Kyrgyzstan at a Crossroads: Shrink or Widen the Scene for Human Rights Defenders

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(Bishkek, Geneva, Paris) Kyrgyz authorities must reject all bills that could shrink the space for human rights in the country and should create a safe and favourable environment for human rights defenders, declared the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint FIDH-OMCT partnership) today in Bishkek while presenting its latest report on Kyrgyzstan.

The report, entitled “Kyrgyzstan at a crossroads: shrink or widen the scene for human rights defenders”, follows an international fact-finding mission carried out in September 2015 on the situation of human rights defenders in the country. It presents concrete examples of increasing pressure faced by human rights defenders over the past few years, from both State officials and nationalist groups. The forms of harassment they are subjected to include illegal searches of their offices, surveillance and intimidation by intelligence services, threat to (mis)use criminal provisions on fighting extremism, physical attacks and smear campaigns in the media.

The report analyses the ambivalent context for the defence of human rights in Kyrgyzstan. Indeed, several State representatives met during the mission have acknowledged the legitimate, necessary and positive role of human rights defenders in society and affirmed their clear willingness to improve the human rights situation in the country, but some recent official statements and legislative initiatives seem rather contradictory.

While it salutes the Parliament’s recent decision to reject a discriminatory bill targeting NGOs, drafted in conformity with the infamous Russian “foreign agents” law, the Observatory regrets that it has created an atmosphere of distrust and animosity towards civil society, in particular human rights defenders.

The report further denounces, amongst others, the draft law banning the so-called “promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships”, which is still under discussion in the Kyrgyz Parliament. If adopted, it would penalise by up to one year in prison any public statement, assembly or public action in favour of equality and the rights of sexual minorities, thus severely restricting freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly. Given its vague wording, the bill would affect groups working in the fields of sexual health and sexual and gender minorities. Several existing laws also have a restrictive impact on the working environment of civil society, such as the Law on Combating Extremist Activity and the False Accusation Law criminalizing libel.

The Observatory is also concerned by statements made on the occasion of Mothers’ Day by Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev. On May 14, 2016, President Atambayev named the heads of human rights organisations “Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan” and “Kylym Shamy”, Tolekan Ismailova and Aziza Abdirasulova, when speaking about the organisers of an alleged upheaval against his government, and accused them of undermining State stability with the support of foreign funds.

“Today, the civil society is at its wits’ end. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Time has come for the authorities to choose what they really want for the country: a genuine democracy, based on the respect of human rights, or a return to the dark years of our history.”

Aliaksandr Bialiatski, FIDH Vice-President and President of Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, who is part of the Observatory delegation that is currently in Kyrgyzstan to present the conclusions and recommendations of the mission's report

The Observatory urges the Kyrgyz authorities to ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals.

The report also underlines the situation of human rights defender Azimjan Askarov, Head of the NGO “Vozduh” known for his documentation of police violence and detention conditions in South Kyrgyzstan prior to his detention during the 2010 ethnic clashes. He was abusively sentenced to life imprisonment in a trial that fell short of international standards, as confirmed by the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) in April 2016. The situation of Azimjan Askarov is particularly serious compared to the general situation of human rights defenders in the country, but it is emblematic of the repression that people who tackle issues viewed as too sensitive may face. During the mission, the Observatory delegation was denied the right to visit Azimjan Askarov in prison.

“Kyrgyzstan has a legal obligation to implement UN Human Rights Committee’s decisions. It should release immediately human rights defender Azimjan Askarov and quash his conviction. Failure to respect its international obligations would bring Kyrgyzstan into disrepute.”

Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH Honorary President who is heading the Observatory delegation

Under the pretext of fighting “ethnic hatred” and “extremism”, several NGOs and their staff have been subjected to abusive police raids and prosecution. As Azimjan Askarov, all of them were conducting human rights work related to the situation of ethnic minorities in the South of Kyrgyzstan. The persecution of lawyers protecting the rights of ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan is not limited to searches and the confiscation of documents. In some cases, as documented in the report, lawyers were assaulted in court buildings and even in the middle of courtrooms.

Kyrgyzstan has ratified the key UN human rights instruments. The authorities must now implement them and, in particular, guarantee a safe and conducive environment for all human rights defenders.

Read the report :

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders.
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