Stockholm, August 28, 2023—Kyrgyz authorities should withdraw their application to shutter Kloop Media, a non-profit foundation that runs the independent news and anti-corruption investigative website Kloop, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On August 22, the city prosecutor in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, applied to the courts to liquidate Kloop Media because the foundation’s charter allegedly did not list media activity among its statutory activities. Kyrgyzstan’s civil law code allows for the liquidation of legal entities by a court decision if they “systematically” conduct activities inconsistent with the purposes set out in their charters.
The application also alleged that Kloop’s publications included “sharp criticism” of the authorities, demoralized the public, and aimed to incite a revolution. The application did not state whether the outlet or its staff would face separate prosecution in relation to these allegations.
Kloop received notice of the application on Monday, August 28, according to the outlet’s lawyer, Fatima Yakupbayeva, who told CPJ that the outlet can only file a complaint against the application if the court declines to take the matter to trial. Yakupbayeva added that Kloop’s reporting was represented in the foundation’s charter under activities such as the “analysis of current affairs” and the provision of an “information platform” for the free expression of opinions on socio-political and economic developments.
Kloop’s chief editor, Anna Kapushenko, told local media that the prosecutor’s claims were unfounded and described the lawsuit as part of a “long chain” of repressive actions by present authorities against rights defenders and the press.
“Kyrgyz authorities’ application to shutter Kloop is an outrageous and deeply cynical attempt to stifle some of Kyrgyzstan’s most probing investigative journalism, including investigations of alleged corruption involving leading state officials,” said Carlos Martínez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in New York. “Authorities should immediately withdraw this application and stop their campaign of pressure against the independent press.”
Kloop, a local partner of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project global investigative network, frequently publishes investigative and fact-checking articles critical of Kyrgyz authorities.
Bektour Iskender, co-founder of Kloop, told CPJ by phone he believed the shuttering application could be related to an August 22 investigation by Kloop alleging that relatives of both the Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and the head of the country’s State Committee for National Security were involved in the construction of a soccer academy in Kyrgyzstan connected to the Spanish soccer club Barcelona.
On August 26, Japarov sharply criticized the article, saying that outlets like Kloop “bring only harm and no benefit to the Kyrgyz.”
The application also cites a State Committee for National Security investigation, opened in November 2021, into Kloop’s publications that allegedly made public calls for the violent seizure of power.
Yakupbayeva said Kloop had no further information about that investigation. Making public calls for the violent seizure of power online is punishable by three to five years in prison under Article 327 of Kyrgyzstan’s criminal code.
The application quoted opinions from several court experts—officially designated by the state for their testimony to be used in court—gathered as part of that investigation who accused Kloop’s publications of containing “hidden manipulation of social opinion” and who said the outlet’s “constant negative statements” and “false or discrediting information” provoked “dissatisfaction” and “distrust” for authorities and could lead to instability and revolution.
CPJ’s message to the president’s press secretary and emails to the State Committee for National Security did not receive any replies. CPJ’s email to the Bishkek City Prosecutor was returned due to a full inbox.
In November 2022, Kyrgyz authorities deported anti-corruption reporter Bolot Temirov. Authorities also blocked Radio Azattyk, the local service of U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, for nine months from October 2022, and restored their access following the removal of a report from the outlet’s websites.