Lawsuit Resumes Against Targeted Media Outlets in Kyrgyzstan

Two Kyrgyz news media outlets, Radio Azattyk and Kloop, along with journalist Ali Toktakunov are standing trial on Wednesday as they face a prolonged lawsuit filed by the Matraimov family for exposing its involvement in a US$700 million money laundering operation. 

Raimbek MatraimovRaimbek Matraimov (Photo: November, OCCRP collaborated with its Kyrgyz member center, Kloop, along with RFE/RL's Radio Azattyk in an investigation that helped uncover the financial crimes that implicated Raimbek Matraimov, who had been serving as a high-ranking customs official.  

The investigation relied on testimony and leaked documents provided by Aierken Saimaiti, a whistleblower who claimed to have smuggled money out of the country on behalf of the former customs official between 2011 and 2016.  

He was shot dead at a cafe in Istanbul on November 10, just four days before he expected to receive Turkish citizenship.  

Matraimov’s legal team is seeking $858,000 in damages for the defendants' joint revelations related to an alleged corruption network involving a parliamentarian and Matraimov, which, he and his legal team argue, has tarnished his reputation.

The lawsuit serves as another example amongst other several attempts that have been made to stifle any investigations into Matraimov and his family’s purported corruption.  

One month ago, the Kyrgyz website Factcheck published a report on some of the irregular spending of Uulkan Tugunova, the wife of Mr. Matraimov. The website subsequently experienced a cyber-attack that shut down its entire webpage. 

Two weeks later, Bolot Temirov, its editor in chief, was assaulted by three hooded men.

These incidents transpired after a Radio Azattyk reporter was beaten last September after filming outside of a house that belongs to the Matraimov family. His recording device was also seized.   

Reporters Without Borders condemned the ongoing lawsuit on Wednesday, arguing that it follows a pattern in the country that has seen a continued deterioration of its press freedom.

“It is absurd that the journalists at Azattyk and Kloop are being sued in connection with their investigative reporting, which served the public interest and galvanized Kyrgyz civil society in its entirety,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of the organization’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. 

The organization urged Kyrgyz lawmakers to dismiss the lawsuit, and for authorities to do whatever was necessary to ensure the safety of journalists working on any investigations related to Matraimov’s alleged corruption.