By: Samantha Peko
Edited by: Erica King
“Aspiring Central Asian journalists face steep challenges. In addition to censorship and political interference, many journalists lack the basic skills necessary to produce high-quality stories,” began an article on May 3, 2012 by the Eurasia Foundation.
The Eurasian Foundation, Kloop’s partner, is a U.S. based organization. Founded in 1992, the organization operates in every country in the former Soviet Union. The Eurasian Foundation of Central Asia, created in 2005, has invested more than $40 million in Central Asia community development projects, according to their website.
Kloop, which began in 2007, is currently one of Kyrgyzstan’s largest media organizations. Students ages 12 and up come from different Kyrgyzstan regions to study journalism in Bishkek. Student coverages are posted on Kloop’s website daily. Many students are also credited parliament reporters.
“After one year writing about society, crime and culture, I decided to be a parliament correspondent and write news about politics,” said Kloop graduate, Nurjamal Djanibekova.
Azat Ruziev is a video reporter for Kloop. He came to Bishkek from a small town in the Northeastern region of Kyrgyzstan called Karakol. He said he applied just to get out of Karakol and see the capitol city, Bishkek. He was 14 years old. At the age of 17 he was a credited Kyrgyzstan parliament reporter for Kloop.
“My experience as a parliament reporter had a great impact on me. I started to understand what and how the laws can be written. I started to mention some small things about laws in my writing. These small things might change the lives of thousands but weren’t very clear.”
In just a few months of joining Kloop, Ulugbek Akishev was covering a political uprising. He was only 17.
“It was the end of March 2010 when opposition started demonstrations against the regime of President Kurmanbek Bakiyey,” he said.
He mentioned that his mother worked with a lot of politicians and his grandfather was a diplomat for 20 years, so he knew a lot of inside information.
This was the second Kyrgyz Revolution. President Bakiyey was ousted in June. Then ethnic tension involving Kyrgyz people and Uzbeks in the south of the country escalated. Approximately 500 people were killed during the turmoil to gain political control.
“It was dangerous and I feared the marauders and rebels armed with guns. Of course, we didn’t know what would happen the next day, but we never stopped the coverage,” he said.
“Kloop has made many enemies over the years by exposing official corruption and providing regular coverage of Kyrgyzstan’s beleaguered LGBT community, which many other outlets ignore completely,” said an article published on December 15, 2014 on eurasianet.org.
When asked if covering politics is difficult Eldiyar Arykbaev, Kloop’s editor-in-chief explained that students are told to be watchful.
“Know your environment—is the main advice. Be careful with your words—is second.”Arykbaev said that students are told to monitor high-officials’ public activity closely and what they say regarding issues.
“If you know them well, you can build a behavior pattern for that politician,” he said. “You can easily make a strategy plan on how to interview the official and make him answer tough questions while keeping a peaceful atmosphere.”
But in the upcoming months Kyrgyzstan’s media will face another challenge. A bill adopted from Russia dubbed the “anti-gay propaganda bill” could potentially imprison journalists for up to a year for covering LGBT issues.
“The bill would directly and negatively affect media coverage of LGBT issues in Kyrgyzstan, given that the draft, if adopted, would provide criminal and administrative sanctions against individuals who are found to disseminate information that promotes 'non-traditional sexual relations' in a “positive” way. It would apply to the press, television, radio and the Internet – a clear violation of freedom of expression,” said Mihra Rittmann who is the Central Asian representative for Human Rights Watch.
The issue is the wording of the bill.
“There are two questions – what is ‘propaganda’ and what is a ‘non-traditional sexual relationships?’” Arykbaev asked. “I think the bill is written for selective use – to silence who will go against the major power and is out of the traditional understanding,” he said.
One of the founders of Kloop, Bektour Iskender has publicly called this a fascist law.
“This is the case when I had to unfortunately turn from a journalist into an activist. I say "unfortunately" because journalists should not be the ones, but I am afraid I am one of the very few open opponents of the bill, and if I am silent, then there is almost no opposition to this bill at all,” he said.
Iskender explained that one of the first stories that Kloop has covered LGBT issues since 2007. The first article uncovered police abuse on the transgender community.
“We’ve been labeled as ‘main gay propagandists’ of Kyrgyzstan by a far-right antigay group called Kalys on a protest in Bishkek in March 2014. This is an honor for me, although I don't believe that gay ‘propaganda’ exists at all,” he said.
Kloop intends to continue its coverage despite harsh consequences.
“Its vague definitions means that, if adopted, the bill can be used about any journalist and activist who authorities don't like. Kloop is, I assume, on this list. I will deliberately violate this law if it is adopted. It contradicts the Constitution of Kyrgyzstan, which guarantees freedom of speech, and that will be my argument in the court, because Constitution is much higher in its status than any other law,” Iskender said.
News Editor Anna Lelik also intends to continue her reporting.
“Unfortunately, during the last two years Kyrgyzstan became famous for its anti-gay propaganda bill (almost copy and pasted from Russian legislation) and rising homophobic mood especially among conservative nationalist groups. Kloop is often criticized by these groups, considered LGBT advocates and sometimes our journalists were even verbally attacked. We always cover the story from both sides and never ignore the facts of violations of human rights in Kyrgyzstan, including LGBT community,” she said.