Kyrgyzstan’s embattled media community pleaded on January 17 for the government to cease its ongoing assault on independent outlets, which has this week culminated in more than a dozen detentions.
The latest outfit to be targeted by the authorities was the YouTube channel Temirov Live, founded by investigative reporter Bolot Temirov.
The Interior Ministry has claimed that the social media output of Temirov Live and an associated channel focused on entertainment, Ait Ait Dese, are “discrediting state institutions,” which could in turn lead to “various forms of unrest.”
At 6 a.m. on January 16, police officers raided the Bishkek offices of Temirov Live and confiscated more than 160 pieces of equipment. At least 11 people — including both current and former staffers at the outlet — were arrested. This group included Temirov’s wife, Makhabat Tajibek kyzy, who runs Ait Ait Dese.
Temirov himself has been based outside Kyrgyzstan since November 2022, when he was deported after being stripped of Kyrgyz citizenship. He was accused by investigators of forging his identification documents and dealing drugs, accusations that he has denied vehemently.
In a post on Twitter on July 16, Temirov described the actions taken against his outlet as an act of revenge by Interior Minister Ulan Niyazbekov over its publication of an interview with Kyrgyz businessman Alexei Gavrilov.
“In an interview to our YouTube channel, he exposed the crimes of the Interior Ministry,” Temirov wrote.
Gavrilov alleged in remarks to Temirov Live in December that Niyazbekov had been been behind forcible takeovers of privately owned businesses and the harassment of journalists.
The raid of Temirov Live’s offices came just one day after agents with Kyrgyzstan’s security services, which are known by the acronym GKNB, mounted a raid on the offices of local news agency 24.kg. Three members of the senior management team were detained and questioned over allegations that the publication has been “propagandizing war.” They were summoned for another round of interrogations on January 17.
Neither the authorities nor 24.kg have commented on which particular content has drawn the attention of GKNB investigators. Speculation online is that the accusations are linked to an article published by 24.kg in August 2023 about a Kyrgyz man fighting in the ranks of the Ukrainian armed forces.
The two raids have sparked vocal protests both domestically and abroad.
Press freedom advocates held a press event on January 17 to urge the government to stop what they have termed “unprecedented pressure on the media.”
Tamara Valiyeva, the head of the Kyrgyzstan Media Action Platform, was cited by Kloop news website as saying that the searches, detentions and interrogations are clearly designed to intimidate journalists.
“It is a signal that we shouldn’t stick our nose where it does not belong, otherwise the same thing will happen to us,” Valiyeva said.
Some MPs were supportive of journalists. Zhanar Akayev said that the jailing of reporters would be to the detriment of the country as a whole.
“The searches of the homes of journalists and their forced interrogations are a direct attack on freedom of speech. Such events lead to self-censorship and become an obstacle to investigations into political and corruption,” Akayev told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, Radio Azattyk.
Other lawmakers are more relaxed about the situation.
Speaking on January 17, the speaker of parliament, Nurlanbek Shakiyev, said that any entities receiving funding from abroad should be held accountable if they threaten to destabilize the country.
“Because of those who hide behind journalism and consider themselves journalists and bloggers, because of their promiscuity, all kinds of opinions have appeared in our country. We have freedom, everyone can say what they want,” Shakiyev said. “But there must be limits to idle chatter, so that the stability of our country is not compromised.
Deputy Culture Minister Marat Tagayev has asked that the public not refer to the detention of journalists as “pressure on freedom of speech.” Tagayev, himself a former employee of Radio Azattyk, said that journalism in Kyrgyzstan was “in crisis” and required change.
“Kyrgyz journalism has degraded and become very shallow. It has become common to publish exaggerated information,” he told his former employer, Radio Azattyk.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights nevertheless published a statement calling on Kyrgyz authorities to protect freedom of expression and to ensure that legislation being introduced to further regulate journalism is in compliance with international 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. Arrest or detention as punishment for the legitimate exercise of human rights, including freedom of expression, is arbitrary under international human rights law,” the OHCHR said in a statement.
A similar collective appeal arrived from a number of international advocacy groups, including the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights Watch, and Civil Rights Defenders.
“The Kyrgyz authorities [need] to take immediate and decisive steps to bring the country’s respect for press freedom in accordance with its international obligations, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the appeal read. “They should immediately cease their repressive actions against independent media outlets and journalists, and allow them to report on events in the country and the rest of the world without fear of retribution.”
Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.