The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned a warning by Kyrgyz authorities that threatens to block the websites of investigative journalist outlet Kloop if it does not take down an article over the controversy surrounding the cost of reconstructing public facilities destroyed in border clashes with Tajikistan last year.
"Kyrgyzstan authorities' attempt to censor Kloop, one of the country's most respected news outlets, once again shows the absurdity and arbitrariness of its false information law, which should never have been enacted," said Gulnoza Said, the CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator.
While Kyrgyzstan is known for having a vibrant and pluralistic media environment compared to its Central Asian neighbors, human rights groups have warned that the climate for free expression has deteriorated since President Sadyr Japarov first came to power in October 2020, especially with the approval of the Law on Protection from False Information, adopted in August 2021.
In late October, Kyrgyz authorities blocked the local-language websites of RFE/RL, known as Radio Azattyk, after it refused to take down a video about deadly clashes along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.
In the case of Kloop, the Ministry Of Culture, Information, Sports, and Youth Policies objected to part of a January 20 report regarding allegations that the state Community Development and Investment Agency (ARIS) had inflated its construction costs.
On January 25, Kloop reported that ARIS denied the allegations, but the ministry sent a letter dated February 1 that demanded Kloop "immediately" remove or amend the January 25 article, as ARIS objected to the summary of its denial, the article's headline, and the mention of a government official who accused the agency of inflating its costs.
Failure to obey the demand would result in Kloop's websites being blocked for at least two months under the false-information law.
Kloop has denied the article contains any false information and has refused to take it down.
"Authorities should withdraw their threat to block Kloop's website, repeal the false information law, and cease their escalating repression of the independent press," the CPJ's Said added.
In the case of RFE/RL, the video in question was produced by Current Time, a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with Voice of America.
Kyrgyz officials have claimed that the authors of the video "predominantly" took the position of the Tajik side.
In response, RFE/RL President and Chief Executive Officer Jamie Fly said that the broadcaster "takes our commitment to balanced reporting seriously" and that after a review of the content in question, "no violation of our standards" was found.
Days after the blocking of the RFE/RL local websites, the government froze Radio Azattyk's bank account in Bishkek. Kyrgyz authorities have also suspended the accreditation of 11 RFE/RL correspondents at parliament.
RFE/RL has said it is "will pursue all available legal means to preserve our operations in the country."
Dozens of media organizations, domestic and international rights groups, Kyrgyz politicians, and lawmakers have urged the government to unblock Radio Azattyk's websites.