The Bishkek city prosecutor's office has launched a legal case against the Kloop Media Public Foundation to suspend its work in Kyrgyzstan because of its critical coverage of the government.
The move will heighten fears that under the authoritarian rule of nationalist-populist President Sadyr Japarov, Kyrgyzstan’s days as a relative “island of democracy” in Central Asia are drawing to a close. Japarov’s officials have already used the courts to impose a suspension on the Kyrgyzstan news website of RFE/RL and in June the president’s office was accused of running a “troll factory”.
Kloop told RFE/RL that it was officially informed of the lawsuit on August 28. The move, it said, was made after an audit by the State Committee for National Security assessed that Kloop's "published materials are aimed at sharply criticising the policies of the current government" and that "most of the publications are purely negative, aimed at discrediting representatives of state and municipal bodies".
Kloop.kg, present on the news scene as an independent media entity in Kyrgyzstan since 2007, runs a Kyrgyz website that largely takes contributions from students and graduates of the Kloop Media Public Foundation School of Journalism. It is known for its reports on corruption within various governmental bodies. Kloop also runs training for Central Asian journalists in fact-checking and investigative techniques.
According to Anna Kapushenko, editor in-chief of the Russian-language version of Kloop.kg, the publication's legal team was preparing a response to refute the prosecutor's accusation.
"If the office does not withdraw the lawsuit, then we will countersue based on their filing. The statement alleges that our publications undermine state authority. We will thoroughly investigate each accusation brought forward by the prosecutor's office, scrutinising the validity of the allegations and the methodology employed in the analysis," Kapushenko was quoted as saying by RFE/RL.
"We will continue our online operations and sustain our work. We have anticipated the possibility of the website being blocked. We have prepared a 'mirror' website where readers can access our content via a link," Kapushenko added.
RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Kloop and the Center for Corruption and Organized Crime Research (OCCRP) have made headlines with a series of investigations on corruption in Kyrgyzstan.
Kloop lately disclosed the participation of state officials in creating a Kyrgyzstan branch of the Barcelona Academy, which is associated with the Spanish FC Barcelona football club. A project of the branch is using 16 hectares of state land. Officials responded to Kloop's investigation into the academy that the project "will pay back 16 times these 16 hectares in the future".
President Japarov described the Barcelona project as a social facility and accused Kloop on August 26 of writing "only negative things".
In a July 13 resolution, MEPs called on the Kyrgyz authorities to respect and uphold fundamental freedoms, most particularly those related to media and expression.
The call came after European Parliament lawmakers debated what they said was an alarming deterioration in democratic standards and human rights in Kyrgyzstan, a country previously celebrated as the most democratic of the five Central Asian nations.
The MEPs urged the Kyrgyz authorities to withdraw and review a number of laws deemed inconsistent with international commitments. This included a controversial law on “false information” and draft laws on “foreign representatives”, “mass media” and “protecting children from harmful information”, known as the so-called “LGBTI propaganda law”.
MEPs criticised efforts by the authorities to close down Radio Azattyk, a criminal investigation launched against Kaktus Media and what they said was the illegal expulsion of investigative journalist Bolot Temirov to Russia.
The resolution also called on the Kyrgyz authorities to release the arbitrarily detained, withdraw charges against journalists, media workers and human rights defenders and put an end to the pressure exerted on national media.
The resolution text was approved by 391 votes in favour, 41 against with 30 abstentions. The full resolution is available here.