Kyrgyz leader gets red card for foul play against investigative news site over FC Barcelona story
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the dismissal of a politically-motivated complaint by Kyrgyz prosecutors seeking the closure of Kloop, a media outlet that published a report alleging that the Kyrgyz government’s cooperation with Spanish football club Barcelona is tainted by favouritism involving President Sadyr Japarov.
It was supposed to be a flattering moment in the international limelight for President Japarov. Surrounded by some of the biggest stars in the Spanish club’s history, he inaugurated two FC Barcelona subsidiaries in Kyrgyzstan on 29 August and was due to attend a meeting between these “legends" and local players tomorrow.
But the independent investigative website Kloop spoiled the party by publishing a report last week alleging that presidential associates and a businessman close to the Russian nuclear energy corporation Rosatom are involved in plans to build an FC Barcelona “Football Academy” on land previously confiscated by the Kyrgyz state.
A visibly irritated Japarov attacked Kloop in an interview published by the governmental news agency on 26 August and tried to discredit its journalists.
Previously, on 22 August, the day it published its report, Kloop received a copy of a complaint that the prosecutor’s office in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, had just filed with a Bishkek court calling for Kloop to be dissolved on the grounds of “activities going well beyond the organisation’s charter.” Kloop defines itself as an online information platform.
The complaint cites the conclusions of an investigation that the State Committee for National Security (GNKB) opened in 2021 into allegations that Kloop “appealed publicly for the state’s overthrow.” The GNKB concluded that Kloop seeks “to harshly criticise the activities of the current government [...] and to discredit the government and local authorities.”
“This is not the first time Sadyr Japarov has tried to intimidate and censor independent media in his country, which until last year was regarded as a relative oasis of press freedom in Central Asia. He seems allergic to criticism and his reflex responses betray him. His violent and contemptuous reaction to Kloop's investigation, compounded by an absurd lawsuit, show his true colours. RSF urges the Bishkek court to dismiss this baseless complaint.
The complaint relies on absurd arguments with weak or non-existent legal bases. The prosecutor’s office accuses Kloop of not being registered as a media. But media are not required to register, or rather, the requirement exists only in a “Russian-style” bill that the president’s office had been promoting in recent months.
In support of its claim of a negative bias against the government, the complaint cites several articles, some of which are not even online. And it simultaneously accuses Kloop of “presenting Kyrgyz citizens as inferior to the Russian people” and of making “degrading and humiliating” comments about the Russian nation.
Kloop has exposed many scandals since its creation in 2007, including a massive network of corruption within the customs service involving hundreds of millions of dollars, for which Kloop has been hounded by successive governments.
The latest offensive against Kloop parallels the persecution of Radio Azattyk (a local branch of the US broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty), which intensified with the blocking of its websites in October 2022 and then a lawsuit seeking its dissolution. To end the judicial harassment, Azattyk finally removed several articles from its website on 12 July.
The Japarov government’s clampdown is in the process of destroying what was once regarded as a relative oasis of press freedom within an authoritarian Central Asia. As a result, Kyrgyzstan fell 50 places in RSF's 2023 World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 122nd out of 180 countries.