International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) was shocked to learn of today’s decision by a court in Kyrgyzstan to deport corruption-whistle blower Bolot Temirov to Russia. After being detained by police in the courtroom, the journalist’s whereabouts were unknown for several hours until he was reported to have been forcibly placed on a flight from Bishkek to Moscow.
‘’We denounce Bolot Temirov’s deportation as the most recent development in an orchestrated campaign of retaliation against him because of his journalistic activities and his investigations into high-level corruption. Today’s deportation decision should be reversed and Temirov should be allowed to return to Kyrgyzstan and continue his journalistic work there without further persecution,’’ said Brigitte Dufour, Director of IPHR.
The deportation order was issued by Bishkek City Court as it heard an appeal case against Temirov. Earlier this year, a spate of spurious criminal charges was initiated the journalist after his You Tube-based outlet, Temirov Live, published investigations implicating Kamchybek Tashiev, the head of Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security (SCNS), and his family in corruption. The charges came after a dramatic police raid on the office of Temirov Live and months of months of surveillance and harassment directed at Temirov and his team. At the time, IPHR and partners criticised the charges against the journalist as politically motivated and called on the authorities to drop them.
In an unexpected ruling issued in September 2022, Sverdlov District Court in Bishkek acquitted Temirov of most of the charges he was facing and concluded that the investigation against him had been prejudiced. Also, while convicting him of allegedly using forced documents to obtain his Kyrgyz passport, the court did not hand down any sentence on these charges due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. In connection with the criminal case against him, Temirov’s Kyrgyz passport was nevertheless revoked, leaving him with only his Russian passport.
Both Temirov and the prosecution appealed the September 2022 court ruling. Bishkek City Court today upheld the ruling of the lower-level court and, thus, did not hand down a sentence under any of the criminal code provisions under which Temirov had been prosecuted. However, on unclear legal grounds, the court did rule that Temirov was subject to deportation as a foreign citizen, although his lawyers insisted that he is a Kyrgyz citizen and cannot be expelled from the country.
Law enforcement officials detained Temirov by force in the courtroom and took him away by car in an unknown direction. For several hours, his lawyers and family had no information about his whereabouts nor any no access to him. In the evening Bishkek time, it was reported that Temirov had been forcibly placed on a flight to Moscow leaving from Bishkek’s Manas International Airport.
‘’Bolot Temirov’s deportation comes in the context of a seriously deteriorating climate for free speech in Kyrgyzstan. The criminal case against him and his expulsion from the country show how far the country’s authorities are prepared to go to silence inconvenient voices,’’ said Brigitte Dufour.
The criminal charges brought against Temirov did not deter him from continuing his efforts to investigate and expose government corruption, as a result of which he continued to draw ire from those in power. The day before his deportation Temirov announced that he had filed a defamation lawsuit against President Sadyr Japarov and SCNS head Kamchybek Tashiev – a close Japarov ally — because of public statements they had made in relation to the criminal case against him.
In addition to the serious concerns surrounding Temirov’s deportation as such and the manner in which it was executed, there are fears that he will be at the risk of further persecution in Russia due to his journalistic activities and that he will face the threat of potentially being mobilised for participation in Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The decision to deport Temirov has been widely criticised, by among others the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, and the EU delegation in Kyrgyzstan, apart from Kyrgyzstan’s media community, human rights groups and Temirov’s colleagues.