In several hearings between February 1 and February 6, 2024, the Bishkek City Court rejected the appeals of 11 journalists, who are current and former employees of the anti-corruption investigative outlet Temirov Live, and upheld their pretrial detention. (Screenshot: YouTube/Radio Azattyk)
Eleven current and former Temirov Live staff members face charges of inciting mass unrest. Kyrgyzstan authorities released four former Temirov Live journalists on April 9, 2024. (Screenshot: YouTube/Radio Azattyk)

Kyrgyzstan releases 4 Temirov Live journalists; CPJ calls for dropping of charges against all 11

Stockholm, April 9, 2024—Kyrgyzstan authorities should withdraw charges against 11 current and former staff of anti-corruption investigative outlet Temirov Live, release the four still in detention, and allow the press to work without reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

The Pervomaisky District Court in the capital, Bishkek, on Tuesday released four former Temirov Live journalists—Tynystan Asypbekov, Saipidin Sultanaliev, Joodar Buzumov, and Maksat Tajibek uulu—under house arrest.

Three current Temirov Live staff members—director Makhabat Tajibek kyzy, investigative reporter Aike Beishekeyeva, media worker Azamat Ishenbekov—and former Temirov Live journalist, Aktilek Kaparov, remain in pretrial detention.  

Eleven current and former Temirov Live’s employees face charges of inciting mass unrest, which could see them jailed for up to eight years under Article 278 of Kyrgyzstan’s criminal code.

On Saturday, Tajibek kyzy accused jail staff of beating her and other detainees not connected with the Temirov Live case. Kyrgyzstan’s parliament-appointed human rights ombudsman confirmed in a visit to the jail that Tajibek kyzy had bruises on her face and arms, and prosecutors launched an inquiry into the incident.

“While the release of another four journalists associated with Temirov Live is a step in the right direction, Kyrgyzstan continues to grossly flout its international free speech obligations by charging 11 journalists, four of whom are still being held, in retaliation for their reporting on official corruption,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Allegations that jail staff recently beat Temirov Live director Makhabat Tajibek kyzy are deeply concerning and demand full and urgent investigation.”

In a series of raids on January 16, police searched Temirov Live’s office and the 11 journalists’ homes, confiscated the outlet’s equipment, and arrested the journalists over unspecified videos by Temirov Live and sister project Ait Ait Dese. Court documents reviewed by CPJ accused Tajibek kyzy of “discrediting” state organs in those videos, “which could lead to various forms of mass unrest.”

In March, the Pervomaisky District Court released three of the outlet’s current and former staff under house arrest or a travel ban.

A local partner of global investigative network Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Temirov Live is known for its anti-corruption investigations into senior government officials and has more than 265,000 subscribers on its YouTube channels. The outlet recently reported on Kyrgyzstan President Sadyr Japarov’s alleged use of an expensive private jet for a family holiday and allegations of corruption and abuse of office by the minister of internal affairs.

Temirov Live’s Kyrgyzstan-born founder, Bolot Temirov, told CPJ that the charges against his current and former staff are reprisal for these and other recent investigations, and authorities seek to “uncover my sources and paralyze our work long-term.”

Authorities deported Temirov in November 2022 and banned him from entering the country for five years in connection with his reporting.

Under President Japarov, Kyrgyz authorities have launched an unprecedented crackdown on independent reporting in a country previously seen as a regional haven for the free press.

In January, security services raided privately owned news website and opened a criminal case for “propaganda of war.” In February, a court shuttered Kloop, another OCCRP investigative partner. In April, Japarov ratified a “foreign agents” law that could be used to target media outlets and press freedom groups.

CPJ’s emails to the Presidential Administration of Kyrgyzstan and the Ministry of Internal Affairs asking for comment on the Temirov Live journalists did not immediately receive any reply.

Editor’s note: This text has been updated in the 13th paragraph to correct the date of the ratification of the “foreign agents” law to April.