Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports during the year that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Nevertheless, physical abuse, including inhuman and degrading treatment, reportedly continued in prisons. Police abuse reportedly remained a problem, notably in pretrial detention.
As in 2017, defense attorneys, journalists, and human rights monitoring organizations, including Golos Svobody, Bir Duino, and the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Watch (HRW), reported incidents of torture by police and other law enforcement agencies. During the first six months of the year, the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) registered 183 allegations of torture by government officials, including law enforcement (176 cases), the State Penitentiary Service (two cases), and other officials. As a result, 11 criminal cases were filed: four cases involving torture and seven cases of inhuman treatment. Two criminal cases against officials were being tried, and two criminal cases were under investigation. According to the PGO, seven criminal cases were suspended due to lack of physical evidence and a reluctance of accusers to submit to physical or psychological examination. A March report by the National Center to Prevent Torture (NCPT) and the Antitorture Coalition found that more than 30 percent of detainees in temporary detention centers reported some form of abuse. NGOs stated that the government established strong torture-monitoring bodies but that the independence of these bodies was under threat.
Golos Svobody played a central role in monitoring allegations of torture and was the main organizer of the Antitorture Coalition, a consortium of 18 NGOs that continued to work with the PGO to track complaints of torture.
The Antitorture Coalition also accepted complaints of torture and passed them to the PGO to facilitate investigations. According to members of the Antitorture 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. In March, however, media reported the Supreme Court upheld the convictions of three members of the police for torture of A. Bolotov, E. Ibraimov, and S. Azhibekov. The police officers were sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. On October 9, four police officers were found guilty of torture by the Osh City Court in a case involving minors accused of a murder. Two officers were sentenced to eight years in prison, while the others were sentenced to 13 and 14 years in prison.
During the year 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 due to intimidation by law enforcement officers.
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.
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.
NGOs reported that in some cases prison gangs controlled prison management and discipline, since prison officials lacked 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: Authorities did not conduct proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. 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 the official number of prisoner complaints of mistreatment represented only a small fraction of the actual cases. Persons held in pretrial detention often did not have access to visitors.
Independent Monitoring: Most monitoring groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), reported receiving unfettered access. 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 NCPT, an independent and impartial body, is empowered by the government to monitor detention facilities. The center has seven regional offices and has the authority 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, as they had in previous years, that a standardized approach to identifying torture cases and additional resources and staff members, were necessary to conduct its work.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
While the law prohibits arbitrary arrest, it continued to occur. Human rights organizations 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 certain crimes such as terrorism and corruption fall under the authority of the State Committee on National Security (GKNB), which also controls the presidential security service. The PGO prosecutes both local and national crimes.
Both local and international observers said the GKNB and law enforcement officers engaged in widespread arbitrary arrests, including some alleged to be politically motivated, detainee abuse, and extortion, particularly in the southern part of the country.
NGOs and other legal observers routinely noted the lack of women and ethnic minorities in the police force and in all government positions. Officially, women and ethnic minorities (non-Kyrgyz ethnicities) made up approximately 6 and 4 percent of the police force, respectively. According to national 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 or in contravention of regulatory standards 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. The general legal restriction on the length of investigations is 60 days. Courts, however, have discretion to hold a suspect in pretrial detention for as much as one year, depending on the severity of the charges, after which they are legally required to release the suspect. Once the case goes to trial, the courts have the authority to prolong detention until the case is closed without limitations on duration of custody. There is a functioning bail system, in addition to other alternatives to detention, such as restrictions on foreign travel and house arrest.
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 the minors 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 offenses.
Arbitrary Arrest: As in previous years, NGOs and monitoring organizations, including Golos Svobody, Bir Duino, and Spravedlivost, 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 suspected of involvement in the banned extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir; such arrests continued a trend that began to increase in 2014. According to Bir Duino, however, some arrests were driven by corruption within the law enforcement system. There were allegations police would enter a home falsely claiming to have a search warrant, plant banned Hizb ut-Tahrir material, and arrest the suspect in the hope of extracting a bribe to secure release.
Pretrial Detention: There were frequent reports of lengthy pretrial detention periods. Political machinations, complex legal procedures, poor access to lawyers, and limited investigative capacity often lengthened defendants’ time in pretrial detention beyond the 60-day limit, with some individuals being detained legally for as long as one year.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but judges were subject to influence or corruption. Throughout the year there were multiple instances where the conduct and outcome of trials appeared predetermined. Numerous sources, including NGOs, attorneys, government officials, and private citizens, asserted that some 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.
In June a court ruled to extradite political activist Murat Tungishbayev to Kazakhstan. International human rights groups said that Tungishbayev faced a serious risk of torture in Kazakhstan, while his lawyer said the court’s verdict appeared predetermined. Prior to the delivery of the verdict, the ombudsman called for the prosecutor general to refuse the extradition request, calling it “illegal and unreasonable” under the law. The extradition was carried out at the end of June.
Azimjon Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek human rights activist convicted of murder and inciting hatred along with seven codefendants in the 2010 killing of a Bazar Korgon police officer, remained imprisoned at year’s end. In 2016 the UN Human Rights Committee issued findings that Askarov had been arbitrarily detained, held in inhuman conditions, tortured and mistreated, and prevented from adequately preparing his defense. Askarov’s life sentence was upheld on appeal in January 2017.
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 investigators 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.
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, typically 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 allegedly involved state secrets or privacy concerns of defendants, and courts often 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. A limited number of judges have clearance to access documents deemed secret, further circumscribing defendants’ access to impartial judicial review in cases purporting to relate to national security.
The law provides for unlimited visits between an attorney and a client during trial, but authorities occasionally did not 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
In November 2017 the Supreme Court upheld the sentencing of the Ata-Meken opposition party leader Omurbek Tekebaev for eight years in prison on criminal charges of corruption. A judge, however, reduced the sentence to four and one-half years, citing amnesty. During the year the Adilet Legal Clinic filed a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of Tekebaev with a detailed explanation of violations during Tekebaev’s arrest and trial. In May four members of parliament called for judicial review of the conviction. In June the Supreme Court upheld the sentencing of former parliamentarian Sadyr Japarov to 11.5 years on kidnapping charges. Due to outstanding questions surrounding the fairness of the trials and appeals, some observers considered the above-mentioned individuals political prisoners.
Human rights organizations called the June arrests on corruption charges of several former officials, including former prime ministers Sapar Isakov and Jantoro Satybaldiev, politically motivated. At year’s end Isakov and Satybaldiev were awaiting trial in pretrial detention facilities.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. As with criminal matters, observers 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. Among the articles amended by the December 2016 constitutional referendum was Article 41 of the constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to apply to international human rights bodies seeking protection of violated rights and freedoms in accordance with international treaties. The amendment to Article 41 mandates that the decisions of international bodies are nonbinding and therefore not subject to enforcement by the government.
The Law on Defense and Armed Forces authorizes the military to confiscate private property for the purpose of state security. The state must provide compensation for the value of the confiscated property.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
According to the law, wiretaps, home searches, mail interception, and similar acts, including in cases relating to national security, are permitted only with the approval of the prosecutor and on the basis of a court decision. Such actions are permitted exclusively to combat crime. Seven government agencies have legal authority to monitor citizens’ telephone and internet communications.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In practice there were some procedural irregularities.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In October 2017 voters elected former prime minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov as president, with approximately 55 percent of the total vote. The OSCE deemed the elections competitive with 11 candidates who were generally able to campaign freely; however, cases of misuse of administrative resources, pressure on voters, and vote buying remained a concern.
In March security services filed criminal charges against the runner-up in the 2017 election, Omurbek Babanov, for plotting “seizure of power and the organization of mass riots.” Previously, in November 2017 the PGO had charged Babanov with “public calls for violent change of the constitutional order” and “incitement of religious or ethnic strife” (criminal code Article 299) in connection with Babanov’s comments at a campaign rally. According to media reports, Babanov was residing outside of the country.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Members of parliament are selected through a national “party list” system. After voting occurred, party leaders regularly reordered the lists, often to the disadvantage of women. In 2017 an amendment to the law on elections requires that members of parliament who resign their mandate be replaced by persons of the same gender.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The election code requires the names of male and female parliamentary candidates be intermixed on party lists and that no more than 70 percent of candidates on a party list can be of the same gender. As of November fewer than 10 percent of parliamentary seats were held by women.
By law women must be represented in all branches of government and constitute no less than 30 percent of state bodies and local authorities. The law does not specify the level of the positions at which they must be represented.
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, although government officials at times were uncooperative and unresponsive to their views.
Government actions at times appeared to impede the ability of NGOs to operate freely.
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. 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. Observers noted the atmosphere of impunity surrounding the security forces and their ability to act independently against citizens limited the number and type of complaints submitted to the Ombudsman’s Office.
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 and political independence. In June Ombudsman Kubat Otorbaev resigned. While Otorbaev said his resignation was not due to outside pressure, parliamentarians at times criticized his work and raised the possibility of his early dismissal. On September 26, Tokon Mamytov, a former GKNB officer, was appointed to the post of ombudsman, a decision that human rights organizations criticized.