Stockholm, May 11, 2023—Kyrgyz authorities should let the independent news website PolitKlinika work free from fear of legal harassment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On May 6, officers with Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security, or SCNS, summoned PolitKlinika founder and chief editor Dilbar Alimova for questioning about a May 5 article published by the outlet, according to news reports and Alimova, who spoke to CPJ by phone.
Alimova told CPJ that she was outside the capital city of Bishkek at the time, and authorities demanded she return immediately, or they would come with a summons and take her to the city for questioning. However, after she posted about the call on social media, SCNS officers agreed to ask her questions by phone.
The officers did not make it clear why the SCNS was looking into that article, which reported on a letter allegedly written by the speaker of Kyrgyzstan’s parliament to the prosecutor-general, Alimova said, adding that the head of the SCNS was a close political ally of the speaker. The officers asked her about the letter and where the outlet got it from.
After the publication of that article, the speaker’s press secretary said the letter was “fake” and threatened to apply for PolitKlinika’s website to be blocked under Kyrgyzstan’s law on false information unless the outlet deleted its report.
“Alongside their forced closure of RFE/RL’s local service, Kyrgyz authorities seem to have embarked on a systematic course of undermining and intimidating independent media into silence,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Kyrgyz authorities must stop summoning journalists for interrogation over their reporting, and should allow Dilbar Alimova and PolitKlinika to work freely.”
PolitKlinika publishes fact-checking reports, political news, and investigations, those news reports said.
On Monday, May 8, PolitKlinika issued a statement saying the outlet stood by its reporting and noted that it had included a statement from the parliamentary office denying the letter’s authenticity, and had also reached out to the prosecutor-general for comment. The outlet said it was temporarily taking the report down pending a response from the prosecutor-general.
Alimova told CPJ that she felt there was “colossal pressure” on independent media by Kyrgyz authorities, pointing to the April 2023 shuttering of U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s local service Radio Azattyk.
Separately, on February 20, Kyrgyz state broadcaster EITR filed a lawsuit against PolitKlinika and Tynystan Asypbek, a reporter at the outlet, demanding 10 million som (US$115,000) in damages over a February 3 video report alleging that ElTR had made false claims about government borrowing, according to news reports.
Alimova told CPJ that the ongoing court case – in which the state-run channel is seeking 7 million som (US$80,100) from PolitKlinika and 3 million som (US$34,360) from Asypbek for “undermining the reputation of the channel and its staff” – could force the outlet to close.
Alimova said she and PolitKlinika have also been the target of online harassment, which she believes to be coordinated involving social media accounts of employees of state media. CPJ reviewed many posts by users calling for legal action to be taken against the outlet.
Also in February, the SCNS summoned Asel Otorbaeva, general director of independent news website 24.kg, for questioning over comments under a 24.kg report, and in March, the SCNS summoned 24.kg editor Anastasia Mokrenko for questioning about a fake bomb threat on a shopping center that was sent to the outlet and others, according to reports by that outlet.
CPJ emailed the Kyrgyzstan presidency, the SCNS, and ElTR for comment but did not receive any replies.