A journalist for a fiercely pro-Kremlin news agency has been expelled from Kyrgyzstan in a move that has political observers in the Moscow-friendly nation scratching their heads.
Grigory Mikhailov, an editor with Regnum website, posted an update on Facebook on March 13 to say he was returning to Russia from Kazakhstan after having been denied entry to Kyrgyzstan, where he has been based for more than a decade.
Mikhailov was stopped by police on the evening of March 10 while he was strolling with his wife in the center of the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and ordered to show his documents. The journalist, a Russian citizen, was not carrying his passport, but it was eventually established that his registration in Kyrgyzstan had expired, which constitutes a violation of migration law.
“The police advised us to cross the nearest Kyrgyz-Kazakhstani border point and to return to Kyrgyzstan so that they could put a note about registration at the passport control booth,” Mikhailov’s wife, Yevgeniya Kim, told EurasiaNet.org.
But when Mikhailov attempted to do just that, he was denied re-entry at the border.
Mikhailov has said he believes he has been singled out for this treatment because of his work.
“It is possible that the evaluations that I made in my articles — and I have had a few recently — were not to somebody’s pleasing,” he said.
Technically speaking, Mikhailov was not even deported, since he left Kyrgyzstan of his own will.
A spokeswoman for the Russian Embassy, Dariya Pakhomova, told EurasiaNet.org that their mission has dispatched a note to the Kyrgyz foreign ministry demanding an explanation for the situation.
This expulsion has taken place against the backdrop of escalating pressure by the authorities against non-compliant and critical media outlets.
Last week, the General Prosecutor’s Office announced it is filing libel suits against two major media outlets — Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of US-funded broadcaster RFE/RL, and news website Zanoza.kg —- for running stories based on allegations made by an opponent of President Almazbek Atambayev. Prosecutors have said they are seeking $375,000 in restitution for harm caused to Atambayev’s honor and dignity.
Possibly taking a leaf out of US President Donald Trump’s book, Atambayev has of late been on full berserker mode in his comments about the fourth estate.
“This bunch of supposedly independent journalists, media and politicians are in fact demanding impunity to slander and throw dirt at people they don’t like — the popularly elected president of Kyrgyzstan first and foremost,” he thundered on March 11.
It is not immediately clear what it is that Mikhailov is meant to have done, however. Regnum typically takes an aggressively pro-Russian government and anti-US line — a stance that currently describes Kyrgyzstan’s own positions.
One possible explanation is that Regnum also ran articles on the topic for which Radio Azattyk and Zanoza.kg are facing lawsuits. The story in question involves unsupported allegations made by jailed opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev concerning Atambayev being the purported beneficiary of cargo on a plane that crashed in January outside Bishkek.
Mikhailov has been based in Bishkek for Regnum since 2012 and also reports for Moscow-based newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He has lived in Kyrgyzstan since 2002.