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Russian journalists call for release of media workers detained in Bishkek

Russian journalists have issued an appeal calling for an end to the persecution of journalists of independent media outlets in Kyrgyzstan. The letter was signed by 50 journalists and individual media outlets.

The authors of the appeal said that the Kyrgyz authorities «have launched large-scale repression against free journalism»: on January 15, the office of 24.kg portal was searched on charges of «war propaganda,» and the next day, 11 journalists from various investigative projects were detained and arrested on charges of «calls for mass unrest.»

«The current arrest of 11 journalists at once on charges of «calls for mass unrest» has confirmed the worst fears: the authorities of the republic have declared war on civil society and have chosen repression as a weapon. And, of course, such repression is a demonstration to anyone who decides to engage in investigative journalism in Kyrgyzstan that that certain topics are off-limits. This is a serious blow to freedom of speech in a country where this institution used to be one of the strongest in Central Asia,» the appeal says.

The signatories said that «journalists should not be imprisoned for their work». They called on democratic states to initiate diplomatic contacts to release the journalists as soon as possible and drop the criminal cases against them.

Employees of the State Committee for National Security came to the office of 24.kg news agency on January 16 at about 11 a.m. General Director Asel Otorbaeva, Editors-in-Chief Anton Lymar and Makhinur Niyazova were taken for interrogation. Equipment and personal mobile phones of employees were confiscated. The SCNS said that the search at 24.kg news agency was conducted as part of a criminal case under the article «Propaganda of War» of the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic.

In addition, on January 16, the office of Temirov Live was searched and editorial equipment was confiscated. The police searched homes and detained 11 current and former employees of the media outlet.

The Interior Ministry issued a statement announcing that, as a result of «forensic linguistic examination» of content found on the social media pages of Temirov Live and Ait Ait Dese on December 30, criminal proceedings had been initiated against them under article 278, part 3 of the Criminal Code for «calling for riots.»

All detainees were arrested on January 17 until the end of investigation by court decision.

Makhabat Tazhibek kyzy, Sapar Akunbekov, Azamat Ishenbekov, Saipidin Sultanaliev, Aktilek Kaparov, Tynystan Asypbekov, Maksat Tazhibek uulu, Zhoodar Buzumov, Zhumabek Turdaliev, Aike Beishekeeva and Akyl Orozbekov will be kept in Bishkek pretrial detention center 1 until March 13. All of them are former or current employees of Temirov Live.