WORLD REPORT 2001 - Kyrgyztan

Human Rights Developments

In 2000, President Askar Akaev's actions shattered the illusion of Kyrgyzstan as an "island of democracy" in a repressive region. Armed clashes on the country's border, manipulated polls for parliament and for the presidency, and restrictions on free speech, press and association, minority rights, and religion fostered an ongoing crisis, with dire implications for human rights.

The government of Kyrgyzstan attempted to limit access to the southern border with Tajikistan after armed clashes between fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Kyrgyz government troops resumed in August. Reports emerged of civilian deaths from mines laid by the Kyrgyz military in mountainous border areas; over one thousand civilians had been relocated from the conflict zone at the time of writing, in what was claimed to be a voluntary process. The IMU, whose stated goal was to move into Uzbek territory from its reported redoubts in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, once again took several sets of hostages, some of whom were released and some of whom escaped. Kyrgyz warplanes launched bombing raids on border areas in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; thirty Kyrgyz were officially acknowledged to have been killed.

In elections to the parliament in February and March 2000, and for president on October 29, 2000, the government blatantly violated citizens' rights. Though fifteen "parties" participated in the parliamentary vote, courts barred four, including the three most popular opposition parties-El-Bei Bechora (the People's Party) and Ar-Namys (Dignity), and later the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan-from advancing a slate of candidates, based on two provisions of the electoral law hastily passed in 1999. The government also erected significant barriers for individual opposition candidates to register. International and domestic observers noted widespread instances of fraud.

The boldness with which the Kyrgyz government attacked Akaev's potential presidential rivals, including former vice president Gen. Felix Kulov, shocked even the most jaded observers. Kulov was tried by a closed military tribunal after being arrested in March and charged with abusing his official powers when he served as minister of national security. Although the tribunal acquitted him of any wrongdoing in August, state prosecutors appealed the verdict, and a retrial was ordered in September. A Supreme Court judge, Akynbek Tilebaliev, who was said to have influenced the first court's decision to acquit, was allegedly forced by the government to resign.

In May, a Bishkek court convicted Danier Usenov, then leader of the Kyrgyz People's Party (El-Bei Bechora), and another challenger for the presidency on a four-year-old assault charge in which the plaintiff had withdrawn his original complaint, sentencing him to two years of probation. Kyrgyz law permanently bars persons with criminal convictions from standing for election to public office.

Long-time political activist, human rights defender, and founder of Kyrgyzstan's nongovernmental Guild of Prisoners of Conscience Topchubek Turgunaliev was convicted in August of plotting an attempt on President Akaev's life and overthrow of the state's constitutional system. Turgunaliev and six of his eight codefendants were sentenced to from sixteen to seventeen years in prison. The seventh man charged in the case, an officer of the MNB (Ministry for National Security, formerly the KGB) and the state's lone witness, was given a suspended sentence and immediately released.

The government introduced mandatory Kyrgyz language testing for potential presidential candidates in 2000. Seven potential opposition candidates were excluded under this provision. Citizens wishing to gather signatures to support opposition candidates faced threats and harassment, including dismissal from jobs. According to local human rights groups, provincial governors appointed by the president compelled teachers and other civil servants to support Akaev.

Authorities dealt harshly with demonstrators, casting a chill over the rights to freedom of speech and association. In March, police beat demonstrators in Kulov's home base of Kara-Bura, injuring several.

Independent newspapers' vigorous reporting during the election spawned an intense government backlash. On January 13, the Supreme Court upheld a court decision finding the popular private newspaper Res Publica guilty of defaming a government official; under threat of closure, the paper paid the damage award, but government harassment continued. In August, the Ministry for State Security questioned three members of the editorial board of the paper Delo No (Case Number) in an investigation of alleged "disclosure of state secrets," following an article on the case against Felix Kulov. KNB officials searched the homes of Delo No journalists in September. A Bishkek court began to consider the libel suit brought by parliamentary deputy and former Kyrgyz Communist Party First Secretary Turdakun Usubaliev against the independent newspaper Asaba (the Standard) in late August. Tellingly, Usubaliev was seeking to have publication suspended during the trial, as well as 50 million soms (approximately U.S. $1.06 million) in damages. The paper's owner, People's Party leader Melis Eshimkanov, was challenging President Akaev in the October 29 election. Journalist Moldosaly Ibraimov, from the southern region of Jalal-Abad, was jailed for five weeks after being charged with libel for an article he wrote about corruption during the run-up to the parliamentary elections. Media restrictions also raised minority rights questions when the government attempted to strip the private station Osh TV, which broadcasts in Uzbek, of its broadcasting license. In the face of local and international protests, the State Commission for Radio Frequencies postponed a decision until the end of the year.

The government of Kyrgyzstan also engaged in Internet censorship, shutting down the independent news site "Politika KG" from late August until October 29, the date of the presidential elections.

Kyrgyzstan intensified repression against the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), mainly active in the southern Osh province, arresting tens of the group's followers and sentencing them to prison terms on charges of inciting religious and racial hatred.

Kyrgyzstan flouted its obligations as a signatory to the 1951 refugee convention and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in April by its forcible deportation of Jeli Turdi, an ethnic Uighur, back to the People's Republic of China, where he risked mistreatment including torture.

Defending Human Rights

In March, prosecutors formally warned NGO Coalition for Democracy leader, Toletan Ismailova, Lidia Fomova of the Association for Social Protection of the Population, and other NGO leaders that they faced arrest under Criminal Code article 233, which punishes "destabilizing the social order," for their human rights activities. In May the Ministry of Justice refused to register the nongovernmental Guild of Prisoners of Conscience, stating that the Kyrgyz constitution precluded any arrests on political grounds.

The Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KCHR) and its chairman, Ramazan Dyryldaev, faced increasingly serious harassment, as state officials attempted to confiscate the group's property, after court decisions revoked its registration. Facing arrest on criminal charges in late July, Dyryldaev, his son, and one other KCHR activist fled the country, and they remained abroad as of this writing.

The Role of the International Community

United Nations

The U.N. Resident Coordinator Office in Bishkek monitored the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in connection with the Uzbek rebel incursion in August.

Kyrgyzstan submitted several reports to United Nations treaty bodies in 1999-2000. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child concluded that the government was not making the necessary effort to comply with the treaty's provisions in May. In July, the Human Rights Committee reviewed and found lacking Kyrgyz compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Organization forSecurity and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

The OSCE announced at the end of January that it would send a full observer mission to the parliamentary elections in February, shortly before the Kyrgyz government disallowed the participation of several opposition candidates. The final report of that mission thoroughly summarized election abuses and issued a series of recommendations on improving the electoral process, but the OSCE did not insist that they be implemented as a condition to its observing the October presidential poll. It announced on September 14, that it would do so, while issuing several statements critical of the arrest and harassment of opposition figures. In the aftermath of the parliamentary poll, the OSCE pressed the government to hold roundtable discussions with the opposition, which was largely excluded from the new parliament, but the government has refused to do so. In April, the OSCE opened a field office in the southern city of Osh.

European Union

The European Union held the second meeting of its Cooperation Council with Kyrgyzstan in July, which, though it noted the importance of democratic reforms, "concluded that cooperation in 2000/2001 should focus in particular on the improvement of the business climate." After the August incursion, the E.U. delegation to the OSCE Permanent Council issued a statement recognizing that "the strengthening of civil societies, progress in democratization and the rule of law as well as the improvement of economic and social conditions are essential in the fight against extremism and fundamentalism."

United States

During her April visit to the region, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright criticized the Kyrgyz retreat from democracy and extracted a promise from President Akaev to follow OSCE recommendations for improvements in advance of October's presidential election; Albright then extended U.S.$3 million in supplementary counterterrorism assistance. The administration requested $37 million in assistance for Kyrgyztan in 2001, an $8 million increase over estimated 2000 expenditures, and prefaced its January 2000 request by stating that "Kyrgyzstan's commitment to democratization and economic reform stand out as an example of the successes that can be achieved in Central Asia." After first inviting Kyrgyzstan to the June conference of democratic states in Warsaw, in May the convening states, including the United States, suggested to Kyrgyzstan that it would be best if its delegation did not make an appearance.