The IPI global network firmly condemns the Bishkek city prosecutor’s attempt to force the closure of Kloop, a major Kyrgyz independent media outlet and IPI member.

In a request made to a local court, the Bishkek prosecutor claimed that Kloop’s reporting is “negative in character, aimed at discrediting representatives of state and local authorities”. The request also says that “[Kloop’s publications] contain hidden manipulation of public opinion, on which [they] impose negative processes that do not correspond to reality, creating opposition to any undertakings of the current government”.

The request also blamed the independent online outlet for a number of Kyrgyzstan’s issues, including the economic situation in the country’s Batken region which, according to authorities, has worsened due to Kloop’s publications, which have allegedly pushed locals to emigrate. Authorities further insinuate that Kloop’s critical articles on the situation in Batken are published to forward the interests of “the neighboring state”, i.e., Tajikistan. Negative news, according to the Bishkek prosecutor, ultimately leads to instability in Kyrgyzstan, “unsettling constitutional order” and negative consequences for citizens’ mental health.

Finally, authorities accuse Kloop, which was named to the global short list for this year’s IPI-IMS Free Media Pioneer award, of working as a media outlet despite being registered as a non-profit group. In his letter, the Bishkek city prosecutor analyzed Kloop’s charter, quoting passages in which the outlet says its goals include the “development of journalism in Kyrgyzstan” as well as providing “information to youth on social-political and economic processes” in the country. According to authorities, Kloop’s activities as a media outlet do not correspond to this description.

“The request by prosecutors to close down Kloop is a clear act of retaliation in response to Kloop’s critical reporting”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Scrutinizing the government and publishing articles on social and economic issues of public relevance is the basis of independent journalism. In fact, the arguments used by the Bishkek city prosecutor only indicate the opposite of the claims put forward: that Kloop is a vital news organization carrying out essential work for the citizens of Kyrgyzstan.”

He added: “IPI is dismayed that just weeks after the Kyrgyz government managed to come to an agreement with Radio Azattyk, another media outlet in the country which had been threatened with closure, authorities are now targeting Kloop’s independent journalism. IPI stands with our members at Kloop and reject this effort to silence them.”

“This lawsuit is a serious blow to freedom of the press in Kyrgyzstan, on democratic values and on openness in general”, Kloop editor Anna Kapushenko told IPI. “This is a signal to all independent media, activists and human rights defenders that any criticism of state institutions is forbidden. We believe that this should not be looked at separately from general, very dangerous tendencies with regards to media freedom in Kyrgyzstan.”

She added that the lawsuit against Kloop will likely be accepted by judges, ultimately leading to the media outlet being shut down by authorities. Despite this, Kloop does not plan to cease its activities. “We will try to work as before”, she told IPI. “We thought we might be blocked [in the future], so we prepared a mirror website long before this. I think authorities will first try to close us as an organization, and if we continue our work, there will be pressure on concrete journalists.”

Last October, authorities in Kyrgyzstan filed a similar lawsuit against Azattyk, the Kyrgyz-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a Prague-based media corporation funded by the U.S. Congress. The lawsuit, initiated by the Ministry of Culture, accused Azattyk of “propagating war, violence and cruelty” by producing a video news piece on a violent border conflict with neighboring Tajikistan. Kyrgyz authorities were mainly dissatisfied with the fact that in its video, the media outlet presented the Tajik version of events alongside the Kyrgyz version.

Following continued international criticism, a court in Bishkek cancelled an earlier decision ordering Azattyk to cease operations in Kyrgyzstan. Azattyk’s website was unblocked and the outlet regained access to its bank accounts, which had been blocked as part of pressure by authorities.