International Support Grows for 11 Journalists Detained in Kyrgyzstan

Published: 11 March 2024

Kyrgyz Girl Behind BarsKyrgyz Journalist Aike Beishekeyeva, 23, is awaiting trial behind bars along with 10 of her colleagues. (Photo: Politklinika)


Amidst a government crackdown on press freedom, a court in Kyrgyzstan is expected to decide this week whether 11 journalists charged with “inciting mass unrest” will remain in pre-trial detention.

The journalists were arrested January 16, and the court may decide to keep them in detention for another month or two, place them under house arrest, or free them. The journalists work with, or have worked with, Temirov Live, an OCCRP media partner.

According to people with knowledge of the case, officials have presented one YouTube video as justification for all 11 detentions. The video shows Temirov Live director Makhabat Tazhibek denouncing corruption, with no call for violence or uprisings. The journalists have not yet been indicted, meaning the charges could still be dropped.

Media workers, rights activists and politicians have condemned Kyrgyzstan’s repression of journalists, and urged the government to release the reporters, who face sentences of three to five years in prison.

“Independent media must be able to do their work unhindered,” said Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Hadja Lahbib.

She added that several European Union countries have expressed concern to Kyrgyzstan’s government about “recent searches of independent media and about the arrests of journalists.”

“The Kyrgyz Republic is expected to fulfill its international obligations in the areas of human rights, freedom of expression and working conditions of journalists,” Lahbib told Belgium’s De Tijd newspaper, one of more than a dozen European media organizations that have come together to expose Kyrgyzstan’s attack on Temirov Live.

Supporters have also launched a campaign this week calling for the release of the detained journalists in videos posted to social media with the hashtag #FreeKyrgyz11.

While Kyrgyzstan has been seen as a beacon of democratic light in a region characterized by autocracy and corruption, the Central Asian country has been backsliding over the past few years under President Sadyr Japarov.

In the worldwide press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, Kyrgyzstan last year fell 50 spots to 122 out of 180 countries.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called the arrests “an unprecedented assault on press freedom in modern Kyrgyz history.”

“Authorities in Kyrgyzstan are choosing to shatter the country’s long-held reputation as a haven for free speech in Central Asia,” Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in a statement.

Kyrgyzstan’s turn towards authoritarianism has put Temirov Live directly in the government’s firing line. Their video reports have repeatedly exposed corruption amongst top Kyrgyz officials.

Amnesty International condemned “the arbitrary nature of these criminal proceedings.”

The International Press Institute urged “Kyrgyz authorities to immediately release the journalists in custody and to end their pattern of harassing journalists and independent media outlets.”

Temirov Live’s founder, Bolot Temirov, told the International Press Institute that his organization’s reporting never urged civil unrest and called the allegation “absurd.”

“There are facts about mansions [owned by] the minister of interior, the fuel business of his uncle, as well as complaints against law enforcement officers,” he said. “In reality, the arrests are for our professional activities, for our investigations.”

Bolot Temirov was speaking from exile in Europe after being stripped of his citizenship and deported to Russia in November 2022. His deportation followed a string of abuse and harassment by the Kyrgyz authorities, including trumped up charges of drug use and an arrest.

The 11 journalist imprisoned by Kyrgyz authorities are: Saparbek Akunbekov, Tynystan Asypbek, Aike Beishekeyeva, Zhoodar Buzumov, Azamat Ishenbekov, Aktilek Kaparov, Akyl Orozbekov, Saipidin Sultanaliyev, Makhabat Tazhibek kyzy, Maksat Tazhibek, and Zhumabek Turdaliyev.