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Kyrgyzstan – Sentencing of a human rights lawyer defending victims of torture

On 29 May 2020, human rights defender Kamil Ruziev was detained outside a courthouse in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan. He was then interrogated and spent two days in detention, before being placed under two months’ house arrest on 31 May, on charges of forgery. Kamil Ruziev is a human rights defender and lawyer, and acting head of the Karakol-based organisation Ventus. He has been working for more than 20 years on combatting torture, violence and arbitrary law enforcement, defending the rights of victims of torture and victims of domestic violence.

Ruziev was detained by officers of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) of the Issyk-Kul district while leaving the Karakol city court. The officers allegedly detained him as a witness. Following his detention, he was interrogated and denied access to his lawyer. Kamil Ruziev received a detention order which listed him as a suspect, rather than a witness. On 31 May, after spending two days in the Karakol detention centre, Kamil Ruziev was informed that he was being accused of forgery of documents (Art. 359, part 2 of the Criminal Code) by the GKNB. On the same day, he was notified of a criminal case that had been opened against him on 11 March 2020, for the same charge, of which he had never been informed. Also on 31 May, the GKNB sent a press release to Kyrgyz media which stated that Kamil Ruziev is suspected of fraud (article 204 of the Criminal Code) and forgery of documents. Despite the accusation of fraud mentioned in the press release, no formal charges have been brought against him on this issue.

On 2 June 2020, Kamil Ruziev was hospitalized due to deteriorating health stress endured while in detention. The human rights defender remains in hospital at the time of writing, and he and his lawyer have appealed the court’s decision to sentence him to house arrest.

Kyrgyzstan is ranked 82 in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index. The pluralism of the Kyrgyz media is exceptional in Central Asia but the polarization of Kyrgyz society is reflected both within the media themselves and in the environment for journalists. Although the crackdown on the media that preceded the 2017 presidential elections is long over, investigative journalism is still hesitant – hampered by difficulties in accessing information and subjected to a great deal of harassment, including physical violence, cyber-attacks, and interrogations.