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Kyrgyzstan: Ensure fair and transparent trial in the Kempir-Abad case
Photo by Vladislav Litvinov/CC BY 2.0
Kyrgyzstan: Ensure fair and transparent trial in the Kempir-Abad case
Photo by Vladislav Litvinov/CC BY 2.0

We, the undersigned human rights organizations, urge Kyrgyzstani authorities to ensure strict compliance with due process and fair trial guarantees set out by national and international law in the hearing of the charges brought against 27 critics of the Kempir-Abad border deal with Uzbekistan, including by ensuring transparency of the process and its results. We are extremely alarmed that the case was classified by an investigator on January 11, 2023, preventing the public and the media from following the investigation and case as they proceeded. The Pervomaisky District Court hearing pre-trial motions on the case has thus far refused defendants’ requests to open the trial, meaning that the hearings will take place behind closed doors and outside of the public’s view.

We recall that open and transparent trials are a cornerstone of the rule of law and fair judicial proceedings. Being party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Kyrgyzstan has committed to protecting the right to a public trial. 1 Although this right is not without limits, the UN Human Rights Committee characterizes the circumstances under which a trial may be closed as “exceptional,” emphasizing that absent such circumstances, a trial must be open to ensure transparency and assist in guaranteeing the human right to a fair trial. 2 Kyrgyzstan recently recommitted to adhering to these principles and its international human rights obligations when it won a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2022.

Thus far in this case, there is no evidence of exceptional circumstances that would meet the threshold required under international law to close the impending proceedings to the public, the press, or international observers. Moreover, the apparent absence of any credible evidence that the defendants have committed a criminal offense increases the importance of openness and transparency to ensure that the process and results comply with Kyrgyzstan’s international obligations and earn the public’s trust.

The 27 defendants were first detained in October 2022 on charges of fomenting “mass unrest” for views peacefully expressed regarding a border deal with neighboring Uzbekistan and their peaceful civic engagement on this issue. Fourteen defendants are held in a pre-trial detention facility while the remaining defendants have been placed under house arrest. An indictment was issued on the case on June 22, 2023, the contents of which are secret, though it is reported to consist of 265 pages.

Up to this point in the criminal process, Kyrgyzstani officials’ actions with respect to the Kempir-Abad case have raised numerous human rights and rule of law concerns. Individuals detained in a pre-trial detention facility in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan reported limited access to sanitation, medical treatment, and visits with family during the five months they have been held in the facility. Prior to the beginning of the trial, courts repeatedly extended many of the defendants’ pre-trial detention despite the fact that pretrial detention should be applied only in exceptional cases under international law, and for as short of a time as possible. The investigation has been accompanied by warrantless searches and other apparent procedural violations since its inception. Additionally, officials, citing the secrecy of the documents in the case, refused to provide detainees with documents necessary to understand the charges or defend themselves. Absent these documents, they have no way to appeal their detention.

We call on Kyrgyzstani officials to ensure that the trial of the 27 critics of the Kempir-Abad border deal on serious charges is conducted openly and administered in strict accordance with Kyrgyzstan’s law and international obligations. We urge President Japarov and his administration, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, to take steps within their competence to ensure an open and fair trial. We further urge the authorities to ensure that those against whom criminal cases have been initiated without reasonable cause are cleared of charges and promptly and unconditionally released. No one should be prosecuted or persecuted for their peaceful exercise of their freedoms of expression, association, and assembly.  Absent openness and adherence to the rule of law, the trial will serve as one more step away from Kyrgyzstan’s reputation as a beacon of freedom and respect for human rights in Central Asia.

Signatories:
International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR)
Freedom for Eurasia
Freedom Now
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)
Norwegian Helsinki Committee

[1] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 14(1) (guaranteeing that “[i]n the determination of any criminal charge . . . everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing . . ..”).

[2] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 32: Article 14: Right to equality before courts and tribunals and to a fair trial, para. 29 (Aug. 23, 2007), available at www.undocs.org/en/ccpr/c/gc/32.

***

See also joint statement by IPHR and ten other NGOs on the arrests in the Kempir-Abad case, issued on 28 October 2022

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