Amnesty calls for probe in Kyrgyz reporter murder

Kyrgyzstan Materials 30 October 2007 10:25 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - Amnesty International urged Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday to investigate thoroughly the murder of an independent journalist which it said would have a "chilling effect" on freedom of speech in ex-Soviet Central Asia.

Alisher Saipov, an ethnic Uzbek with Kyrgyz citizenship, was shot three times by an unknown assailant as he left his newspaper's office in the Kyrgyz city of Osh on Oct. 24.

A contributor to a number of Western and domestic media, Saipov was an outspoken critic of Uzbek President Islam Karimov and wrote about wider human rights issues in the region.

"The organisation is concerned that his death will have a further chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression not only in Kyrgyzstan but in Uzbekistan and throughout Central Asia," the human rights body said in a statement.

It said it wanted a "thorough, independent and impartial" probe into the murder.

Saipov, 26, reported for the U.S.-funded Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and ran an Uzbek language newspaper in which he highlighted human rights abuses in the region.

Tursunbai Bakir uulu, Kyrgyzstan's ombudsman, said this week that Saipov may have been killed by assailants from Uzbekistan.

Uzbek officials have not been available for comment. Saipov's murder has not been reported by official Uzbek media.

Kyrgyzstan, which hosts a U.S. and a Russian military airbase, has pledged to do everything to find Saipov's killers.

Amnesty urged Kyrgyzstan "to take urgent steps to ensure that all human rights defenders and independent journalists in Kyrgyzstan, including those covering Uzbekistan, are able to carry out their activities in safety and without fear of harassment or intimidation".