Kyrgyzstan: End arbitrary detention for critics of controversial border demarcation deal

Vyacheslav Oseledko / AFP

4 November 2022. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations are concerned about mass arbitrary detentions of activists and other critics of a controversial border demarcation agreement with Uzbekistan and call on the authorities to respect the right to freedom of association and expression. Kyrgyzstani rights groups warn that these detentions signal the narrowing space for civil society in Kyrgyzstan.

On 23 October 2022, at least 21 activists, journalists and politicians, including Rita Karasartova, Asiya Sasykbaeva, Atai Beishenbek, Klara Sooronkulova, and Gulnara Dzhurabaeva, were searched and arbitrarily detained in Kyrgyzstan, after having criticized a draft border demarcation agreement between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The agreement, signed on September 26, foresees handing over the territory of the Kempir-Abad water reservoir to Uzbekistan.

On 25 October, a Bishkek court ordered a two months pre-trial detention for those detained. The detentions were marked by numerous procedural irregularities. The Interior Ministry of Kyrgyzstan affirmed that it is carrying out investigations into the alleged organisation of a “mass riot”, a crime that can be punished with up to 10 years of imprisonment under the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its Kyrgyzstani member organisations Bir-Duino, Kylym Chamy and Legal Clinic “Adilet”, strongly condemn the current crackdown against government critics, and call for the release of all those illegally detained in retaliation for the exercise of their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

"The mass arrests, which appear arbitrary, of activists and politicians violate the rights of citizens to freedom of expression and assembly."

Cholpon Dzhakupova, Legal Clinic Adilet Public Foundation.

"In addition, a preventive measure in the form of detention was chosen for all the accused without taking into account individual circumstances, which contradicts both the norms of the Criminal Procedure Code and judicial practice, suggesting that the case is politically motivated", noted Cholpon Dzhakupova, head of the Legal Clinic Adilet Public Foundation.

The detentions took place after the opponents of the draft border agreement assembled in a newly created Committee for the Protection of Kempir-Abad. Activists had raised concerns about the draft agreement, which could potentially deprive Kyrgyzstani farmers and residents of the region of access to water resources, and pointed to the lack of transparency in the decision-making process. The Committee planned to protest the deal including by organising peaceful rallies. Most of those detained are members of the Committee.

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