SEATTLE — Kyrgyzstan is a Central Asian country that gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Although Kyrgyzstan is constitutionally a unitary parliamentary republic, it is governed by an authoritarian regime. The country continues to endure ethnic and political conflicts, riots and economic troubles. Human rights in Kyrgyzstan, despite making some important improvements, experienced a number of disturbing trends in the past couple of years.
Reports from 2016 and 2017 on human rights in Kyrgyzstan show a number of issues that warrant the attention of regional and international human rights groups and the United Nations.
Prisoner of conscience
In 2010, the Kyrgyz government sentenced Azimjan Askarov, a 66-year-old political activist and human rights defender from southern Kyrgyzstan, to life in prison. Askarov was charged with inciting ethnic strife and violence between two major ethnic groups the Kyrgyz people and Uzbeks, and the murder of a police officer. In June 2010, inter-ethnic clashes in Osho and Jalal Abad in the south of Kyrgyzstan, hundreds of people, mostly Uzbeks, were killed and several hundred injured. Several reports on human rights in Kyrgyzstan state that Askarov is innocent, and that allegations against him are “baseless” and “absolute nonsense.”
The U.N. Committee on Human Rights has urged Kyrgyzstan to immediately release Askarov because he had been arbitrarily detained, tortured and denied his right to a fair trial. Askarov has been through trial and sessions in court, but he is still in prison. His property was confiscated by the government and his brother was severely beaten.
Violence against women
Domestic violence, forced marriages and other forms of violence against women and girls are pervasive in Kyrgyz society. These victims of violence have no other way but to remain silent and endure suffering due to stigma, lack of economic independence, societal discrimination and the negligence of state institutions.
Due to lack of modernization, the police and court systems do not have appropriate mechanisms and laws to deal with issues of domestic violence. The police have, in some cases, mocked the victims and said that they cannot get involved in family issues. According to Amnesty International, almost 5,000 cases of domestic violence have been registered this year, and just 158 have proceeded to criminal prosecution.
The good news is that on November 18, 2016, Kyrgyzstan’s president Almazbek Atambayev signed a bill into a law to criminalize parents allowing underage children to marry, religious leaders for performing marriages for minors and adults who marry minors.
Torture and ill-treatment
Torture and other maltreatment are another serious concern for human rights in Kyrgyzstan. Although the State acknowledges it is a problem, impunity remains the norm. Investigations into torture and ill-treatment allegations are usually delayed, rare or ineffective.
According to a report by Kyrgyzstan’s National Center for the Prevention of Torture (NPM), there were 199 alleged instances of torture in 2015, but “the real number of such cases was impossible to ascertain since so many acts of abuse go unreported.” Roughly 85 percent of those detainees said the law enforcement officers tortured them as a way of extorting confessions.
The pleasant news is that the Kyrgyzstan government has since set up NPM as a prevention mechanism to stop torture from happening. Moreover, the parliament rejected a draft law that could have curbed NPM’s independence. Nevertheless, the Kyrgyz Republic does not ensure freedom from torture in law or practice.
Lack of freedom of expression
Media is not free in Kyrgyzstan. On June 22, 2016, the parliament in its first reading approved amendments to Kyrgyzstan’s media laws banning foreigners from setting up media outlets in the country and limiting foreign funding. The government fined one journalist, Dayirbek Orunbekov, about $28,000 for writing about the events of Uzbek-Kyrgyz ethnic clashes in 2010. In August 2016, the Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal case against him for failing to pay the damages and, in November 2016, it was sent to court for further consideration.
Another serious concern of human rights in Kyrgyzstan is religious intolerance. Islam is the dominant religion, with 80 percent of the population being Muslim. In an attempt to combat religious extremism, the state has repressed the freedom of ethnic minorities. In October 2015, a Kyrgyz court convicted a popular imam Rashot Kamalov to five years in prison — which was increased to 10 years in prison on appeal — on charges of inciting religious hatred and disseminating extremist material. However, Kamalov and his supporters believe he was targeted due to his public criticism of the police in December 2014.
Others instances of violations of human rights in Kyrgyzstan are the lack of freedom, discrimination against sex workers and freedom of association. It is unlikely that things will improve in coming months and years because the new legal, constitutional or institutional developments in Kyrgyzstan undermine human rights protections and further weaken the supremacy of international law over domestic law stipulated in the current Constitution.
– Aslam Kakar