Kyrgyzstan increasingly restricts press freedom. The investigative media outlet Kloop has become the government's latest target. Reporters without Borders and DW Akademie are advocating for democratic reforms.
Kyrgyzstan has taken an authoritarian turn with the government cracking down on media and civil society
Kyrgyzstan's shift towards an autocratic regime jeopardizes the country's democratic achievements of the past: Once a role model for press freedom in Central Asia, this has been in decline for some years now. The situation has further deteriorated since Sadyr Zhaparov became president of the country in 2021. "The incumbent Kyrgyz government is actively suppressing dissent by engaging in information manipulation, passing restrictive laws and attacking free media and investigative journalism," states the Unfreedom Monitor Report, a joint project of DW Akademie and Global Voices, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The campaign against free media has recently resulted in the blocking of the Kyrgyz website Kloop.kg, an independent media outlet that is a former partner of DW Akademie. Lydia Rahnert, Head of Unit Central Asia and Caucasus at DW Akademie, says: "I spoke to many media representatives during the last few days in Bishkek, and they all are painting a bleak picture. The government continues its current policy of closing down critical media outlets. Independent media are hit especially hard. Advertising funds only go to the state media. The island of democracy in Central Asia is disappearing."
Kloop has become a target as it is known for investigative research on corruption surrounding President Zhaparov. Hearings on the case have been taking place since October 2023. In this hostile environment for media critical of the government, the attempt to shut down the website came as no surprise to Kloop. The journalists stated: "We will not give in to any offer of compromise and, especially, to any threats of closure and blocking. We will find many ways to inform the people of Kyrgyzstan."
Kloop’s chief editor Anna Kapushenko told DW Akademie: "Kloop is being accused of violating its statute by spreading false information. The Ministry of Culture and Information has blocked the Kyrgyz and the Russian pages at the request of the secret service. We assume that the country's rulers have launched a long-term strategy to silence independent media. This includes court proceedings against media, blocking websites and social media, and arresting journalists." The next court hearing will take place on 27 November.
Kloop is not without supporters in the international community. DW Akademie, together with RSF, takes a clear stance against these attempts to silence Kloop by reporting a so-called case of concern to the Media Freedom Coalition (MFC), a partnership of 50 countries working together to advocate for media freedom globally. DW Akademie and RSF call on the MFC to put the harassment of Kloop — as well as the restrictions to press freedom in general — on the political agenda and to urge the Kyrgyz government to refrain from intimidation and return to promoting independent journalism and democratic reform instead.
RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, which compares the level of press freedom worldwide, also illustrates Kyrgyzstan’s downward trend clearly: While the country ranked 72 out of 180 countries in 2022, it plummeted to rank 122 in 2023. This "remarkable 50-place drop" correlates with RSF's safety indicator. Kyrgyzstan slipped from 63 in 2022 to 113 in 2023. The safety of journalists has worsened significantly since Zhaparov won the presidential election. Laws have been tightened and the space for civil society has shrunk dramatically. Zhaparov is a populist nationalist who had previously been sentenced to 11 and a halfyears in prison for kidnapping a public official.
Nevertheless, a certain degree of pluralism still exists in the Kyrgyz media landscape. Therefore, in times of rising digital authoritarianism, it is even more important that media organizations across the world draw attention to such cases and make a joint effort to advocate for free media in Kyrgyzstan and beyond.