Kyrgyzstan

WORSENING CLIMATE FOR FREE SPEECH: SPATE OF THREATS AND ATTACKS AGAINST JOURNALISTS AND ACTIVISTS

During the period covered by this update, the authorities pushed through the controversial new constitution initiated after the October 2020 political crisis. Critics fear that the new constitution, which was approved in a referendum held in early April 2021, might legitimise authoritarian rule and undermine the rule of law in the country by granting the president excessively broad powers without an effective system of checks and balances. There are also concerns that some of the provisions of the new constitution might result in violations of the freedoms of expression, association and assembly. President Sadyr Japarov, who rose to power after the October 2020 political crisis, insisted that Kyrgyzstan would remain “democratic’’ following the adoption of the new constitution and that there would be no politically motivated persecution under his rule. However, the period covered by this update saw a series of cases of intimidation and harassment of activists and journalists, which reinforced concerns about a worsening climate for free speech and persecution of those who criticise, oppose and challenge the policies of the current authorities.
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WORSENING CLIMATE FOR FREE SPEECH: SPATE OF THREATS AND ATTACKS AGAINST JOURNALISTS AND ACTIVISTS

Civil society flags threats to democracy, human rights and the rule of law during transition period

During the period covered by this update, Kyrgyzstan was in transition following the political crisis that emerged after the October 2020 parliamentary elections, when peaceful mass protests against the election outcome evolved into violent clashes with the police, where protesters seized government buildings and high-ranking officials resigned. Sadyr Japarov, who rose to power during the crisis, won a landslide victory in the presidential election held on 10th January 2021 amid concerns about the lack of a level playing field and the misuse of public resources in his favour. Japarov also used his campaign platform to encourage voters to support a presidential governance system during a referendum held on the same day as the presidential election. An overwhelming majority of the referendum participants supported presidential rule and a new constitution establishing such a system is now under consideration. A first draft constitution put forward in November 2020 drew heavy criticism, with its opponents warning that it would legitimise authoritarian rule and weaken human rights protection in Kyrgyzstan. Due to the criticism, plans to put this document up for a vote during the January 2021 referendum were abandoned and work on the draft constitution continues. Another measure criticised as inherently undemocratic was the parliament’s adoption of a law postponing new parliamentary elections until spring 2021. Human rights groups and labour organisations also rallied against a draft trade union law, which passed its second reading in parliament in November 2020. Intimidation and harassment of journalists, bloggers and other outspoken individuals were ongoing concerns.
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Civil society flags threats to democracy, human rights and the rule of law during transition period

Post-election protests plunge Kyrgyzstan into crisis

Following the parliamentary elections on 4th October 2020, a deep political crisis evolved in Kyrgyzstan, entailing serious human rights concerns. The parliamentary elections, which were marred by allegations of widespread irregularities, resulted in a landslide victory for pro-government parties, with most opposition parties left out in the cold. This prompted mass protests by opposition members and supporters in the capital Bishkek. What began as peaceful demonstrations evolved into clashes between protesters and law enforcement authorities during the evening of 5th October 2020 when the latter resorted to forceful tactics after an attempt by some protesters to break through the gates of White House, the seat of the president and parliament. The clashes ended with the seizure of the White House and several other public buildings by groups of protesters in the early morning of 6th October 2020, and the unlawful release of previous high-profile political figures from prison. In the days which followed the post-election protests, the Central Commission for Elections and Referendums of the Kyrgyz Republic (CEC) cancelled the election results, the prime minister and other top officials stepped down, calls were made for the resignation or impeachment of the President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, and parliament was left in a debilitated state. Through a convoluted chain of events, Sadyr Japarov – a former MP who was among those freed on 5th-6th October 2020 – was endorsed to head a new government on 14th October 2020. Read more

Post-election protests plunge Kyrgyzstan into crisis

HRD Azimjan Askarov dies in prison amid growing pressure on civil society and media

A development that has attracted much attention was the tragic passing of human rights defender Azimjan Askarov in prison on 25th July 2020. He was confirmed to have died of pneumonia, known as a serious complication of COVID-19. The news about Askarov’s passing was met with shock and dismay by civil society and the international community, who blamed the Kyrgyzstani authorities for failing to grant him access to appropriate medical assistance and to release him due to his worsening condition. Askarov had spent ten years behind bars, after being given a life sentence for his alleged involvement in the inter-ethnic violence that rocked southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. Despite the COVID-19 emergency, a widely criticised draft law on NGOs advanced, with parliament passing it on second reading on 18th June 2020. At a public hearing held prior to this, NGO representatives critical of the law had little opportunity to make their voices heard as participation was seriously limited. Authorities have initiated measures that are problematic for freedom of expression. Following a speedy process, parliament adopted new legislation on “manipulation of information” in June 2020, despite serious objections being raised by media watchdogs. Read more

HRD Azimjan Askarov dies in prison amid growing pressure on civil society and media

Civic space concerns reinforced by COVID-19 response

Emergency measures were introduced in Kyrgyzstan in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including a state of emergency in the capital Bishkek and several other cities and regions. These measures affected the protection of the freedoms of expression, association and assembly. For several weeks, journalists were not accredited or granted special permission to move around in the capital and other areas where the state of emergency was in place, which prevented them from effectively carrying out their work. Lawyers were also not exempted from the restrictions on movement that applied, which obstructed their efforts to provide legal assistance to clients. Rallies, pickets and all other assemblies were fully banned during the state of emergency and social media users were detained, threatened with criminal prosecution and forced to “publicly apologise” for spreading alleged false information about the pandemic.
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Civic space concerns reinforced by COVID-19 response

Corruption findings result in pressure on media, intimidation of activists and civil society protest

Kyrgyzstan: Three independent media organisation face defamation suits, following a corruption investigation- which renewed concerns about the use of the court system to put pressure on media, as well as the failure of the authorities to protect journalists and activists speaking out about corruption. Read more

Corruption findings result in pressure on media, intimidation of activists and civil society protest

Kyrgyzstan: Journalists and media face threats, attacks as ex-president is arrested

This update covers developments concerning freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression in Kyrgyzstan from the beginning of July to the beginning of October 2019. The International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and the Legal Prosperity Foundation (LPF) have prepared the update within the framework of their cooperation with the CIVICUS Monitor. Read more

 Kyrgyzstan: Journalists and media face threats, attacks as ex-president is arrested

Lawsuits, attacks and harassment used against journalists, activists and human rights defenders

This update covers events from 1st April 2019 to 30th June 2019 and was prepared by Legal Prosperity Foundation Kyrgyzstan and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR). During this period several attacks against human rights defenders were documented and are explained in more detail bellow. Read more

Lawsuits, attacks and harassment used against journalists, activists and human rights defenders

Some positive civic space developments, but more to be done to keep promises

As reported previously on the Monitor, the Kyrgyzstani authorities committed to improve the human rights situation in the country. Read more

Some positive civic space developments, but more to be done to keep promises

Ongoing surveillance of NGO workers despite Presidential assurances on human rights

Due to recent events, it appears that civil society continues to be closely monitored and under surveillance. On 7th September 2018, during a funeral gathering in a café organised for the husband of human rights defender Rita Karasartova, human rights defenders Gulnara Dzhurabaeva, Dinara Oshurakhunova and Burul Makenbaeva found a recording device under the table where they were sitting. Read more

Ongoing surveillance of NGO workers despite Presidential assurances on human rights