Kyrgyzstan Court Refused to Consider Kloop’s Appeal on Shutdown Verdict

Published: 17 May 2024

Kloops court hearings in Bishkek court. Source  KloopKloop court hearing in a Bishkek court. (Photo: Kloop)

By Metin Kazama

A Bishkek court informed OCCRP's Kyrgyz partner Kloop that its lawyers missed the deadline when they submitted their appeal to a February decision ordering the independent media outlet to be closed down. Therefore, their complaint could not be considered during Friday’s hearing.

Kloop Media’s legal representatives stated afterward that they would appeal Friday’s decision as well because the first appeal was submitted on time but sent to the wrong address.

“An error occurred regarding one number,” lawyer Nurbek Sydykov said, referring to the house number of the relevant ministry.

“Instead of 32, we wrote 39. I believe there is only one Ministry of Justice on Molodaya Gvardiya Street. Despite immediately filing another appeal after the return of the complaint, the city court refused to restore the missed deadline,” he explained.

Kloop is appealing a February verdict that ordered the closure of the independent media outlet due to a lack of a proper license to practice journalism.

The measure is viewed as another government attempt to silence critics.

The legal proceedings against Kloop Media Public Foundation, the newsroom's legal entity, began in August 2023. During subsequent hearings, prosecutors presented testimony from psychiatrists who accused the media outlet of "affecting people’s mental health" by "upsetting" them with negative information.

Among other investigative stories, Kloop published a series of articles in 2017 exposing presidential election fraud in Kyrgyzstan, recognized by the Global Investigative Journalism Network as one of the best investigations of the year in the former USSR.

However, during February's hearings, experts invited by the prosecution claimed that these stories contributed to a negative mood and even nervous breakdowns. They alleged that individuals with sleep disorders, irritability, and short tempers were admitted to hospitals for neurosis treatment due to Kloop's critical articles about the government.

None of the experts could provide concrete examples of whose mental breakdowns were caused by the outlet or present medical records when questioned by Kloop's attorneys.

Kloop’s lawyers asked the court on Friday to invite the same experts again so they can explain how they came to their conclusions and provide evidence for their claims. They also asked the court to add to the case documents that those experts did not have proper certificates or competence at the time they conducted the psychological and psychiatric study.

The ongoing legal process is viewed as nothing else but part of a government campaign to suppress freedom of speech in the country.

Authorities have also initiated criminal cases against 11 current and former journalists of Temirov Live, another OCCRP partner. This online investigative journalism outlet has repeatedly exposed corruption among government officials.

The 11 reporters were detained in January, with six released but placed under house arrest and one barred from leaving the country.

They are accused of "inciting mass riots" following police analysis of their social media posts.

In addition to banning protests and arresting activists, President Sadyr Japarov signed the so-called "foreign agents law" last month. The bill is similar to Russia's law that has severely suppressed freedom of speech in the country.

The law immediately faced criticism from local and international organizations, but Japarov promised that NGOs would not be persecuted and explained that the law was intended to enhance transparency.

The Open Society Foundation was the first to close down after operating in the country for three decades. It stated that the new law imposed "restrictive, broad, and ill-defined regulations on the activities of internationally funded local organizations."