WORLD REPORT 1997 - Kyrgyzstan

Human Rights Developments

The continued government crackdown on independent or critical media, freedom of speech and association, and an alarming consolidation of power for President Askar Akayev marked a distressing trend for human rights in Kyrgyzstan in 1996. Additional causes for concern included the continued use of the death penalty, squalid prison and detention center conditions, and police brutality.

President Akayev won the December 24, 1995, presidential election with more than 70 percent of the vote. However, his victory came amidst allegations of constitutional illegality that elections had been called prematurely and that three out of six presidential candidates had been unfairly excluded from the electoral process on the grounds that they had not collected the required 50,000 signatures mandated by unreasonable >oblast= (regional) proportions.@

Freedom of speech and of association also came under fire on December 22, 1995, when Topchubek Turgunaliev, deputy chairman of the political party Erkin Kyrgyzstan, and Dzhurmagazi Usupov, chairman of the Ashar movement, were arrested for the distribution of leaflets critical of President Akayev prior to the presidential election. They were charged under article 128, section 2, article 129 and article 68 of the Criminal Code of Kyrgyzstan for slandering and insulting the president in printed and written forms and intentionally inciting national dissent. Having spent four months in pre-trial detention, each man was given a one-year suspended sentence.

Rysbek Omurzakov, a journalist for the Res Publica (Bishkek) newspaper was arrested on April 12, 1996, and sentenced to two years of imprisonment under article 128, part 3 (libel with accusations of treason or other state crime). Unofficial sources suggest that the arrest was also made in connection with distributing leaflets critical of President Akayev. Following an appeal on August 6, 1996, Omurzakov had his two-year prison sentence suspended ostensibly after the court took into account his character and the fact that he has a family to support but likely as a concession to public outcry over his arrest.

The February 10, 1996, referendum on a draft law on constitutional change was approved by more than 94 percent of the electorate. This violated the 1993 Kyrgyzstan constitution, which prohibits constitutional change by referenda. The referendum was also objectionable because it gave the president unilateral power to appoint all top ministers except the prime minister.

The Kyrgyzstan government in 1996 continued to implement the propiska (residence permit) system which, in conjunction with an internal passport, is required in order to obtain permission to leave the country. This system arbitrarily restricts freedom of movement, both internally and internationally, in direct contravention of article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Kyrgyzstan is signatory. In April, in a clear violation of freedom of expression and of association, the Kyrgyzstan government banned the ethnic Uighur society, Ittipak, for three months on the grounds that it was allegedly carrying out separatist activities that ran counter to the interests of the Chinese people. Kyrgyzstan law does not treat separatist activities as a criminal act; rather, the suspension was the result of an interstate agreement to quell separatist activities, reached in April between Kyrgyzstan, Kazakstan, Tajikistan, and the Chinese government. The Ittipak society was barred from campaigning in the press and media or from organizing any meetings, demonstrations or other mass activities in Kyrgyzstan, in violation of its right to freedom of speech, association, and assembly.

The year 1996 was proclaimed AWomen=s Year@ in Kyrgyzstan. President Akayev accordingly granted an amnesty to numerous female prisoners on March 8 (International Women=s Day) and appointed a female vice-premier. However, in contrast to the fanfare, AWomen=s Year@ was not marked either by the introduction of any specific legislation to give support or protection to women who face domestic violence and job discrimination, or the enforcement of existing anti-discrimination laws, most notably the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to which Kyrgyzstan is a signatory.

Kyrgyzstan in 1996 did not sign the Second Optional Protocol of the ICCPR on abolishing the death penalty; it retained the measure for fifteen peacetime and two wartime offenses and continued to pass the death sentence in 1996. According to one Kyrgyz human rights group, juveniles are among those being put to death.

The Right to Monitor

There were no reported violations of the right to monitor.

The Role of the International Community

The European Union

The European Union was silent on specific human rights abuses in Kyrgyzstan. In addition to its substantial aid through the TACIS and ECHO programs, it was preparing to implement, pending ratification by all E.U. member states, the signed Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between the E.U. and Kyrgyzstan. The PCA cites respect for human rights and democratic principles as an essential element of the agreement. The European Parliament approved the PCA in November 1995.

The United States

U.S. government aid was expected to be over US$50 million in 1996, reportedly in recognition of Kyrgyzstan=s stability and democratic reforms. The U.S. government sent observers to the trial of Topchubek Turgunaliev and Dzhurmagazi Usupov and prepared a strong and comprehensive analysis of Kyrgyzstan=s human rights record in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995.