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Kyrgyzstan: At a Crossroads: Shrink or Widen the Scene for Human Rights Defenders

yrgyz authorities must reject all bills that could shrink the space for human rights in the country and should create a safe and favourable environment for human rights defenders, declared the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint FIDH-OMCT partnership) today in Bishkek while presenting its latest report on Kyrgyzstan.

The report, entitled “Kyrgyzstan at a crossroads: shrink or widen the scene for human rights defenders”, follows an international fact-finding mission carried out in September 2015 on the situation of human rights defenders in the country. It presents concrete examples of increasing pressure faced by human rights defenders over the past few years, from both State officials and nationalist groups. The forms of harassment they are subjected to include illegal searches of their offices, surveillance and intimidation by intelligence services, threat to (mis)use criminal provisions on fighting extremism, physical attacks and smear campaigns in the media.

The report analyses the ambivalent context for the defence of human rights in Kyrgyzstan. Indeed, several State representatives met during the mission have acknowledged the legitimate, necessary and positive role of human rights defenders in society and affirmed their clear willingness to improve the human rights situation in the country, but some recent official statements and legislative initiatives seem rather contradictory.

While it salutes the Parliament’s recent decision to reject a discriminatory bill targeting NGOs, drafted in conformity with the infamous Russian “foreign agents” law, the Observatory regrets that it has created an atmosphere of distrust and animosity towards civil society, in particular human rights defenders.

The report further denounces, amongst others, the draft law banning the so-called “promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships”, which is still under discussion in the Kyrgyz Parliament. If adopted, it would penalise by up to one year in prison any public statement, assembly or public action in favour of equality and the rights of sexual minorities, thus severely restricting freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly. Given its vague wording, the bill would affect groups working in the fields of sexual health and sexual and gender minorities. Several existing laws also have a restrictive impact on the working environment of civil society, such as the Law on Combating Extremist Activity and the False Accusation Law criminalizing libel.

The Observatory is also concerned by statements made on the occasion of Mothers’ Day by Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev. On May 14, 2016, President Atambayev named the heads of human rights organisations “Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan” and “Kylym Shamy”, Tolekan Ismailova and Aziza Abdirasulova, when speaking about the organisers of an alleged upheaval against his government, and accused them of undermining State stability with the support of foreign funds.

The Observatory urges the Kyrgyz authorities to ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals.

The report also underlines the situation of human rights defender Azimjan Askarov, Head of the NGO “Vozduh” known for his documentation of police violence and detention conditions in South Kyrgyzstan prior to his detention during the 2010 ethnic clashes. He was abusively sentenced to life imprisonment in a trial that fell short of international standards, as confirmed by the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) in April 2016. The situation of Azimjan Askarov is particularly serious compared to the general situation of human rights defenders in the country, but it is emblematic of the repression that people who tackle issues viewed as too sensitive may face. During the mission, the Observatory delegation was denied the right to visit Azimjan Askarov in prison.

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