WASHINGTON -- RFE/RL colleague Ulanbek Egizbaev, 28, one of the brightest investigative journalists in Kyrgyzstan, died suddenly on July 22 having apparently drowned while on holiday at Kyrgyzstan’s Lake Issyk-Kul.
Venera Djumataeva, director of RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, said Egizbaev had dedicated his life to being a voice for ordinary people -- for those who could not stand up and speak up for themselves. He reported regularly and passionately about these “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. For this last story, Egizbaev and RFE/RL video producer Mykola Nemchenko won a 2016 Webby People’s Voice Award and traveled to New York to accept the prize.
Egizbaev was also a dogged investigator, whom Djumataeva said “had become the biggest threat to all corrupt politicians in Kyrgyzstan.” He reported on corruption cases in government, the Customs Service, various ministries, public-land distribution, and even a major corruption scheme at cemeteries.
He was recently awarded a “Golden Pen” by a jury of veteran Kyrgyz journalists in recognition of his contributions to Kyrgyz journalism.
Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov expressed condolences in response to news of Egizbaev’s death, praising his investigative reports on corrupt government officials, and declaring that Kyrgyzstan "has lost a talented journalist who selflessly fought against the ills of our society."
The government has announced that Interior Minister Kashkar Junushaliev will personally lead an investigative commission of criminologists, medical experts, a representative of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, and one of Egizbaev's relatives to ascertain the causes of his death. Prime Minister Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev told his cabinet during a July 23 meeting that clear and transparent results from the investigation must be obtained and made public to prevent any speculation.
Born on February 12, 1990 in Kyrgyzstan’s Kochkor district, just west of Lake Issyk-Kul, Ulanbek Egizbaev earned a degree in communications from the Kyrgyz-Turkish "Manas" University in Bishkek in 2013, and obtained a Master’s degree from Bishkek State University in 2015. He joined the Bishkek bureau staff of RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service in 2013. He leaves behind his wife, Sapargul, whom he married in the fall of 2017, who is expecting their first child.