Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports the government or its agents purposely committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in 2016.
On February 16, Ombudsman of the Kyrgyz Republic Kubat Otorbayev announced that his office had taken over the investigation into the deaths of three inmates while in police custody. In October 2015 nine prison inmates convicted of “Islamic extremism” escaped prison and killed three state penitentiary officers while fleeing. Authorities quickly recaptured five of the inmates, three of whom died shortly after their return to prison due to “heart conditions and other medical issues.” Authorities shot and killed the remaining four escapees during police operations to recapture them. Some human rights activists claimed the prisoners’ deaths in custody resulted from torture. Family members asserted the prisoners had been in good health.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances, but local and international observers indicated there continued to be cases in the southern part of the country of holding detainees incommunicado for lengthy periods.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Unlike in the previous year, there were no prominent reports of alleged torture by security force personnel; nonetheless, police abuse remained a problem. Physical abuse, including inhuman and degrading treatment, reportedly continued in prisons. The ombudsman said that for the first half of the year, his office received 37 alleged torture complaint cases.
As in 2015 defense attorneys, journalists, and human rights monitoring organizations, including Golos Svobody, Bir Duino, and the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), reported incidents of serious abuse or torture by police and other law enforcement agencies. NGOs stated that the government established strong torture-monitoring bodies, but the independence of these bodies was under threat.
Golos Svobody played a central role monitoring allegations of torture and was the central organizer of the Anti-Torture Coalition, a consortium of 18 NGOs that continued to work with the Prosecutor General’s Office to track complaints of torture. The Prosecutor General’s Office indicated it received 231 torture complaints in the first half of the year.
The Anti-Torture Coalition also accepted complaints of torture and passed them to the Prosecutor General’s Office to facilitate investigations. The coalition reported that, for the first eight months of the year, it received 86 complaints of torture. According to members of the Anti-torture Coalition, the cases it submitted against alleged torturers did not lead to convictions. In historical cases where police were put on trial for torture, prosecutors, judges, and defendants routinely raised procedural and substantive objections, delaying the cases, often resulting in stale evidence, and ultimately leading to case dismissal. NGOs reported that courts regularly included into evidence confessions allegedly induced through torture.
Defense lawyers stated that, once prosecutors took a case to trial, a conviction was almost certain. According to Golos Svobody, investigators often took two weeks or longer to review torture claims, at which point the physical evidence of torture was no longer visible. Defense attorneys presented most allegations of torture during trial proceedings, and the courts typically rejected them. In some cases detainees who filed torture complaints later recanted, reportedly in the face of intimidation by law enforcement officers.
As of year’s end, the Osh regional court had not scheduled a hearing on the appeal of the dismissal of torture charges against police. In January 2015 police were accused of torturing three suspects in the theft of 339 million som ($4.9 million) from the Osh airport because the suspects allegedly refused to pay a bribe to secure their own release.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to food and medicine shortages, substandard health care, lack of heat, and mistreatment.
There were no significant reports regarding private detention facilities for migrants and asylum seekers or detention center conditions for disabled persons that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: Pretrial and temporary detention facilities were particularly overcrowded, and conditions and mistreatment generally were worse than in prisons. Authorities generally held juveniles separately from adults but grouped them in overcrowded temporary detention centers when other facilities were unavailable. Convicted prisoners occasionally remained in pretrial detention centers while their cases were under appeal.
An NGO representative reported that in some cases prison gangs controlled prison management and discipline, since prison officials lacked the capacity and expertise in running a facility. In some instances the gangs controlled items that could be brought into the prison, such as food and clothing, while prison officials looked the other way. According to NGOs, authorities did not try to dismantle these groups because they were too powerful and believed that removing them could lead to chaos. Some prisoners indicated that prison order and safety was left to the prison gangs or prisoners themselves, resulting in instances of violence and intimidation among inmates.
Administration: Persons held in pretrial detention often did not have access to visitors. Prisoners have the right to file complaints with prison officials or with higher authorities. According to the NGO Bir Duino, prison staff inconsistently reported and documented complaints. Many observers believed that the official number of prisoner complaints of mistreatment represented only a small fraction of the actual cases.
Independent Monitoring: NGO leaders reported prison officials increased openness to allowing monitors into prison and detention facilities, and most monitoring groups reported receiving unfettered access, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Some NGOs, including Bir Duino and Spravedlivost, had the right to visit prisons independently as part of their provision of technical assistance, such as medical and psychological care.
The Red Cross faced no restrictions on whom they could visit. Their visits were unannounced, and they could meet privately with detainees, who reportedly were candid about their conditions. While the ICRC operated under a memorandum of understanding with authorities, and there is no domestic legislation explicitly permitting their activities, they reported good government support.
The National Center to Prevent Torture and other Inhuman and Offensive Treatment and Punishment, an independent and impartial body, is empowered to monitor detention facilities. The center consists of 11 government employees spread across seven offices and empowered to make unannounced, unfettered visits to detention facilities. NGO representatives stated that center officials made progress monitoring and documenting some violations in detention facilities, but they stressed that a standardized approach to identifying torture cases, along with additional resources and staff members, were necessary to conduct its work.
The Prosecutor General’s Office created an independent office in July 2015 to investigate and prosecute torture. The independent office is centrally located, facilitating the use of prosecutors not involved directly with the region where the alleged torture may have taken place. Observers believed the investigators would be less subject to local pressures that might prevent proper investigation of a case.
While the law prohibits arbitrary arrest, in practice it occurred. Human rights organizations in Osh reported arrests unfairly targeting ethnic Uzbeks for alleged involvement in banned religious organizations and for alleged “religious extremism activity.” Arrests for lack of proper identification documents were common. Attorneys reported that police frequently arrested individuals on false charges and then solicited bribes in exchange for release.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The investigation of general and local crimes falls under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, while national-level crimes fall under the authority of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB). The GKNB also controls the presidential security service. The Prosecutor General’s Office prosecutes both local and national crimes.
Both local and international observers said law enforcement officers engaged in widespread arbitrary arrests, detainee abuse, and extortion, particularly in the southern part of the country. Authorities dismissed or prosecuted few Ministry of Internal Affairs officials for corruption or abuse of authority.
NGOs and other legal observers routinely noted the lack of ethnic minorities in the police force and in all government positions. Officially, ethnic minorities (non-ethnic Kyrgyz) made up approximately 4.7 percent of the police force. According to UN statistics, ethnic minorities constituted approximately 27 percent of the population.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
According to the criminal procedure code, only courts have the authority to issue search and seizure warrants. While prosecutors have the burden of proof in persuading a judge that a defendant should be detained pending trial, activists reported detention without a warrant remained common. NGOs reported that police targeted vulnerable defendants from whom they believed they could secure a bribe. Observers alleged incidents in which police targeted ethnic Uzbeks by planting literature and then charging them with possession of banned religious materials. Authorities could legally hold a detainee for 48 to 72 hours before filing charges; authorities generally respected these limits. The law requires investigators to notify a detainee’s family of the detention within 12 hours, but officials inconsistently enforced this provision. Following official charges, the courts have discretion to hold a suspect in pretrial detention for as much as one year, after which they are legally required to release the suspect. There is a functioning bail system, but there are no other alternatives to the bail system under the law.
Persons arrested or charged with a crime have the right to defense counsel at public expense. By law the accused has the right to consult with defense counsel immediately upon arrest or detention, but in many cases the first meeting did not occur until the trial. As in past years, human rights groups noted incidents in which authorities denied attorneys to arrested minors, often holding them without parental notification and questioning them without parents or attorneys present, despite laws forbidding these practices.
The law authorizes the use of house arrest for certain categories of suspects. Reports indicated that law enforcement officers selectively enforced the law by incarcerating persons suspected of minor crimes while not pursuing those suspected of more serious ones.
Arbitrary Arrest: As in previous years, NGOs and monitoring organizations, including Golos Svobody, Bir Duino, HRW, Spravedlivost, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the OSCE, recorded complaints of arbitrary arrest. Most observers asserted it was impossible to know the number of cases because the majority went unreported. According to NGOs in the southern part of the country, arrests and harassment of individuals allegedly involved in extremist religious groups–predominantly ethnic Uzbeks–continued.
There were reports of arrests of individuals involved in the banned extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, a trend that began to increase in 2014. According to Bir Duino, however, some arrests were driven by corruption within the law enforcement system. Police appeared at homes falsely claiming to have a search warrant. There were allegations police would enter a home, plant printed material promoting Hizb ut-Tahrir, and arrest the suspect in the hope of extracting a bribe to secure release. There was no information on the Supreme Court appeal of the February 2015 arrest of Rashod Kamalov, convicted in October 2015 by the Karasuu District Court of extremist Islamic activity.
Pretrial Detention: According to the penal code, authorities may hold a suspect at a pretrial detention facility during the official investigation. The general legal restriction on the length of investigations is 60 days. Complex legal procedures, poor access to lawyers, and limited investigation capacity often lengthened defendants’ time in pretrial detention beyond the 60-day limit, with some being detained legally for as long as one year.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to the Kyrgyz Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), individuals may challenge the lawfulness of their detention at any point. The CPC also outlines instances in which restitution may be made to affected individuals or their heirs following a court’s determination of unlawful detention. These instances happened extremely rarely.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but judges were subject to influence or corruption, and there were instances where the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined. Multiple sources, including NGOs, attorneys, government officials, and private citizens, asserted judges paid bribes to attain their positions. Many attorneys asserted that bribe taking was ubiquitous among judges. Authorities generally respected court orders.
Numerous NGOs described pervasive violations of the right to a fair trial, including coerced confessions, use of torture, denial of access to counsel, and convictions in the absence of sufficiently conclusive evidence or despite exculpatory evidence. International observers reported threats and acts of violence against defendants and defense attorneys within and outside the courtroom, as well as intimidation of trial judges by victims’ relatives and friends.
On August 8, the president signed the Court Bailiffs Bill into law to enhance the security of the courts.
Azimjon Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek human rights activist convicted of murder along with seven codefendants in the 2010 killing of a Bazar Korgon police officer, remained imprisoned at year’s end. In 2012 his attorneys filed a formal complaint or “communication” with the UN Human Rights Committee claiming that the government had denied Askarov a fair trial by withholding evidence, intimidating witnesses, and committing acts of torture. On April 21, the committee issued findings that Askarov had been arbitrarily detained, held in inhuman conditions, tortured and mistreated, and prevented from adequately preparing his defense. The committee called on the government to annul Askarov’s conviction, release him immediately, and, if necessary, conduct a new trial. Pursuant to the committee’s findings, the Supreme Court convened on July 11 to reconsider Askarov’s case.
The government invited diplomats, journalists, representatives of international organizations, and human rights groups to attend the hearing. On July 12, the Supreme Court overturned Askarov’s life sentence and remanded the case to the Chui district lower court for additional review. On October 4, the Chui District Court commenced a retrial of the Askarov case, calling several witnesses to testify. Askarov actively participated in the courtroom during these proceedings.
In 2013 the prison service stated it would only allow six visits per year to Askarov. NGO leaders from Bir Duino reported making regular visits to Askarov, however, under an exception that permits local NGOs involved in providing medical, psychological, and other support to visit. Those who visited Askarov reported his physical condition continued to be poor. Because Askarov rejected a physical examination by a government doctor, authorities refused to let other physicians examine him.
While the law provides for defendants’ rights, the customs and practices of the judicial system regularly contradicted the constitutional presumption of innocence, and pretrial investigations focused on the collection of sufficient evidence to prove guilt. The law requires courts to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, and to provide interpreters as needed. Trials were conducted in the state language, Kyrgyz, or the official language, Russian. In a majority of trials, courtroom procedure required defendants to sit in caged cells. There is no protection against double jeopardy.
Defense attorneys complained that judges routinely returned cases to investigators if there was not enough evidence to prove guilt, during which time suspects could remain in detention. Judges, according to attorneys, gave defendants a suspended sentence regardless of how little evidence existed to sustain a prison term.
Trials were generally open to the public, unless they involved state secrets or privacy concerns of defendants, and courts announced verdicts publicly, even in closed proceedings. State prosecutors submit criminal cases to courts, while judges direct criminal proceedings. Criminal cases feature a single judge, while three-judge panels conduct appellate cases. Judges have full authority to render verdicts and determine sentences.
The law provides for unlimited visits between an attorney and a client during trial, but authorities did not always grant permission for such visits. The government provided indigent defendants with attorneys at public expense, and defendants could refuse legal counsel and defend themselves. HRW, domestic NGOs, and local attorneys reported some state-provided criminal defense lawyers were complicit with prosecutors and did not properly defend their clients. Many observers, particularly in the southern part of the country, described these lawyers as “pocket attorneys” who would help secure bribes from their client to pass to police and judges, which would then secure the client’s eventual release. International observers reported the quality of representation was much worse in rural areas than in the capital. In many cases, it was difficult for individuals accused of extremism-related crimes to find an attorney who was not closely connected to police.
The law permits defendants and their counsel to attend all proceedings, question witnesses, present evidence, call witnesses, and access prosecution evidence in advance of trial, but courts frequently did not follow these requirements. Witnesses typically were required to testify in person. Under certain circumstances courts allowed testimony via audio or video recording. Defendants and counsel, by law, have the right to communicate freely, in private, with no limitation on the frequency. Defendants and prosecutors have the right to appeal a court’s decision. An appellate court can increase a lower court’s sentence against a defendant.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
Courts convicted opposition party members and ethnic Uzbeks of politically motivated actions related to violence. In view of outstanding questions surrounding their connection to the violence and the fairness of the trials and appeals, some observers considered them political prisoners.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. As with criminal matters, citizens believed the civil judicial system was subject to influence from the outside, including by the government. Local courts address civil, criminal, economic, administrative, and other cases. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority. Article 41 of the constitution guarantees citizens the right to apply in accordance with international treaties to international human rights bodies seeking protection of violated rights and freedoms. In the event these bodies confirm the violation of human rights and freedoms, the government is obligated by the constitution to take measures for their restoration and/or compensation for damage.
The law requires approval from the prosecutor general for wiretaps, home searches, mail interception, and similar acts, including in cases relating to national security. The law states officials should use wiretapping of electronic communications exclusively to combat crime and only with a court order. Eleven government agencies have legal authority to monitor citizens’ telephone and internet communications.
According to an NGO, on May 25, approximately 20 court officers visited the home of Khadicha Askarova, wife of imprisoned human rights activist Azimjon Askarov, in Bazar-Korgon, Jalal-Abad province. A court bailiff informed one of Askarova’s lawyers that the court had assigned them to make an inventory of the property and house in preparation for its confiscation. According to Askarova, the court officers examined the property without providing documentation of the court order.
The Law on Defense and Armed Forces authorizes the military to confiscate private property for the purpose of state security.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Numerous domestic and international human rights organizations operated actively in the country. Nevertheless, governmental actions at times impeded their ability to operate freely.
During a national address in May, the president alleged that two prominent human rights activists belonged to a group working to overthrow the government with the support of foreign secret services. In June the activists filed suit seeking damages and a public apology from the president for “insulting their honor and dignity.” In June the court dismissed the suit, and in September the Bishkek City Court rejected the activists’ appeal.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government permitted visits by representatives of the United Nations and other organizations in connection with the investigation of abuses or monitoring of human rights problems in the country, including those of the OSCE, ICRC, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and International Organization for Migration (IOM). The government restricted visits to Azimjon Askarov but otherwise provided international bodies largely unfettered access to civil society activists, detention facilities and detainees, and government officials.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman acted as an independent advocate for human rights on behalf of private citizens and NGOs and had the authority to recommend cases for court review. During the first half of the year, the office received 37 torture complaints. The atmosphere of impunity surrounding the security forces and their observed ability to act independently against citizens limited the number and type of complaints submitted to the Ombudsman’s Office. In 2016, the Ombudsman’s Office did not make available statistics regarding the number of complaints it received. The government established the Office of the Ombudsman and National Center to Prevent Torture. The human rights community cooperated with the National Center and effectively conducted routine and unannounced visits to prisons.
Although the Ombudsman’s Office exists in part to receive complaints of human rights abuses and pass the complaints to relevant agencies for investigation, both domestic and international observers questioned the office’s efficiency. Parliament took steps to restrict the ombudsman’s independence, voting in June 2015 to remove ombudsman Baktybek Amanbaev–an action Amanbaev called politically motivated. In December 2015 parliament elected Kubat Otorbaev, a former general director of the state-owned television and broadcasting corporation, as ombudsman.