Kyrgyz Authorities Move to Shut Down Independent News Outlet
Investigative publication Kloop is the latest target of authorities’ campaign against independent media and critical voices.
Rights groups and media experts have deemed the Kyrgyz authority’s attempt to shut down the Kloop Media Foundation, a non-profit body that runs the independent online Kloop.kg outlet, to be the latest attempt to punish and silence voices critical of the government.
On August 22, the prosecutor’s office in the capital Bishkek filed a case to liquidate the foundation, stating that its charter did not list media in its activities and that Kloop Media was not listed in the public register of media outlets. The suit was officially served on August 28.
Anna Kapushenko, who heads Kloop.kg, has vowed to fight the Kyrgyz authorities’ moves to shut down the foundation.
“There is no law prohibiting online media outlets, if they are not registered as media, from publishing information. We will be contesting it,” she said in a statement.
Founded in 2007, Kloop Media has built a reputation for its hard-hitting investigative journalism, particularly concerning corruption in political circles.
The authority’s suit largely references an investigation the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security (GKNB) initiated in November 2021 into the foundation’s activities on suspicion that Kloop Media publications had made “public calls for the violent seizure of power online,” in violation of the country’s criminal code.
The investigation found that the outlet’s investigations used “direct and hidden methods” to “shape negative opinion about the policy pursued by the Kyrgyz authorities in power and the government programme in whole”. It added that Kloop’s coverage “zombifies” people and was “very useful in arranging protests and revolutions.”
“The reasons or motives specified in the statement serve as a signal for all independent media, activists, human rights defenders; [it] warns them not to criticise state authorities,” noted Kapushenko, adding that she had no doubt about the outcome of the trial. “We think that Kloop Media would be liquidated and will cease to exist.”
Rights groups and industry experts are equally pessimistic. For Tamara Valieva, a media expert who leads the Platform of Media Actions of Kyrgyzstan, the decision is “a direct threat” to independent outlets.
“It is a signal for them – behave yourself,” she told IWPR. “There are still independent media outlets that have courage to speak up. There’s a file on each of them [which] will be disclosed to the public in case of need. If [the authorities] want to close something, they will just do it for cooked-up reasons. There is no significant claim in [the suit against Kloop.ge]. One says that they criticise authorities. Where is it written that one cannot criticise authorities? Nowhere, no law has it. That’s why they want to shut Kloop.kg down.”
On September 8, Kloop.ge received a note from the ministry of culture demanding the outlet remove an article about former lawmaker Ravshan Jeenbekov, who claimed to have been tortured in jail where he was serving time over protests against a controversial border deal between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
“We will not delete the material, we will make more content for social networks. There is a website mirror, there is a VPN, we urge users to use them to the maximum, because it seems that soon the country will have a scorched information field,” Kapushenko told IWPR, adding that a preliminary hearing was scheduled for late September. “We are also taking measures to ensure the safety of our journalists.”
The lawsuit against Kloop.kg is the latest of dozens of cases of detention of journalists and bloggers, cyber bullying, criminal cases and the attempted closure of media outlets that have hit Kyrgyzstan’s freedoms since 2021.
In 2022, authorities blocked the websites of ResPublica and Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz language service of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and suspended the broadcast of Next TV on charges of inciting interethnic hatred. A criminal case was initiated against Taalaibek Duishenbiev, director of the TV channel, who received a five-year suspended prison sentence.
In December 2022, the authorities deported Bolot Temirov, a prominent investigative journalist, to Russia. A dual Russian-Kyrgyz citizen, Temirov was expelled on charges of “illegally obtaining a national passport of the Kyrgyz Republic”. He was arrested in January 2022, two days after releasing an investigation into an alleged fraud scheme involving allies of President Sadyr Zhaparov.
On January 12, 2023, blogger Adilet Ali Myktybek, known as Adilet Baltabai, was sent to jail straight from the courtroom for speaking out against some of the authorities’ policies.
In January 2023 the ministry of culture filed a lawsuit to terminate all operations of Radio Azattyk Media. The ministry stated that a video the outlet had published of the clashes on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border in September 2022 violated Article 23 of the law on mass media, which forbids “propaganda of war, violence and cruelty, national, religious exclusivity and intolerance to other peoples and nations,” and demanded it be removed. In July, the media outlet removed the video and the Bishkek City Court sealed an agreement between Radio Azattyk and the ministry of culture and revoked the decision of the previous court.
The legislation may become even more restrictive as authorities debate a controversial new media law. In late 2022, the presidential administration submitted a draft to amend the current regulations. The document was largely criticised by media professionals and rights groups and officials agreed to establish a task force comprising journalists, lawyers and experts to revise it.
The provisions, however, did not change substantially. Members of the task group stated that the authorities seemed favourable to some minor concessions, but did not agree on key issues including the requirement for all websites to register as media outlets and the registration or re-registration under the new, more stringent procedures.
“I have rather pessimistic expectations,” noted Valieva. “If they decided to close Kloop.kg so brazenly, without observing the law, so this law… will be adopted because authorities need it this way…We thought we would be able to convince [MPs] and to find common-sense people, but I think there would be no such manoeuvres, and they would adopt the law as it is.”
For Valieva, the space to express opinions that “differ from the government’s lines will increasingly shrink and in the end, only ‘approving’ media outlets would remain. Independent media would quietly be looking for alternate options, like going abroad or making mirror sites. Prospects are not good”.
This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.