Kyrgyzstan

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Kyrgyzstan 2022

Peaceful demonstrators faced serious restrictions. New forms of reporting were introduced for NGOs receiving foreign funding. Journalists and activists critical of the government faced attacks on social media and baseless prosecutions. Various laws were used to restrict the right to freedom of expression and prevent criticism of public figures by journalists and the media. Gender-based violence remained systemic and under-reported; perpetrators of such violence were seldom prosecuted. Conditions of detention failed to meet minimum human rights standards, in some cases leading to deaths in custody.

Background

In September, clashes involving residents and border guards on both sides of the border with Tajikistan left at least 15 Kyrgyzstani civilians dead and dozens injured.

Freedom of assembly

In March, the mayor’s office in the capital, Bishkek, restricted the locations where public assemblies could be held, banning the use of popular sites including the areas surrounding the parliament, the presidential administration and the Russian embassy. Later that month, authorities banned all assemblies in central Bishkek, apart from in one small park. Initially, the restriction was justified as temporary and necessary “to prevent and suppress possible mass riots on inter-ethnic basis” in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was later extended until 31 December and applied to any public civil actions and gatherings.

Despite the restrictions, repeated protests in support of Ukraine were held in Bishkek. During peaceful meetings and pickets on 5 and 17 March, several activists and human rights defenders were detained for expressing solidarity with Ukraine and protesting against unlawful restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Four people were fined for “disobeying lawful police orders”. In contrast, on 7 March, a meeting in support of Russia was allowed to go ahead in front of the Russian embassy; no participants were detained. Police continued to arbitrarily detain peaceful protesters, including in the designated park in Bishkek, during April. On 2 April alone, police detained 28 protesters and filed administrative charges against 26 of them. A court ruled, however, that they had committed no offence.

In October, the authorities reported progress in agreeing border delimitation with Uzbekistan, although the details provoked strong public discontent. Activists called a kurultai (traditional public assembly) in the town of Uzgen and formed a committee to oppose the agreement and demand transparency. Protests were also held elsewhere. The authorities responded by arresting 26 activists on baseless charges of “preparing mass disorders”. Twenty-four remained in pretrial detention and two under house arrest at the end of the year.

Freedom of association

On 22 March, the tax authorities approved new rules for reporting on the use of foreign funds by not-for-profit organizations. NGOs were given one week to submit their reports, which had to include information on their assets, sources of funding and spending.

Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression was progressively restricted over the year, in particular for media workers and human rights defenders. In September, the government published a new draft bill that would authorize media restrictions in times of war and emergency, increase media registration requirements and extend them to online resources, and compel all media to re-register within two months of the law’s adoption. The draft was still pending adoption at the end of the year.

The 2021 Law on Protection from False Information was used to further restrict media outlets. In July, the Ministry of Culture blocked the website of the newspaper Res Publica after it published information alleging smuggling at an airport. Access to its website remained blocked at the end of the year. On 26 October, the Ministry of Culture blocked access to the websites of Azattyk Media and the online TV channel, Current Time. On 27 October, Azattyk Media’s bank accounts were frozen.

The authorities also used criminal charges of inciting hatred, disobedience, riots or violence to suppress freedom of expression, including by targeting media workers and preventing criticism of public figures by journalists and the media.

On 23 January, journalist Bolot Temirov, a dual Russian and Kyrgyzstani national, was arrested, searched and accused of possessing illegal drugs. On 20 April he was additionally accused of document forgery and illegal border crossing. In May, he was stripped of his Kyrgyzstani citizenship. His YouTube channel had previously published an investigation alleging corruption in the export of oil fuel. In September, he was acquitted of all charges except forgery, for which the statute of limitations had expired. Nonetheless, on 24 November he was deported to Russia.

On 3 March, the director of Next TV, Taalaibek Duishenbiev, was detained for sharing a former security official’s social media post alleging that Kyrgyzstan had promised military support to Russia in its war against Ukraine. In September Taalaibek Duishenbiev was given a non-custodial sentence.

On 14 August, Yrys Zhekshenaliev was detained for criticizing on Facebook government plans to develop the Zhetim-Too metal ore deposit. He was charged with calling for active disobedience to the lawful demands of government officials and mass riots. On 26 October, he was transferred to house arrest. His trial began on 7 December and was ongoing at the end of the year.

Women’s and girls’ rights

Gender-based violence remained systemic and under-reported. Statistics on domestic violence continued to present aggregated data, thus obscuring the scale of violence against specific groups, including women and girls with disabilities.

In August, a court sentenced two police officers and a third man to 10, 15 and eight years in prison, respectively, for repeatedly raping a 13-year-old girl over a period of almost six months. They were also obliged to pay compensation of KGS 100,000 (USD 1,000) each. The case was widely reported and led to protests across Kyrgyzstan. Reactions from senior officials were mixed and included sympathy for the survivor, regret that the case was harming tourism and criticism of the media for giving the case prominence.

In July, 27 women’s rights organizations wrote an open letter to the president demanding effective measures on violence against women and highlighting systemic problems in the criminal justice and law enforcement systems. Their request for an urgent meeting was not granted.

In September, the government signed off the National Strategy for Achieving Gender Equality until 2030 and an accompanying National Action Plan for 2022-2024.

Torture and other ill-treatment

In October, the National Centre for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT), the national body entrusted with a role in implementing the UN Convention against Torture, raised concerns over the high number of deaths in penitentiary institutions. It noted that one third of pretrial detention centres were located in damp, dark and poorly ventilated basements. In the absence of pretrial detention facilities in some regions, people under investigation were sent to temporary facilities.

In June, OHCHR, the UN human rights office, expressed concern over government plans to dissolve the NCPT, weakening torture prevention in Kyrgyzstan.