Kyrgyzstan’s security services have arrested the head of a local television station founded by an opposition politician only days after the broadcaster allegedly reported claims that the Kyrgyz government was lending material support to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Taalai Duishenbiyev was detained late on March 3 by the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, and stands accused of “inciting ethnic hatred.” The station, Next TV, has been taken off the air.
The offending report was not aired on the Next TV station, but on the broadcaster’s Telegram channel. The brief post quoted a report produced by a Ukrainian outlet citing a former head of neighboring Kazakhstan’s security services as saying that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan had privately expressed willingness to provide materiel and manpower for Russia’s military assault on Ukraine. No evidence was provided for the former official’s claim.
The GKNB said reports of this kind constituted a show of hatred toward minority ethnic groups – by which it presumably meant Russians, although this is not specified in their statement – and that they could cause “irreparable damage to the country’s image.”
That the Kyrgyz security services have chosen to latch onto such an insignificant post to pursue serious criminal charges has been interpreted by Next TV founder Ravshan Jeenbekov, a veteran opposition politician, as little more than a flimsy pretext to shutter his outlet.
"The GKNB has been pressuring me to close Next TV for several months now. Finally, they have come up with a reason,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “Well, I’m the owner, so you better lock me up too.”
Next TV staff say their office has been sealed by security services officers and that all their paperwork and equipment have been confiscated.
Duishenbiyev’s lawyer, Akmat Alagushev, has argued that the assault on the broadcaster is particularly unfounded as the TV station operates as a separate legal entity from its Telegram account.
“The Telegram channel is not de jure part of Next TV. The director is not responsible for and doesn’t know about everything that is published there,” Alagushev told 24.kg news agency.
A precedent for prosecuting news outlets for simply reprinting content from peer organizations has been set already.
On February 1, prosecutors announced that they were initiating criminal proceedings against Bishkek-based news website Kaktus, which often carries coverage critical of the government, on the unusual charge of “war propaganda.” The accusation came in response to the outlet reprinting a report by a Tajik news website during a bout of border unrest late last month. Informing readers about the other country’s narrative on those events, Kyrgyz prosecutors said, was a criminal offense.
Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.