Stockholm, January 24, 2022 – Kyrgyzstan authorities should immediately and credibly investigate claims that police planted drugs on journalist Bolot Temirov and ensure that employees at his news outlet can work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
At about 7:30 p.m. on January 22, more than a dozen masked narcotics police officers raided the office of the YouTube-based investigative outlet Temirov Live in the capital of Bishkek, searched it for about three hours, and arrested Temirov, its founder, after allegedly finding drugs in his possession, according to news reports and the journalist and his lawyer, Nurbek Toktakunov, both of whom spoke to CPJ by phone.
The following day, police charged Temirov with drug possession and released him on bail, according to a statement by the Bishkek police department and Toktakunov.
During the raid, police forced male staff members to the ground, Temirov said, adding that officers put a bag of drugs into his back pocket while pinning him down. The journalist’s wife, Makhabat Tajibek kyzy, who was at the scene, told CPJ that she saw officers plant drugs on her husband.
“The dubious drug charge brought against Kyrgyz journalist Bolot Temirov, mere days after he released an investigation into a leading state official, reeks of retaliation for his work,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must seriously investigate allegations that police planted drugs on Temirov and ensure that members of the press can cover sensitive topics without fear of harassment.”
If convicted of drug possession, Temirov could face a fine of up to 200,000 som (US$2,360) or up to five years in prison under Kyrgyzstan’s criminal code.
Two days before his arrest, Temirov published a video investigation alleging that family members of State Committee for National Security head Kamchybek Tashiev were involved in a corruption scheme relating to a state-owned petroleum refinery. Temirov told CPJ that he believed the drug charge was retaliation for that investigation.
Police confiscated Temirov Live’s computers during the raid, Temirov said, adding that he believed authorities sought to access files about upcoming investigations, as Temirov Live frequently covers top government officials.
Following the raid, police tested Temirov’s urine for heroin, marijuana, and synthetic drugs, with negative results, Toktakunov said. Police then questioned the journalist in the presence of lawyers at the Bishkek police department and released him at about 2:30 p.m. on January 23, after he agreed not to leave the city and signed a nondisclosure agreement, according to Toktakunov and those reports.
Also on the evening of January 22, Bishkek police arrested Kyrgyz folk singer Bolot Nazarov, according to reports and Toktakunov. Nazarov contributes to Temirov Live’s investigative work and publishes folk songs about the outlet’s investigations on its sister channel Ait Ait Dese, according to those reports and Tajibek kyzy, who works as a project manager for Ait Ait Dese.
Tajibek kyzy told CPJ that Nazarov’s folk songs help Temirov Live’s work spread to Kyrgyzstan’s provinces, where they are better received in that format.
On January 23, authorities charged Nazarov with drug possession and inducement to consume narcotics, and placed him under house arrest pending investigation, according to Toktakunov and those reports, which said he denied the charges. The inducement charge is punishable by two to five years in prison if convicted, according to the criminal code.
The Bishkek police stated that a woman by the initials A. A. had filed a complaint earlier that day against “a man named Bolot” who allegedly tried to induce her to take drugs at the Temirov Live office. The statement did not specify whether “Bolot” referred to Temirov or Nazarov.
At a press conference on January 23, Kamchybek Tashiev stated that Temirov Live’s investigation contained “blatant lies and slander.” He denied that the State Committee for National Security had anything to do with the raid on the outlet’s office, which was conducted by the Interior Ministry, but added that the state committee would soon reveal where the outlet receives its funding from to produce such “destructive and lying investigations.”
Separately, on January 23, Temirov Live announced that Temirov discovered a hidden camera in his bedroom in December 2021, and that unspecified individuals had repeatedly threatened and blackmailed Temirov Live staff to pass on information about future investigations. In that video, Temirov Live presenter Aktilek Kaparov claimed that the outlet had identified a vehicle stationed outside the outlet’s office the day before the January 22 search – and before A.A.’s complaint to police – as having been previously used in law enforcement operations.
Temirov confirmed those details to CPJ but did not provide further information on the alleged threats or blackmail. He added that attempts had been made to hack Temirov Live’s passwords following the January 20 investigation.
Previously, on January 9, 2020, when he was chief editor of the independent news website Factcheck, Temirov was beaten by three unidentified men shortly after the outlet published a series of high-profile corruption reports, as CPJ documented at the time.
CPJ emailed the Interior Ministry and the State Committee for National Security for comment, and sent questions to Tashiev to the committee’s email address, but did not immediately receive any replies.
[Editors’ Note: The fourth, 10th, and 11th paragraphs were updated with the correct spelling of Tajibek kyzy’s name. The 10th paragraph was also updated with the correct spelling of Ait Ait Dese. ]