An order from Kyrgyzstan’s Culture Ministry to block access to the Kloop news website has come into effect, furthering darkening the clouds over a shrinking landscape for independent journalism.
The motivation behind the block imposed on September 13 was an article published at the start of the month in which Kloop reported on allegations that a jailed opposition politician, Ravshan Jeenbekov, is being abused at his pre-detention facility.
Culture Ministry officials claimed in their decree that the piece contained “unreliable information,” although it did not specify how.
The order was emanated in turn in response to a complaint from the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, the successor agency to the KGB. The article suggested that Jeenbekov, who was among a group of dozens of activists and politicians arrested in October on hazily substantiated accusations of plotting to sow unrest, was being mistreated at the behest of the GKNB.
On September 7, the Culture Ministry gave Kloop a two-day deadline for pulling the article, the basic gist of which was also carried by other local publications, or face a two-month block. The website refused.
Kloop has told Eurasianet that the Culture Ministry waited until 5 p.m. on September 12 until finally instructing internet service providers in writing to bar access to the site.
Kloop says it will seek to make its content available to local readers through mirror websites and its social media platforms.
“We do not believe that the article contained any false information. And the tenacity with which the authorities want to silence us only makes their behavior more suspicious,” Kloop has said in a comment on the situation. “We will challenge the decisions of the Kyrgyz authorities at all possible levels.”
Worse could be yet to come, however.
The General Prosecutor’s Office last month filed a lawsuit to seek the definitive closure of the news site, citing what they described as its overly critical stance on government policies. The outlet’s reporting is leading to an increase in “socio-psychological tension” and could deepen the likelihood of suicide and “sexual deviancy,” prosecutors argued.
This current block, which is on paper only temporary, was made possible by legislation greenlit by President Sadyr Japarov in August 2021 that was ostensibly designed to shield the public from “false information.” The law enables the Culture Ministry to unilaterally block a website without a court ruling once it determines that an online platform has disseminated information it deems not to be true.
Critics of the legislation have said the rules are entirely arbitrary and that the authorities are liable to use it to silence opposition voices.
In October, the government ordered a two-month block on the website of RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, Radio Azattyk, after determining that the broadcaster had fallen foul of the fake information law by quoting Tajik officials speaking about a border conflict that had taken place the month before. The ban was later extended and lifted only in July following RFE/RL’s decision to cave to government demands and pull the offending material from its site.
Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.