Bishkek’s city court ruled on November 23 to expel investigative journalist Bolot Temirov from Kyrgyzstan, Human Rights Watch said today. Following the ruling, Temirov was handcuffed and led out of the court room. Media later confirmed that he had been deported to Russia.
Given the significant concerns about due process in his case, including the removal of his Kyrgyz passport, Temirov should be allowed to return to Kyrgyzstan to challenge his removal and continue his work as a journalist.
“Investigative journalism is a critical element of freedom of the media,” said Syinat Sultanalieva, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Kyrgyz authorities should reverse his apparently arbitrary deportation and allow him to continue his professional activities in Kyrgyzstan.”
Bolot Temirov, director of Temirov Live, an independent online outlet, was born in Kyrgyzstan but had used a Soviet passport until 2001, before using a Russian passport he received while studying. He received his Kyrgyz passport in 2008. In May 2022, his Kyrgyz passport was annulled in connection to the criminal case against him.
Temirov’s lawyers expressed concern over the procedural violations with which Temirov was deported from the country. He was not allowed to see his family or collect his personal belongings, and it remains unclear which travel documents were used in the process, as his Russian passport was with his family.
Temirov was arrested in January on charges of manufacturing illegal drugs. During the arrest, the police also confiscated computer processors, hard drives, and documents from his office. Temirov maintains that drugs allegedly found during the search had been planted.
Many in the Kyrgyz media viewed the case as retaliation for his team’s investigation into fuel export schemes. The report of that investigation had premiered on the outlet’s YouTube channel just days before the authorities raided his office and detained him.
In April, Temirov Live released another investigation into the state purchase tenders, shortly before two more criminal cases were brought against Temirov. On this occasion, he was charged with forgery of documents (Article 379 of the Kyrgyz Criminal Code) and illegal crossing of the state border (Article 378).
On September 28, the Sverdlov district court of Bishkek acquitted Temirov of charges of illegal drug manufacture and illegal border crossing but found him guilty of document forgery in his application for a Kyrgyz passport in 2008. The court did not apply the penalty to Temirov, however, due to expiry of the statute of limitations. Temirov’s legal team submitted an appeal for this segment of the court decision, while the Sverdlov district prosecutor’s office appealed the entire ruling.
On November 23, the Bishkek city court considered both appeals, eventually reconfirming the decisions of the district court. Following the decision, the prosecution asked that the court apply Article 70 of the Criminal Code, claiming Temirov should not be considered a citizen of Kyrgyzstan in light of the forgery charges and should be expelled. The court agreed with the prosecution.
Following the verdict, the journalist was detained by law enforcement officials and transported in an unidentified direction. Temirov’s legal team and his spouse were initially unable to locate him, either at the country’s international airport or at the district detention center. They did not know of his whereabouts until a few hours later when he was escorted by police onto a plane.
This week’s court decision comes on the heels of Temirov’s public statement on his YouTube channel, on November 22, threatening to sue President Sadyr Japarov and a senior official for alleged slander against him.
Journalists and human rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan have raised concern over the procedural violations committed by both the court and law enforcement officers during the court hearing, claiming Bolot Temirov is being persecuted for his professional activities.
International human rights law prohibits the removal of someone from a country without due process or to a country where they could face mistreatment or torture.
The media freedom in Kyrgyzstan has been under renewed attack recently with authorities increasing efforts to control and censor mass media. On October 26, 2022, the Kyrgyz government ordered a two-month suspension of the websites of Azattyk Media, the Kyrgyz service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, because of a video covering the recent border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The order was based on a new law, the Law on Protection from False Information, which drew significant criticism when adopted in August 2021. The media outlet’s bank account was also frozen.
On September 28, the Kyrgyz president’s administration submitted draft amendments to the Law on Mass Media, which would include penalties for “abuse of freedom of speech” (Article 4) for public consideration. After public outcry against the draft, the authorities have expressed readiness to revise the legislation in cooperation with the media.
“Kyrgyz authorities should cease all attempts at punishing journalists for their professional activities and respect the country’s international human rights commitments,” Sultanalieva said. “Bolot Temirov should be able to continue his journalistic investigations without any hindrance.”