Media body concerned over Kyrgyz murder probe

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BISHKEK, Nov 2 (Reuters) A US media freedom watchdog today expressed concern at a possible bias in Kyrgyzstan's investigation of the murder of an indepedent Uzbek journalist.

Western rights groups and governments have put pressure on Kyrgyzstan to hold a thorough probe into the October 24 killing of Alisher Saipov who criticised Uzbek President Islam Karimov in his stories from his home base in southern Kyrgyzstan.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it had met Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Washington to appeal for an ''unbiased, professional investigation that embraces the theory that he was executed simply because he was pursuing truth.'' ''The (CPJ) delegation also told the ambassador that it was concerned about a possible bias in the official murder probe,'' the CPJ said in a statement.

Kyrgyzstan is home to a US military airbase and is usually sensitive to US remarks on its domestic affairs.

The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said this week that Saipov, 26, had ties with banned radical Islamist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizb ut-Tahrir.

''Saipov had indeed interviewed members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan for various articles; his contacts with them were related to his work as a reporter, his colleagues said,'' the CPJ said.

''Kyrgyz authorities must not make premature statements before thoroughly exploring every feasible lead and motive, including the possible involvement of Uzbek security services in Alisher Saipov's killing.'' A Kyrgyz police spokesman said this week they were looking into a possible Uzbek link in the murder. Uzbekistan has not commented on the case, but state media reports that often convey the official line have rejected the allegation as nonsense.

Saipov, an ethnic Uzbek with Kyrgyz citizenship, reported for the US-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and ran an opposition Uzbek-language newspaper called Siyosat, or Politics.

Reuters SZ DS1140

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