Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL’s) late colleague Ulanbek Egizbaev has been posthumously awarded the national Medal of Courage by the president of Kyrgyzstan.
Egizbaev was an award-winning journalist based in Bishkek with RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Radio Azattyk. He died suddenly July 22, having drowned while on holiday at Kyrgyzstan’s Lake Issyk-Kul. He was 28 years old.
Though an investigation is ongoing, it appears his death was accidental.
“Egizbaev had become a symbol of the best journalistic work in Kyrgyzstan,” said RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service Director Venera Djumataeva. “He was the biggest threat to corrupt politicians.”
Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov signed the Medal of Courage decree on August 30, commending Egizbaev for his investigative journalism and efforts to expose corruption.
In addition to being a dogged investigator, Egizbaev reported regularly and passionately about unsung heroes—be it a teacher in a desolate mountain village, a young woman overcoming the consequences of a botched operation that left her blind and in need of dialysis, or a young disabled teenager staying optimistic despite difficult challenges in his life.
The news of Egizbaev’s death has prompted an outpour of grief among state and public figures, the journalistic community, and ordinary citizens in Kyrgyzstan and beyond.
August 31 saw the official opening of the Investigative Journalism Foundation in Egizbaev’s name. The organization supports initiatives by journalists to expose corruption in Kyrgyzstan, and is led by former Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva and a board of prominent journalists and civil rights activists. An award named after Ulanbek Egizbaev will be presented annually by the foundation for achievements in the field of investigative journalism.
The Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan has announced plans to publish a collection of Egizbaev’s journalistic articles and investigative materials. The book will include transcriptions of Egizbaev’s investigative TV programs, his feature stories, and photo galleries.