Freedom on the Net 2022 - Kyrgyzstan

/ 100
Obstacles to Access 15 / 25
Limits on Content 22 / 35
Violations of User Rights 16 / 40
53 / 100 Partly Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.


Though internet access improved in Kyrgyzstan, the government implemented restrictive legislation that threatens the rights of users. The recently enacted Law on Protection from False Information enables a body within the Ministry of Culture, information, Sport, and Youth Policy to request websites and social media platforms delete content within 24 hours and gives them the power to block noncompliant websites. Moreover, the law compels mobile operators and internet service providers (ISPs) to identify their users and subscribers. Additionally, the law on National Security Bodies allows security services to conduct video and audio surveillance without a prior court decision. The coverage period was also marked by significant criminal charges against journalists, illegal wiretapping, and numerous reported hacking attempts journalists and members of civil society.

After two revolutions ousted authoritarian presidents in 2005 and 2010, Kyrgyzstan adopted a parliamentary form of government. However, several days of widespread political unrest, protests, prison breaks, and violence followed the October 2020 parliamentary elections, which were deeply impacted by fraud among powerful officials. The events surrounding the elections prompted Sooronbay Jeenbekov and Kubatbek Boronov to resign as president and prime minister, respectively, paving the way for nationalist politician Sadyr Japarov, who had been convicted of kidnapping but escaped custody during the postelection turmoil, to seize power and declare himself acting president and acting prime minister. Japarov resigned from both posts in November in order to qualify as a candidate in the January 2021 snap presidential elections, which he won. He then called a referendum to form a new constitution, which was approved in an April 2021 poll that independent observer missions characterized as lacking credibility and respect for rule of law. Corruption is endemic in Kyrgyzstan’s public and private institutions, and the judiciary lacks any semblance of independence.

Key Developments, June 1, 2021 - May 31, 2022

  • In July 2021, President Sadyr Japarov signed the Law on Protection from False Information, which gives the Ministry of Culture, Information, Sport, and Youth Policy the authority to demand that social media platforms remove content within 24 hours, block them in cases where they do not comply, and set up a registry requiring service providers to log users’ real names (see B3, B4, C4, and C6).
  • In February 2022, independent online outlet was criminally charged after reprinting a Tajik news agency’s report on the January 2022 military conflict on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (see C3).
  • After YouTube-based outlet TemirovLIVE published an investigation that accused relatives of the head of the State Committee of the National Security (SCNS) of corruption, law enforcement raided the outlet’s offices. Courts subsequently charged the outlet’s founder, Bolot Temirov, with several crimes on spurious grounds. If convicted, Temirov faces up to 20 years in prison (see C3 and C7).
  • In May 2022, the parliament passed a law “On National Security Bodies,” which allows the SCNS to conduct video and audio surveillance without obtaining a warrant (see C5).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 4 / 6

Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because internet penetration improved over the past two years, according to some measurement sources.

Internet access continues to grow in Kyrgyzstan. In 2021, the State Communication Agency (SCA) reported that there were 5.8 million active subscribers out of 6.7 million inhabitants, which amounts to an 86.5 percent internet penetration rate. In 2020, the SCA reported there were 5.4 million subscribers, or an 81 percent internet penetration rate.1 However, the reliability of the SCA’s data on internet penetration rates has been called into question by some analysts; the agency’s data on the number of internet users comes from service providers. For instance, according to February 2022 data from DataReportal, an independent internet measurement source, Kyrgyzstan’s internet penetration rate was 51.1 percent.2

In 2020, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reported Kyrgyzstan had a fixed broadband penetration rate of 4.4 percent and a mobile broadband penetration rate of 119.3 percent.3 According to the SCA, the length of fiber-optic lines has doubled since 2017.4 Third-generation (3G) technology for mobile networks is available to much of the country. Fourth-generation (4G) services continued to expand during the coverage period, with 96 percent of inhabited localities covered, according to the SCA.5 in February 2022, the Cabinet of Ministers drafted a strategy for fifth-generation (5G) development that aimed to launch the technology commercially by the end of 2022, after it previous delayed an earlier timeline that would have seen 5G adopted by the end of 2021.6 According to the Global Society for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), Kyrgyzstan is expected to launch 5G commercially in 2023.7

Despite being more readily available, mobile internet connections are slower and of lower quality than fixed ones. According to May 2022 data from Ookla’s Speedtest, the median download speed on mobile internet connections was just 19.2 megabytes per second (Mbps), compared to 42.9 Mbps on fixed-line connections.8

In 2018, the Digital Central Asia and South Asia (CASA)–Kyrgyz Republic project came into effect. Funded by the World Bank, the project aimed to provide 60 percent of the population with broadband internet and improve government services. In July 2021, after the project had been delayed for three years, the World Bank announced plans to abandon it. However, in September 2021, the World Bank recommitted to the project. Uran Chekirbaev, a former government official, claimed the World Bank abandoned the project9 because government officials demanded a $300,000 bribe from the company that secured the tender.10

In January 2022, internet users reported several hours of poor broadband and mobile internet connection after a massive power outage occurred across Central Asia, impacting almost all of Kyrgyzstan.11

A2 0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 2 / 3

In recent years, the average price of an internet connection has decreased, becoming more affordable for much of the population, though fixed broadband prices remain steep. Prices offered by ISPs in Bishkek, the capital, where the information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure is well-developed and competition is greater, are lower than in rural areas. Additionally, the quality of connection is better in Bishkek than in rural areas, where the majority of the population lives.12

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a 5-gigabyte (GB) fixed broadband subscription cost 3.6 percent of gross national income (GNI) per capita in 2021, while a monthly mobile broadband plan offering 2 GB of data cost 2.8 percent of GNI per capita.13 The monthly price of a 3 Mbps fixed broadband subscription in Bishkek was 513 soms ($6.25) in 2022.14 The monthly price for the same subscription in the rural Batken region was 600 soms ($7.30).15

The World Bank has observed digital divides in terms of geography, gender, and language (most online content is in Russian) in Kyrgyzstan.16

A3 0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 5 / 6

Score Change: The score improved from 4 to 5 because internet access was not disrupted, as it was during the October 2020 protests in the previous coverage period.

The government periodically attempts to increase its control over the internet, thought it did not do so during the coverage period. Using security or economic issues as pretexts, officials or parliamentarians sometimes call for the centralization of the country’s internet infrastructure. Their initiatives seldom gain traction.

To connect to the international internet, ISPs are not required to use government-owned channels, though getting their own channel can be challenging, as it requires permission from the Border Control Service. Kyrgyzstan’s 14 major ISPs operate international internet connections via Kazakhstan and China.

For a few hours during the October 2020 protests, which led to former president Sooronbay Jeenbekov’s resignation, mobile internet was shut down in the center of Bishkek, where clashes between protestors and security forces occurred. All three primary mobile operators blamed technical problems and a network overload for the disruptions on October 5 and 6, denying that they had received any orders from the government.17

There are three internet exchange points (IXPs) in Kyrgyzstan: two managed by a telecommunications industry group, the Association of Telecommunications Operators,18 as well as one controlled by the Kyrgyzstani branch of the Internet Society (ISOC).19

A4 0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 3 / 6

Though there are no direct obstacles for ISPs and mobile service providers seeking to enter the market (besides getting licensed, a formality), they must still confront several indirect barriers. One is the high cost of building ICT infrastructure. Existing ISPs are not obligated to share their infrastructure, and there is no cap on the prices they can charge for renting out bandwidth. Another is the obligation to install surveillance equipment on all communications networks, which increases start-up costs (see C5).20 Finally, the industry has been marred by corruption scandals in recent years.

The telecommunications sector is relatively liberalized and competitive compared to other countries in the region; however, the state-owned KyrgyzTelecom remains the largest ISP.21 There are 13 other major ISPs, some of which have their own international internet channels and all of which are privately owned.

There are four mobile service providers offering mobile broadband: Beeline, Megacom, Nur Telecom (operating under the brand “O!”), and KT Mobile.22 Nur Telecom claims to be the leading operator in terms of market share.23 Megacom was nationalized in 2010 amid political upheaval.

In recent years, a wave of scandals concerning the SCA, telecommunications companies, and the sale of radio frequencies have come to light.

In September 2021, government officials allegedly extorted $300,000 from the company that obtained the tender for the World Bank–funded Digital Central Asia and South Asia (CASA)–Kyrgyz Republic, which intended to improve internet access across the country (see A1).24

In March 2021, the Association of Telecommunications Operators accused Azamat Dyikanbaev, the head of the SCA from June 2020 to May 2021, of impeding the work of smaller telecommunication operators by stopping their licenses or refusing to continue them. The “groundless refusals” led to the termination of 22 licenses, particularly in rural areas, and forced some of the companies to go bankrupt.25 In May 2021, Dyikanbaev, who had recently been appointed Minister of Digital Development, was arrested for extorting a foreign company that was leading a “Safe City” project (see A5).26

Also, in February 2021, Yevgeny Krazhan, the former general director of Beeline operator Sky Mobile LLC, was taken into pretrial detention for allegedly bribing government officials in exchange for a cheaper license for radio frequencies. In December 2020, Azamat Arnaev, the head of the Department of Defense, Law Enforcement, and Emergencies, was detained in connection to the illegal sale of radio frequencies.27

In May 2020, SCA director Natalia Chenogubova, two State Committee for National Security (SCNS) officers, a deputy from the television company AlaTV, and a number of other regulatory officials were detained on corruption charges in connection with the allegedly illegal transfer of a radio frequency.28 The head of the Association of Telecommunications Operators claimed the sale of the frequency was legal, and questioned lawmakers’ assessments of lost revenue.29 In September 2021, the frequencies were sold on the state auction for roughly 1 billion soms (approximately $11.8 million).30

There are no obstacles to providing free and open internet access through Wi-Fi hotspots.31

A5 0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 1 / 4

The government recently created a new regulatory body. Historically, regulatory bodies that oversee service providers do not always operate in a free and fair manner.

The State Service of the Digital Development was created in February 2021 and assumed the functions previously performed by the State Committee of Information Technologies and Communication (SCITC)—created in 2016—and its subsidiary, the SCA. 32 Shortly thereafter, in May 2021, after the new constitution was enacted (see C1), President Japarov signed the decree “On the Cabinet of Ministers in the Kyrgyz Republic,” transforming the recently created State Service of the Digital Development into the Ministry of Digital Development, and allowing the head of the ministry to serve as vice prime minister in the new council of ministers.33

In January 2022, Talantbek Imanov was appointed as the Minister of Digital Development. He previously ran a factory specializing in the production of naval equipment and industrial goods, which, among other reasons, led prominent individuals in the IT sector to view his appointment with skepticism.34 Azamat Dyikanbaev, the inaugural Minister of Digital Development, was arrested for extorting a Chinese company implementing a “Safe City” project just two weeks after his appointment in May 2021 (see A4).35 Dastan Dogoev, who previously headed the SCITC, was appointed Minister of Digital Development after Dyikanbaev’s arrest, and served until Imanov’s appointment36

The Ministry of the Digital Development inherited the responsibilities of the SCITC and the State Registry Service, including developing ICT policy, governing the ICT sector, facilitating the sector’s development, and maintaining the population registry. The ministry also issues licenses for ISPs, sets standards, and ensures those standards are followed.37 Institutional memory within the ministry is limited, as incoming heads usually change all key staff.

B Limits on Content

B1 0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 4 / 6

Authorities continued to engage in disproportionate and arbitrary blocking of online content during the coverage period, largely reflecting official concerns about extremism. The government and judiciary’s broad application of anti-extremism laws has impacted various websites hosting user-generated content.

As of May 2022, 459 websites, most of which offer MP3 and audio downloads, were blocked by a court decision. Most of them are blocked for allegedly hosting extremist content.38

In July 2020,, a website that hosts online petitions, was inaccessible for internet users of most ISPs including MegaCom, Beeline, Aknet, and Homeline, after a petition calling for the impeachment of former president Jeenbekov was posted.39 Though the website was blocked in July, the Oktyabrsky District Court did not officially order the blocking until September 2020, citing extremist content. In March 2021, the Supreme Court overturned the decision after the Media Policy Institute filed a cassation appeal on behalf of

In 2019, authorities blocked more than 100 websites and 300 accounts on social media platforms for extremism or promoting drug use, according to the Prosecutor General’s office.41 A list of blocked websites maintained by the private ISP Megaline, however, includes some websites that do not seem to fit into the categories outlined by authorities, like video and audio hosting sites or the University of Pennsylvania’s online library.42

A series of court decisions in 2017 led to the blocking of several websites, including the music and podcast streaming platform SoundCloud, for hosting “extremist” content. The action against SoundCloud specified that all SoundCloud files—regardless of their authorship—could no longer be distributed or stored.43 However, as of May 2022, SoundCloud is unblocked. The courts have ordered blocks on several subdomains of Blogger, LiveJournal, and WordPress; some ISPs that do not utilize deep packet inspection (DPI) technologies were forced to block all subdomains that share the blogs’ internet protocol (IP) addresses.44

Courts have also ordered the blocking of URLs that link to specific content on Facebook, the Russian social media platform Odnoklassniki (OK), Twitter, and YouTube.45 However, these orders were not carried out due to the technical challenges associated with blocking individual pages on social media platforms by URL.

Also in 2017, courts ordered the blocking of the Internet Archive and in their entirety under an anti-extremism law. The Internet Archive, which offers access to billions of deleted webpages, was apparently blocked for allowing local users to bypass restrictions on extremist content. is a widely used text publishing tool that inadvertently became popular with extremist movements.46 The website was still blocked as of the end of the coverage period, while the Internet Archive had been unblocked.

B2 0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 2 / 4

The government does not often force outlets to remove content, though it has in the past and the recently enacted Law on Protection from False Information (see B3, C4, and C6) gives it more power to do so. Journalists who work online have occasionally removed political content under threat of violence from unknown actors (see C7).

Law enforcement agencies have taken actions against citizens who joked about or critiqued former president Jeenbekov on social media, summoning them to their offices, or calling or visiting them with threats to initiate criminal cases and demands that they remove any offensive posts and apologize. For instance, in July 2020, comedian Nazgul Alymkulova posted a video where the president’s head was superimposed onto a famous rapper. She was interrogated and the video was removed from her page, which she alleged was due to someone hacking into her account.47

Prior to the blocking of (see B1) in July 2020, users who posted the petition demanding the resignation of the president on social media also received visits from the police and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, demanding that they remove the content in question.48

From January to December 2021, Twitter received one removal request from a Kyrgyz court, but the company did not comply. 49 In the same period, the government did not issue any content removal requests to Google50 and Facebook did not comply with any removal requests.51

B3 0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 1 / 4

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 to reflect measures in the recently passed Law on Protection from False Information that gives the government expanded authority to remove content and block websites.

Court orders are often used to block websites and remove content in Kyrgyzstan, and during the coverage period, the president signed a law enabling a body within the Ministry of Culture, Information, Sport, and Youth Policy to issue content removal demands and subsequently order the blocking of websites and platforms that refuse to comply.

The courts justify blocking sites under Article 315 of the criminal code, which prohibits extremist materials. These are expansively defined under the Law on Countering Extremist Activity as anything that stokes “ideological, political, racial, national, or religious hatred or enmity.”52 The Prosecutor General’s office can also issue blocking and content removal requests to courts. The reasons for blocks are indicated in the court materials, which are only shared with the parties involved. Furthermore, the appeals process for challenging blocking orders is only open to the owner of the web resource being blocked or their official representative.

In July 2021, President Japarov signed the Law on Protection from False Information, which poses threats to free expression and user privacy.53 The law enables individuals or companies to file a complaint about false or defamatory information to a government unit in the Ministry of Culture, Information, Sport, and Youth Policy, which will have two days to respond to these complaints. If the content meets the criteria, websites or social media platforms must remove it within 24 hours. If the content is not removed, the individual or company who filed the complaint can then request the suspension of the website or the social media account that posted the information.54 The department can then issue a request to the ISPs to shut down the website or webpage for a period of up to two months.55

After Japarov vetoed the Law on Information Manipulation, the predecessor to the new law, in August 2020, the parliament established a reconciliation group to develop a new draft in May 2021.56 Though the parliament initially failed to pass the new bill in June 2021, it passed in a second vote in July 2021 after the president hosted a number of lawmakers at his residence.57 In April 2022, the Cabinet of Ministers passed regulations outlining the procedures for implementing the law.58

The Ministry of Justice’s official site, which hosts the official list of banned extremist and terrorist materials,59 contains outdated information and does not offer a full picture of website blocking. Compounding this lack of transparency, only a few ISPs, such as Megaline, publish lists of blocked sites and display a descriptive page when these sites are reached.

While ISPs are not directly liable for the content on their networks, they can lose their licenses if they fail to carry out a court order to block content.

B4 0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 3 / 4

Self-censorship exists online to a certain degree, primarily as a result of government restrictions on inciting hatred. All posts on online forums are strictly moderated to limit hateful content, and online journalists, bloggers, and everyday users generally try to avoid issues concerning ethnic relations. Other laws may increase self-censorship, such as those governing defamation. Amendments to the code of violations penalizing the dissemination of false information amid the COVID-19 pandemic (see C2), the Law on Protection from False Information (see B3, C4 and C6), and the latest cases against and Bolot Temirov (see C3) could have chilling effects and increase self-censorship.

B5 0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 2 / 4

Online platforms, such as forums and social networks, have been used to manipulate public opinion. Trolls hired by various actors influence online discussions by expressing favorable or unfavorable views on politicians and political issues. According to Oxford University researchers, political and private actors in Kyrgyzstan use fake Facebook accounts to promote narratives favorable to the accounts’ backers.60

According to a report from the Central Asian Bureau for Analytical reporting, candidates contesting the November 2021 snap parliamentary election offered individuals $19 per day to publicly support the candidate in online groups on social media.61

In October 2020, the nonprofit news outlet openDemocracy revealed that they had stopped collaborating with investigative journalist Elnura Alkanova because of her links to former customs official Raimbek Matraimov, who was involved in a high-profile corruption scandal. The openDemocracy report demonstrated that Alkanova led a network of trolls to create fake accounts; tarnish a joint investigation by Azattyk (an affiliate of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty [RFE/RL]), the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), and the investigative journalism site Kloop (see C3); and praise Matraimov. Previously, openDemocracy had nominated her for a $125,000 award, which she won.62

In the wake of the October 2020 election, the same network of Matraimov-linked trolls, who had initially supported Sooronbay Jeenbekov’s candidacy for president and the Mekenim Kyrgyzstan party, began promoting Sadyr Japarov’s candidacy for president.63 An additional investigation by Kloop revealed that the same team continued to support Matraimov and President Japarov,64 with monthly salaries for individuals ranging from $100 to $3,000, depending on the activities they performed.65

In December 2020, Facebook reportedly removed a number of Facebook and Instagram accounts, groups, and pages that engaged in political activities in violation of the platforms’ policy on coordinated inauthentic behavior. In one case, Facebook linked a network that was focused primarily on the 2020 parliamentary election and the 2021 snap presidential election to a company called Media Center.66

Various online media outlets, some of which are owned by politicians or powerful business interests, are also used as tools of political influence.67

News outlets, including those that publish online, are sometimes given editorial guidance by their owners.”68 These instructions are at times the result of government pressure.

In February 2022, government-linked “activists” and bloggers held a press conference in which they urged the parliament to pass a law requiring media outlets that received foreign funding to register as foreign agents, claiming that media outlets had spread misinformation. The press conference occurred just days before a parliamentarian proposed a “foreign agents” law (see B6).69

B6 0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 2 / 3

There are no regulations imposed by the government that negatively impact users’ or online media outlets’ ability to publish content online. Online media outlets are not required to register with the government, though “mass media” outlets are. According to the 2022 Vibrant Information Barometer (VIBE) by the International Research and Exchange Board (IREX), “advertising revenues for all traditional media have decreased significantly as advertisers have shifted their focus to social networks.”70

In February 2022, parliamentarian Nadira Narmatova proposed renewing discussions on a draft law on “foreign agents,” which would require media outlets and NGOs that receive foreign funding to register as foreign agents.71 A similar draft law was presented in 2014, but it was withdrawn in 2016. Narmatova made her proposal a few days after progovernment activists and bloggers gave a press conference blaming mass media for misinformation and encouraging the parliament to pass a law restricting the activity of “foreign agents” or “spies” (see B5).72

B7 0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability? 3 / 4

Research has demonstrated that the internet, and in particular social media platforms and messaging applications, have become an important source of alternative information for users.73 The main participants in online communities tend to be members of the wealthier, urban segments of the population who can afford consistent internet access (see A2). However, while campaigning in October 2020, then presidential candidate Sadyr Japarov74 used social media to appeal to the Kyrgyz-speaking rural audience and project an image of himself as a national patriot and savior of the nation.75

B8 0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 5 / 6

Digital activism remains limited in Kyrgyzstan, despite the availability of online mobilization tools. The government does not place any restrictions on these tools or their use.

Social media was used to organize several large protests against gender-based violence following the kidnapping and murder of Bishkek woman Aizada Kanatbekova in April 2021. Though the police had received several calls about the kidnapping, which was recorded on Bishkek’s “Safe City” cameras, law enforcement took no action, ostensibly because kidnapping for marriage—ala kachuu in Kyrgyz—was considered a national tradition. Two days after the protests, dozens of police officers were dismissed or reprimanded, including the heads of both the city and regional police departments. Five men were sentenced for their role in Kanatbekova’s murder in September 2021.76

In November 2020, hundreds of people gathered at a rally in Bishkek to protest the proposed constitution, which they decried as a move towards authoritarianism.77 The rally was organized and led by the youth movement Bashtan Bashta, which continued the rallies under the slogan “For legitimacy!” every Sunday for several months leading up to a constitutional referendum (see C1).78

During the October 2020 protests over vote rigging in the parliamentary elections, the government restricted access to the internet (see A3).

C Violations of User Rights

C1 0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 2 / 6

The constitutional reforms initiated by President Japarov in 2021 posed threats to freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary.

In April 2021, voters approved the referendum for a new constitution, which concentrated power in the hands of the president. A joint opinion from the Venice Commission and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) highlighted issues with the process of drafting the constitution, including the limited opportunity for public consultation and the general “lack of respect for the principles of rule of law and legality.”79

The constitution, adopted in May 2021, includes vague definitions that could negatively impact freedom of speech. For example, Article 10 on mass media mentions that activities that contradict the “moral and ethical values and public consciousness of the people of the Kyrgyz Republic” may be restricted by law to protect the younger generation; this could lead to increased censorship of media outlets and individuals.80

Additionally, the law gives the president power to strip immunity from parliamentarians and to appoint judges, including judges at the local level.81 Corruption among judges, who are generally underpaid, is already widespread, hindering the fairness of decisions in freedom of expression cases and other litigation.82

Article 32 of the constitution guarantees the right to freedom of thought, expression, speech, and the press.83

The government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic only exempted journalists working for state-run outlets from strict quarantine measures.84

C2 0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 2 / 4

There are several vaguely defined laws used to penalize legitimate online activities.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the parliament amended the code of violations in April 2020 to introduce fines for disseminating false information “aimed at violating the rule of law, or actions that violate public order and peace of individuals” during a state of emergency or when martial law has been declared.85

In October 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecutor general’s office must obtain the approval of the president before filing lawsuits in defense of their “honor and dignity.” The ruling further required that such defamation lawsuits must only seek nonpecuniary damages.86 The ruling followed a series of defamation lawsuits filed by the prosecutor general’s office in 2017 against media outlet Zanoza for libeling then president Atambayev in articles that compared him to well-known authoritarian rulers and implied that he was corrupt.87 The suits resulted in a fine of 12 million soms ($141,500) against Zanoza and the court-ordered removal of the allegedly defamatory articles.88

In 2011, the parliament decriminalized libel, aligning the law with the 2010 constitution.89 Defamation is only a criminal offense in cases of insult against judges and other participants in legal proceedings or desecration of the state, state symbols, and state institutions.90

The criminal code, which entered force in January 2019, outlaws inciting ethnic, national, racial, religious, or interregional hostility (Article 313, previously Article 299-1) and provides for prison terms of 5 to 10 years for violators.91 The code also punishes the possession of “extremist materials” with the intent to distribute (Article 315, previously Article 299-2) with up to five years in prison.92 Previously, possession of “extremist materials” was illegal regardless of intent. In some cases, the government has sought to apply these anti-extremism laws to restrict nonviolent political speech.

Several laws also impose disproportionate restrictions on freedom of expression. Notably, the Law on Countering Extremist Activities, last amended in 2016,93 criminalizes public expressions of approval of and justification for extremism or terrorism, raising concerns about possible restrictions on legitimate expression online. The law also defines the scope of extremist materials that Article 315 (previously, Article 299-2) of the criminal code prohibits.94

Under a 2014 amendment to the criminal code, those found guilty of disseminating “knowingly false messages about the commission of crimes” faced steep fines and prison sentences of up to three years.95 In the 2019 criminal code, the maximum sentence under this provision, Article 344, was increased to five years.96 Even though, according to case law, this provision does not apply to mass media, the SCNS has nevertheless used it to harass online media outlets (see C3).97

In January 2021, the Ministry of Internal Affairs proposed amendments to the criminal and criminal procedural codes that would classify the incitement of “political enmity” as well as “national, ethnic, or racial enmity” as “extremist.” According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the amendment could provide opportunities for the prosecution of government critics and substantially restrict the right of freedom of expression.98 The amendment passed its first reading in the parliament in April 2021, but following a surge of criticism, it was rejected during its second reading in May.99

C3 0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 2 / 6

Users continued to face civil or criminal penalties for protected online expression during the coverage period. In July 2021, the head of the SCNS warned internet users who tarnish the name of the president and other officials that they will be surveilled and prosecuted.100

In March 2022, Taalaibek Duishenbiev, the director of Next TV, was arrested after the outlet posted a report noting that the former head of Kazakhstan’s intelligence service claimed to have knowledge of a “secret agreement” for Kyrgyzstan to provide military support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.101 At the end of March, a Bishkek court ruled that the post, which Next TV published on both Facebook and Telegram, was "extremist";102 Duishenbiev could face up to seven years in prison under Article 330 of the Criminal Code. At the end of May, his detention was extended until July 3,103 and then later extended again, until August 3.104

In February 2022, the district prosecutor’s office opened a criminal case against independent outlet under Article 407 of the Criminal Code, which concerns war propaganda, for reprinting a Tajik news agency’s report that claimed the Kyrgyz army had been the first to fire in a January 2022 clash between Kyrgyzstani and Tajikistani forces on the countries’ shared border.105 All journalists working for were called to the prosecutor’s office for interrogation and forced to sign nondisclosure agreements.106 In May 2022, the case was closed “due to the absence of crime in the act.”107

In January 2022, narcotics officers raided the office of TemirovLIVE, a YouTube-based outlet renowned for exposing corruption among government officials, and arrested the head of the outlet, Bolot Temirov (see C7). The officers found a small bag of marijuana during the operation, which Temirov alleged was planted, and seized all computers and video recording equipment. Temirov was charged with drug possession and later released on bail. Just two days before the raid, TemirovLIVE published an investigation alleging that the relatives of Kamchybek Tashiev, the head of the SCNS, were involved in corruption schemes.108 After a follow-up investigation in April 2022, Temirov, who is also a Russian citizen, was charged with falsifying the documents he used to obtain his Kyrgyz passport and in turn, “illegal border crossing.”109 With the introduction of the new charge, he faces up to 20 years in prison.110

Bolot Nazarov, a poet and folk artist who posts his songs on the TemirovLIVE channel, was also arrested in the raid on the outlet’s offices in January 2022, and charged with drug possession. He was placed under house arrest later that month.111

In August 2021, activist and Turan party member Tilekmat Kurenov was sentenced to one year and six months in prison for making antigovernment Facebook posts that officials alleged called for a “violent seizure of power and mass riots.” Before his arrest, Kurenov actively spoke out against the new constitution and coordinated rallies against it.112

In December 2019, former customs official Raimbek Matraimov (see B5) filed a defamation suit against media outlets, Kloop, and Radio Azattyk, as well as Radio Azattyk reporter Ali Toktakunov. Kloop, the OCCRP, and Radio Azattyk had published an investigation alleging that Matraimov was involved in laundering $700 million, which republished. Matriamov sought 15 million soms ($176,900) in damages from, 12.5 million soms ($147,400) from Kloop, 22 million soms ($259,400) from Radio Azattyk, and 10 million soms ($117,900) from Toktakunov. The defendants’ bank accounts were frozen after Matraimov lodged his suit.113 In response to pressure from civil society groups, Matraimov’s lawyers later asked the court to unfreeze the defendants’ bank accounts, though the original suit was left intact.114 In January 2020, published an article stating that it could not prove that Matraimov was linked to the alleged money laundering scheme, after which Matraimov’s lawyers dropped the suit against the outlet.115

C4 0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 2 / 4

Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 to reflect a measure in the recently passed Law on Protection from False Information that requires ISPs and mobile service providers to identify their users.

New measures place restrictions on anonymity. The Law on Protection from False Information, which the president signed in July 2021 (see B3), requires ISPs, mobile operators, and owners of public Wi-Fi hotspots are required to “identify their subscribers.”116

In June 2022, after the coverage period, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the regulation “On the identification of mobile communication devices, as well as devices used for data transmission,” which would require International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) registration for mobile phones and smart devices. 117 The Ministry of Digital Development had initially published the regulation in December 2021. The implementation of IMEI registration and the maintenance of the database will be handled by a private company, raising questions about the security of the data.118

Since 2014, service providers have been required to register SIM cards at the time of purchase, making it more difficult for individuals to use mobile devices anonymously.119

C5 0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 2 / 6

State surveillance of internet activities often infringes on users’ right to privacy. Article 29 of the new constitution (see C1) nominally protects privacy, including private communications shared by phone or electronic methods, and forbids the collection or dissemination of confidential information without the subject’s consent, but existing protections are frequently ignored in practice120

The state’s surveillance apparatus is modeled after Russia’s System for Operational Investigative Activities (SORM). Every ISP and mobile service provider is obliged to install SORM-compliant equipment on their ICT infrastructure to allow the authorities unfettered access to internet traffic and subscribers’ information (see C6). If a provider does not comply, its license can be canceled.

These requirements could enable mass surveillance without judicial oversight, and there has been evidence of abuse since they were implemented. For example, in August 2021, the Ministry of Interior admitted to wiretapping a number of individuals in January and February 2021, allegedly for their roles in the October 2020 protests. However, the list of individuals also includes people who were not involved in the protests.121

In May 2022, the parliament passed the law “On National Security Bodies,” which would enable the SCNS to conduct video and audio surveillance without a prior court decision.122 The parliamentary committee on International Affairs, Defense, Security and Migration initially considered the bill in February 2022.123

In early 2019, the SCITC began its “Safe City” project by installing video cameras on roads in Bishkek.124 In December 2019, photos from these cameras that might have shown the former head of the State Registry Service and his deputy spread across the internet.125 Two operators of the “Safe City” information system were fired.

In August 2020, the second phase of the “Safe City” project, implemented by Chinese company Shenzhen Sunwin Intelligent Co. Ltd, began, with the goal of setting up an additional 306 cameras in both the capital and more rural regions.126 However, the contract expired in June 2021, while implementation was far from complete. Additionally, several criminal cases related to the contract with Shenshen Sunwin, including one involving the former minister of digital development, were ongoing at the end of the coverage period (see A4 and A5).127

C6 0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 2 / 6

By law, service providers are required to aid the government in monitoring users’ communications. In 2014, the government adopted a resolution requiring ISPs and mobile service providers to make their infrastructure compliant with the latest iteration of SORM (see C5).128 The resolution further requires providers to store subscribers’ metadata for up to three years and to allow authorities direct, real-time access to their communications networks without notification and oversight, even from prosecutors. In addition, ISPs must purchase and update equipment at their own expense to ensure compliance with SORM.

The August 2021 Law on the Protection from False Information (see B3 and C4) mandates that all ISPs and mobile operators must identify their users.129

The parliament passed a personal data law in 2008 that provided for the establishment of an authority for personal data protection, but such an agency was not created until September 2021.130 In 2017, amendments to the 2008 law were passed to more effectively protect personal data.131

C7 0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities? 3 / 5

ICT users, including online journalists, faced physical and digital attacks in the run-up to the October 2020 parliamentary election.

In February 2022, Alikhan Uraimov, head of the Office of the Presidential Administration in Batken Oblast, hit the blogger and journalist Batmakan Zholboldueva when she tried to participate in a meeting involving parliamentarians from several parties.132 Later, she published a video detailing the numerous threats she and her family had received from Uraimov’s relatives.133

During the January 2022 arrest of Bolot Temriov and raid of the TemirovLIVE office (see C3), narcotics officers found a small bag of marijuana, which Temirov alleged was planted during the operation. They also seized all computers and recording equipment in the office. Just days after the raid, several videos containing reports, contracts, and other documents allegedly obtained from seized computers were published online. Additionally, an intimate video of a TemirovLIVE employee was published. The video had been recorded by an SCNS employee who had pursued a romantic relationship with the TemirovLIVE employee in order to obtain information about the outlet. Later, the SCNS denied its involvement in the operation and with the compromising videos.134 Prior to the raid, employees of TemirovLIVE had noticed suspicious vehicles outside the office, and in December 2021, Temirov reportedly found a hidden camera and microphone in his apartment.

In October 2021, a journalist who worked for Mediahub, an outlet run by investigative journalist Ali Totakunov, was reportedly followed and threatened by a man who claimed to be an SCNS officer.135

In October 2020, coverage of the parliamentary elections and subsequent protests led to an increase of attacks against journalists. In Osh, an unknown assailant attacked Khamidullo Uzakov, a video journalist who worked for the online media outlet Kloop, attempting to steal Uzakov’s camera and temporarily taking his mobile phone. In Talas, an unknown woman demanded that a Radio Azattyk journalist stop filming at a polling station and punched the camera. In both cases, the police did not intervene when the attacks occurred.136

Online hate speech toward feminists and LGBT+ people is commonplace.137

C8 0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 1 / 3

During the coverage period, the practice of politically motivated cyberattacks continued.

In February 2022, online media outlet Kloop reported that 20 of its employees had faced attempts to hack their Telegram accounts.138 In the same month, news agency reported that their employees had faced multiple hacking attempts on their Telegram and WhatsApp accounts.139

In October 2021, well-known human rights defender, lawyer, and parliamentary candidate Nurbek Toktakunov stated that his Telegram accounts had been hacked, and posted screenshots on Facebook that he claimed showed evidence of the hack.140

In September 2021, ahead of November’s parliamentary elections, activists and members of opposition parties, including Reform party member Rita Karasartova, stated that their Telegram accounts were hacked and their audio messages were leaked online.141

Ahead of the October 2020 parliamentary elections, journalists and activists also had their social media accounts hacked. In one case, an unknown attacker changed journalist Makhinur Niyazova’s Twitter password and deleted some of her posts, though she was eventually able to recover the account.142 Activists also reported the attempted hacking of their Facebook accounts.143