So Your Reporting Became a Factor in an Ongoing Revolution. What Do You Do Next?
The story behind Kyrgyzstan’s protests.
A series of investigations into corruption, money laundering, and smuggling in Kyrgyzstan was a major catalyst for mass protests that led to the fall of the country’s government earlier this week. Eldiyar Arykbaev, an editor and reporter at Kloop, an OCCRP partner on the investigations, explains the story behind the protests and the role of the media in a revolutionary period.
A peaceful protest of thousands of people in the center of Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, began early in the morning of October 5 and soon escalated into mass clashes with police and the seizure of key government buildings. In less than a day, power had passed into the hands of the protesters.
The reason for the widespread exasperation with Kyrgyzstan’s system of government was corruption on the part of the country’s ruling clans, whose parties won 107 out of 120 seats in Sunday’s elections.
One such clan, the Matraimov family, was the subject of a series of investigations by OCCRP, RFE/RL’s Radio Azattyk, Kloop, and Bellingcat. The stories revealed the family’s involvement in money laundering, smuggling, and corruption.
At Kloop, we did not expect things to go this way. In our conversations within the team, the most we hoped for was that someday, maybe in five or ten years, a new government would launch investigations into the violations we had revealed.
As we watched events unfold over the course of the day, it felt unreal. The situation was changing every 30 minutes, and we struggled to stay on top of events and make sense of everything. We were shocked at how quickly the government fell.
But now that it has happened, it’s up to us to figure out how to continue working.
The role of the media doesn’t end with publication. During a period of lawlessness, when the government isn’t functioning and multiple political figures are trying to claim power, journalists and editors need to be careful about what they report, and implicitly legitimize.
If the media starts to give a halo of legality to illegal groupings and self-appointed rulers, this will only bring problems for the outlet and for the whole country. For example, after a previous revolution in April 2010, the politicians who came to power established an interim executive body that issued many contradictory decrees. These decisions created conflicts with the country’s laws and regulations — some decrees were implemented, but others were later appealed.
More recently, two people named themselves mayor of Bishkek this week before the previous mayor took back his position. Two others named themselves general prosecutors and announced cases against Matraimov family members and President Soroonbay Jeenbekov.
In this situation, the only safe way for the media is to follow the letter of the law, recognizing only those bodies and appointments that have followed constitutional procedures for the transfer of power.
Why is it important to insist on following the rules even while the country is in chaos? Firstly, it will help get the country back on the right track. Secondly, it will increase readers’ legal awareness. And thirdly, it is safest for the editors themselves, who can always say that they followed only the law, and not someone’s instructions.
To make sure this happens, Kloop issued a statement on how we will treat all self-appointed officials and called on other media outlets to join us.
It is also very important in all this confusion and revolutionary chaos to keep the voices of reason from fading. Journalists have a responsibility to elevate the voices of experts who can explain constitutional procedures, experienced politicians who create constructive dialogue and aren’t calling for unrest, and protest leaders who can convey key messages from the public, such as fighting corruption.
At such times, there will always be political opportunists who, on the wave of protest, will want to join the discontented and take up positions in the new government. It is also important to talk about such people and to clearly identify their role in the protest movement.
When covering these issues, one should not forget about one’s own safety. If the media actively shows which side it supports, then other sides can harm the staff of that outlet.
In such times, media outlets gain even more influence and become the conscience of the nation. Right now, Kyrgyzstani journalists have an opportunity to play a constructive and responsible role in our country’s future. It’s a heavy responsibility, and despite the chaos on our streets, we cannot allow ourselves to forget it.
Written by Eldiyar Arykbaev, editor and reporter at Kloop