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Kyrgyzstan should drop the incitement charges against 11 anti-corruption journalists and release those who are still imprisoned, the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch initiative said today.

Four of the eleven journalists—who have all been affiliated with the YouTube-based outlets Temirov LIVE or Ait Ait Dese —remain in pre-trial detention, where at least one journalist, director of Temirov LIVE Makhabat Tazhibek kyzy, has reportedly suffered physical abuse at the hands of guards.

TrialWatch has submitted a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on Tazhibek kyzy’s behalf, arguing that her arrest and detention violated her right to freedom of expression, and has updated the Working Group about the reported attack.

The 11 journalists were all arrested in early morning raids on January 16, 2024. The next day, they were indicted and sent to pre-trial detention on charges of calling for active disobedience, mass unrest, and violence. The case materials, as reviewed by TrialWatch, indicate that the prosecution centers on a series of videos published by Temirov LIVE and Ait Ait Dese denouncing corruption and criticizing the government, including President Sadyr Japarov.

“As evidenced by the unjustified arrest of journalists from Temirov LIVE, Kyrgyzstan has experienced a sharp deterioration in media protections under President Japarov,” said Kyle Delbyck, Senior Program Manager at TrialWatch. “The continued detention of Makhabat and others is without basis and, on World Press Freedom Day, speaks to the severe threat against journalists worldwide.”

In the years since President Japarov came to power, the government of Kyrgyzstan has passed legislation restricting free speechshut down or blocked access to independent media sites, and used vague and overbroad laws to prosecute and imprison journalists. In 2023, Kyrgyzstan ranked 123/180 on the Reporters Without Borders’ 2023 World Press Freedom Index, plunging 50 spots in just a year after having scored 72/180 in 2022.

While seven of the Temirov LIVE journalists have been released since the initial raid, six to house arrest, Tazhibek kyzy and three others remain in prison. TrialWatch is preparing a separate petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of these other journalists in collaboration with the law firm Covington & Burling LLP.

Tazhibek kyzy’s husband and founder of Temirov LIVE, Bolot Temirov, had himself been arrested multiple times before being convicted, stripped of his Kyrgyz citizenship, and deported in 2022. The criminal proceedings against Temirov, like the case against his wife, came soon after Temirov LIVE published an investigation into corruption by the Kyrgyz authorities.

TrialWatch has found numerous irregularities in the proceedings against Tazhibek kyzy and her co-defendants to date. They were arrested without being shown warrants, not told the basis for the charges against them, and ordered to pre-trial detention despite the presiding court’s failure to specify any reason for their detention. Tazhibek kyzy was not notified of her right to counsel upon arrest. In fact, the authorities reportedly actively prevented her from accessing her lawyer.

Government authorities have repeatedly made public statements to the media about the detained journalists. On multiple occasions, President Japarov himself has commented on the case, even mentioning Tazhibek kyzy by name.

“When the most powerful person in the country publicly condemns you, a fair trial becomes very difficult.” Delbyck added.

Several of the defendants suffer from poor health or are the sole breadwinners for their families. Tazhibek kyzy has been a single mother to her 11-year-old child since his father’s arrest and subsequent exile.

The next hearing to determine whether the detention of the remaining four incarcerated journalists should be extended is set for May 13, 2024. TrialWatch will continue monitoring the proceedings.

About the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch Initiative

TrialWatch monitors criminal trials globally against those who are most vulnerable—particularly journalists, democracy defenders, women and girls, LGBTQ+ persons, and minorities. TrialWatch’s work covers more than 40 countries and has led to persecuted individuals being freed or acquitted, and unfair laws reformed, in dozens of cases. TrialWatch is now building a Global Justice Index that will be the first to rank countries on their justice systems through real-world data.