Journalist In Moscow After UN Envoy, Rights Groups, Embassies Decry Kyrgyz Deportation Order

13 days ago Radio Free Europe

A UN rights envoy, international rights groups, and Western governments have condemned a Kyrgyz court's decision to deport anti-corruption journalist Bolot Temirov to Russia after convicting him of illegally obtaining a Kyrgyz passport.

Temirov then spoke to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service by telephone from Moscow on November 24, after he was handed over and transported within hours of the ruling.

He described being hurriedly flown to Moscow and being allowed to see his mother and said he needed time to rest and familiarize himself with Russian law following his arrival in a country he hadn't been in for seven years.

"I can't say anything about security yet," he said. "I will look at everything one by one and then evaluate."

The U.S. and British embassies joined a chorus of outrage led by UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor urging Kyrgyz authorities to halt efforts to expel Temirov.

"Expulsion puts him at risk which I'm concerned is retaliation for his #anticorruption work," Lawlor said.

After the Bishkek City Court's decision was pronounced on November 23, Temirov was immediately detained by men in civilian clothes and forcibly escorted from the courtroom.

His lawyer has said he doesn't know where Temirov was taken.

The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek tweeted that the ruling "disregards democratic principles."

"Journalists should be allowed to work without fear of retaliation," it said. "Freedom of expression is protected under the Kyrgyz Constitution -- these rights must be upheld."

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said he was "dismayed" by the decision and urged Kyrgyzstan to maintain its "vibrant civil society" and avoid "staining" its reputation with "attempts to stifle freedom of expression."

The British Embassy in Bishkek expressed disappointment and said "journalism might sometimes be uncomfortable but media freedom must be protected."

The EU's office said it was "deeply concerned" by the verdict and Temirov's "harsh immediate detention."

"This action goes counter to Kyrgyzstan’s international commitments on independent media, freedom of speech and guaranteeing the personal safety of investigative journalists," it said.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee To Protect Journalists also both condemned the expulsion order.

Temirov and traditional bard singer Bolot Nazarov, who performed his anticorruption songs on the YouTube channel Temirov LIVE, were arrested in January for allegedly possessing illegal drugs, which the two men say were planted by police.

In April, Bishkek city police filed additional charges against Temirov, accusing him of forgery and illegally crossing the border with Russia.

In late September, the court of first instance in Bishkek found the 43-year-old investigative journalist not guilty on charges of illegal drugs possession and illegal border crossing. But it concluded that his Kyrgyz passport was obtained with legal violations that would not lead to criminal prosecution due to the statute of limitations.

Prosecutors then appealed the court's ruling, questioning the statute of limitations and demanding that the investigative journalist, who also holds a Russian passport, be deported.

Police said Temirov, who was born in Kyrgyzstan but raised in Russia, used forged documents to obtain a Kyrgyz passport in 2008, which he then used to illegally exit and enter Kyrgyzstan.

Temirov rejected all of the charges, saying they were brought against him after he published the results of his investigation suggesting corruption among top officials of the Central Asian nation.

Temirov was recently shortlisted for the RSF Press Freedom Awards 2022.

Temirov was among 12 people recognized by the U.S. State Department last year as anti-corruption champions.

Temirov's parents are naturalized Russian citizens and reside in Moscow.

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