Hundreds of rights activists, journalists, and representatives of civil society organizations have rallied in Bishkek in support of independent media following a demonstration threatening free media in front of the RFE/RL office in the Kyrgyz capital.

The demonstrators gathered near Bishkek’s railway station on Friday and marched to the parliament building in the city’s central square chanting “Freedom of speech!” 

The day before, about 40 people, many of whom covered their faces and avoided being filmed, rallied in front of the RFE/RL office in Bishkek demanding its closure along with the two independent media outlets Kloop and Kaktus Media.

They also demanded restrictions on the activities of nongovernmental organizations in the country, calling the media outlets “enemies of our people.” The group’s leader, Ilimbek Israilov, threatened to “burn down” the RFE/RL office.

He also threatened to spray gasoline on RFE/RL reporters and use force against them.

Several Kyrgyz lawmakers supported the idea of shutting down independent media and restricting the activities of nongovernmental organizations. However, several other members of parliament criticized such talk.

The chair of a nongovernmental group called the Commission of Media Complaints, Tamara Valieva, told RFE/RL that lawmakers who supported restrictions on independent media should give up their seats.

“Our media in the [Central Asian] region is most powerful and free. That is our major breakthrough. Our most important achievement is the presence of independent media outlets and freedom of speech in our country,” said Valieva, who participated in the October 14 show of support for media freedoms.

“And now, some want to take that freedom from us… Only shortsighted people do not understand that strong media means a strong country,” she added.

Some in the demonstration echoed RFE/RL President Jamie Fly’s demand that an investigation into threats made against RFE/RL journalists is carried out.

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