What has been the most important Kyrgyz news story of the past 18 months since our last awards ceremony? Elections? Coronavirus? Revolution? No.
The single most important story of the past 18 months has been the investigative journalism about the criminal empire of Raim Million. But why was it so important?
Organized crime has existed and thrived in Kyrgyzstan since Soviet times. But it has always lived in the shadows, until this past year. The courageous journalism of Azattyk, KLOOP, OCCRP, Factcheck.kg, and dozens of social media journalists started a societal discussion about organized crime. It forced government to respond.
The Kyrgyz public was disgusted by the greed, power, and impunity of this criminal family. They saw how these criminals fueled corruption in Kyrgyz society. The old GKNB and a Parliament Commission investigated, but found nothing.
Under the previous government, several journalists were beaten, threatened, and jailed. And last year, Raim Million brought a libel lawsuit against media outlets in which he tried to have their assets preemptively seized. The public reaction was fierce.
Then Mekenim Kyrgyzstan rose to power from nothing, winning 24 percent of the vote on October 4 and nearly 40 percent of the seats in parliament.
- And on October 5, the people rose up and said that this was unacceptable.
- Vote buying was unacceptable.
- Abuse of Form #2 was unacceptable.
- The exclusion of real political parties from the parliament was unacceptable.
Then came the efforts by organized crime to influence the decisions of the interim government of Sadyr Japarov. They used internet trolls, thugs on the streets, and threats of violence against Kyrgyzstan’s leaders.
The Kyrgyz people and the interim government said that this was unacceptable. On October 20, the GKNB arrested Raim Million. On October 22, they arrested Kamchybek Kolbaev. While it is true that the courts put Raim Million under house arrest in exchange for a promise to pay 2 billion som to the government, these steps are a beginning. They are not enough, but they are a beginning.
This has been like a Hollywood mafia movie. But you don’t yet know how the movie will end.
I will tell you how the movie ends. The government will hold criminals responsible. It will prosecute them. It will prevent their criminal networks from stealing from the Kyrgyz people. It will prevent these criminals from poisoning your children with drugs. But it will only do these things if courageous people stand up against them.
This is the job of journalists, civil society activists, and brave leaders of this country. And for this goal, Kyrgyzstan has the full support of its international partners, including the United States.
I thank all of you for your courage and your sacrifice. You are creating a stronger country for all of the people of Kyrgyzstan.