Kyrgyzstan, a small Central Asian nation known for its relatively strong record of protecting free speech, has seen an alarming development in recent days with the arrest of investigative journalist Bolot Temirov.
Temirov, who is the head of the Temirov Live investigative show, was arrested on January 22nd by the police’s drug enforcement unit, on charges of forcing an unidentified girl to use drugs.
However, Temirov and his colleagues at Temirov Live have claimed that the charges are fabricated and that the arrest is a retaliation for his recent investigative work.
Just days before his arrest, Temirov had published an investigation exposing alleged corruption by relatives of Kamchybek Tashiyev, the head of Kyrgyzstan’s State National Security Committee. The investigation revealed that a company owned by Tashiyev’s nephew had earned 37 million Kyrgyzstani som ($460,000) as an intermediary for state oil and gas firm Kyrgyzneftegaz.
In an interview with the Kyiv Independent, Temirov’s wife Makhabbat, who is an executive at Temirov Live, stated that the arrest may be in retaliation for Temirov’s plans to publish another investigation on Tashiyev’s relatives. Makhabbat also stated that another journalist at Temirov Live disappeared on January 22nd.
This is not the first time that Temirov and his colleagues at Temirov Live have faced retaliation for their investigative work. In November, Temirov published an expose of relatives of Kyrgyz President Zhaparov who had received state jobs during his rule.
In response, Temirov said in October that he had been surveilled and wiretapped. Makhabbat revealed that a hidden camera had been found in the apartment of one of Temirov Live’s journalists. She said that employees of the State National Security Committee had threatened to leak videos with details of the journalist’s private life. The committee wanted the journalist to inform it about Temirov Live’s investigations and specific journalists’ functions in exchange for not publishing the videos, Makhabbat said.
The arrest of Temirov and the threats against his colleagues at Temirov Live are a concerning development for Kyrgyzstan, which has had a relatively strong record of protecting free speech compared to other Central Asian countries. Kyrgyzstan has retained a democratic political system and experienced three revolutions since 2005. However, under the current leadership of President Sadyr Zhaparov, there have been increasing concerns about the erosion of press freedom and the use of fabricated charges to silence critical voices.
Makhabbat argued that the situation with the freedom of speech is worse under Zhaparov than under two previous presidents – Almazbek Atambayev and Soronbai Zheenbekov. The arrest of Temirov and the threats against his colleagues at Temirov Live are a clear attempt to silence critical voices and undermine press freedom in Kyrgyzstan.
It is crucial that the international community, including the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States, speak out against these actions and call for the immediate release of Temirov and the protection of press freedom in Kyrgyzstan.
The arrest of Temirov is just the latest in a series of moves by the Kyrgyz government to crack down on press freedom and silence critical voices. In recent years, there have been increasing concerns about the use of fabricated charges and harassment to silence journalists, human rights activists, and political opponents.