Kyrgyzstan: Court Rejects Appeals of Jailed Independent Journalists

Published: 05 February 2024

Tynystan Source  Bektur Orgubaev PolitKlinika

Tynystan Asypbekov, investigative reporter, in court. (Photo: PolitKlinika)

By Metin Kazama

A Kyrgyz court rejected on Monday the appeals of seven investigative journalists who were detained last month after authorities accused them of inciting riots. The move is seen by human rights advocates as an attempt to silence government critics.

The denial came just days after the appeals of four other reporters from the same outlet were rejected. Ten of them will remain in pre-trial detention until March 13, while the hearing of the 11th suspect - Tynystan Asypbekov -  will continue on Tuesday.

All of the detained reporters are current or former employees of the independent investigative outlet Temirov Live and claim that they were detained illegally. Temirov Live is Kyrgyzstan’s most prominent investigative outlet that has reported on corruption of state and non-state actors in the country. It is led by Bolot Temirov, a prominent journalist who was stripped of his citizenship and expelled from the country in 2022.

The journalists were taken into custody on January 16, and police searched their apartments and the office of Temirov Live.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs claimed that a criminal case had been opened at the end of December and an expert assessment had determined that “some publications included calls for mass riots.”

"President Sadyr Japarov promised reforms of the courts and investigative authorities, but in reality nothing has changed,” Asypbekov, who now works for independent Kyrgyz media outlet PolitKlinika, said in court. “There are no honest judges in Kyrgyzstan.”

International reaction

After the detention of the journalists, local politicians, activists, and international organizations rallied to support the Temirov Live outlet and its staff.

The UN Human Rights Office issued a press-release calling for authorities “to protect freedom of expression and ensure that media legislation in the country is in line with international human rights standards.”

“These latest actions by the authorities appear to be part of a larger pattern of pressure against civil society activists, journalists and other critics of the authorities,” said Liz Throssell, UN Human Rights office spokesperson.

Eight international organizations, including Human Rights Watch, warned about rising pressure on independent media in Kyrgyzstan.

“The authorities should stop intimidating and harassing journalists and allow them to carry out their work without obstruction,” they wrote in a joint statement.

Several members of the Kyrgyz parliament also reacted to the events. MP Dastan Bekeshev stated that there can be no free society in the country without a free press.

“They [journalists] should find mistakes and talk about those mistakes, and the authorities should thank them and make corrections,” Bekeshev said in parliament, asserting that journalists should be considered “helpers, not enemies.”

MP Tazabek Ikramov also spoke out in defense of journalists. In a post on Facebook, Ikramov said that actions against reporters damage democracy.

“This negatively affects freedom of speech and democratic processes in the country, and causes distrust among international partners,” according to Ikramov.

Freedom of press in Kyrgyzstan

This is not the first time independent journalists have faced pressure from Kyrgyz authorities in recent years. In 2022 police searched the office of Temirov Live where officers said they found, among Bolot Temirov’s things, a small bag of hashish.

Kyrgyz authorities then charged Temirov with three more counts, including that he falsified documents to obtain Kyrgyz citizenship. That effectively invalidated his passport, leading to the accusation that every time he traveled abroad he crossed the border illegally.

An Interior Ministry investigator ultimately revoked the journalist’s passport and in November 2022 he was deported from Kyrgyzstan to Russia, where he also holds citizenship.

In another case against independent media in August 2023,  the Bishkek Prosecutor’s Office filed a lawsuit against OCCRP’s Kyrgyz member center Kloop, asking the court to shut down the media outlet.

Prosecutors alleged that the State Committee of National Security found that most of Kloop’s publications were “aimed at sharply criticizing the current government’s policies” and “discrediting representatives of state and municipal bodies.”

Soon after that, in September, the Kyrgyz Ministry of Culture decided to block Kloop’s Russian-language website. Two months later, they blocked its Kyrgyz-language site as well.

In response, Kloop sued the Ministry of Culture, asking the court to dismiss the decisions of the Ministry.