New York, September 21, 2022 – On Wednesday, a court in Kyrgyzstan convicted Next TV director Taalaibek Duishenbiev of inciting interethnic hatred over posts on the broadcaster’s social media accounts covering Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to news reports.
Duishenbiev, who was detained for seven months pending trial, was originally handed a five-year prison sentence, his lawyer, Nurbek Sydykov, told CPJ in a phone call. But a judge allowed him to leave detention and commuted his sentence to a three-year probationary period during which the journalist must report to authorities twice a month and refrain from leaving the capital of Bishkek, Sydykov said.
“We strongly condemn this unjust sentence against Next TV director Taalaibek Duishenbiev. Republishing newsworthy statements by well-known public figures is part of the job of a news outlet, and the absurdity of charging Duishenbiev with incitement for this makes it clear that authorities aim to disrupt the broadcaster’s coverage,” said CPJ’s program director Carlos Martínez de la Serna. “Kyrgyz authorities should immediately overturn Duishenbiev’s conviction, withdraw the onerous probation demands placed upon him, and stop prosecuting journalists on contrived charges.”
On March 3, 2022, officers from Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security raided Next TV’s offices and arrested Duishenbiev, who was later charged by a court with inciting interethnic hatred. The charges stemmed from the outlet’s social media posts covering claims by a former head of Kazakhstan’s intelligence agency that Kyrgyzstan had secretly agreed to provide military support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In June, prosecutors added an additional count of inciting interethnic hatred against Duishenbiev over another Next TV social media post citing claims Uzbek human rights activist Valentina Chupik made to Kyrgyz broadcaster Aprel that Russian authorities were pressuring former Kyrgyz citizens to enlist in the Russian military, according to reports and Ravshan Jeyenbekov, the opposition politician who owns Next TV, who spoke to CPJ in a telephone interview.
The court convicted Duishenbiev of incitement “by a group of individuals,” but prosecutors charged only Duishenbiev over the posts while maintaining a separate investigation into “unidentified individuals,” Sydykov told CPJ. Jeyenbekov called the vagueness of the investigation, and the sentencing, an attempt to keep Next TV “on a short leash.”
Sydykov said that the journalist has not yet decided whether to appeal the court’s decision.
CPJ emailed the Office of the Prosecutor General of Kyrgyzstan for comment but did not immediately receive any reply.