(New York) - The Kyrgyz government should immediately stop harassing human rights monitors doing research in southern Kyrgyzstan, Human Rights Watch said today. On December 2 Kyrgyz authorities denied entry to prominent Tajik human rights defender Nigina Bakhrieva - the third foreign advocate working on southern Kyrgyzstan to be denied entry or deported in 2009.
Bakhrieva, the former head of the Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law in Tajikistan, had been invited to Kyrgyzstan as an independent expert by the Kyrgyz ombudsman's office. In September, she provided advice about the process for filing individual complaints with the United Nations Human Rights Committee to lawyers representing individuals convicted of criminal charges after a protest in Nookat in 2008.
"Kyrgyzstan is increasingly harassing rights advocates investigating the government's abusive campaign in southern Kyrgyzstan," said Andrea Berg, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "It's no coincidence that Bakhrieva was denied entry after having been in touch with Nookat lawyers."
The government has been carrying out a campaign in the south against what it views as Islamic extremism. Residents of Nookat held the protest because they were denied permission to celebrate a Muslim holiday.
Two weeks ago, Kyrgyz authorities summarily deported Bakhrom Hamroev, a human rights defender with the Russian organization Memorial, after he had spent a week conducting research in southern Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz National Security Service detained him for one night and confiscated material he had gathered on alleged human rights violations by Kyrgyz law enforcement and security services in cases of alleged religious extremism and terrorism.
When they detained Hamroev on November 18, Kyrgyz security officials also detained Kyrgyz human rights defender Izzatilla Rakhmatillaev, who had been working with Hamroev. They questioned Rakhmatillaev and released him that evening.
On February 26, Hamroev's colleague Vitalii Ponomarev, director of Memorial's Central Asia program, was stopped at the Kyrgyz border and declared persona non grata. Ponomarev was denied entry a month after he published a 24-page report about religious persecution, torture, and other abuse in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Human rights defenders from Kyrgyzstan have told Human Rights Watch that the number of arrests of alleged extremists and terrorists in southern Kyrgyzstan is rising, and have expressed concern about abuses related to these arrests, including: arbitrary detention; torture and other ill-treatment in custody; and violation of fair trial rights. They express concern that the authorities' harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders has made monitoring the situation more difficult.
For example, since late 2008 the National Security Service has harassed several members of a commission established by the Kyrgyz ombudsman to investigate the situation. National Security Service personnel visited the office of the human rights group, Kylym Shamy, and several times informally questioned the relatives of its director, Aziza Abdurasulova, an outspoken critic of the authorities' response to the Nookat events. Another member of the commission received repeated phone calls from the National Security Service with requests to meet.
The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders provides that "for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, ...[t]o communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations." Additionally, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to "know, seek, obtain, receive and hold information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including having access to information as to how those rights and freedoms are given effect in domestic legislative, judicial or administrative systems."
"The government's harassment of local and foreign rights advocates shows why monitoring the anti-extremism campaign is so crucial," Berg said. "The authorities should stop their repressive tactics and allow unhindered fact-finding and trial monitoring."
Background on the deportation of Nigina Bakhrieva
Bakhrieva was pulled out of line when she arrived on December 2 from Dushanbe, Tajikistan at the Manas airport in Bishkek. A Border control representative asked her if she had experienced problems with the authorities in September. She replied that she had not, but then the officer told her that she was denied entry to Kyrgyzstan until 2019. When she asked for the reason the officer said "We don't know. You will fly back now." Bakhrieva boarded the same airplane back to Dushanbe.
The Kyrgyz immigration service gave Bakhrieva a deportation document stating that she is not allowed to enter Kyrgyzstan, noting persona non grata as the reason. The document notes her arrival and departure dates but does not indicate when the ban on her entry ends.
Background on the Nookat events
The Nookat events stand out in the government's anti-extremism campaign in the south. On October 1, 2008, Nookat residents protested in front of the municipal building in response to a decision by local authorities prohibiting a public celebration of Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday commonly celebrated throughout Kyrgyzstan. On October 13, 2008, the State Committee for National Security announced that it had detained 32 people whom it alleged were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international Islamic organization that is banned in several countries in the region.
At their trial in late November 2008, 30 of 32 defendants testified that they had been tortured and ill-treated, but the judge neither urged the prosecutor's office to investigate nor dismissed the evidence allegedly obtained under torture. The defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 9 to 20 years. In May 2009, Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court upheld the verdicts, reducing a few sentences slightly. It did not respond to the defendants' torture allegations.