The Moscow-imposed press laws mirrored across post-Soviet Asian countries

Cornelia Cozonac

Journalists in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Asian republic, are facing unprecedented challenges, directly linked to the influence of the Russian Federation. Moscow's laws are being replicated by the authorities in Bishkek. Just yesterday, the editorial offices of the portal were searched after a journalist published an analytical piece on the war in Ukraine. Today, 11 journalists from 4 media outlets were detained! Authorities in Bishkek have amended legislation regarding the coverage of war, mirroring the exact provisions in Russian legislation. This is aimed at preventing the press from addressing Russia's military aggression in Ukraine.

In the autumn, a law on foreign agents, 80% copied from Russian law, was passed to restrict external funding. As a result, press and media organizations may no longer access grants and projects from abroad, risking criminal penalties.

The prosecutor's office has initiated criminal cases against some media outlets and journalists. Some of my journalist friends are already working from abroad because they no longer feel safe in Bishkek.

Last spring, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Kyrgyz service, "Azattyk," was shut down, and in the autumn, following another case initiated by the prosecutor's office at the request of the Ministry of Justice, the Kyrgyz-language portal of the KLOOP team, one of the largest and most influential journalistic groups, was banned. I happened to be interning at the KLOOP editorial office during that time. Recently, "Azattyk" returned to the media market in Kyrgyzstan after lengthy legal battles.

Now, there is an expectation of the adoption of a new media law that will be even more restrictive in terms of press freedom. Kyrgyzstan, which experienced a period of democratization with full press freedom, had made significant progress and was the most advanced among Asian countries. However, it is now regressing and increasingly succumbing to Moscow's influence.

Brave and talented Kyrgyz investigative journalists, like all independent media, are facing more and more problems. Unfortunately, working as a professional press in Bishkek is becoming increasingly difficult because there is a whole army of state-funded or Moscow-funded media outlets seeking to react to everything independent media writes, engage in propaganda, and so on, for disinformation. As soon as a journalistic investigation is published, involving a Kyrgyz official in corrupt schemes, several other state media outlets, trolls, or so-called public opinion leaders try to "whitewash" him and blacken the media that exposed him. This was also the case in Moldova when part of the press was enslaved by the authorities, Moscow, or certain oligarchs.

The Moscow propaganda agency "Sputnik" operates unhindered, and Russian TV channels are included in the social package, meaning they are distributed with payment from the state budget, which even contradicts the country's existing legislation...

In Bishkek, I saw and spoke with brave journalists who, despite these conditions, continue to practice journalism, do not give up, stand in solidarity, and fight for their rights and freedoms, for the rights of citizens to freedom of speech and accurate information.

Stay strong, dear friends! The truth must prevail.

Cornelia Cozonac
2024-01-16 11:15:00