Internet providers in Kyrgyzstan started blocking the website of the local OCCRP partner, Kloop, on Wednesday, after editors refused to delete an article that authorities claimed contained false information.
Kloop had published a story about opposition politician Ravshan Zheenbekov, who claimed on his official Facebook account that he was tortured by agents of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) while in pre-trial detention.
The Ministry of Culture demanded that Kloop editors delete the story within two working days because it received a complaint from the GKNB that the text contained false information.
“The information about instructions from the GKNB regarding the organization of the torture and persecution of R. Zheenbekov does not correspond to reality and is unreliable,” the GKNB stated in its claim.
If the story is not deleted, the website would be blocked for up to two months, the Ministry of Culture threatened.
The independent news outlet appealed the request, but the ministry rejected the appeal on Monday and said an explanation will be sent along with the official decision.
At the time of writing, the decision has not yet been delivered.
Kloop has vowed to continue its work no matter what and to appeal the authorities’ decision in court.
“Of course, we will not delete anything,” Kloop said in a statement published on Tuesday. “We do not believe that the news item contained any false information. And the persistence with which the authorities want to silence us only makes their actions even more suspicious.”
The ministry’s notice came on the heels of a request made in August by the Bishkek Prosecutor’s Office, asking a court to shut down Kloop as a legal entity, alleging that the news outlet lacks the proper license to operate as media and has upset the public with its critical reporting. A hearing is scheduled for September 26.
Kloop says that the blocking of its website was expected, and they were preparing for it long before the GKNB complaint or the appeal of the Prosecutor’s Office.
“Whatever Kyrgyzstan’s authorities are trying to hide from the public, they will not succeed,” Kloop’s statement reads. “We will not give in to any offer of compromise and, especially, to any threats of closure and blocking. We will find many ways to inform the people of Kyrgyzstan,” the outlet stated.