Kyrgyz Court Rules to Shut Down Local RFE/RL Service

Published: 27 April 2023

Azattyk Radio logo

Radio Azattyk, RFE/RL. (Photo: Kloop)

By Alexandra Li, OCCRP

A district court in Bishkek upheld on Thursday the request of Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Culture to shut down the Kyrgyz branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Azattyk. The dispute erupted over a video the government did not like.

Timur Sultanov, Azattyk’s lawyer, has already announced that his client will appeal the decision.

"We count on the prudence of the appellate court, which we hope will reverse this illegal decision," Sultanov said.

Unless the decision is overruled on appeal, Azattyk’s registration as mass media in Kyrgyzstan will be canceled in 30 days.

The verdict has sparked a storm of criticism on Twitter.

Political commentator Azim Aizmov called it "a disgrace," "indelible," and "on a historic scale."

Activist Dinara Oshurakhunova wrote that "Azattyk is the voice and memory of the people! They want to deprive people of their voice and memory."

MP Dastan Bekeshev wrote: "Expected. Freedom of speech has become a target."

The Kyrgyz government launched its long campaign against Azattyk last year after the media outlet shared a video produced by Current Time, another branch of RFE/RL, about the Kyrgyz-Tajik border conflict in September. In October 2022, the media outlet’s website was blocked.

Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Culture, Information and Sport, which submitted the request to the court, claimed that the video contained false information, and that Radio Azattyk refused to delete it.

After that, pressure on the media outlet mounted — the Kyrgyz National Security Agency froze Azattyk’s bank account in October, citing issues with money laundering regulations.

The president of RFE/RL, Jamie Fly, called the actions of the Kyrgyz authorities an “attack on independent media.” Dozens of activists, politicians, and civil society leaders asked Kyrgyz authorities in an open letter to lift the October ban, calling it politically motivated, but never heard back.

The president’s office denied that the ban was political in nature.