Human Rights Developments
Defending Human Rights
The Role of the International Community
In 2000, President Askar Akaev's actions shattered the illusion of Kyrgyzstan as an "island of democracy" in a repressive region. Armed clashes on the country's border, manipulated polls for parliament and for the presidency, and restrictions on free speech, press and association, minority rights, and religion fostered an ongoing crisis, with dire implications for human rights.
The government of Kyrgyzstan attempted to limit access to the southern border with Tajikistan after armed clashes between fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Kyrgyz government troops resumed in August. Reports emerged of civilian deaths from mines laid by the Kyrgyz military in mountainous border areas; over one thousand civilians had been relocated from the conflict zone at the time of writing, in what was claimed to be a voluntary process. The IMU, whose stated goal was to move into Uzbek territory from its reported redoubts in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, once again took several sets of hostages, some of whom were released and some of whom escaped. Kyrgyz warplanes launched bombing raids on border areas in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; thirty Kyrgyz were officially acknowledged to have been killed.
In elections to the parliament in February and March 2000, and for president on October 29, 2000, the government blatantly violated citizens' rights. Though fifteen "parties" participated in the parliamentary vote, courts barred four, including the three most popular opposition parties-El-Bei Bechora (the People's Party) and Ar-Namys (Dignity), and later the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan-from advancing a slate of candidates, based on two provisions of the electoral law hastily passed in 1999. The government also erected significant barriers for individual opposition candidates to register. International and domestic observers noted widespread instances of fraud.
The boldness with which the Kyrgyz government attacked Akaev's potential presidential rivals, including former vice president Gen. Felix Kulov, shocked even the most jaded observers. Kulov was tried by a closed military tribunal after being arrested in March and charged with abusing his official powers when he served as minister of national security. Although the tribunal acquitted him of any wrongdoing in August, state prosecutors appealed the verdict, and a retrial was ordered in September. A Supreme Court judge, Akynbek Tilebaliev, who was said to have influenced the first court's decision to acquit, was allegedly forced by the government to resign.
In May, a Bishkek court convicted Danier Usenov, then leader of the Kyrgyz People's Party (El-Bei Bechora), and another challenger for the presidency on a four-year-old assault charge in which the plaintiff had withdrawn his original complaint, sentencing him to two years of probation. Kyrgyz law permanently bars persons with criminal convictions from standing for election to public office.
Long-time political activist, human rights defender, and founder of Kyrgyzstan's nongovernmental Guild of Prisoners of Conscience Topchubek Turgunaliev was convicted in August of plotting an attempt on President Akaev's life and overthrow of the state's constitutional system. Turgunaliev and six of his eight codefendants were sentenced to from sixteen to seventeen years in prison. The seventh man charged in the case, an officer of the MNB (Ministry for National Security, formerly the KGB) and the state's lone witness, was given a suspended sentence and immediately released.
The government introduced mandatory Kyrgyz language testing for potential presidential candidates in 2000. Seven potential opposition candidates were excluded under this provision. Citizens wishing to gather signatures to support opposition candidates faced threats and harassment, including dismissal from jobs. According to local human rights groups, provincial governors appointed by the president compelled teachers and other civil servants to support Akaev.
Authorities dealt harshly with demonstrators, casting a chill over the rights to freedom of speech and association. In March, police beat demonstrators in Kulov's home base of Kara-Bura, injuring several.
Independent newspapers' vigorous reporting during the election spawned an intense government backlash. On January 13, the Supreme Court upheld a court decision finding the popular private newspaper Res Publica guilty of defaming a government official; under threat of closure, the paper paid the damage award, but government harassment continued. In August, the Ministry for State Security questioned three members of the editorial board of the paper Delo No (Case Number) in an investigation of alleged "disclosure of state secrets," following an article on the case against Felix Kulov. KNB officials searched the homes of Delo No journalists in September. A Bishkek court began to consider the libel suit brought by parliamentary deputy and former Kyrgyz Communist Party First Secretary Turdakun Usubaliev against the independent newspaper Asaba (the Standard) in late August. Tellingly, Usubaliev was seeking to have publication suspended during the trial, as well as 50 million soms (approximately U.S. $1.06 million) in damages. The paper's owner, People's Party leader Melis Eshimkanov, was challenging President Akaev in the October 29 election. Journalist Moldosaly Ibraimov, from the southern region of Jalal-Abad, was jailed for five weeks after being charged with libel for an article he wrote about corruption during the run-up to the parliamentary elections. Media restrictions also raised minority rights questions when the government attempted to strip the private station Osh TV, which broadcasts in Uzbek, of its broadcasting license. In the face of local and international protests, the State Commission for Radio Frequencies postponed a decision until the end of the year.
The government of Kyrgyzstan also engaged in Internet censorship, shutting down the independent news site "Politika KG" from late August until October 29, the date of the presidential elections.
Kyrgyzstan intensified repression against the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), mainly active in the southern Osh province, arresting tens of the group's followers and sentencing them to prison terms on charges of inciting religious and racial hatred.
Kyrgyzstan flouted its obligations as a signatory to the 1951 refugee convention and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in April by its forcible deportation of Jeli Turdi, an ethnic Uighur, back to the People's Republic of China, where he risked mistreatment including torture.
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Human RIghts Watch