Calls to free eleven jailed journalists in ‘repressive’ Kyrgyzstan

Media groups have called on Kyrgyzstan to free 11 journalists jailed on charges of “inciting mass unrest”, in what critics say are trumped-up charges.

A court will decide this week whether to free them of whether they will remain in pre-trial detention in the increasingly authoritarian former Soviet republic in Central Asia.

Authorities have offered few details about how the journalists have “incited unrest,” but people with knowledge of the case said officials have presented one YouTube video as justification for all 11 detentions.

The video shows Temirov Live director Makhabat Tazhibek kyzy denouncing official corruption, with no call for violence or revolution. The journalists have not yet been indicted, meaning the charges could still be dropped.

The journalists were arrested January 16, and the court may decide to keep them in detention, place them under house arrest, or free them. The journalists work with, or have worked with, Temirov Live, an media partner of OCCRP (the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project) media partner.

OCCRP, the International Press Institute, Committee to Protect Journalists, and Amnesty International are supporting the journalists.

Investigative journalists at Temirov Live  have repeatedly exposed gross corruption by high-level Kyrgyz officials. They’ve also been repeatedly targeted by the state. The recent charges of “inciting mass unrest” against 11 current and former Temirov Live employees are the latest and most serious iterations of this repressive campaign.

At the time of their arrest, several of the detained journalists were working on stories with OCCRP. It said that together with over a dozen other media partners publishing this story, it will continue their important investigative work as part of Uncensored: The Kyrgyzstan Project.

The Kyrgyz justice system has frequently allowed itself used as a tool of political repression. „Given the absurdity of these charges — which could land journalists in prison for years — it’s clear that this case against our colleagues is political as well,” a statement said.

The campaign against the group is the latest symptom of Kyrgyzstan’s democratic decline.

The country was once the freest of Central Asia’s former Soviet republics by a large margin. Though known for frequent revolutions — it’s had three since independence in 1991 — it also had real elections, a vibrant media scene, and a vigorous civil society that included everything from feminist groups to disability rights activists.

In the last few years, however, under President Sadyr Japarov who combines populist rhetoric with Russian-style methods of control, the noose has tightened. Multiple independent outlets have been pressured or closed. On Reporters Without Borders’ index of worldwide press freedom, Kyrgyzstan’s rank has dropped 50 places in a single year, plunging from the level of Japan to the level of South Sudan.

You can support the Kyrgyz journalists on social media using the hashtag #FreeKyrgyz11.

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