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Internet censorship: Kyrgyzstan blocks independent web-sites

Written by on Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Kyrgyzstan, Media and Internet
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internet-censorship-kyrgyzstanToday, since the early morning, internet users around Kyrgyzstan have been discussing the apparent blocking by Kyrgyz ISPs of the website of Ferghana.Ru, the popular independent web-site that is critical of Central Asian governments.

Daniil Kislov, founder and editor-in-chief of Ferghana.Ru, told neweurasia that it is the first time this has ever happened in Kyrgyzstan.  Kislov believes an article by Eugene Gourevitch, the ex-director general of MGN Group that managed the assets of the Development Fund of the Kyrgyz Republic, is the reason. The article states that the Italian court is accusing Gourevitch of large scale fraud and that Roman Judge Aldo Morgigni has issued an arrest warrant for Gourevitch, who is a US citizen.

The Italian court named Eugene Gourevitch among other 55 associates that were allegedly involved in a fraud that have siphoned an astonishing US$2.7 billion from the wholesale telephony divisions of Telecom Italia SpA and Fastweb SpA between 2003 and 2006. Gourevitch’s Italian associates allegedly employed fictitious receipts for telephony. Judge Morgigni’s 1,600 page arrest warrant claims “Gourevitch used his international contacts and financial expertise to help the Italian criminals launder their illicit profits”.

MGN Asset Management, a subsidiary of MGN Group, won a tender in September 2009 organized by the Development Fund for consultancy services and management of its assets. After that, Gourevitch has become a target for many Kyrgyz journalists.

Some of the Kyrgyz media portray Eugene Gourevitch as a corrupt person who launders criminal money and has close connections with the Bakiev clan. Elena Avdeeva, journalist at online newspaper Paruskg.Info, which has also been blocked in Kyrgyzstan for about two weeks, has written a series of articles in which she accuses Gourevitch of being part of a scheme to steal money from the Kyrgyz national budget, as well as illegally privatizing “Kyrgyztelecom” and energy company “Severelectro”. Eugene Gourevitch defended himself in blog.

In its ill-fated article. Fergana.Ru quotes Edil Baisalov, one of the oppositions leaders in exile, who accuses Gourevitch of cooperating with criminals and laundering criminal funds:

Kyrgyzstan has turned into a gigantic laundry machine for criminal money. Dozens of billions of US dollars are being laundered in our country. The banks of Nadel and Gourevitch have absorbed entire banking industry. In addition to drug lords’ assets, they manage the millions of Russian loan money now. Is not this the legalization of criminal funds?

We are not even going to get into the statements from Kurmanbek Bakiev and his son Maxim because the people see clearly: the current regime is not motivated by law and national interests, but greed. Gourevitch’s company is so much tied up with the current regime that [it] was also involved in the state reforms and the promotion of changes in the constitution.

If the government transferred entire national wealth of Kyrgyzstan to the management of international mafia members, how can the people still trust them?

Baisalov adds that the opposition will demand the immediate resignation of Maxim Bakiev and the arrest of all international accounts related to him or Gourevitch.  They will also demand early presidential and parliamentary elections.

Not only Ferghana.Ru has been blocked.  Two other independent web-sites, CentrAsia.Ru and the Kyrgyz Service of RFE/RL, Azattyk.org, which were easily accessible couple of days ago, are now also inaccessible in Kyrgyzstan. I believe Azattyk.org has been blocked due to its article series about demonstrations in the Naryn region, where people are demonstrating against the skyrocketing prices of utilities.

Ferghana.Ru, CentrAsia.Ru and Azattyk.org are very popular among Kyrgyz news consumers because they often highlight and analyse the issues usually neglected by the state-controlled media in Kyrgyzstan. The blocking of these web-sites has reminded me of the situation in neighboring Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, where almost all web-sites with content critical of the government are blocked by the government.

Update: the Development Fund of Kyrgyzstan informs [ru] that it has terminated its contract for asset management with the MGN Group.  They say that the contract never entered into force. However, experts believe thatthe Development Fund has used MGN Group’s services many times already so that the real reasons for termination of the contract might be the accusations against Gourevitch.

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