22 December

Written by Joldon Kutmanaliev, Gulzat Baialieva

One indirect indication of how well-orchestrated extremist attacks on social media platforms have been is the manner in which they have shifted along with the political positions of those under attack.

Elvira Surabaldieva and Tilek Toktogaziev were leading critics of Japarov in the aftermath of the rigged elections this past October. Representing a new wave of young politicians and activists, Surabaldieva and Toktogaziev were extremely popular among Kyrgyzstan’s urban middle-class and were a focal point of liberal youth mobilisation during the struggle for power that emerged following the election. As such, they were frequent targets of attacks from pro-Japarov’s trolls. Both were physically attacked during the clash on the central square on 9 October, with Surabaldieva being hit in the face by a pro-Japarov supporter and Toktogaziev being heavily injured in the head by a thrown stone. According to our monitoring of social media, however, ever since they accepted high-profile ministerial positions in the Japarov-led government, the vitriol of online attacks against them significantly decreased.

Bolot Temirov, the founder of FactCheck – an online anti-corruption investigative resource – highlights the link between Japarov’s speeches and online activity, and the intensity of online attacks. “The inaction of government agencies indicate that these things are happening with the complacency of the authorities,” he says.

Generally, pro-Japarov’s trolls quickly share links among each other, leaving hate-filled comments under posts containing opinions about Japarov’s planned constitutional changes. Attacks and threats against activists take place in the context of Sadyr Japarov’s divisive language.

Saniya Toktogazieva, a constitutional law expert, believes that “Japarov’s words are very divisive. Not only do his supporters write hate speech about political opponents, but Sadyr Japarov himself mentioned several times in his speech that everyone who is going against the constitutional reforms are akmaktar [bastards]”.

Toktogazieva continues: “Essentially, Japarov is dividing Kyrgyz citizens between those who are loyal to him and the rest who are actively against the constitutional reforms, labelling the latter ‘enemies of the people.’”

Omurbek Tekebaev, a leading opposition politician who is considered the father of Kyrgyzstan’s current constitution, agrees that Japarov himself initiates hate speech by directing his followers against his opponents. “They are trying to create an atmosphere of political terror, radicalism, and aggression. This is identical to what happened under [former President] Bakiyev. The only difference is that now political intimidation extends to social media. ”.

In his recent Facebook post, Melis Aspekov, one of Japarov’s closest associates and the administrator of his public Facebook group, has denied allegations of attacks claiming that it is actually “Japarov’s opponents who simulate trolling in order to attack their own opponents”.

The administrators of pro-Japarov Facebook groups, who include Japarov himself, turn a blind eye to the instigation of hate and the intimidation of opponents. Instead, they appear to tacitly encourage both via thousands of extremist comments in order to promote political and social polarisation, which increases tensions between various segments of Kyrgyz society, particularly between a more conservative (and largely rural) population and a more liberal (and largely urban) class.

With this combination of populist language and a climate of impunity, the obvious risk is that a dangerous dynamic may be set into motion, resulting in extremist social media users carrying out their online threats offline.