Court Acquits Kyrgyz Journalist on Most Charges, Calls Investigation Prejudiced
In Bishkek today, Kyrgyz investigative journalist Bolot Temirov, who faced up to 20 years in prison on a series of charges, was acquitted on most of them.
The judge declared that the investigation against him was prejudiced and found him not guilty of drug possession, illegally obtaining a passport, and illegally crossing the border.
Temirov was found guilty of forging official documents in 2008, but he did not receive a sentence because the statute of limitations had expired.
About 150 journalists and activists held a peaceful protest in support of Temirov in front of the courthouse. After the verdict was announced, they greeted him with cheers.
“The judge said that the case was built to convict me,” said Temirov. “He saw that the case was launched against me purposefully. But that won’t be dealt with in this trial. Our next step is to hold these officers accountable.”
Temirov and the prosecutor’s office both have one month to appeal the decision, but it’s not known yet if either side will.
Temirov is the co-founder and head of the media outlet Temirov LIVE, which publishes investigations into high-level corruption in Kyrgyzstan. He was arrested this January when police raided his office and claimed to find drugs in his back pocket. Temirov and his supporters say the drugs had been planted.
The arrest occurred just a day after Temirov LIVE published an investigation into the business dealings of the family of Kamchybek Tashiev, the powerful head of the GKNB national security agency and a long-time ally of the Kyrgyz president.
After his release under house arrest, Temirov continued his investigative work and authorities later added three more charges. They accused Temirov, who, like many in Kyrgyzstan, is also a citizen of Russia, of falsifying documents to receive his domestic and international Kyrgyz passports. Based on that claim, they also charged him with illegal border crossing when he traveled abroad.
A month later, an interior ministry investigator annulled Temirov’s passports.
OCCRP investigations suggest Temirov’s prosecution was a deliberate targeting of an outspoken journalist, including by the GKNB. His initial arrest was preceded by months of surveillance and harassment directed at Temirov and his team.
GKNB head Tashiev denies his agency’s involvement. But Temirov was not the only outspoken journalist to be targeted by the current government.
Last week, Taalai Duishenbiev, the head of opposition media outlet Next TV, was found guilty on charges of inciting ethnic hatred and sentenced to three years of probation.
He was arrested by the GKNB this March after Next TV published on social media a statement made by a former Kazakh security official suggesting that Kyrgyzstan was prepared to support Russia militarily in the war in Ukraine. The court declared this post extremist.
On August 14, police arrested Yrys Zhekshenaliev for allegedly calling for civil unrest. On his Facebook page, the 19-year-old activist had reposted an old video in which a former GKNB head expressed opposition to the development of an iron ore deposit which the Kyrgyz president had suggested exploring.
The former GKNB head was also interrogated by the police, but later released. Zhekshenaliev remains under arrest where his health is worsening.