Survivors of domestic violence faced difficulties in reporting abuse and accessing support. Peaceful demonstrators faced violence and the new Constitution undermined the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Journalists and activists critical of the government faced attacks on social media and unjust prosecution. Torture and other ill-treatment remained widespread, as did impunity.
A new Constitution was passed by referendum and enacted in May. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and the OSCE expressed concerns over the “overly prominent” role of the president, the weakened role of the parliament and “potential encroachments on judicial independence”.
Clashes between local residents on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border in April-May left at least 36 Kyrgyzstanis dead.
The Covid-19 pandemic continued to affect the economy. The vaccination programme was delayed by a shortage of vaccines and hampered by inefficient distribution of humanitarian aid, but by September over 1 million people had had at least one vaccination. In June vaccination was made compulsory for all health workers and later for other categories, causing controversy, although sanctions for those refusing were unclear.
Gender-based violence and discrimination
Domestic violence remained widespread. Survivors remained discouraged from reporting abuse, due to economic dependence on the perpetrator and social stigma.
There were no comprehensive or unified statistics on domestic violence and figures varied across different government bodies. By September, the Ministry of Internal Affairs had registered 7,665 incidents, a 30% increase compared to 2020.
Women with disabilities faced greater barriers in reporting domestic violence. In February Almira Artykbek-kyzy was finally able to leave the family home with the assistance of her brother and report the years of sexual and physical abuse perpetrated against her by some family members. Almira Artykbek-kyzy, who suffers from cerebral palsy, had been denied an education, deprived of legal capacity and kept a virtual prisoner in the family home. A criminal case brought against her relatives was ongoing at the end of the year.
In July, the president approved a new “concept on spiritual-moral development and physical education of individuals”. This calls on state bodies to promote traditional values and recommends that media outlets propagate the values of a traditional society [and] the ideals of the family.
On 16 November, Altyn Kapalova, a feminist artist and writer, lost a final appeal at Bishkek City Court in her case against the State Registration Service in favour of putting matronymics instead of patronymics in the passports of her three children.
Freedom of assembly
Protesters demonstrating peacefully against the new Constitution and in favour of gender equality were subjected to intimidation by state and non-state actors.
Article 10 of the new Constitution allows restrictions on events that contradict “moral and ethical values’’ or “the public consciousness’’, without defining these concepts. Activists expressed concerns that this could be used to unduly restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
In March, municipal authorities in the capital, Bishkek, obtained a court order banning all assemblies in the centre of Bishkek for two months on the grounds that rallies disturb local residents “resulting in negative feelings and concerns about personal safety”. The ban was overturned by a court in April following an appeal by a civil society movement.
In April, a peaceful rally against violence against women in Bishkek was disrupted by about 200 men who harassed the participants. Police took no action to protect the peaceful demonstrators.
Freedom of expression
Journalists and civil society activists critical of the authorities faced harassment, intimidation, and in some cases unfounded criminal charges.
In February, the civil defamation case against two leading independent media outlets, Radio Azattyk and Kloop, and a journalist, brought by the family of a former top customs official, was dropped, after the official was found guilty of corruption in criminal proceedings.
In March, civil society activist Tilekmat Kurenov was detained and later charged with “calling for mass riots” (through his posts on social media) and for the “violent overthrow of the government”. In April, he was transferred to house arrest and on 20 August he was convicted and sentenced to one and a half years in prison. He had been among the organizers of a peaceful rally against the new Сonstitution.
Also in March, officers from the State Committee for National Security (SCNS) questioned Aprel TV journalist, Kanat Kanimetov, about his coverage of a previous investigation carried out by the SCNS. In April, his relatives in his family home in Balykchy were questioned and threatened with being searched.
In August, the Law on Protection from False and Inaccurate Information was signed by the president, amid concerns that it unduly restricted the right to freedom of expression and could prevent criticism of public figures. It empowered unnamed state bodies to shut down or block websites for publishing “false or inaccurate” information, on the basis of a complaint by a private individual or a legal entity.
Torture and other Ill-treatment
Torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials continued to be widespread and ineffectively investigated. According to a survey published in July by the NGO Coalition against Torture, 35% of survivors were tortured during questioning as suspects, 28% while being questioned as witnesses and 24% while the police were checking their identity.
The UN Human Rights Committee ruled in March in the case of Sharobodin Yuldashev that Kyrgyzstan had failed to carry out a prompt, efficient and impartial investigation into his torture allegations. Sharobodin Yuldashev, an ethnic Uzbek, was tortured by police officers in July 2011 to force him to “confess” to crimes during the ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010. In December 2011, the four police officers who had tortured him were charged with abuse of power and unlawfully entering his house. They were acquitted in 2012. Sharobodin Yuldashev was sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment for participating in mass riots, destroying property, robbery and taking hostages.
In July, a new Criminal Procedural Code was adopted alongside other laws. Human rights defenders expressed concerns that it impeded the work of lawyers while delaying their access to suspects. Furthermore, it reintroduced an additional check before the opening of criminal investigations which had existed before 2017 and prevented prompt investigations into torture allegations.
In May, the State Penitentiary Service closed its investigation into the death in 2020 of prisoner of conscience Azimjan Askarov from Covid-19-related complications. A human rights NGO, Bir Duino, successfully appealed against the decision and petitioned the Prosecutor’s Office to transfer the investigation to the State Committee for National Security to avoid a conflict of interest. Azimjan Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek human rights defender, had been sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2010, following an unfair trial and torture. Numerous international demands for his release, and concerns over his deteriorating health, had been ignored.