Kyrgyzstan: Civil society under pressure

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Zerophoto, Fotoila

During much of the post-Soviet period, Kyrgyzstan has had a more enabling civil society environment than other countries in the Central Asian region. However, as part of a trend seen across the former Soviet Union, civil society organizations and activists have recently come under growing pressure in the country.

International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) is particularly concerned that draft laws on ”foreign agents” and “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” currently pending in the parliament threaten to seriously undermine the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and deliver a heavy blow to civil society.  Both of these bills draw on similar Russian legislation. While the bill on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” was approved by in the first reading in the parliament in October 2014, the parliament’s Human Rights Committee decided on 19 May 2015 to submit the “foreign agents” bill for consideration by the whole parliament without adopting any position on it.

In the recent period, civil society groups, activists and lawyers in Kyrgyzstan have also increasingly been subjected to negative and discrediting rhetoric, intimidation and harassment. The discussion surrounding the problematic draft laws mentioned above has featured arguments reinforcing suspicion and mistrust against civil society actors, e.g. accusing them of betraying “traditional” national values and posing a threat to national security. Especially those who defend the rights of vulnerable groups, such as ethnic and sexual minorities, have been targeted.

In a case of great concern in view of the integrity and confidentiality of the work of lawyers, security service officials carried out searches of the Osh branch office of the Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Movement, as well as the homes of two of its lawyers in late March 2015, confiscating case material related to dozens of individual cases. While these searches were deemed unlawful by court last month, all confiscated files have yet to be returned and the officials guilty of wrongdoing held accountable. Bir Duino and its lawyers continue their struggle to obtain justice in this case, and in a new court decision, on 18 May 2015, the Osh Regional Court found unlawful the failure of a representative of the Osh Prosecutor’s Office to ensure the full return of case material.

In another case of concern, an alleged attempt to set fire on the office of Labrys, an NGO that defends the rights of LGBTI people was reported in April 2015. Labrys also reported that members of the nationalist-minded movements Kyrk Choro and Kalys attempted to disrupt an event held on the occasion of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on 17 May 2015, intimidating and insulting participants.

A victim of the miscarriage of justice after the inter-ethnic violence that took place in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010, human rights defender Azimjan Askarov continues to serve a life-time sentence, with every day he spends behind bars adding to the injustice in his case. Last year, a new investigation into his case was discontinued. Credible allegations that he was subjected to torture in pre-trial detention have not been investigated.

For more information about our concerns regarding the civil society situation in Kyrgyzstan, see our briefing paper prepared for the EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue held in Brussels on 18 May 2015. We welcome that issues covered in the briefing note were among those discussed at the dialogue and call for effective follow-up on the dialogue and consistent and systematic action by the EU to promote a safe and enabling environment for civil society in Kyrgyzstan and to speak out against threats in this regard.

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See also:  Address torture in EU-Kyrgyzstan human rights dialogue 18/05/15