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Central Asia: Global report documents alarming civic space trends
Central Asia: Global report documents alarming civic space trends

The CIVICUS Monitor has released its annual, global report People Power Under Attack (PPUA), which examines threats and trends facing civil society across the world in 2022. The report draws on updates from CIVICUS Monitor research partners, including updates on the five countries in Central Asia prepared by International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and its partners from this region.

The global report highlights the serious crises seen in Central Asia in 2022 when the authorities forcibly cracked down on mass protests and ensuing unrest in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as the continued use of intimidation and harassment to repress government criticism across the region.

As covered in the PPUA, the authorities in Kazakhstan used excessive and lethal force when responding to predominantly peaceful mass protests for political and social change seen in January 2022, when over 230 people were killed and several thousand injured. Around 10,000 people were detained, while media workers were obstructed and attacked by both security forces and non-state actors when covering the  events. At least 30 activists, including Zhanbolat Mamai, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, were subsequently charged with rioting and other offences related to the January protests, despite the lack of any credible evidence to support these charges. As we have reported to the CIVICUS Monitor, the pattern of persecution of government critics and opponents continued after the January events, despite the political modernisation drive initiated by the president.

The PPUA documents that the authorities in Tajikistan suppressed mass protests in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO), which saw people taking to the streets to demand justice for a young man killed during a police operation. Special security operations carried out in response to the protests were marked by allegations of excessive force, arbitrary detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings of detainees. Around 20 human rights activists and journalists critical of the government’s GBAO were  detained and prosecuted, with others facing growing intimidation and harassment. The space for independent media remained limited in Tajikistan, and the operating environment for civil society organisations deteriorated further in 2022.

The PPUA also draws attention to the mass protests seen in the Republic of Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan, which were triggered by proposed constitutional amendments and to which the authorities responded with excessive force, arbitrary detentions and torture and ill-treatment of detainees. While official figures indicate that 21 people died and 270 were left needing medical assistance, civil society believes the true number of casualties might be higher. In a crackdown that followed the protests, the authorities targeted journalists and activists. As covered in our reporting to the CIVICUS Monitor, journalists, bloggers and activists also continued to be targeted for criminal prosecution outside Karakalpakstan and independent NGOs faced ongoing obstruction.

The PPUA further states that the authorities in Turkmenistan, as part of their attempts to stamp out dissent, targeted  critical voices both in- and outside the country, particularly in Turkey, putting pressure on them directly and indirectly through their relatives. The report also notes that while protests rarely take place in Turkmenistan, the authorities were quick to quell any attempts to mobilise. As covered in our updates for the CIVICUS Monitor in 2022, the authorities continued to use state media control and internet censorship to dictate the flow of information in the country and to cover up issues which are inconvenient to those in power, with repression persisting after the orchestrated transfer of presidential power from father to son Berdymukhamedov in March 2022.

As regards Kyrgyzstan, the PPUA highlights increasing intimidation and harassment of journalists, bloggers, lawyers, civil society activists and other critical voices in 2022. It notes that in a high-profile case, more than 20 activists were arrested and charged with organising riots after publicly opposing a controversial government-negotiated border agreement with Uzbekistan. The report also states that the authorities detained people who peacefully gathered to protest against Russia’s war on Ukraine despite a ban on protests imposed in the centre of the capital Bishkek. As covered in our reporting to the CIVICUS Monitor, these developments were part of a broader trend in which the environment for free speech and civic space continued to deteriorate in Kyrgyzstan in 2022. Other worrying developments included the introduction of restrictive draft laws on media and NGOs and the blocking of news sites accused of disseminating ‘’false’’ information.

The CIVICUS Monitor is a global initiative, which tracks, analyses, and rates civic space in 197 countries and territories across the world based on independent civil society information. Due to the recent  deterioration of the situation in Tajikistan, the rating for this country has been downgraded to ‘’closed’’, a rating that Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have had since the CIVICUS Monitor was launched in 2017. The civic space situation in Kazakhstan is currently rated as ‘’repressive’’, and the situation in Kyrgyzstan as ‘’obstructed’’. 

The chapter on Europe and Central Asia in People Power Under Attack 2022 is available at: https://monitor.civicus.org/globalfindings/europeandcentralasia/ 

For more information on civic freedoms in Central Asia, see the updates prepared by IPHR and its partners for the CIVICUS Monitor: 

Kazakhstan (updates prepared by IPHR and Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law)
Kyrgyzstan (updates prepared by IPHR and Legal Prosperity Foundation)
Tajikistan (updates prepared by IPHR)
Turkmenistan (updates prepared by IPHR and Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights)
Uzbekistan (updates prepared by IPHR and Association for Human Rights in Central Asia)

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