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Public appeal of Asel Otorbaeva to SCNS Chairman Kamchybek Tashiev

General Director of 24.kg news agency Asel Otorbaeva sent a public appeal to Kamchybek Tashiev, Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Kyrgyzstan and Chairman of the State Committee for National Security (SCNS), in connection with the developing situation regarding the media outlet.

The full text of the appeal:

«Dear Kamchybek Kadyrshayevich, the reason for addressing you is the situation that has developed with regard to 24.kg news agency.

On January 15, 2024, our office was searched by a senior investigator of the SCNS, which was started at 10.40 a.m. As a result of investigative actions, the office of News Agency «24.kg» LLC located at 77, Manaschi Sagynbai Street, Bishkek was sealed.

Earlier, I applied for permission to access the sealed office and receive the seals of the news agency. However, by the decision of the senior investigator of the SCNS dated January 22, 2024, my application was denied.

As the reason for the refusal, it was stated that items and documents that may be of significance for the criminal case were seized as a result of the search. In this case, this circumstance confirms that there is no procedural need to seal the office.

The sealing of the office significantly hinders the professional activities of journalists, who cannot fully fulfill their duties outside their workplace. At the same time, they have families to feed and support, and many employees have loan obligations. Restriction of the agency’s work may affect the timely fulfillment of contractual obligations on payroll calculation and payment of salaries to 24.kg employees.

Many employees do not have the necessary conditions at home for full-fledged work. They are working remotely now, as they did during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite this, all these days, journalists have been disseminating publicly important information, including information from state authorities, in strict compliance with the requirements of the law.

Restricted access to the office premises also creates risks of my failure to fulfill my obligations on tax and insurance payments. News agency rents this office and rent is charged on it.

During the search in the office, all equipment necessary for investigative actions, office equipment, cell phones of almost all employees, accounting and other documents were confiscated. Accordingly, there is no procedural necessity to further prevent us from engaging in professional activities by sealing the rented premises and confiscating the seals of the LLC.

At the same time, we are ready to provide information and documents of interest to the investigation, if necessary.

As for the disputed publication, there were no negative consequences or public outcry, and there is no material damage.

We are confident that the investigation will be conducted objectively and comprehensively and the result of the investigation will be the termination of the criminal case, since the news agency has never had any intention to promote illegal appeals.

We also informed the investigator of our readiness to conduct an independent examination of the publication of the news agency by reputable foreign expert organizations.

24.kg news agency has been operating in Kyrgyzstan since March 2006. It is officially registered with the Ministry of Justice as a legal entity — News Agency «24.kg» LLC. For almost 18 years of its work 24.kg news agency has been engaged in prompt coverage of the most important events in the country and abroad. The agency has a wide reading audience and regular readers, who for many years have been receiving reliable and necessary information about what is happening in the Kyrgyz Republic and abroad.

The management of 24.kg comes for questioning by investigators regularly, upon request. All necessary testimonies are given, we do not hinder the investigation and do not intend to do so.

As far as I know, there is no ban on the professional activities of 24.kg news agency. Today the work of the agency is under the threat of disruption.

Clients are concerned that I will not fulfill my obligations under the signed contracts. A number of advertisers have already notified me that they would have to terminate commercial contracts. I believe that the search and interrogations within the framework of the criminal case investigated by the SCNS were the impetus for this decision of our clients. In informal conversations, people confess that they have fear. The news agency will simply not be able to fully operate, the employees will be left without job and, consequently, without the opportunity to support their families.

24.kg news agency has always been guided in its work by journalistic ethics and followed all the norms of national legislation, including the Law on Mass Media. It has always resolved all claims to its materials strictly within the legal framework and on the basis of the national legislation in force.

Employees of 24.kg are law-abiding citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic.

24.kg news agency is a bona fide taxpayer, and the relevant authorities have never had any claims against us on this matter. The main source of funds for the activities of news agency is the placement of advertisements and advertising texts on the website. But at the moment we cannot fully fulfill our obligations on payment of taxes and insurance premiums, contracts with our partners, including advertising contracts.

On the basis of the above, I ask you to consider the need for the investigative authorities to authorize the admission of the employees of 24.kg news agency to the office and the return of seals and stamps to ensure dissemination of timely, important, reliable information by professional journalists».

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