Bad Joke: The Fake Kidnapping of a Prominent TV Host in Kyrgyzstan

Would you believe two tabloid journalists abducted and threatened to kill her -- as a gag for their paper's "amusement" section?

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Nazira Aitbekova, left, with her husband, (RFE/RL)

Journalists' desire to feed the public's curiosity can sometimes take them very far -- but it can also be their downfall. That was the case this week in Kyrgyzstan, when well-known television presenter Nazira Aitbekova was the victim of a cruel prank that has led to the firing of two journalists and prompted a police investigation.

Aitbekova provided details of the incident at a press conference on November 1.The anchor for the public television station KTR said that on October 30 she was approached by two men who "put a pistol to my head, put me in a car, and took me away." The men drove Aitbekova to a deserted area outside Bishkek, forced her to partially undress, and threatened to kill her. She was told to close her eyes before being ordered to open them again.

It was then that she realized she was a victim of "tamashator," a practical joke, concocted by journalists from the tabloid Super-Info. "When I heard 'This is a surprise from Super-Info,' I understood they had humiliated me for so long, and I fell down [to the ground] and started crying," Aitbekova said. "At that moment, they started asking me again and again: 'How do you feel?' How should I feel when I was sure [I was going to] die and say goodbye to my child?"

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Police Investigating

Aitbekova filed a complaint over the two-hour abduction, which she says was recorded on camera. Police say they are investigating but that no criminal case has yet been opened.

Aitbekova's husband, Iskender Sharsheev, said he will complain to the president and the prosecutor-general. "This is not a practical joke. I guess this is some kind of order," he said. "They just want to soften their action and describe it as a practical joke. This is a crime." The prank was intended for publication under the tabloid's "amusement" rubric.

Super-Info's management has expressed "sympathy" for Aitbekova and newspaper owner Shaista Shatmanova has said two journalists were fired because they did not follow editors' instructions. "The journalists were told by the editor and chief editor not to scare [her], not to endanger her life, and not to step over the line," Shatmanova said. "In this case, our correspondents acted according to their own decisions."

Who's Responsible?

Justice Minister Almambet Shikmamatov described the journalists' actions as "uncivilized, inhuman, and completely illogical." Shikmamatov advised Aitbekova to "defend her rights in court and to defend her rights through the journalistic community. I think that those journalists -- they call themselves journalists -- have to bear responsibility for this bad precedent."

The abduction has triggered numerous reactions on social networks in Kyrgyzstan, where a number of people are questioning the responsibility of the newspaper's management. Kyrgyz Social Affairs Minister Kylychbek Sultanov is believed to have close ties to Super-Info -- a popular weekly tabloid with a print-run of more than 100,000. Aitbekova, 27, is known in Kyrgyzstan for moderating talk shows and entertainment programs. She recently came under criticism from conservative Muslims when she started the program "Mystery of the Universe," in which she presents guests with paranormal abilities.

This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.