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Kyrgyzstan 2023

The authorities intensified their campaign to stifle all forms of public criticism and peaceful dissent. Journalists and activists critical of the government faced arbitrary detention, unfounded prosecutions, and unfair trials. Some activists were held in conditions amounting to torture or other ill-treatment. Peaceful demonstrators faced serious restrictions. Legislative initiatives endorsing cultural traditions and regulating NGOs unduly restricted the rights to freedom of expression and association and threatened to stifle the previously vibrant civil society. Women and girls with disabilities faced a higher risk of sexual violence and lacked effective access to justice.


In January, the presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan signed a border demarcation agreement that included a contentious deal on joint management of the Kempir Abad (Andijan) freshwater reservoir in the south of the country. Peaceful protests against ceding control of this vital resource had led to arrests in 2022.

A controversial bill signed into law in October gave the president the power to overturn decisions made by the Constitutional Court if they went against “moral values and the social conscience of the people”.

Freedom of expression

The authorities intensified their campaign to suppress freedom of expression and repress dissent. Kyrgyzstan fell 50 places in the Reporters without Borders 2023 Press Freedom Index to rank 122 out of 180 countries.

In May, a revised version of a restrictive 2022 draft media law was issued for public consultation following critical independent expert reviews by the OSCE and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression. The new draft, however, failed to remove problematic clauses giving the government undue control over media regulation, extending media registration requirements to include online resources, and prohibiting the dissemination of “materials that harm the health and morality of the population”. The draft law was still pending at the end of the year.

The authorities continued to use the 2021 Law on Protection from False Information to further restrict media outlets.1

In September, the Ministry of Culture blocked the website of the independent Kloop Media Public Foundation after the State Committee for National Security complained that an article profiling an opposition politician contained “false” allegations that he had been tortured. Kloop also faced legal proceedings to close its operations after the prosecutor’s office in Bishkek, the capital, claimed that it was not registered as a media outlet and that its publications contained “sharp criticism” of government policies and “caused harm” to public health and well-being.

Unfair trials

Twenty-seven people faced politically motivated prosecutions simply for exercising their human rights. They had been arrested for peacefully expressing concerns about ceding control of the Kempir Abad (Andijan) freshwater reservoir in 2022 (see Background) and had initially been detained on false charges of organizing mass disorder. However, in January, the Ministry of Internal Affairs classified the case as “secret”, limiting defendants’ access to case materials. In April, they were charged arbitrarily with attempting to violently overthrow the government, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment. Legal proceedings started in July and were ongoing at the end of the year.

Torture and other ill-treatment

While 16 defendants in the Kempir Abad case (see above) were transferred to house arrest, 11 remained in detention in conditions that could amount to torture or other ill-treatment in a pretrial detention centre in Bishkek. Rita Karasartova, transferred in June, described spending eight months locked in a small, unventilated cell with nine women for 23 hours a day. She was denied the necessary medical treatment for her deteriorating health condition, as well as visits and telephone conversations with her family.

Freedom of peaceful assembly

A blanket ban on demonstrations imposed by courts in 2022 on central areas of Bishkek, apart from a small park, was extended up to 31 December.2 In September and October, courts imposed similar blanket bans on protests in central public places in Chon-Alai district in Osh region. State organized rallies remained exempt.

In January, police in Bishkek detained 27 supporters of the Kempir Abad defendants at a rally in the designated park. Some journalists covering the peaceful march were also detained; most were released without charge after several hours. A number of activists were fined for breaching the rules on holding peaceful protests.

Freedom of association

In October, parliament passed in the first reading unnecessarily restrictive draft amendments to existing legislation on NGOs, which would oblige all organizations receiving funding from abroad to register as “foreign representatives”, despite widespread criticism by civil society, government representatives and international experts. Under the updated legislation, the authorities would be able to suspend the activities of an NGO for six months without a court decision or to close the organization entirely if it had failed to additionally register as a “foreign representative”.3 Penalties included up to 10 years’ imprisonment.


Women and girls

In July, the Constitutional Court ruled that adults could choose to form the middle name required for official use from their mother’s name – a “matronymic” – rather than being restricted to using their father’s name to form a patronymic. The case was brought by feminist activist and artist Altyn Kapalova, an action publicly condemned by senior public officials, including the president. The decision was said to have prompted parliament to adopt a law giving the president the power to overrule the Constitutional Court (see above, Background).

In October, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) expressed deep concern at the persistent high incidence of gender-based violence, in particular the widespread abuse and sexual violence against children with disabilities, including girls. The CRC also noted that the legal definition of rape was limited to the use of force, did not include marital rape, and applied only to female victims in a “helpless state”.

Women and girls with disabilities experienced intersectional discrimination based on both gender and disability. The law obliged those who had been subjected to sexual violence to undergo a psychological assessment to ascertain whether they had the capacity to give credible evidence.

LGBTI people’s rights

In June, parliament passed a draft law On the Protection of Children from Harmful Information prohibiting the dissemination of broadly defined information that denied “family values”, encouraged “disrespect for parents” and promoted “non-traditional sexual relationships”.

The draft media law (see above, Freedom of expression) also prohibited the promotion of “same-sex marriage”. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression warned that such prohibitions would result in discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Right to a healthy environment

In October, the CRC expressed grave concern about the large number of children in urban areas exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution. Air quality in Kyrgyzstan was eight times the WHO guideline value for particulate matter (PM2.5). Unregulated urban development, destruction of green spaces, heavy dependence on coal and waste materials for heating and increasing automobile emissions contributed to Bishkek being ranked among the most polluted cities in the world, especially in winter. According to the WHO, 32% of deaths from stroke and ischaemic heart disease were caused by air pollution.

  1. “Kyrgyzstan: Closure of Azattyk Radio (RFE/RL) is a major blow to media freedom”, 27 April
  2. “Kyrgyzstan: Suppression of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Kyrgyzstan”, 16 March
  3. “Kyrgyzstan: Draft NGO law poses grave threat to thriving civil society”, 25 October