a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There was one report that the government or its agents committed an arbitrary killing. On August 28, a police patrol service officer from Bishkek shot and killed the driver of a car he had pulled over in Bishkek for a traffic violation. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, which oversees the police, first claimed the man fought with the police officer and attempted to seize his weapon; however, a closed-circuit television video of the incident showed that the man had not attacked the officer. The State Committee for National Security detained the officer and initiated an investigation.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for investigating any killings involving law enforcement. Military prosecutors are responsible for investigating killings involving the military. In cases where there may be a conflict of interest, the Ministry of Internal Affairs can transfer a criminal investigation and prosecution to a military prosecutor, at their discretion.
On May 31, Orhan Inandi, a dual Turkish-Kyrgyz citizen and founder of the Sapat system of schools in the country that are ideologically linked with Fethullah Gulen, disappeared from Bishkek. He reappeared in Turkish custody on July 5. His lawyers claimed he was tortured for 35 days during the time when his whereabouts were unknown. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan subsequently lauded Turkey’s intelligence agency for bringing Inandi back to Turkey. Kyrgyz authorities announced an investigation into Inandi’s disappearance and officially protested to the Turkish Embassy in Bishkek. Kyrgyz authorities insisted that they were not involved in Inandi’s kidnapping. On August 18, the Kyrgyz Military Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into the Border Guard Service to determine what role it may have played in the removal of Inandi to Turkey.
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.
Defense attorneys, journalists, and human rights monitoring organizations, including Golos Svobody, Bir Duino, and international nongovernmental organizations (NGO) Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Transparency International, reported incidents of torture by police and other law enforcement agencies. Authorities reportedly tortured individuals to elicit confessions during criminal investigations. Through September the Antitorture Coalition reported 63 allegations of torture; 54 by police and one for the State Committee for National Security. According to the Antitorture Coalition, 12 of the 63 investigations into torture were dropped on administrative grounds. During the year the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) did not bring criminal charges in any cases of alleged torture. NGOs stated that the government established strong torture-monitoring bodies but that influence from some parts of the government threatened the independence of these bodies.
In May police beat Elaman Taalaibekov in the Tash-Kumyr village near Jalal-Abad, allegedly to obtain a confession for theft. Taalaibekov later reported the beating to law enforcement authorities, but officials took no action. Later, several of the perpetrators accused Taalaibekov of attacking the police officers, and the Jalal-Abad Regional Department of Internal Affairs opened an investigation against Taalaibekov.
The NGO Golos Svobody (The Voice of Freedom) played a central role in monitoring allegations of torture. Golos Svobody served as 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 cases where prosecutors tried police on torture charges, prosecutors, judges, and defendants routinely raised procedural and substantive objections. These objections delayed the cases, often resulting in stale evidence, and ultimately led to case dismissal.
During the year NGOs reported that courts regularly accepted as evidence confessions allegedly induced through torture. The human rights NGO Bir Duino reported that the police continued to use torture to elicit confessions, and that courts often dismissed allegations of torture, claiming that the defendants were lying in order to weaken the state’s case. Defense lawyers stated that once prosecutors took a case to trial, a conviction was almost certain. In a 2020 report on torture in the country, Bir Duino highlighted ongoing issues, including the implementation of the new legal code creating gaps in an already weak system for investigating torture, and the failure of legal institutions, including investigatory judges, to investigate torture in a timely manner. Bir Duino also reported that ethnic Uzbeks composed 51 percent of torture cases, despite only representing 18 percent of the population. 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.
According to reputable media allegations, Kyrgyz border guards detained and beat two Tajik teenagers from Vorukh, an exclave of Tajikistan surrounded by Kyrgyz Republic territory, on April 25 for herding cattle in the disputed territory. The teenagers were released after an hour with minor injuries.
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. Experts reported that inmates who had been convicted of crimes involving terrorism or extremism were not adequately separated from the general population. Convicted prisoners occasionally remained in pretrial detention centers while they appealed their cases.
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 officials left prison order and safety to the prison gangs or prisoners themselves, resulting in instances of violence and intimidation among inmates.
Prisoners reported prison officials did not provide access to appropriate medical care in prisons, including medications, to prisoners. Human rights organizations reported that the government failed to provide prisoners and prison staff with personal protective equipment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Bir Duino reported that during the pandemic, prison inmates were denied visits from family members and from doctors and lawyers. Out of approximately 2,500 lawyers who applied for state authorization to access their clients in prison during the lockdown, Bir Duino stated that only 139 were approved – far fewer than before the pandemic, when authorities permitted almost all requests.
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 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. Officials running pretrial detention facilities often denied persons held in pretrial detention access to visitors.
The government allows the National Center to Prevent Torture (NCPT), an independent and impartial body, to monitor detention facilities. NGO representatives stated that NCPT officials made progress monitoring and documenting some violations in detention facilities. They stressed, as they had in previous years, that the government needed to implement a standardized approach to identifying torture cases and provide sufficient resources and staff members to the NCPT to conduct its work.
Independent Monitoring: Most monitoring groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), reported receiving unfettered access to prisons and pretrial detention facilities, except for detention centers the State Committee for National Security operates. 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.
Officials from the NCPT, Ombudsman Institute, and human rights lawyers reported staff had been prohibited from conducting checks on prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic due to health restrictions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government did not observe these requirements. Human rights organizations reported that authorities unfairly targeted and arrested ethnic Uzbeks for alleged involvement in banned religious organizations and for alleged “religious extremism activity.” While police reduced arrests of ethnic Uzbeks for possession of “extremist materials” after a change in the extremism law in 2019, NGOs reported that security services shifted to online monitoring of social media accounts and arresting ethnic Uzbeks who were alleged to be associated with “extremist groups.” Attorneys reported that police frequently arrested individuals on false charges and then solicited bribes in exchange for release.
On April 13, the State Committee for National Security detained political analyst Marat Kazakpaev and the former head of the Kazakh Diaspora in the Kyrgyz Republic, Marat Toktouchikov, on suspicion of high treason. On May 31, Kazakpaev told Ombudsman Office officials that his health problems were being ignored. He also claimed that he was being pressured to switch to a lawyer the government prefers. Kazakpaev further claimed that the State Committee for National Security threatened to transfer him to a reportedly more dangerous pretrial facility and to be “placed in the same cell with criminals” who would abuse him. Kazakpaev attributes his arrest to a position he voiced regarding the country’s border conflict with Uzbekistan.
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 police targeted vulnerable defendants from whom they believed they could secure a bribe. Authorities could legally hold a detainee for 48 to 72 hours before filing charges. Experts on torture and abuse reported police and security services often chose not to register criminal cases to avoid the procedural requirements limiting the length of time law enforcement can detain a suspect. Law enforcement then, in some cases, used the longer detainments to apply harsh interrogation and torture to extract confessions or bribes. 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. The law, however, provides courts the 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 a case goes to trial, the law provides courts the authority to prolong detention until the case is closed without limitations on duration of custody. The judicial system operates a functioning bail system. The law allows courts to use alternative measures instead of 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. The accused has the right by law to consult with defense counsel immediately upon arrest or detention, but in some reported cases the first meeting did not occur until the trial. As in past years, human rights groups noted incidents in which authorities denied attorneys access to arrested minors, held the minors without parental notification, and questioned 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 law enforcement officers selectively enforced the law by incarcerating persons suspected of minor crimes while not pursuing those suspected of more serious offenses or those with significant political connections.
Arbitrary Arrest: As in previous years, NGOs and monitoring organizations, including Golos Svobody, Bir Duino, and Spravedlivost, recorded complaints of arbitrary arrest. Observers asserted it was impossible to know the number of cases because most of these individuals did not report their experiences. 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.
Press reported arrests of individuals suspected of involvement in the banned extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir; such arrests continued a trend that began in 2014. According to Bir Duino, however, corruption within the law enforcement system motivated some arrests. Civil society alleged police entered homes falsely claiming to have a search warrant, planted banned Hizb ut-Tahrir material, and arrested the suspect in the hope of extracting a bribe to secure release.
Both local and international observers said the State Committee for National Security 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.
On February 10, the State Committee for National Security searched the house of lawyer Nazgul Suyunbaeva in Osh on suspicion she was hiding her client who was wanted by police. Suyunbaeva claimed that the search was illegal because a search in the house of a lawyer is only allowed if a criminal case is initiated against the lawyer. On February 15, the investigative judge of the Osh City Court found that the search was illegal and unreasonable, and the judge dropped the case against Suyunbaeva.
Pretrial Detention: Civil society groups frequently reported lengthy pretrial detention for detained individuals. 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. Seven pretrial detention facilities held approximately 2,500 persons.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but judges were subject to influence or corruption, compromising judicial independence and impartiality. Throughout the year the conduct and outcome of trials appeared predetermined in multiple cases. Numerous sources, including NGOs, attorneys, government officials, and private citizens, asserted that some judges paid bribes to attain their positions. Many attorneys asserted that judges ubiquitously accept bribes. 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 inside and outside the courtroom, as well as intimidation of trial judges by victims’ relatives and friends.
While the law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, 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. Courts conducted trials in the state language, Kyrgyz, or the official language, Russian. In most trials, courtroom procedure required defendants to sit in caged cells.
Defense attorneys complained that judges routinely returned cases to investigators if the prosecutors did not provide enough evidence to prove guilt, during which time suspects could remain in detention. According to attorneys, judges typically gave defendants at least a suspended sentence instead of finding them not guilty, regardless of how little evidence existed to sustain a prison term.
Courts generally opened trials to the public unless the case allegedly involved state secrets or privacy concerns of defendants. 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. The government granted a limited number of judges the necessary security clearances 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 that defense attorneys in rural areas provided a lower quality of representation than defense attorneys in the capital. In many cases individuals accused of extremism-related crimes had trouble trying 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. Courts typically required witnesses 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
Human rights and civil society NGOs claimed there were a small number of incarcerated political prisoners. Human rights observers noted that several high-profile trials for corruption and related crimes appeared to be politically motivated, targeting political opposition and members of the former presidential administrations. NGOs that monitor prison conditions did not report political prisoners were treated differently from other prisoners. The government permitted access to political prisoners by human rights NGOs and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
On August 24, a Bishkek District Court renewed an investigation into the 2020 death of prominent human rights activist Azimjan Askarov after a local court had terminated the investigation on July 1. Askarov was serving a life sentence for allegedly organizing riots that caused the death of a police officer during the 2010 ethnic clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. In 2016 the UN Human Rights Committee concluded that Askarov was held in inhumane conditions, tortured, and otherwise mistreated without redress. In July 2020 authorities moved Askarov to the prison hospital only two days before his death, despite complaints from his lawyer and human rights organizations that he was gravely ill. Notwithstanding calls from multiple international organizations for urgent medical intervention, Askarov died in prison on July 27, 2020, likely due to COVID-19.
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. The constitution provides citizens the right to apply to international human rights bodies seeking protection of violated rights and freedoms in accordance with international treaties. Nonetheless, the decisions of international bodies are nonbinding and therefore not subject to enforcement by the government.
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 based on a court decision. Such actions are permitted exclusively to combat crime. There were reports that the government failed to respect these restrictions, including reports of police planting evidence in cases of extremism investigations. Seven government agencies have legal authority to monitor citizens’ telephone and internet communications.
On August 31, the Ministry of Internal Affairs admitted to wiretapping political opponents, including members of parliament and activists, pursuant to a court order from January 6 through February 10 as part of the criminal investigation into riots that led to the political upheaval of October 2020. The dates of the wiretap encompassed the presidential election on January 10. Some targets of the wiretap demanded that the president dismiss the internal affairs minister and the prosecutor general for their involvement.