Eight months after being arrested during a raid of his independent news channel, TemirovLive, Bolot Temirov has been acquitted on two counts — illegal possession of drugs and illegal crossing of the state border — and released from custody.
Temirov was found guilty on two other charges — forgery of documents related to use of a fake military ID and fake temporary ID — but the judge determined that the statute of limitations had expired.
Prosecutors had sought a five-year jail sentence for the investigative journalist, whose outlet recently published exposes related to head of the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security Kamchybek Tashiev.
And so ends a prosecution that many human rights activists characterized as persecution. His arrest followed years of harassment. In early April, Human Rights Watch said, “Kyrgyzstan authorities have stepped up the harassment of journalists and independent media with a slew of criminal investigations into their work in recent months,” citing Temirov’s case in addition to cases against Taalaibek Duishenbiev (who was convicted of inciting interethnic hatred last week) and other media outlets in the country.
Temirov was initially arrested on January 22 during a raid of his outlet’s offices in Bishkek. The raid took place just two days after it had published a new investigation via YouTube alleging the corrupt involvement of relatives of Tashiev in the state oil company. An employee reported that they saw police plant drugs on Temirov during the raid, but a drug test showed no signs of drugs. It was difficult to not imagine a connection.
Temirov was released on bail, but three months later, in late April, again mere days after releasing a new investigation into a company owned by Tashiev’s son, Taimuras, Kyrgy prosecutors informed Temirov of new new charges. The authorities alleged that Temirov, who was born in Soviet Kyrgyzstan and emigrated with his parents to Russia as a child, where he obtained a Russian passport, used forged documents to apply for a Kyrgyz passport in 2008 after returning to Kyrgyzstan in 2006.
The conclusion of Temirov’s trial was met with appreciation by the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, which tweeted, “We welcome the conclusion of court proceedings against Bolot Temirov. Journalists should never be punished for doing their job. A free press is vital to democracy. Independent journalists like Temirov should be protected and allowed to work without fear of retaliation.”
In February 2021, Temirov had been honored by the U.S. State Department as an anti-corruption champion. A year earlier, in January 2020 he’d been assaulted near the offices of FactCheck, which he was editor-in-chief of at the time.
Again one wonders at the timing, though little concrete can be said. Tashiev, a favorite target of Temirov, is increasingly under pressure following the devastating escalation of violence on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border earlier this month.