Kyrgyzstan: Respect Rights While Restoring Order

Окт 07.2020

Flawed Parliamentary Vote Prompts Protests, Violence

Protesters gathered on Ala Too Square in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital on October 6, 2020, two days after a disputed parliamentary election. © 2020 Private

(Berlin) – Law enforcement forces in Kyrgyzstan responding to protests and unrest should uphold human rights and the rule of law, including if provoked by some protesters, Human Rights Watch said today. Clashes between protesters and law enforcement on the evening of October 5, 2020, following the flawed October 4 parliamentary election, led to significant casualties, including 1 death and 164 hospitalizations, according to health officials cited in local media.

Eleven of the 16 political parties that took part in Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary elections have formed a coordination council to oversee a transition of power in response to the political unrest. Several top government officials have stepped down, including the prime minister, although President Sooronbay Jeenbekov has not resigned. In a BBC Radio interview on October 6, the president said he is willing to work with members of the coordination council, but that he is Kyrgyzstan’s “legitimate president.”

“It is incumbent upon those in power to respect fundamental human rights, especially during great political upheaval,” said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Protecting the right to life, as well as freedoms of speech, assembly, access to information, and the right to protest, are critical in times like these.”

Opposition parties called for protests in Bishkek’s main square after the outcome of the elections was announced on the evening of October 4. By some estimates, several thousand people gathered on Bishkek’s main square. Only one opposition party was officially deemed to have passed the seven percent threshold to win seats in parliament amid reports of vote buying by pro-government parties. Protesters demanded that the Central Election Committee should annul the results and hold a new election. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), which carried out a limited election monitoring mission, concluded that “Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary elections were generally well run and candidates could campaign freely, but credible allegations of vote buying remain a serious concern.”

Kyrgyzstan’s Central Election Committee announced on October 6 that they had annulled the outcome of the elections. A date for new parliamentary elections has not been set.

Law enforcement forces did not interfere during the early part of the protests on October 5, but responded with force to an attempt in the evening by some in the crowd to break through the gates of the White House, where both the president and parliament sit. Media reported that law enforcement responded using water cannons, tear gas, and flash grenades, as well as rubber bullets or metal ball projectiles, in an attempt to break up the protest. Several opposition politicians who had gathered on the square were wounded. Police did not make any arrests.

Clashes between groups of protesters and police went on overnight. In the early morning of October 6, protesters stormed the White House and the State Committee on National Security (GKNB) in Bishkek, taking control of the buildings. Protesters freed several politicians held in detention by the security agency, including the former president, Almazbek Atambaev. Photographs posted to social media showed the top floors of the White House on fire.

Local media, citing a Health Ministry announcement, reported that 686 people, including law enforcement officers, sought medical care overnight in Bishkek. Of those, 164 were hospitalized, 7 are in intensive care, and 1 man died. The Health Ministry did not provide details about the man’s death.

Law enforcement officers are obligated under international law to respect the right to freedom of assembly as well as human rights standards on the use of force, including when dispersing protests. While the authorities can intervene when protesters use violence or to try to prevent or respond to the commission of crimes, they must do so proportionately. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials require police to use nonviolent means, such as demands, to vacate an area, before resorting to force and firearms.

A man stands on a burnt out car following a night of unrest in connection with protests against the October 4 parliamentary vote in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.Click to expand Image
A man stands on a burnt out car following a night of unrest in connection with protests against the October 4 parliamentary vote in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. © 2020 Private

As soon as it is feasible, an investigation into the circumstances of the use of force by law enforcement should take place, Human Rights Watch said. Those carrying out the investigation should examine whether the use of force by security services was legitimate and proportionate, and whether the death of one of the protesters was due to the use of excessive force by police.

The rights of media workers should also be protected and journalists should be able to carry out their duties in safety, Human Rights Watch said. The local media watchdog, Media Policy Institute, reported that since the morning of October 5, several journalists have been attacked, including by the police, while doing their job. Aibol Kozhomuratov, a social video producer at Current Time TV, tweeted a clip showing a law enforcement officer shooting a weapon at him while he was reporting on the unrest.

Kyrgyzstan’s international partners should reinforce to the Kyrgyz government the importance of upholding their international human rights obligations and urge government leaders to pursue political dialogue to resolve the current crisis. The European Union on October 6 urged “all political forces in the country to act within the framework of the constitution and to settle their disagreements peacefully.” The Chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) both called for inclusive political dialogue.

“Kyrgyz authorities should ensure that journalists covering the political unrest in Kyrgyzstan can do their jobs safely, without fear of attack,” Rittmann said. “Indeed, the authorities have the obligation to respect all basic human rights and to ensure that police respond to protests in a lawful and proportionate manner.”


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Experience should be attached to a law degree

Shakhboz Latipov, 24 y.o., young lawyer: “When I came to BDK for an internship, I had no experience in legal and human rights activities. Together with experienced senior colleagues, I began to attend trials, studied documents. Gradually my supervisor Khusanbai Saliev began to trust me the preparation of documents, carefully checked them and gave practical advice. Experience comes with time and cases you work on. Every day dozens of people who need help come to us, many of them are from socially vulnerable groups: the poor, large families, elderly citizens. A lawyer in a human rights organization sometimes acts as a psychologist, it is important for him to be able to maintain professionalism and show empathy. At the end of 2019, I successfully passed the exam to get the right to start working as attorney and now I work on cases as an attorney. I turn to my colleagues for help on complex issues, they always give me their advice. This is one of the strengths of the organization: there is support and understanding here.”



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I became confident

In summer of 2019, Nuriza Talantbek kyzy took an active part in conducting regional screenings of documentaries, helped with organizational issues during the campaign dedicated to the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, participated in trips, and did the TOT on women's leadership. She used to be a migrant, worked for an NGO in Osh, and now works in Bishkek in the service industry. She calls her participation in the TOT “an invaluable experience”: “I first attended such an event, and received exactly the information that I needed, for which I am sincerely grateful to the facilitators. I experienced very difficult issues in my life, and thanks to that knowledge, I was able to overcome them, I persevered! After the TOT, I became more confident, began to better understand the essence of human rights, and learned to defend my interests.”



The defendant has passed away. The work on his rehabilitation continues.

The case of Shukurullo Kochkarov shows that work on complex cases continues for many years. After the torture he was subjected to in 2010, he became disabled. We managed to get acquittal on one of the charges; the work is ongoing on achieving his rehabilitation and recognition as a victim of torture in order for compensation to be paid. Trials continue without Shukurullo Kochkarov - he died on 2 August 2019. His interests are represented by his father, Saidaziz Kochkarov, who also has a visual disability. “For many years, we have been supported by the employees of BDK, they have been handling the case of my son, they brought him to court because he couldn’t walk on his own, they constantly help our family: my wife and I underwent rehabilitation, they have helped my son by providing him with medicines, they provide all kinds of help”.



Comprehensive support for victims of torture

Resident of the Kara-Suu district, Dilyor Jumabaev, has extensive experience in dealing with law enforcement agencies. In 2010, he was accused of possessing firearms, and thanks to the work of lawyers, he was acquitted. Two years later, his house was first searched in order to find materials of an extremist nature, but nothing was found. In 2014, he was accused of possessing extremist materials. In court, the prosecutor requested 15 years in prison; the court sentenced him to 6 years. A few years later he was released on parole. “I am grateful to the lawyers of BDK for their expert legal assistance. I participated in a rehabilitation program for victims of torture. When I encounter violations, I recommend contacting this organization.”


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