Over the weekend, Kyrgyz police arrested a pair of Bolots: investigative journalist Bolot Temirov and Bolot Nazarov, a well-known akyn or improvisational poet. The pair were arrested on Saturday during a raid on Temirov’s independent news channel, TemirovLive, just two days after it had published a new investigation via YouTube alleging the corrupt involvement of relatives of Kamchybek Tashiev, head of the State Committee for National Security, in the state oil company.
According to the authorities, the two men were arrested for the possession of “illegal narcotics.” But as RFE/RL reported:
Makhabat Taichibek kyzy, an employee of the editorial office of Temirov Live, told journalists that several law enforcement officers, including men in civilian clothes, broke into the office. “I witnessed how drugs were planted. It was a dark green substance in a bag,” she said
On Twitter, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee urged quick action to investigate the claim that drugs were planted by the police in order “[t]o prevent speculation that authorities are cracking down on media outlets investigating top-level corruption.”
The order of events certainly suggests a connection between Temirov’s latest investigative report and the sudden raid on his office alongside seemingly concocted drugs charges.
Temirov was charged and released on bail on January 23, after protests over his detention. He has been instructed not to leave the country. Nazarov was transferred to house arrest on the same day.
In February 2021, Temirov — then editor-in-chief of FactCheck.kg — was listed as an inaugural recipient of the U.S. State Department’s new International Anti-Corruption Champions Award. The previous year, in January 2020, Temirov had been attacked on the street outside his office in Bishkek shortly after publishing a investigation into infamous former customs deputy Raimbek Matraimov. Four men were convinced, fined, and amnestied in December 2020 for the attack. A report from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) highlighted the context of the attack:
“I’m 100 percent sure [it was the Matraimovs],” Temirov said, though he admits it would be difficult to prove. The attack had taken place soon after a published investigation. And just a day earlier, Temirov said, a man had come around his building, showing neighbors the Factcheck.kg logo and asking where his office was.
A statement from FactCheck.kg after Temirov’s recent arrest noted that the TemirovLive team had complained of being surveilled and receiving threats ahead of the release of the their recent investigation. It also called out Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov’s repeated statements that there would be no threat to the media under his presidency and stressing the importance of the freedom of speech in combating corruption. FactCheck.kg’s Elizaveta Umurzakova wrote that Temirov’s arrest demonstrated that either the security forces are not under the control of the authorities or the actions of the authorities diverges from their words.
Nazarov, Eurasianet reported, “has penned songs criticizing… Kamchybek Tashiev and composed musical accompaniments to Temirov’s video investigations.”
The authorities reportedly seized computers from the journalist’s office.