Kyrgyzstan: RSF condemns the deportation of Bolot Temirov to Russia

Bolot Temirov, an investigative reporter with Kyrgyz and Russian dual nationality, who is shortlisted for the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Prize for Independence was arrested during a court hearing in Bishkek on 23 November and deported to Russia. RSF calls on the Kyrgyz authorities to return Temirov’s passports and to put a stop to their growing attacks on the media in Kyrgyzstan.

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“Bolot Temirov was sent to Russia by force with no belongings, no phone, no money or international passport, and in violation of deportation procedures,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “This journalist, who is shortlisted for the next RSF prize and has been harassed for months, had announced his intention to bring a defamation suit against President Sadyr Japarov and the head of the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security (GKNB). You cannot deny a journalist’s nationality in order to get rid of them! RSF calls on the authorities to return his Kyrgyz and Russian passports and to put a stop to their attacks on independent media.”

The hearing on 23 November in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, began fairly well, with the judge upholding Temirov’s acquittal on two of the three spurious charges brought against him – “illegal possession of drugs” and “crossing the border illegally.” His conviction on the third charge – allegedly “forging” his Kyrgyz passports – was upheld without imposition of any sentence because the statute of limitations had expired. But the court then unexpectedly ordered his expulsion on the basis of this conviction.

“This decision is totally illogical and illegal,” his Defence team told RSF. “If the main penalty is not applied because the statute of limitations has expired, why would this additional penalty of expulsion be applicable? Especially as he was not found guilty of illegally crossing the border.”

After his heavy-handed arrest in the court, Temirov disappeared without being allowed access to his lawyers for more than three hours.

As the author of impactful investigative video reports about senior officials, which are posted on his YouTube channel Temirov Live, Temirov has been subjected to unprecedented judicial harassment since the start of the year. Trumped-up charges were first brought against him following a search of Temirov Live's headquarters on 22 January, two days after he drew attention to questionable links between GKNB chief Kamchybek Tashiev, a close associate of the president, and a state owned oil company.

Kyrgyzstan had until recently been seen as an exception in Central Asia because of its relative respect for press freedom. But Temirov’s expulsion follows signs of a turn towards a more authoritarian approach, with several cases of independent media being harassed in recent months. 

The authorities stopped broadcasts by Radio Azattyk (the Kazakh service of the US broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) on technical grounds on 23 October and then, three days later, they blocked the broadcaster’s websites after it covered clashes on the Tajik border. The blocking was carried out under a fake news law that RSF criticised in 2021.The draft of a proposed revision of the media law that was unveiled on 28 September has also caused alarm. “This law aims to get rid of sites that displease the government (...) and to prevent access to various sources of information on important social issues,” highlights the independent Media Policy Institute.

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