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We are writing to you today to express our deep concern about the prosecution in Jalalabat of prominent human rights defenders from the NGO Spravedlivost: Valentina Gritzenko, Abdumalik Sharipov and Makhamajan Abdujaparov, as well as of Nargiz Turdieva, a woman who reported that she had been tortured.

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We are writing to you today to express our deep concern about the prosecution in Jalalabat of prominent human rights defenders from the NGO Spravedlivost: Valentina Gritzenko, Abdumalik Sharipov and Makhamajan Abdujaparov, as well as of Nargiz Turdieva, a woman who reported that she had been tortured. We are concerned that the case against them may be motivated by a desire to intimidate Turdieva and the organization acting on her behalf, and to deter the latter from pursuing other allegations of torture or ill-treatment.
The four have been accused of “libel” and “insult” by Ali Mageev, an investigator of the Jalalabat Department of Interior. Turdieva is facing trial because of allegations she has made about Mageev’s treatment of her during an interrogation, and the three human rights defenders are standing trial for publishing an article in the bulletin “Rights for All” based on information reported by Turdieva about Mageev’s alleged treatment of her. Mageev also filed a civil lawsuit demanding one million som for moral damages and 156,851 som 72 tyiyn for material damages. The hearings in the case started in 2006 and then were suspended as the defendant, Turdieva, was giving birth. The next trial hearing will be held on June 15, 2007.

Human Rights Watch’s concern is based on respect for international obligations which the Kyrgyz Republic has assumed under international law, and which we would like to bring to your attention.

Kyrgyzstan is a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which sets out specific obligations on parties regarding the enforcement of the prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This prohibition is absolute, and no circumstances can justify the use of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by law enforcement bodies. As a part of its obligations under the convention, Kyrgyzstan is expected to encourage that complaints of torture or other cruel treatment are reported so that those responsible can be held accountable. Article 13 of the Convention against Torture requires that complainants and witnesses of torture be protected from intimidation as a consequence of a complaint.

We are aware that often strong criticism or allegations by human rights or other civil society organizations regarding abuses by government officials are not welcomed by the relevant authorities. However, raising public awareness through legitimate criticism is an appropriate part of human rights work, which in turn is aimed at improving adherence to international standards and the rule of law and at ensuring that the government holds accountable those officials responsible for abuse. Such exercise of freedom of expression is protected by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Kyrgyzstan is also a party.

In his civil lawsuit as of 16 March 2006 Mr. Mageev stated that his “reputation as a police officer, an investigator, and in general as a representative of state authority” has suffered as a result of the article in the “Rights for All” bulletin. According to international standards on freedom of expression, governmental officials are expected to be more tolerant of criticism especially when it concerns the carrying out of their official duties, so that public debate and scrutiny of governmental action, which is essential to accountable government, can flourish. While freedom of expression is subject to regulation in order to protect the rights or reputations of others, including public servants and officials, international standards do not support the use of criminal libel laws to achieve that. Where prosecution for criminal libel is possible, it should be limited to use in egregious and malicious cases of libel, and not where it could be understood as a means of deterring persons from making public matters of great public concern.

The United Nations Declaration on the Human Rights Defenders sets out a series of principles and rights, based on human rights standards enshrined in international instruments, on the rights and protections for human rights defenders. The Declaration recalls that everyone has the right to promote the protection and realization of human rights and specifically notes that individuals or groups have the right to articulate criticism, make proposals for improving the work of government bodies, and draw attention to any aspect of their work that may hinder or impede the promotion, protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Human Rights Watch has worked closely with the staff of Spravedlivost for many years and we regard the group as one of the most professional and reliable rights organizations in the Central Asia region. The group’s actions should be seen in light of the provisions of the declaration and of above-cited provisions of the Convention against Torture.

Ms. Gritzenko, Mr. Sharipov, Mr. Abdujaparov were carrying out their work as human rights defenders to report cases of alleged abuse of power and a suspected violation of an absolute right. Ms. Turdieva used her right to complain about her ill-treatment as she is entitled to do under the Convention against Torture. None of them should be subject to intimidation or retribution for doing so, including by way of criminal prosecution.

We ask that you use your good offices to ensure that either the criminal proceedings are halted or, if they proceed, that full account is taken of the rights and obligations stemming from the prohibition on torture, the protection given to the right to freedom of expression, and the rights of human rights defenders. We remain respectfully concerned that otherwise the laws of Kyrgyzstan could be exploited to unfairly punish or silence human rights defenders. We further respectfully request to be apprised of developments in the case.


Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia Division
Human Rights Watch

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