country. Although no proof has emerged of any Uzbek link, proponents of this theory say that they believe the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming.
Kyrgyzstan’s ombudsman for human rights, Tursunbai Bakiruulu, says he believes firmly that the S.N.B., Uzbek’s successor to the K.G.B., ordered Mr. Saipov’s death. “Logically there is only one scenario,” he said, though he conceded that he had no evidence.
The Kyrgyz-Uzbek border is porous, and Uzbek agents operate freely in Kyrgyzstan’s section of the Ferghana Valley, numerous specialists and diplomats interviewed for this article said.
In May 2005, after Uzbek government troops brutally suppressed an uprising and political demonstration in Andijan, refugees streamed over the border into southern Kyrgyzstan.
According to witnesses, Uzbek agents in the immediate aftermath crossed the border, which is a few hours away by car, rounded up hundreds and sent them back. In mid-2006, five more political opponents to the Uzbek government who had taken refuge in Kyrgyzstan disappeared, international agencies like Human Rights Watch say, and they are feared to have been kidnapped and taken back to Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan is scheduled to hold presidential elections on Dec. 23. President Karimov, who runs a police state governed by fear and has never held an election deemed free, is expected to glide to victory, though five other people have also announced their candidacy.
The country, many say, could experience a vicious power struggle once President Karimov, 69, departs. Unrest and a subsequent refugee crisis in Uzbekistan, which has the largest population of Central Asia’s five former Soviet states, could prove a destabilizing factor for the entire region.
Mr. Saipov commented critically on developments in Uzbekistan, and his killing, friends and analysts believe, may have been a direct result of his reporting. He was virtually alone among the Ferghana Valley press corps in writing regularly on torture in Uzbek prisons, the plight of the refugees and political unrest across the border.
“Alisher was killed because he was an Uzbek,” said Sultan Kanazarov, an independent journalist who used to work for Radio Free Europe and who said Mr. Saipov was a close friend. “He was the only one who wrote about Uzbekistan, and he never left the Ferghana Valley.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Saipov left Ferghana.ru and Voice of America to start a pan-regional Uzbek-language newspaper, Siyosat, which means politics. The weekly provided original reporting and reprints from news Web sites, and it was underwritten by a $26,500 grant from the National Endowment for Democracy, a Washington-based foundation.
Siyosat struck a visible nerve with the Uzbeks. Soon after Mr. Saipov began to publish, a public campaign began against him on Uzbekistan’s state-controlled television and Internet. One Uzbek Web site ran a piece titled “Saipov Is Traitorous Knife in the Back From Our Neighbor and Partner Kyrgyzstan.”
Mr. Saipov, in the weeks before his death, said he believed he was being trailed by Uzbek security services. He also said he had received warnings and told a number of colleagues that he had heard a rumor that Uzbek officials had placed a $10,000 bounty on his head. Colleagues say that they, too, have been followed in the past, and added that in the days before Mr. Saipov was killed, two unknown men were seen regularly around his offices.
“He said that he felt that the circle was tightening around him,” said Elmurad Jusupaliev, Mr. Saipov’s journalism teacher and a former business partner.
For the journalists, human rights workers and Uzbek opposition members living in southern Kyrgyzstan, given the brutal and public nature of Mr. Saipov’s shooting, the consensus is that he was killed to send a message to anyone interfering — or even thinking of getting involved — in Uzbek politics.
“This was not an assassination, but an execution,” said one Western diplomat working in Kyrgyzstan, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the delicacy of the issue. “It was a message saying, ‘We can get anyone, anytime, anywhere.’”