Award-winning investigative journalist Bolot Temirov, head of media TemirovLive, was arrested on Saturday, January 22. Just two days earlier the outlet published a YouTube investigation into alleged corruption by relatives of the head of the security services Kamchybek Tashiev (i.e.,  syphoning off fees from the state oil and gas firm by a company owned by his nephew).

Officials claimed Temirov was in possession of drugs and an unnamed woman claimed he had forced her to take them. The TemirovLive team claimed the drugs were planted and the accusation is baseless. According to Kyrgyz media outlet Kaktus Media, tests at a state clinic found no traces of drug consumption over the past 3 days.

The arrest of Bolot Temirov (Photo: Kloop)

Days prior to the arrest the team of TemirovLive had noticed surveillance and found a listening device in a staff member’s home. “For over a year we’ve been putting out investigations about top officials in the country”, TemirovLive journalist Aktilek Kaparov told investigative journalism hub OCCRP.

In 2021 Temirov received the U.S. State Department’s inaugural “Anti-Corruption Champion” award. A year earlier three men beat him after publishing an investigation about a former top official in the customs service

More from The Fix: Kyrgyz investigative newsroom uses AI to creatively reveal corruption

Political instability, decline in press freedom

Kyrgyzstan stands out in Central Asia as being relatively democratic and having a pluralistic media space. But this “relative” label is largely due to the neighbourhood’s extreme levels of authoritarianism. According to Reporters Without Borders, Kyrgyz journalists face a “great deal of harassment, including physical violence, cyber-attacks and interrogations.”

The country regularly experiences political unrest with three revolutions over the past 15 years – the latest being in October 2020. Moreover, the recent unrest across the border in Kazakhstan has no doubt increased tensions.

Numerous activists and media across Kyrgyzstan noted this “crossed red lines” and marked an unacceptable decline in press freedom.

More from The Fix: Media vs. authoritarianism: audiences are the best and only hope