On November 23, Kyrgyzstan deported investigative journalist Bolot Temirov to Russia. It’s a shocking turn of events on an already twisted path: a dramatic raid in January on Temirov’s offices in search of drugs after he released an investigative report related to head of the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security Kamchybek Tashiev; additional charges in April that Temirov had forged documents in order to obtain Kyrgyz citizenship; and a court decision in late September that saw him found innocent of the state’s drugs charges but convicted of document forgery. He was set free in late September as the statue of limitations had expired on the forgery charges.
Last week, prosecutors in Kyrgyzstan appealed the court’s earlier decision to release Temirov. The Bishkek City Court this time ruled that Temirov be expelled from the country as a “foreigner,” and he was swiftly whisked away. According to Kloop’s reporting, Temirov was taken to the airport and law enforcement lied to his lawyers about his whereabouts. He was then escorted to a plane by half a dozen plain-clothed police and forced onto a flight to Moscow. He is now in Moscow with his relatives, though he was expelled without any documentation (including his Russian passport, reportedly left in Bishkek).
In a statement, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Gulnoza Said said, “The deportation of Bolot Temirov, a Kyrgyz citizen and arguably Central Asia’s leading anticorruption investigator, is an outrageously irresponsible and vindictive move, which could put his life in danger amid Russia’s mobilization in its war on Ukraine.”
Temirov was born in Osh in November 1979, a point highlighted by Kyrgyz legal clinic Adilet in an analysis of the expulsion order. His family, like many Kyrgyz families, moved to Russia. He used a Soviet passport until 2001, at which time he got a Russian passport. Upon his return to Kyrgyzstan in 2008 he received a Kyrgyz passport.
At no point did Temirov renounce his Kyrgyz citizenship, and he was not legally stripped of it (that would require a presidential decree). Earlier this year, the Ministry of the Interior declared Temirov’s passport invalid, but it’s not clear the ministry had the legal right to do so and there was no related court process. Invalidation of a passport is not equivalent to stripping an individual of their citizenship. Adilet stressed that the charges against Temirov related to the acquisition of his Kyrgyz passport, not citizenship — which, as noted, he already had due to his birth in the country. In addition, in immediately performing the expulsion the Kyrgyz legal system robbed Temirov of his right to appeal the decision.
Temirov’s deportation to Russia is particularly fraught, as CPJ’s Said noted. Not only is Russia an inhospitable environment for journalists, its present war in Ukraine and related mobilization drive puts Temirov at particular risk. Condemnations rolled in swiftly: from human rights organizations (CPJ, Human Rights Watch, Frontline Defenders, International Federation for Human Rights ) to governments (U.S., U.K., EU). The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, tweeted that the expulsion puts Temirov “at risk.”
Kyrgyz MP Dastan Bekeshev, one of the few remaining voices of opposition left, condemned the expulsion as “illegal.” As 24.kg reported, Bekeshev cited Article 51 of the Kyrgyz Constitution, which prohibits the expulsion of citizens and called attention to Temirov’s work as an investigative journalist as the motivation for his removal.
“I understand that he carried out investigations, but one should not to take revenge by the hands of law enforcement agencies and the courts. If we use judges and law enforcement agencies in this way, then we will turn into Afghanistan,” Bekeshev warned.
Temirov’s lawyers say they will appeal the expulsion in the Kyrgyz Supreme Court, calling the case against him “politically motivated.”