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HRW urges Kyrgyzstan’s authorities to stop harassment of independent media

Authorities of Kyrgyzstan have stepped up the harassment of journalists and independent media with a slew of criminal investigations into their work in recent months. The international human rights organization Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

On March 29, 2022, following a motion by the Prosecutor General’s Office, a Bishkek District Court found that a publication of a privately owned media outlet, Next TV, was «extremist». The post implied that Kyrgyzstan would lend its military support to Russian forces in Ukraine. The media referred to the former head of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan as a source of information. The court sent Next TV’s director, Taalaibek Duishenbiev, for pretrial detention on charges of inciting inter-ethnic hatred for reposting the commentary.

The Kyrgyz authorities say they protect freedom of expression, yet try to silence critical voices and clamp down on independent media through criminal investigations and bogus charges.

Syinat Sultanalieva, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch

«The authorities should release Taalaibek Duishenbiev, and drop all unfounded charges against him and other media targets that violate the right to freedom of expression,» she said.

On March 3, the State Committee for National Security (SCNS) initiated a criminal investigation into Next TV for reposting the article, and police raided the office, detaining Duishenbiev, confiscating equipment, and ultimately sealing off the office.

On March 5, the Pervomaiskiy District Court ordered two months of pretrial detention for Duishenbiev and said he would face charges of inciting interethnic hatred, under article 330 of the Criminal Code. If convicted, Duishenbiev faces up to seven years in prison. On March 24, the Bishkek City Court upheld the district court’s pretrial detention order.

As the human rights defenders stress, Next TV is the third media outlet targeted by Kyrgyzstan authorities in recent months.

On February 1, the Pervomaiskiy district prosecutor’s office initiated a criminal investigation into the reposting by Kaktus.media of an article by a Tajik media outlet, Asia Plus, about a Kyrgyz-Tajik border skirmish on January 27. A criminal case against Kaktus.media was initiated under Article 407 «Propaganda of war, that is, dissemination of views, ideas or appeals in any form with the aim of causing aggression of one country against another or unleashing a military conflict» of the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic.

On January 22, Bishkek city police detained an investigative journalist, Bolot Temirov, director of Temirov Live, an independent online outlet, on charges of illegal drug manufacturing. The police also searched his office and confiscated computer processors, hard drives, and documents. Temirov was released that same day with instructions not to leave the country. Temirov maintains that drugs allegedly found during the search were planted.

As noted, this harassment of investigative journalists and independent media outlets is taking place against the backdrop of other efforts to censor freedom of speech. On February 21, the Ministry of Culture, Information, Sports, and Youth Policy submitted for public consideration a draft decree to carry out the law on Protection from False Information, signed by the President Sadyr Japarov on August 23, 2021.

Human Rights Watch had previously reported that the law paves the way for state-managed censorship and runs counter to Kyrgyzstan’s national and international human rights obligations.

«Investigative journalism is an important cornerstone of a free and democratic society, and Kyrgyz authorities should immediately stop trying to stifle it, whether through bogus criminal investigations or oppressive laws. They cannot just pay lip service to the importance of freedom of expression, but need to demonstrate they are upholding their international human rights obligations,» Sultanalieva said.