“This bill will be the last one. The first and the last one.” That is how Emmanuel Macron answered the question I had just asked him: “What would happen, Mr. President, if France were hit by another terrorist attack in the coming months? Would you propose yet another bill?”

French police and anti-crime brigade (BAC) members secure a street as they carried out a counter-terrorism swoop at different locations in Argenteuil, a suburb north of Paris, France, July 21, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters/Charles Platiau

The exchange took place last Friday, in the late afternoon. I was in the Elysée as part of a delegation of leading human rights organizations, lawyers and magistrates to meet President Macron and two of his advisors. We had come to express our concerns and criticisms of two bills drafted by the government and submitted to Parliament: a sixth extension of the state of emergency until November, and a counterterrorism bill directly inspired by the provisions of the state of emergency. This bill would make permanent special powers which were supposed to be temporary, introduced as necessary only for the extraordinary circumstances of a time-limited state of emergency.

For over an hour and a half, we set out methodically the abuses committed against ordinary citizens when those powers were used under the state of emergency. We warned the President that the counterterrorism bill would entrench what were exceptional powers into regular law and pose grave dangers for fundamental rights and the rule of law. We denounced the lack of evaluation of the effectiveness of state of emergency measures and of the existing legal arsenal for counterterrorism. We lamented the choice of an accelerated procedure for the parliamentary review of these two proposed bills, depriving the country of what ought to be a meaningful democratic debate about the concept of liberty, one of France’s founding values.

But despite this discussion, President Macron did not waver.

Far from reinforcing freedoms, as the President claimed this past Monday in his speech to Parliament, the new bill would entrench in regular law abusive powers introduced under the state of emergency. It would normalize the considerable powers awarded by the state of emergency to the Ministry of the Interior and the administrative police. The drastic weakening of judicial safeguards, which are the foundation of the rule of law and an essential defense against abuse, would become permanent. In effect it treats France as if it is always in a state of emergency. By authorizing “assigned residence orders”, whereby individuals’ freedom of movement is severely limited even though they have not been accused of a crime, this new bill also confirms a dangerous shift towards so-called preventive justice. Just this week we’ve learned that since the state of emergency was declared in November 2015, there have been 708 assigned residence orders. More than one a day. This is a trend, not a small set of isolated actions. The “logic of suspicion”, on which these orders are predicated, opens the door to significant abuse.

During the meeting, the President admitted that the state of emergency can foster “arbitrary behaviors” and has led to « excesses ». Emmanuel Macron, then a candidate, had himself expressed in his book, Revolution “that reducing the freedoms of all, and the dignity of each citizen, has never anywhere led to an increase in security.” Despite that, Emmanuel Macron chose to follow in the footsteps of governments that, over the last two decades, have responded to the threat of terrorism with ever harsher laws, turning France into the country with the most expansive counterterrorism laws in Europe. Members of Parliament, a large majority of whom are supportive of the President, will most likely adopt the bill without much opposition. Macron may well say this is his “first and last law” on security; but recent history in France and elsewhere teaches us that once states start down this legislative slope, more repressive laws follow.

If we refer to the past 18 months, France may well be addicted to emergency powers. As a responsible leader, however, the French President’s job is to break that dependency and resist the temptation to react to the fear of another attack with laws that do more harm to rights than they do good to security. As activists, lawyers, and voices of civil society, that is what we will keep telling the President and our elected representatives. End the state of emergency, don’t simply inject a dose of it into ordinary law. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

French soldiers from Operation Barkhane stand outside their armored personnel carrier during a sandstorm in Inat, Mali, May 26, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters
“The jihadists are the law now,” an elder from central Mali told me. “The very day the French-supported operation finished, the Islamists were back in the villages,” confided another villager last week, referring to a military operation near the Mali-Burkina Faso border in April.

The endurance of the jihadist recruitment success and their appeal to many villagers suggests that military operations on their own will not be sufficient to defeat the threat. President Emmanuel Macron should keep this in mind when he visits the country this Friday.

Hailed as a military success, the 2013 French-led military intervention in northern Mali ended the region’s occupation by ethnic Tuareg separatists and armed Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda. But since 2015, attacks against Malian forces and abuses by Al-Qaeda-linked groups have moved southward to Mali’s previously stable central regions and, last year, spread into neighboring Burkina Faso.

Since 2015, I’ve interviewed scores of witnesses and victims to abuses in central Mali. They described how, in recent months, groups of up to 50 Islamist fighters closed down schools, banned women from riding on motorcycles driven by men other than their husbands, and imposed their version of Sharia (Islamic law). “We used to spend days celebrating a marriage or baptism, dancing and singing together,” one man said. “Not anymore.”

Men accused of being informants for the Malian government often turn up dead. Since 2015, Islamists have executed at least 40 men in their custody, including village chiefs and local officials. Some were murdered in front of their families. Several people said they felt pressured to send one of their sons to join the Islamists.

However, an equal number of villagers told me they welcomed the presence of the Islamist groups in central Mali; they saw them as a benevolent alternative to a state they associate with predatory and abusive governance. Many seethed as they described Malian army abuses during counterterrorism operations, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and executions.

Since late 2016, I have documented the alleged extrajudicial killing by soldiers of 12 detainees, the most recent in early May, and the forced disappearance of several others. Villagers described how soldiers detained and executed three family members in January. “We heard gunshots in the distance,” one witness said. “I followed the tracks of the army truck and found our people in a shallow grave.” This week, I received a desperate email from the brother of a man forced into a white pickup by men in uniform on February 3. “We have heard nothing; we have searched everywhere,” he said.

While the behavior of the state security services has improved in recent years, Malian authorities have made no meaningful  effort to investigate those implicated in violations.

The jihadists speak a lot about corruption… how the authorities steal, torture and do bad things to us. Honestly, they don’t need to try very hard to recruit the youth.

Villagers said the Islamists are recruiting by exploiting frustrations over poverty, abusive security services, rampant banditry, local Peuhl clan rivalries, and, especially, corruption.

“The jihadists speak a lot about corruption… how the authorities steal, torture and do bad things to us,” one elder said. “Honestly, they don’t need to try very hard to recruit the youth…”

Villagers also said the Islamists are increasingly filling the governance vacuum. They welcomed Islamist efforts to investigate and punish livestock thieves, including by executions. Others praised Sharia rulings in favor of victims of domestic violence or spousal abandonment. Elders from both the sedentary Bambara and pastoral Peuhl communities credited the Islamists’ efforts in late 2016 to resolve deadly land disputes. This meaningfully reduced communal violence in some regions, they said.

“We are fed up with paying bribes every time you meet a man in uniform or government official,” one villager said. “The Islamists get all this done without asking for taxes, money, or one of our cows.”

It was corruption, poor governance, and abusive security force conduct that significantly contributed  to Mali’s spectacular collapse in 2012. The burden to resolve this situation lies first and foremost with the Malian government. But the French strategy in Mali and the wider Sahel won’t succeed without helping Mali to address the issues underlying decades of insecurity and the growing support for abusive armed Islamist groups. Military operations, including those supported by the French, are not enough to pull Mali from this deepening quagmire.

When President Macron visits Mali on Friday, he should urge the government to professionalize the security forces and hold them accountable, to support the chronically neglected judiciary, and to take concrete action against rampant corruption. Strengthening Mali’s weak rule of law institutions is complicated work, but no counterterrorism strategy can succeed without it.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Like an addict, France does not know how to quit its state of emergency even though it has become clear that maintaining it erodes the rule of law and fosters human rights abuses while not keeping the country safer. The February 22 report by the parliamentary commission tasked with monitoring the state of emergency provided yet another reminder that it no longer serves any meaningful purpose.

French police and anti-crime brigade (BAC) secure a street they carried out a counter-terrorism swoop at different locations in Argenteuil, a suburb north of Paris, France, July 21, 2016.

REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The commission president, Dominique Raimbourg, from the governing Socialist Party, noted that activity under the state of emergency has been “greatly reduced” since the last extension. His fellow commission member, Jean-Frédéric Poisson, from the main opposition party Les Republicains, noted that “time that passes erodes the efficiency and nature of the state of emergency.” A French commission of inquiry into the Paris attacks had already concluded back in July 2016 that  the state of emergency had “limited impact” on improving security and any effect it may have had “quickly dissipated.”

Human Rights Watch’s own research has found repeated abuses against ordinary people during policing operations under emergency powers.

So why is France maintaining the state of emergency despite repeated warnings by its own oversight mechanisms?

It is mainly due to confusion by politicians about the purpose of a state of emergency. Many have said that it is justified by an ongoing terrorist risk. This was clearly displayed in December 2016 when Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux justified his request for a fifth extension by saying that “the terrorist threat was at its highest.” Under this reasoning, a state of emergency is needed as long as there is a high security risk.

This reasoning is dangerous on many levels. By suggesting that regular laws, procedures, and oversight mechanisms are not sufficient to counter threats, it weakens the premise of the rule of law and relegates it to a luxury for “normal” times. But it also sets the stage for the trap in which France finds itself. French leaders have implied that they will only lift the state of emergency when the security risk has subsided but since they can’t predict the risk of future terrorist attacks, they prefer to maintain it rather than pay a political price if a subsequent attack takes place.

So lifting the state of emergency becomes less dependent on security considerations and more on political calculations. This would explain why France’s latest extension was driven by the electoral calendar, punting the issue to the next president and legislature. Call it political procrastination, or perhaps more aptly, political cowardice.

This disconnect between its initial purpose and current raison d’être was captured nicely by Sébastien Pietrasanta, a parliamentarian and rapporteur for the commission investigating the state’s response to the November 2015 attacks, who recently noted that “the effect of the state of emergency is fading and yet we extend it…even though the link with terrorism is quite tenuous.”

I have seen this logic at play in the Middle East. Egypt and Syria, countries I have worked on for years, maintained their states of emergency for 31 and 48 years respectively. Every time the state of emergency was up for renewal, the country’s rulers argued that the risk was still there or that the timing was not right to lift it. France is not a tin-pot autocracy and its rulers are not despots, but there is a cautionary tale in these experiences.

It is time to reframe the debate in France. A continuing state of emergency should not be dependent on the existence of risk – an exogenous measure that cannot be controlled by political calculations. It should be restricted to situations where there is an exceptional need for exceptional measures at an exceptional moment. It may have been justified for a few days immediately after the November 2015 attacks as the country’s security forces were caught unprepared. But it should have been lifted as soon as the institutions resumed their normal functioning – regardless of whether the underlying security threat has been addressed.

It is time to reframe the debate in France. A continuing state of emergency should not be dependent on the existence of risk, it should be restricted to situations where there is an exceptional need for exceptional measures at an exceptional moment.

Nadim Houry

Director, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program

The French government’s own website on the fight against terrorism noted in August 2016 that the government has “completed its legal arsenal and put in place an unprecedented reinforcement of its means in the police, justice, army and intelligence services.” France already has a raft of laws under the non-emergency regime that permit the authorities to investigate, detain, and prosecute terrorism suspects. Judicial controls in no way impede their effectiveness.

France needs to adopt a clear path out of the state of emergency. The parliamentary commission monitoring the state of emergency suggested in December setting an upper limit on the extension of a state of emergency but parliament ignored it and voted a fifth extension with almost no debate. Candidates in the upcoming presidential election have largely avoided talking about the issue, perpetuating the procrastination strategy by the political class, and journalists have not pushed them on the issue.

It is no longer enough to wait and hope that the security threat will simply vanish or that the future president or legislature will finally decide to tackle the issue. The debate about lifting the state of emergency should become a priority topic in this presidential election. Like any addict hoping to recover, France needs to start by recognizing the problem and begin a serious conversation on how to quit.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Tell me about your new report on Kyrgyzstan’s crackdown on “extremist” material.

This report documents the use of a little-known measure in Kyrgyzstan, article 299-2 of the criminal code, which allows authorities to throw people in prison for 3 to 10 years simply for possessing videos, pamphlets, and other material the authorities consider “extremist.”

There are genuine concerns about Islamist armed groups in Central Asia, but we have many problems with this crackdown. A lot of the material deemed extremist may not be liked by the government, but is is protected under international free speech law. Another is that even if the material depicts violence, the people possessing it often haven’t acted on it, for example by using it for violent purposes or even distributing it. In one of the most Orwellian aspects of this crackdown, some people were prosecuted for possessing material that wasn’t  declared unlawful until they were arrested for possessing it.

To their credit, Kyrgyzstan’s authorities agreed to reform article 299-2 to allow for prosecutions only if there is an intent to disseminate or use material to incite violence. That reform is supposed to take effect in January. They are also working to improve the expertise of people reviewing this material for the government to discern what is truly extremist material and what is simply offensive or religiously conservative. But we’re unsure if this will actually happen or happen on schedule.

Who is being arrested?

Some of the people may be a danger to the government. But many – perhaps most – don’t appear to be any danger at all. And  there’s no evidence of that presented in court. This makes it easy to target political opponents, activists, defense lawyers, and ordinary citizens.

A few cases I documented involve journalists who were convicted, though they said they had this material for work they were doing on extremism. Lawyers have been threatened for representing people charged under this provision. One lawyer I interviewed was convicted of possessing extremist material based on the contents of his file on one of his clients. Naturally the lawyer’s case file included the material used to prosecute his client. The lawyer’s three-year prison sentence was suspended but he told me his reputation was ruined.

I could be convicted under this law for keeping copies of the material I examined as part of my research.

What types of materials are considered extremist?

The law is tied to an overly broad definition of extremism. Kyrgyzstan is about 80 percent Muslim, and much of the material that is confiscated is religious, such as sermons by imams who have been critical of the government.

The material includes propaganda for hardline groups including some gruesome videos from groups like ISIS. Also banned are sermons and writings of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group banned in Kyrgyzstan that wants a caliphate but publicly denounces violence to achieve that goal.

The government posts a list of banned materials online, but it is incomplete. So it is almost impossible for anyone to be sure whether material is considered extremist.

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© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Is there anything clearly not extremist on this list?

Yes. For example, the list of banned material includes a film titled “I am gay and Muslim.” This film’s message is simply that there is no conflict in being both.

The list also contains two human rights reports by respected groups, one about migrant workers’ rights, and the other about the inter-ethnic violence and its aftermath in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010. The government banned those reports for “inciting ethnic strife” even though they contained no calls for violence.

Some people said they were arrested for having verses from the Quran.

The government also banned information from jihadology.net, a clearing house for extremist videos and statements that is widely used by Western academics, reporters, and others researching groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda in an effort to understand what they’re doing.

But regardless of whether any of this the material is offensive, people have the right to read it, watch it, or just let it collect dust on their bookshelf. People’s rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion protect even deeply offensive content so long as its are not used to incite violence.

How serious is the problem of armed extremism in Kyrgyzstan?

There is a link between Central Asia and groups like ISIS. Since 2013, between 2,600 and 5,000 Central Asians, including 764 from Kyrgyzstan, are estimated to have traveled to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan to join extremist armed groups. But those numbers are debatable and include people like cooks and mechanics as well as spouses and children.

Also, Central Asian nationals have been implicated in seven attacks, most of them deadly, since 2016. One of these attacks was in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek.

Counterterrorism police carry out a search in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on October 16, 2015. 

© 2016 Ulan Asanaliev/RFE/RL

Shouldn’t the government try to prevent people following groups like ISIS?

Human Rights Watch deplores attacks by armed extremist groups and we share authorities’ concerns about keeping people safe. But the way to go about that is not to throw people in jail for the videos they watch and the books they read.

Rather, authorities should focus on cases where there is credible evidence of criminal intent. Has an individual been making statements online or to friends that they intend to commit violence? What are they planning? We’d like to see the authorities put their money and energy into prosecuting people who are really plotting or carrying out violence.

France and Spain have laws prohibiting what they call  “glorification” of extremist material. We have issues with these laws. Yet they are still not as problematic as Kyrgyzstan’s because they do not outlaw simple possession of material considered extremist.

Does this crackdown focus on any particular ethnic group?

About 75 percent of the population is ethnic Kyrgyz. The Uzbek minority, concentrated in the religiously conservative south, makes up 15 percent, but they make up the largest group by percentage of people prosecuted under this measure.

We did not reach a conclusion on whether ethnic Uzbeks are being targeted. However, many ethnic Uzbeks we spoke to, as well as family members and their lawyers, said they felt the government was targeting them along with religious conservatives.

Human Rights Watch deplores attacks by armed extremist groups and we share authorities’ concerns about keeping people safe. But the way to go about that is not to throw people in jail for the videos they watch and the books they read.

That sentiment fuels underlying tensions that have festered since ethnic violence between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz broke out in June 2010. The fighting left 400 dead, with thousands fleeing their homes. The Uzbek minority bore the brunt of the violence.    Uzbek grievances stemming from the violence remain largely unaddressed yet many ethnic Ukbeks have been prosecuted for their alleged involvement in the violence.

How did you do research for this report?

I interviewed 70 people, most of them during two trips to Kyrgyzstan, and examined several dozen documents including court files on these cases. Most suspects and their families were terrified to speak with me, so I named almost none of them in the report.

The level of fear was sobering and striking. People were scared of being thrown back into jail, of being beaten by police or security forces. One man said to me: “We live in constant fear that at any moment someone will knock on our door with a warrant and take us to prison on false evidence.” That became the title of my report.

Did anybody’s story stick with you?

Many. One was about a young man who I call “Akmal,” from southern Kyrgyzstan. Last year Akmal downloaded several videos onto his cell phone and when he looked at them, he noticed one or more contained violent content. He was at a local bazaar, and he sought out a policeman and showed him one of the videos, thinking that the police should know about it. The policeman called over another officer, confiscated the phone, arrested Akmal, and the next thing he knew he was convicted of possessing extremist material. In court, the police presented no evidence that Akmal wanted to distribute the material, much less go to a place like Syria and join an extremist group.

Why is this crackdown so disconcerting?

First, because people are being abused. Second, because counterterrorism measures that abuse people are not only unlawful, they’re counter-productive. They can backfire and make the problem worse. They can alienate suspects and local communities, including potential allies. And that’s exactly what groups like ISIS want. They want to drive a wedge between potential recruits and local communities and the state. They say, “Look at the horrible things that your government is doing to you, come join us.”

Why might the necessary reforms to change this law not happen?

It’s part of a large package of legal reforms, and authorities have said Kyrgyzstan may not have the capacity to train its prosecutors, lawyers, judges, etcetera, to carry out the changes by January. That’s one reason we say that the UN and other agencies involved in Kyrgyzstan’s counterterrorism measures should help to ensure these reforms are not just adopted, but also carried out.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Counterterrorism police carry out a search in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on October 16, 2015. 

© 2016 Ulan Asanaliev/RFE/RL

(Bishkek) – Kyrgyzstan is convicting hundreds of people for possessing videos, pamphlets, and books that it has banned using a dangerously overbroad definition of extremism, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Offenders are sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison even if they did not distribute the material or use it to incite violence.

The 78-page report, “‘We Live in Constant Fear’: Possession of Extremist Material in Kyrgyzstan,” finds that in some cases, suspects are charged for possessing material that the authorities classified as extremist only after their arrests. Several suspects told Human Rights Watch that police and security agents had planted the material during searches, then demanded payoffs to end investigations. Some said law enforcement officials tortured them to extract confessions.

“Kyrgyzstan should prosecute people for committing or plotting violence, but not for the videos they watch or the books they read,” said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch and the report’s author. “Outlawing mere possession of material vaguely defined as extremist makes it all too easy to unjustly target political opponents, activists, journalists, defense lawyers, and ordinary citizens.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 70 people for the report, most during two visits to Kyrgyzstan, in 2017 and 2018. They included 11 people accused or convicted in these cases, family members of 13 suspects, 17 local human rights defenders and lawyers, and government officials. Human Rights Watch also reviewed 34 court cases and other government documents.

In many cases, the material used in prosecutions did not contain explicit calls for violence, Human Rights Watch found. However, some of the material consisted of recruitment videos or other propaganda for Islamist armed groups. Much of it was from Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-national group banned in Kyrgyzstan that calls for an Islamic caliphate but publicly disavows violence.

Interview: How Not to Fight Terrorism

Interview: How Not to Fight Terrorism

Central Asian governments fear that Islamist armed groups like ISIS are moving closer to the region. As part of efforts to stop these groups from gaining a regional foothold, Kyrgyzstan is imprisoning people for possessing so-called “extremist materials.” Senior researcher Letta Tayler describes why this tactic could do more harm than good.

“We live in constant fear that at any moment, someone will knock on our door with a warrant and take us to prison on false evidence,” said “Sukhrob,” who was convicted in 2017 for possessing a years-old magazine and three pages of literature. Sukhrob said the material was planted.

The prosecutions are part of a broader crackdown in Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries in the name of countering Islamist extremism. Nationals from the region and its diaspora have been implicated in seven attacks by groups such as the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) from June 2016 to July 2018. The attacks killed at least 117 people and injured more than 360.

Human Rights Watch unequivocally condemns such attacks and recognizes that governments have an obligation to protect those under their jurisdiction from harm. However, international law requires governments to define criminal offenses precisely and to respect freedom of expression, including the right to hold even deeply offensive views.

Prosecutions for possessing extremist material in Kyrgyzstan are carried out under article 299-2 of the criminal code, the country’s most widely applied charge against terrorism and extremism suspects. At least 258 people have been convicted under article 299-2 since 2010. According to the most recent data available, several hundred suspects are awaiting trial on the charge and the numbers have increased each year, with 167 new cases opened during the first nine months of 2016.

Since 2013, article 299-2 has criminalized possession of material deemed extremist even if the accused has no intent to disseminate it, making the measure a particularly severe threat to freedom of speech, belief, and expression. Parliament has approved amendments to restore an earlier requirement that possession of extremist material must be “for the purpose of dissemination” to be unlawful. However, government officials have suggested that the amendments may be delayed beyond their scheduled start date of January 2019. The authorities should put the amendments into effect as swiftly as possible.

Moreover, these amendments will not change article 299-2’s reliance on overbroad definitions of extremism in Kyrgyzstan’s 2005 Law on Countering Extremist Activity, which include “affronts to national dignity,” “hooliganism,” and “vandalism.” The determination of whether material is extremist is made by the State Commission for Religious Affairs, which human rights defenders have criticized for insufficient expertise and impartiality. The government has pledged to transfer the reviews to specially trained forensic experts and should do so as soon as possible.

Most article 299-2 arrests are carried out by police from the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ 10th Department or the counterterrorism forces of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB). When asked for comments on alleged abuses including evidence planting and torture by these forces, some government authorities did not respond, while others said any wrongdoing was the work of a few rogue officers.

Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Republic, is officially a secular state. The population is 80 percent Muslim. A 2016 Supreme Court study found that the majority of suspects prosecuted in Kyrgyzstan for terrorism and extremism offenses, including article 299-2, are ethnic Uzbeks from the south. Ethnic Uzbeks comprise less than 15 percent of the population, with the highest concentration in southern Kyrgyzstan, the most religiously conservative part of the country.

Human Rights Watch is not in a position to determine whether article 299-2 is being used to target people on the basis of ethnicity or particular religious views. However, many Uzbek suspects and family members believe this is the case, turning these prosecutions into a potential source of tension.

Since 2012, between 2,600 and 5,000 Central Asians, including 764 from Kyrgyzstan, are estimated to have traveled to Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to join or live under armed groups such as ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The numbers are subject to debate and include family members and others who did not perform combat functions.

The authorities in Kyrgyzstan should revamp article 299-2 and Kyrgyzstan’s overly broad definition of extremism. The country’s courts should promptly review all convictions for mere possession of extremist material.

“Abusive counterterrorism measures are not only unlawful, they can alienate local communities,” Tayler said. “Instead of keeping the public safer, they risk generating support for extremist armed groups.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

Summary

In 2017, “Sukhrob” was convicted of possessing extremist material in Kyrgyzstan after counterterrorism police raided his home and claimed they found a magazine and three other pages of writing from a banned Islamist group.

Sukhrob was not accused of disseminating the banned material, which was several years old. He was not accused of plotting or carrying out violent acts. He repeatedly told the court that the material used to convicted him was planted. Nevertheless, a judge sentenced him to three years of detention. He was released on parole after several months for health reasons but could be returned to custody at any time.

“Nobody saw how the police got that material into their hands—not me, not my family, not my neighbors who witnessed the search,” Sukhrob told Human Rights Watch. “We live in constant fear that at any moment, someone will knock on our door with a warrant and take us to prison on false evidence.”

Sukhrob is one of at least 258 people to be convicted in Kyrgyzstan since 2010 for possessing vaguely defined extremist material under article 299-2 of the Criminal Code, the country’s most widely applied charge against terrorism and extremism suspects. Several hundred suspects are awaiting trial on the charge and the numbers increase each year, with 167 new cases opened during the first nine months of 2016, according to the most recent data available. In many cases the authorities in Kyrgyzstan have been using article 299-2 to imprison suspects solely for non-violent behavior such as possessing banned literature or videos or practicing conservative forms of Islam, a Human Rights Watch investigation found.

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Since 2013, amendments to article 299-2 criminalize possession of material deemed extremist even if the accused has no intent to disseminate it, rendering the measure a particularly severe threat to freedom of belief and expression. In December 2016, following criticism from local and international human rights groups, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament approved amendments to the Criminal Code that will restore the requirement that possessing extremist material cannot be a criminal offense unless it is “for the purpose of dissemination.” The amendments are part of a sweeping package of criminal justice reforms due to take effect in January 2019, but government authorities have warned that technical preparations for the changes are behind schedule and reform advocates are concerned that implementation may be delayed.

Most problematically, the amendments do not address the other central flaw in article 299-2 since its introduction in 2009: its use of an overbroad definition of “extremism.” Article 299-2 relies on the list of so-called extremist offenses in Kyrgyzstan’s 2005 Law on Countering Extremist Activity, which range from acts of terrorism to “affronts to national dignity,” “hooliganism,” and “vandalism.” The determination of whether material is or is not extremist is made by the State Commission for Religious Affairs, a government panel that human rights defenders have criticized for insufficient expertise and impartiality. The government has pledged to transfer reviews of material for extremist content to its forensic service but at time of writing had yet to do so.

In several cases examined by Human Rights Watch, suspects arrested for article 299-2 offences also alleged that they had been subject to one or more due-process abuses such as planting of evidence or ill-treatment. In 11 cases, suspects, their lawyers, or family members said that law enforcement officials planted books, pamphlets, videos, flash drives, or discs with banned material to make arrests or demand payoffs to drop or not bring criminal charges. In six cases, they accused law enforcement officials of beating suspects to extract confessions.

Most article 299-2 arrests are carried out by police from the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ 10th Department or counterterrorism forces of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB).

For the most part, government authorities either did not directly respond to questions about whether law enforcement officials committed abuses in article 299-2 cases or denied allegations of systemic abuse. Three government officials interviewed separately by Human Rights Watch acknowledged that some law enforcement officials carried out torture, evidence planting, and extortion but two of them said such incidents were isolated. “Yes of course we have this problem,” one official said. Some counterterrorism forces in Kyrgyzstan still include “officers and senior managers who work the old way, who still abuse rights and freedoms,” another said.

Kyrgyzstan’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office told Human Rights Watch that it had received “numerous complaints on behalf of religious believers of violations” but that prosecutors had not found any wrongdoing. A senior official in the ombudsman’s office told us that police searches are often a point at which violations can take place. He said the ombudsman’s office plans to investigate allegations of abuse under article 299-2 and prison conditions for terrorism and extremism detainees in the latter half of 2018. At time of writing, however, the ombudsman’s position was vacant.

The Prosecutor General’s Office told Human Rights Watch that no law enforcement officials have been disciplined or prosecuted for ill-treating suspects during questioning or investigations for extremism- or terrorism-related offenses.

Both the United Nations Committee Against Torture and Kyrgyzstan’s National Center for the Prevention of Torture have confirmed the use of torture by law enforcement officials in Kyrgyzstan and raised concerns about it with the government.

While this report focuses on the overly aggressive application of article 299-2, several concerns we raise, including treatment of terrorism suspects, also apply to the broader government response in Kyrgyzstan to the rise of transnational Islamist armed groups such as the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Syria-based Jabhat al-Nusra (which now calls itself Tahrir al-Sham), and their affiliates. Since 2012, between 2,600 and 5,000 Central Asians, including 764 from Kyrgyzstan, are estimated to have traveled to Syria, Iraq and, to a lesser degree, Afghanistan to join such groups. The numbers are subject to debate and include family members and others who did not perform combat functions.

Nationals from Central Asian countries including Kyrgyzstan, some from the diaspora, have been implicated in at least seven attacks by extremist armed groups including ISIS between 2016 and July 2018—two in Istanbul and one each in St. Petersburg, Stockholm, New York City, the Khatlon region of southern Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek. At least 117 people were killed and more than 360 injured in the attacks.

Human Rights Watch unequivocally condemns such attacks and calls on governments to hold those responsible to account. We recognize that governments have an obligation to protect those within their borders from harm. At the same time, all responses must comply with international law. As the UN has repeatedly warned and Human Rights Watch has documented, not only are abusive counterterrorism measures unlawful, they also can be counterproductive by alienating local communities and generating support for extremist armed groups.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 70 people and reviewed 34 article 299-2 cases for this report. Interviews were conducted in Kyrgyzstan in June and July 2017 and May 2018 and by telephone and Internet telecommunications. Interviewees included 11 people accused or convicted under article 299-2, 13 suspects’ family members, 17 local human rights defenders and lawyers working on such cases, three government security officials, and a senior official from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office. Human Rights Watch also reviewed court records on 23 article 299-2 cases, as well as government documents, media reports, and social media postings about such cases.

The court records included 18 evaluations by the State Commission for Religious Affairs of materials it classified as extremist. In 14 of those cases, the material did not include violent content—for example, acts of physical abuse—or incitement to violence. In the four other cases, suspects were accused of possessing one or more recruitment videos or other propaganda for Islamist armed groups in Syria, but none of those cases included evidence that the accused had disseminated the material.

Government officials said much of the extremist material found in the possession of individuals prosecuted under article 299-2 is sermons and other writings from Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), a pan-national Islamist movement that is banned in more than a dozen countries including Kyrgyzstan. Hizb ut-Tahrir seeks to establish a caliphate throughout the Muslim world based on Islamic law but publicly disavows efforts to achieve its goals through violent means.

A 2016 Supreme Court study found that a majority of suspects prosecuted in Kyrgyzstan for terrorism and extremism offenses, including article 299-2, are ethnic Uzbeks from the south. Ethnic Uzbeks comprise just under 15 percent of the population nationwide with the highest concentration in southern Kyrgyzstan, the most religiously conservative part of the country. Longstanding ethnic Uzbek grievances, including those linked to deadly inter-ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010, remain largely unaddressed by the government.

Human Rights Watch is not in a position to determine whether individuals prosecuted under article 299-2 are targeted on the basis of ethnicity or suspected affiliation with conservative religious movements. However, many Uzbek suspects and family members believe this is the case, turning these prosecutions into a potential source of tension. The Ministry of Internal Affairs wrote to Human Rights Watch that since 2010, the first full year that article 299-2 was in force, it had received no complaints of ethnic targeting by its law enforcement officials. The GKNB did not respond to requests for comment on the topic.

In 2016, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament, the Jogorku Kenesh, heightened penalties for article 299-2 convictions by requiring prison terms for those found guilty: three to five years for first-time offenders and seven to 10 years for repeat offenders or in aggravating circumstances.

To avert violent radicalization inside prisons, Kyrgyzstan in 2016 began moving terrorism- and extremism-related detainees into wards that are segregated from the general prison population. Representatives of some UN agencies and other international and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern to Human Rights Watch that government authorities were not separating violent offenders from those serving time for lesser offenses such as possession of extremist material.

Former prisoners, human rights lawyers, and family members of current detainees complained to Human Rights Watch of degrading prison conditions including stinking toilets in cells, inadequate food and medical care, and overcrowding. Rather than prioritize recreational and rehabilitation programs, deradicalization efforts have focused on surveillance measures such as close-circuit television cameras to monitor prisoners’ every move.

Human Rights Watch recognizes the challenge of preventing violent radicalization in prisons. However, all prisoners retain all human rights protected under international law subject only to such limitations demonstrably inherent to the fact of incarceration. Core rights during incarceration include rights to bodily integrity, humane conditions of detention, and access to adequate and appropriate health care.

In its correspondence with Human Rights Watch, the State Penitentiary Service (GSIN) denied prison conditions are degrading. GSIN noted that it is working with the UN Office of Drugs and Crime to improve detention facilities and programs.

Kyrgyzstan is one of eight former Warsaw Pact countries to have adopted measures prohibiting possession of extremist material, using a Russian counter-extremism law as a model.

The arrests and prosecutions under article 299-2 violate fundamental rights and freedoms including the right to privacy, freedom of religion, expression and association, freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, and the right to a fair trial.

The authorities in Kyrgyzstan should ensure that amendments to the Criminal Code that will de-criminalize possession of extremist material absent evidence of distribution or intended distribution for violent purposes are fully and effectively implemented as scheduled on January 1, 2019. They should also promptly narrow the overbroad definition of what constitutes extremist material under the country’s Law on Countering Extremist Activity of 2005. In the meantime, they should immediately halt prosecutions for possession of extremist material absent clear evidence of intent to use or disseminate it to incite violence.

In addition, prosecutors and the courts should promptly conduct an independent review, with the participation of international legal experts, of all article 299-2 cases, and vacate convictions in cases that are based on tainted evidence or do not include use or intent to incite or commit violent acts. They also should impartially investigate and prosecute allegations of planted evidence, torture, and forced confessions. The GKNB and 10th Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs should adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward abuses by the security forces.

International partners including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), UN agencies, the European Union and its member states, and the United States should condition counterterrorism assistance to Kyrgyzstan on human rights benchmarks. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the OSCE should continue to document and publicly report on the human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan and be available to assist the government in bringing its policies and actions into compliance with international human rights standards.

 

Methodology

This report is based on research carried out by Human Rights Watch between June 2017 and May 2018 including two trips to Kyrgyzstan, in June and July 2017 and in May 2018.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 70 people, including 11 people accused or convicted of possession of extremist material, family members of 13 suspects, and 17 local human rights defenders and lawyers working on such cases. We also spoke with Kyrgyzstan-based journalists; local and foreign academics and independent experts on religion, violent extremism, or security in Central Asia; Bishkek-based diplomats; and members of international organizations including the UN and the Organization for Security and Economic Co-operation in Europe. In addition, we met with three senior government security officials and a senior official with the ombudsman’s office.

Human Rights Watch also reviewed court records and government documents, media reports, academic studies, and social media postings about article 299-2 and other extremism-related cases.

Most interviews took place in person in Kyrgyzstan in locations including Bishkek, Osh, and the Lake Issyk-Kul region, and with others by telephone and Internet telecommunications. Interviews were conducted in English, or in Russian, Kyrgyz, or Uzbek through an interpreter.

Human Rights Watch informed interviewees of the nature and purpose of our research, and our intention to publish the information we gathered. We obtained oral consent for each interview, and informed interviewees of their right to stop or pause the interview at any time, and to decline to answer any question. Human Rights Watch followed procedures to avoid re-traumatizing interviewees. We advised that Human Rights Watch does not provide direct humanitarian services and did not offer any incentives for interviews. In some cases, Human Rights Watch provided modest reimbursements for travel expenses.

In 2017 and in 2018, Human Rights Watch sent detailed questions and summaries of our preliminary findings to Kyrgyzstan’s ministries of Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs, and Justice; the Prosecutor General’s Office; the Prime Minister; the Security Council Secretariat; the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) and the State Penitentiary Service (GSIN); and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office. All government entities except the Prime Minister’s office responded, however many did not answer all questions. The government’s responses are reflected in this report.

Human Rights Watch has used pseudonyms for most suspects and family members. We have in most cases removed additional identifying information such as hometowns and dates and locations of arrests and interviews to protect the interviewees’ privacy and minimize the risk of reprisals for sharing their accounts. Human Rights Watch also withheld identification of most human rights defenders and other civil society members, as well as lawyers, journalists, members of international organizations, and diplomats, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic or in order not to jeopardize their ongoing activities. Human Rights Watch also withheld the names of others who were willing to reveal their identities out of concerns that they would be subject to undue scrutiny.

 

Background

Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked, former Soviet republic of 6 million people in Central Asia. Although popular revolts unseated two consecutive leaders in 2005 and 2010, Kyrgyzstan subsequently adopted a parliamentary system and has twice undergone peaceful transfer of presidential power. The country has seen notable improvements in human rights since independence. Yet serious human rights violations persist.

Justice and law-enforcement systems are weak, and impunity for torture and ill-treatment in places of detention is the norm.[1] Inter-ethnic grievances remain largely unaddressed.[2] External assessments indicate that government corruption is widespread, with Kyrgyzstan ranking 135 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.[3] Pervasive poverty and unemployment have prompted the exodus of more than 700,000 people seeking work in Russia, South Korea, Turkey, and beyond.[4]

Government and security experts estimate that hundreds of Kyrgyzstan nationals, many from the diaspora, have joined extremist armed groups such as the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).[5] According to security analysts, some may espouse violent jihad for ideological reasons, while others appear motivated at least in part by factors such as government inefficiency and corruption, poverty, or ethnic marginalization.[6]

Religious Freedom

Officially, Kyrgyzstan’s population is 80 percent Muslim. While the state is staunchly secular, following decades of official atheism under Soviet rule, Islam is increasingly popular. The number of mosques and other Islamic organizations has grown from 39 in 1991, when Kyrgyzstan gained independence, to 2,595 in 2016.[7]

Kyrgyzstan endorses the Hanafi school of Islam, which it calls “traditional.”[8] In response to the spread of Salafism and other fundamentalist strands of Islam in recent years, authorities in Kyrgyzstan have become increasingly repressive, according to local human rights defenders.[9] Government rhetoric against fundamentalist Islamic ideology and dress has at times been strident.[10]

Proposed amendments to the country’s 2009 Law on Freedom of Religion and Religious Organizations would place further, excessive restrictions on collective religious practices.[11]

Ethnicity Issues

A Supreme Court study from 2016 found that a majority of suspects prosecuted for terrorism- or extremism-related offenses are ethnic Uzbeks from southern Kyrgyzstan.[12] The highest concentration of ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan is in the south. Nationwide, less than 15 percent of the population is ethnic Uzbek, while nearly 73 percent is ethnic Kyrgyz.[13]

Ethnic Uzbeks endured the majority of casualties in the 2010 violence, which took place in southern Kyrgyzstan. Of the nearly 2,000 homes that were destroyed during the violence, most belonged to ethnic Uzbeks. In the aftermath, Uzbeks were disproportionately subjected to arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture. At time of writing, the authorities still had taken no meaningful action to address the abuses endured by the Uzbek community during the violence or to review torture-tainted convictions delivered after the clashes.[14]

More recently, journalists and human rights defenders who raise ethnic Uzbek concerns have been subject to investigation and prosecution.[15]

International Counterterrorism Cooperation

Kyrgyzstan receives counterterrorism assistance from United Nations agencies including the Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), as well as countries including Russia and China—its chief economic partners—and the US. The European Union is increasing counterterrorism and security ties with all Central Asian countries.

The UN is actively engaged with Kyrgyzstan on regional security issues including counterterrorism. The UNODC works with authorities in Kyrgyzstan on projects including countering violent radicalization and improving detention conditions in prisons, and on technical training, in some cases in cooperation with the OSCE.[16] In 2017, the UN appointed a counterterrorism adviser to Central Asia.[17] Counterterrorism since 2011 has also been a focal point for the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia.[18]

The EU is increasing ties with Kyrgyzstan and other Asian countries including on counterterrorism, border control, and other security concerns.[19] At time of writing the EU was negotiating an enhanced bilateral agreement with Kyrgyzstan that is expected to include a counterterrorism component. The EU allocated €184 million (US$226.4 million) for 2014-2020 for Kyrgyzstan projects including preventing torture and corruption and strengthening government dialogue with civil society.[20]

Kyrgyzstan is a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the country’s President Sooronbai Jeenbekov in May 2018 called Russia and the CSTO key counterterrorism allies.[21] It is also a member of the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), whose pledges include countering terrorism, separatism, and extremism.[22]

Kyrgyzstan borders China’s Xinjiang province, where Chinese authorities are conducting abusive campaigns against Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the name of countering terrorism. The campaigns target anyone who expresses, even peacefully, his or her religious or cultural identity.[23] Beijing pledged $14.6 million in military aid to Kyrgyzstan in 2017.[24]

The US gave more than $515 million in security aid to Kyrgyzstan between 2001, when it began using the country’s Manas air base as a key transit station for its troops in Afghanistan, and 2017. In 2014, Kyrgyzstan ended the US lease on Manas.[25]

 

Security Threats and Counterterrorism

Kyrgyzstan has suffered relatively few major incidents involving extremist armed groups in recent years. However, reports of Central Asians fighting in Syria, along with the country’s proximity to Afghanistan to the south and Xinjiang province in China to the east, have prompted officials at home and abroad to express fears that Kyrgyzstan might serve as fertile ground for armed extremists to recruit and carry out attacks.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the regional group Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) kidnapped several people in Kyrgyzstan—including four Japanese geologists and four American mountain climbers—and attacked security targets inside the country.[26] In 2012, thousands of Central Asians, including from Kyrgyzstan, were reported to have joined a global flow of fighters traveling to Syria and Iraq to enlist with ISIS and other extremist armed groups. In 2015, ISIS released its first recruitment video geared at Kyrgyzstan.[27]

Authorities in Russia, Central Asia, Europe, and the US have accused nationals from Central Asian countries including Kyrgyzstan of involvement in seven separate, high-profile extremist armed attacks from 2016 to July 2018. Two attacks took place in Istanbul; the others were carried out in St. Petersburg, Stockholm, New York City, the Khatlon region of southern Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek. The attacks killed at least 117 people and injured more than 360. ISIS has claimed, inspired, or been linked by domestic authorities to five of the attacks.[28]

Human Rights Watch unequivocally condemns such attacks. We recognize that governments have a duty to hold those responsible for such attacks to account and to protect those living under their jurisdiction from harm. However, all such efforts must comply with international law. While this report focuses on the overly aggressive application of article 299-2, the concerns that we raise regarding abuse of suspects also apply to the broader spectrum of the government’s counterterrorism responses.

Foreign Fighters

Since 2012, the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee estimates that some 30,000 foreign fighters have joined Sunni militant groups in Iraq and Syria including ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and their affiliates.[29] Various studies estimate that 2,600 to 5,000 of these foreign fighters are Central Asians.[30]

Estimates of foreign fighters should be treated with caution.[31] Several independent experts on security in Central Asia have expressed concern that regional and domestic actors manipulate the numbers—up or down—for political and economic support, or to justify crackdowns on fundamentalist Muslims and ethnic minorities.[32] Perceptions that recruitment is high in the diaspora may also be exaggerated.[33]

The GKNB told Human Rights Watch that 764 nationals—615 males and 149 females, including 107 children—had joined extremist armed organizations such as ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (which now calls itself Tahrir al-Sham) in countries including Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan since 2012. Of those, the GKNB said 180 were fighters killed in action and another 100 were in custody in Kyrgyzstan.[34] The GKNB did not provide further details. A senior government official told Human Rights Watch that the highest swell was in 2015 and 2016, and that only about 200 remained as of May 2018.[35] About one-half of those who joined extremist armed groups abroad were cooks, cleaners, family members, and other non-combatants, the official said. More than 90 percent were ethnic Uzbeks, about 12 percent were women, and about 4 percent were children, he said. At least one-third of those who left were killed, and about 48 had been captured or surrendered.[36]

The official told Human Right Watch that nationals had joined extremist armed groups including ISIS, the Syrian-based Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliates, and the IMU.[37]

Much of the recruitment of nationals appeared to take place in diaspora communities in countries such as Russia and Turkey, the government official said, but he also expressed concern over potential sleeper cells.[38]

Following the US-led coalition’s defeat of ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, in 2017, officials in Kyrgyzstan feared Central Asian foreign fighters might return home or join groups such as the Afghanistan-based Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP).[39]

State Responses

Government responses to the foreign fighter phenomenon in Kyrgyzstan have included repressive measures such as arresting hundreds of people on vaguely-defined terrorism and extremism charges.[40] The responses also include torture and blacklisting.

Torture of Suspects

Kyrgyzstan has a documented history of torture or ill-treatment of criminal suspects. In its last report on Kyrgyzstan, in 2013, the UN Committee Against Torture wrote that it was “deeply concerned about the ongoing and widespread practice of torture and ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty, in particular while in police custody to extract confessions.”[41] It deplored a “persistent pattern” of “impunity for State officials allegedly responsible.”[42]

The government has acknowledged that torture occurs in Kyrgyzstan and has committed to ending it.[43] In 2013, it approved the establishment of the National Center for the Prevention of Torture. The center reported receiving 217 complaints in 2017, including 104 for torture and 25 for ill-treatment. Of those complaints, 95 percent alleged abuse by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which includes the Service for Combatting Extremism and Illegal Migration, known as the 10th Department counterterrorism police. Another 8 percent alleged abuse by the GKNB and 1 percent alleged abuse inside GSIN facilities.[44]

At time of writing, the National Center had initiated only nine criminal cases in response to torture complaints, according to its website.[45]

In 2016, the Prosecutor General’s Office received 435 allegations of torture and ill-treatment, and as of February 2018 the courts were considering 48 criminal cases alleging torture.[46] In 2016 and 2017, the courts handed down only one conviction of law enforcement officers for torture and three convictions for abuse of office related to ill-treatment.[47]

Banned Groups including Hizb ut-Tahrir

Government authorities have proscribed 21 organizations as terrorist or extremist. The list includes ISIS and the Taliban. It also includes Central Asian armed groups that have fought or fight in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan such as the IMU, the Monotheism and Jihad Front (Jamaat at-Tawhid wal-Jihad, also known as the Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad battalion, or KTJ), and the Imam Bukhari Battalion (also known as Katibat Imam al Bukhari, or KIB).[48]

The list also includes Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), a pan-national Islamist movement whose suspected members are often charged with extremism- and terrorism-related offenses in Kyrgyzstan. Hizb ut-Tahrir seeks to establish a caliphate throughout the Muslim world based on Sharia, or Islamic law. The movement publicly disavows efforts to achieve its goals through violent means. Nevertheless, it calls for an end to secular statehood in Muslim-majority countries. Hizb ut-Tahrir is proscribed in more than a dozen countries. Kyrgyzstan banned it in 2003, saying it seeks the government’s overthrow.[49]

Some international security analysts express concern that Hizb ut-Tahrir is among groups that may serve as “unwitting” bridges for followers to join extremist armed groups.[50] However, some security analysis and members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also contend that government authorities intentionally blur the lines between terrorism and Hizb ut-Tahrir.[51]

While it falls within Kyrgyzstan’s discretion to proscribe Hizb ut-Tahrir, all application of criminal law must comport with international standards on due process and focus on criminal conduct, not punish exercise of basic rights such as free speech, opinion, and association. Banning an organization should be a last resort, and the organization should be able to contest the ban in court.

Extremist Watch List

The Ministry of Internal Affairs had placed 4,154 people on its extremist watch list as of October 2016, the most recent date for which figures were available.[52] The listed individuals are suspected of unlawful activities including membership in proscribed groups, particularly Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Local human rights defenders accused the authorities of routinely placing people on the list because they appear through dress and manner to adhere to religious ideologies other than state-sponsored Islam or are members of ethnic minorities.[53]

Internet Restrictions

Kyrgyzstan has dramatically increased Internet censorship as part of its counterterrorism measures. Since July 2016, amendments to the Civil Procedure Code allow prosecutors to block websites containing content they deem to be extremist or terrorist for up to five days before obtaining court approval.[54] Courts blocked 159 alleged terrorism-related Internet sites and pages in 2017, nearly double the 86 sites blocked for alleged terrorism-related content in 2016.[55] In May 2018, the Supreme Court blocked 25 more Internet sites including SoundCloud, a music-sharing platform with more than 175 million listeners worldwide.[56]

 

Criminalizing Possession of Extremist Material

Article 299-2 of the Criminal Code of Kyrgyzstan as applied at time of writing criminalizes possession—using a word that translates directly as “storage”—of vaguely-defined extremist material, regardless of whether the suspect distributes it, or uses or intends to use it to commit or incite violence. The provision falls under article 299, which lays out offenses on “inciting national, racial, religious or inter-regional hostility.”[57]

Article 299-2 was enacted in 2009 and is modeled on a provision in a 2002 Russian counter-extremism law that Kyrgyzstan and seven other former Warsaw Pact countries have used as a template.[58] Initially, the provision in Kyrgyzstan criminalized possession of extremist material only if the aim was distribution. This material element of the offence was eliminated in Kyrgyzstan in 2013. Amendments to article 299-2 scheduled for January 2019 (described below) will reintroduce the intent requirement. They will not however address other highly problematic aspects of the offence.

The application of article 299-2 at time of writing violates provisions of international human rights law including the rights to freedom of religion, expression, and association. In addition, overbroad and insufficiently publicized interpretations of extremism used to convict suspects under article 299-2 violate the requirement that criminal law should classify and describe punishable offences in sufficiently precise and unambiguous language so that the accused can know when their actions are unlawful.[59]

No Intent Required

As originally enacted in 2009, article 299-2 criminalized “the acquisition, storage [possession], transportation and transfer of extremist materials for the purpose of distribution, or their production and distribution, as well as the deliberate use of symbols or attributes of extremist organizations [emphasis added].”[60]

In 2013, amid rising concerns about recruitment in Kyrgyzstan to Hizb ut-Tahrir as well as extremist armed groups, the government amended article 299-2 to criminalize “the acquisition, manufacture, storage, distribution, transportation and transfer of extremist materials, as well as the deliberate use of symbols or attributes of extremist organizations,” but removed the requirement that to be criminal, the suspect must have distributed or intends to distribute the material.[61] Each element of the crime is a separate offense.

More than a dozen defense lawyers, human rights groups, and representatives of international NGOs told Human Rights Watch that they considered article 299-2 to be dangerously misguided.[62] “The authorities are not addressing the cause, they are addressing the effect,” one member of an international NGO said. “They are punishing the people who receive the information, not the people responsible for distributing it to them or the conditions that may attract them to violent radicalism.”[63]

Since 2016, convictions under article 299-2 carry mandatory prison terms of three to five years for first-time offenders and seven to 10 years for repeat offenders or for aggravating circumstances such as distributing the material in public.[64]

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan has declined to consider two separate complaints contesting the constitutionality of article 299-2 following the amendments in 2013.[65]

The human rights ombudsman plans to monitor prosecutions under article 299-2 in the latter half of 2018 and note any violations in its year-end reporting, a senior official with the office told Human Rights Watch.[66] However, the human rights ombudsman who made that pledge resigned in June, and the post has not been filled at time of writing.[67]

Insufficient Reforms

Following criticism from local and international human rights groups that article 299-2 criminalized free speech and other internationally protected rights, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament, the Jogorku Kenesh, in December 2016 approved further amendments to the Criminal Code that will restore the requirement that acquiring or possessing material deemed extremist cannot be a criminal offense unless it is “for the purpose of dissemination.”[68] The change is scheduled to enter into force on January 1, 2019 as part of a vast package of criminal justice reforms. However, government officials have warned that they are behind schedule.[69]

Representatives from civil society groups and international organizations including NGOs said implementation may be delayed due to the need to train the police and GKNB forces, prosecutors, and court officials on the modifications.[70] In addition, at the time of writing, there have been no steps to halt or impose a moratorium on prosecutions for mere possession of banned material. Most problematically, the 2019 amendment does not change the overbroad definition of extremism used in article 299-2 cases, as well as mandatory prison sentences for that offense, neither of which are part of the criminal reform package.

Overbroad Definition of Extremism

Article 299-2 relies on the overbroad definition of what constitutes extremism or extremist material in Kyrgyzstan’s 2005 Law on Countering Extremist Activity. That 2005 law’s list of extremist offenses includes serious crimes, such as intended or actual acts of terrorism, that are based on “ideological, political, racial, national (ethnic) or religious hatred or enmity.” However, the list also includes “affronts to national dignity,” as well as lesser crimes such as “hooliganism” and “vandalism.” The 2005 law also criminalizes justification of, or public calls to support such activities, as well as financing or otherwise facilitating them. It defines extremist materials as any documents or information that call for or justify extremist views.[71]

“This vague interpretation of extremism could allow prosecutors and judges to condemn whoever they want for whatever they want,” said Noah Tucker, a Prague-based scholar who studies Central Asian radicalism.[72]

There is no universal legal definition of extremism or terrorism under international law. The UN Human Rights Committee has warned of the dangers of overly broad use of such terms in the context of freedom of expression, cautioning that:

Such offences as “encouragement of terrorism” and “extremist activity,” as well as offences of “praising,” “glorifying,” or “justifying” terrorism, should be clearly defined to ensure that they do not lead to unnecessary or disproportionate interference with freedom of expression.[73]

Article 19, a UK-based NGO that defends the fundamental right to freedom of expression, expressed concern in 2015 that the Law on Countering Extremist Activity is “extremely broad” and might be “an illegitimate attempt by the Kyrgyz government to restrict civil space and shut down minority voices.”[74] It added that the definition of extremist materials “suggests that the government is giving itself the power to prevent access to any material which it does not approve of.”[75]

List of Proscribed Content

The Law on Countering Extremist Activity requires the government to maintain a public list of proscribed content.[76] However, for years the Ministry of Justice website created for this purpose did not include much of the material used to convict suspects under article 299-2 and, according to human rights defenders, remains incomplete.[77] As of May 2018, the Ministry of Justice had listed 22 court decisions banning material.

Most of the 22 court decisions contained multiple entries, some banning websites featuring the content of extremist armed groups or Hizb ut-Tahrir sermons, others banning articles in mainstream, online media, or reports by human rights organizations.[78] The banned websites include Jihadology.net, a leading clearinghouse for extremist armed videos and messages that is widely used by Western academics.[79] Proscribed material also includes the film “I am Gay and Muslim.”[80]

The counter-extremism law does not specify that the list be exhaustive and calls only for periodic updates.[81] An incomplete list raises serious questions as to whether the accused would know that possession of particular materials was unlawful.

When asked to comment, the Ministry of Justice said government agencies periodically update the list upon receipt from the courts of rulings that designate material as extremist, as provided under the counter-extremism law.[82]

Problematic Screening of Material

Prosecutors and judges often apply elastic interpretations of the extremist acts listed in Law on Countering Extremist Activity of 2005 in article 299-2 cases, according to 11 human rights defenders, lawyers, and religion experts interviewed by Human Rights Watch. Their observations are supported by Human Rights Watch reviews of court papers. These interpretations are made by Kyrgyzstan’s State Commission for Religious Affairs, a panel created to examine the content of books and other material entering Kyrgyzstan from abroad, or to experts hired by the commission to evaluate the content.

The human rights defenders, lawyers, and religion experts told Human Rights Watch that the commission’s in-house and contract examiners lack sufficient training to identify potentially criminal content. Frequently, they said, the expert opinions failed to include a finding that possession of the content posed a threat to national security.[83] They also questioned the commission’s impartiality.[84]

Several defense lawyers also said that in many cases the material used to convict suspects had not been banned through a previous court ruling as required under domestic criminal procedure. Instead, they said, that concurrent with handing down the conviction, the courts simply rubber-stamp the religious commission’s finding that the content was extremist.[85]

In its 2016 study of terrorism- and extremism-related cases, Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court raised concerns about lower courts’ reliance on these examinations, concluding that the examiners tended to review material from a theological perspective—that is, through the prism of a particular creed or set of beliefs, rather than through a more “neutral,” religious perspective based on academic and scientific knowledge. The study also noted that in several cases, the religious examiners’ conclusions “use the same wording,” suggesting the reviews lacked nuance and individualization.[86]

Human Rights Watch reviewed 18 commission opinions from 2014 to 2018 that courts used in article 299-2 convictions.[87] The material in question included three recruitment videos from armed extremist groups, a video of a Hizb ut-Tahrir funeral, and several pamphlets and videos of Hizb ut-Tahrir sermons. Some of the content might well be considered offensive or inflammatory. However, none of the reviewers concluded that the material contained calls to overthrow the government of Kyrgyzstan by force, one of the main questions prosecutors asked them to consider.

“Although the material does not contain explicit calls to change the constitutional order of the Kyrgyz Republic, the above-mentioned religious extremist party [Hizb ut-Tahrir] and its goals are against the Constitution,” reads one typically worded conclusion from 2017.[88]

Desiring any kind of state, including a caliphate, absent violence or intended violence, is protected under the right to freedom of opinion.

In a written response to Human Rights Watch, the State Commission for Religious Affairs wrote that staff members conducting religious examinations “have a relevant religious studies and theology background.”[89] The response also noted that the commission is allowed under law to hire outside experts to conduct reviews.

At time of writing, the government had committed to transferring evaluations of potentially extremist material to the State Service for Forensic Expertise as soon as staff could be trained to review the content from religious, linguistic, and psychological perspectives.[90]

The combination of overly broad definitions of extremism, questionable expert determinations of whether specific material meets that definition, and the Ministry of Justice’s delays in maintaining a comprehensive list of banned materials raises serious questions as to whether individuals possessing allegedly extremist material are even aware that they may be committing a crime by doing so.

 

Arrests and Convictions

According to the most recently available data, from 2010 through September 2016, courts in Kyrgyzstan convicted at least 258 people under article 299-2 of the Criminal Code.[91] That makes article 299-2 the country’s most widely used charge in terrorism or extremism cases in recent years. Another 167 cases were opened under article 299-2 during the first nine months of 2016.[92]

Government authorities did not provide Human Rights Watch with the more recent annual data we requested on article 299-2 arrests and convictions. Moreover, the government data we were able to compile on article 299-2 contained discrepancies and omissions, hence these figures should be viewed as estimates.

More broadly, the Ministry of Internal Affairs told Human Rights Watch that in 2017 alone, law enforcement authorities detained 565 people for questioning and opened 229 investigations into extremism-related offenses.[93] That compares to 418 detentions and 180 new investigations in 2016 and 278 detentions in 2015.[94]

As of June 2018, according to the State Penitentiary Service, 540 people were imprisoned or serving conditional sentences on extremism- or terrorism-related charges. Defense lawyers told Human Rights Watch that the majority of arrests and convictions were under article 299-2.[95]

While article 299-2 does allow prosecutions for distribution of extremist material, defense lawyers and civil society members told Human Rights Watch that the vast majority of cases under this provision are for mere possession of religious pamphlets, literature, or videos and speeches—often contained on cellphones, discs, or flash drives—that the State Commission for Religious Affairs determined to be extremist, with no evidence of dissemination. (See preceding chapter.) Although in some cases the material deemed extremist does include violent content or calls to commit violent jihad, most of it does not show or depict violence, defense lawyers said.[96]

Human Rights Watch reviewed 34 cases of individuals charged or convicted for possession of extremist material under article 299-2 and examined court documents in 23 cases. In none of the court documents that Human Rights Watch reviewed did the authorities present credible evidence that the accused used or intended to distribute the material to cause physical harm to populations for political, religious, or ideological purposes.

In 11 of the 34 cases that Human Rights Watch examined, the suspects, their family members, or their lawyers accused the police of planting material that was used to charge or convict them. In three cases, suspects or their lawyers alleged that the police used fake witnesses. Seven cases included allegations that the police or security officers had tortured or otherwise ill-treated suspects, in some cases to extract confessions. Five former suspects or members of their families said the police had harassed them. Several cases involved two or more such allegations, such as planting of evidence and extortion.

Nearly all the cases we examined are from locations in southern Kyrgyzstan including the regional capital of Osh, the city of Jalal-Abad, and the districts of Aravan, Kara Suu, Nookat, and Uzgen. The arrests were carried out by counterterrorism forces of the GKNB and the Interior Ministry’s 10th Department. Diplomats, NGOs, and security experts have criticized these forces for corruption, inadequate staffing, and cumbersome bureaucracy.[97] Both units reportedly operate with little regulation or oversight.[98]

Government Responses

For the most part, government authorities did not directly respond to questions about whether law enforcement officials committed abuses in article 299-2 cases or denied any allegations of systemic abuse. In separate meetings with Human Rights Watch, three government officials who work on security issues acknowledged that torture, evidence planting, and extortion took place.

“Yes of course we have this problem,” one official said, blaming it on a pervasive culture of corruption, insufficient education, and lack of professional opportunities.[99] The other two officials said the Ministry of Internal Affairs repeatedly trains police on the importance of building trust within local communities and said abuse was isolated.[100]

“The Kyrgyz people have an old saying: all five fingers are different,” said an official with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. “And every law enforcement officer is different. There are some people among us who commit acts of violence, but the number is very limited.” In many cases suspects are harmed only when resisting arrest, and members of Hizb ut-Tahrir are trained to fabricate complaints that are spread on social media, the official said.[101] He urged victims to file complaints with the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The third official said domestic counterterrorism forces still include “officers and senior managers who work the old way, who still abuse rights and freedoms.”[102] The three officials agreed that abusive responses were counterproductive and played into the narrative of extremist armed groups.

The Prosecutor General’s Office wrote to Human Rights Watch that no law enforcement officials have been disciplined or prosecuted for ill-treating suspects during questioning or investigations for extremism- or terrorism-related offenses.[103]

Regarding allegations of torture of suspects in extremism and terrorism cases, the Prosecutor General’s Office wrote to Human Watch that at time of writing that it had received 42 complaints since 2010 alleging torture and ill-treatment of 51 suspects, none of which led to prosecutions or convictions of any accused or suspected law enforcement officials.[104] The office did not provide requested statistics for complaints regarding suspects in article 299-2 cases.

In a survey conducted in May 2017 for the National Center by the non-governmental Kyrgyzstan Coalition Against Torture, 18 of 28 prisoners detained for terrorism-related offenses alleged they had been tortured.[105]

Human Rights Watch also received information from defense lawyers, civil society members including a member of the Anti-Torture Coalition, and victims or their family members on 13 cases of alleged torture between 2014 and 2017 of people accused of terrorism- or extremism-related crimes (see Arrests and Convictions chapter).

The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office wrote to Human Rights Watch that it had received “numerous complaints on behalf of religious believers regarding violations” by police officers, GKNB agents, prosecutors, and the State Commission for Religious Affairs during searches and prosecutions. “We referred these allegations to relevant prosecutorial authorities asking them to investigate. The investigations failed to confirm the allegations,” the letter said.[106] In a meeting in May, a senior official with the office said that police searches are “often” a time when “violations take place.”[107]

Affiliations of Suspects

Human rights lawyers and a government security official told Human Rights Watch that the largest category of article 299-2 prosecutions by group were for possession of Hizb ut-Tahrir material, and they noted that since 2016 the types of material used in prosecutions has broadened. Several of the 34 article 299-2 cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch also alleged possession of Hizb ut-Tahrir material. The majority of people arrested for terrorism and extremism offenses—most of whom were accused under article 299-2—were ethnic Uzbeks, a 2016 Supreme Court study found.

From 2013 to 2015, 252 people were convicted in Kyrgyzstan on terrorism and extremism charges, of whom 213 were found guilty under article 299-2, according to the Supreme Court study. Of those 252, more than half—136—were from the ethnic Uzbek minority, and more than half the convictions were from courts in southern Kyrgyzstan, the study said.[108] In June, the Ministry of Internal Affairs wrote to Human Rights Watch that extremism “prevails” in the south of the country, with 40 percent of all arrests taking place in Jalal-Abad and Osh regions alone.[109]

Human Rights Watch is not in a position to determine whether those arrested under article 299-2 are targeted for any particular reason such as suspected membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, ethnicity, or adherence to particular forms of Islam. Southern Kyrgyzstan has the country’s highest concentration of ethnic Uzbeks. It is also the country’s most religiously conservative area, and government officials and religious scholars told Human Rights Watch that Hizb ut-Tahrir has a following there.[110] In the past two to three years, ethnic Kyrgyz have been arrested under article 299-2, they said.

A counterterrorism official with the Ministry of Internal Affairs told Human Rights Watch that the government was not targeting suspects based on ethnicity. Rather, he said, historically, extremist armed groups such as IMU had strong roots in southern Kyrgyzstan following the collapse of the Soviet Union but that in recent years, violent radicalization was spreading to the north and increasingly was attracting ethnic Kyrgyz followers as well.[111]

In a written statement to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of Internal Affairs said, “there are no complaints against its officials” regarding ethnic discrimination in counterterrorism or counter-extremism operations in recent years.[112] The GKNB did not respond to a request for comment on the topic.

However, several human rights defenders and suspects told us they believe that both Islamic fundamentalists—regardless of ethnicity—and ethnic Uzbeks are targets. “Just one piece of paper with the words ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ and ‘caliphate’ can lead to a prison term of three to five years,” one defense lawyer said.[113]

One ethnic Kyrgyz man who was awaiting trial on a charge of possession of religious material accused the police of planting a pamphlet deemed extremist in his house because he was outspoken about his religious fundamentalism:

I pray five times and attend mosque. If I see a group of people drinking vodka, I will explain to them that this is prohibited under our religion, it will not lead to good things. Or if I see friends or neighbors who are betraying their vows with another woman I will remind them that according to our religion this is prohibited. Our government is saying in international meetings that we are a democratic country, with freedom of speech and freedom of religion. So why, if I chose Islam as my religion, can I not express this freely?[114]

Many ethnic Uzbeks interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they believed their ethnicity was the primary factor.

“The authorities can’t say, ‘We are arresting the Uzbeks.’ So instead they say, ‘We are fighting religious extremism,’” said “Bobur,” an ethnic Uzbek man whose close relative is serving a nine-year prison sentence for alleged possession of Hizb ut-Tahrir literature.

What is clear is that the sentiment within ethnic Uzbek communities that they are being disproportionately targeted is exacerbating tensions that have festered since the inter-ethnic clashes of June 2010. The arrests are also eroding faith in the government.

“The laws are not working in Kyrgyzstan,” said “Sukhrob,” an ethnic Uzbek man who was convicted in 2017 for possessing a magazine and three other pages of material that according to the authorities “contained the extremist ideas, attributes, symbols, and logos of Hizb ut-Tahrir.”[115] Sukhrob said the material was several years old and was planted.

“Nobody saw how the police got that material into their hands—not me, not my family, not my neighbors who witnessed the search,” Sukhrob told Human Rights Watch. “We live in constant fear that at any moment, someone will knock on our door with a warrant and take us to prison on false evidence.”[116]

Sukhrob was sentenced to three years of detention in a low-security penal colony. He was released on parole after several months for health reasons but could be returned to custody at any time.

Furthering that mistrust is the predominantly ethnic Kyrgyz composition of Kyrgyzstan’s law enforcement forces, prosecutors, and the judiciary. The government has made periodic efforts to increase diversity in public institutions.[117] Electoral law, for example, sets a 15-percent quota for ethnic minority political party representation in parliament, although enforcement has been insufficient.[118] However, the police forces in Kyrgyzstan as of June 2017 were approximately 96 percent ethnic Kyrgyz.[119] Ethnic minorities comprise about 27 percent of the population, with Uzbeks the largest group.[120]

One senior government official acknowledged that the problem persists. Some ethnic Kyrgyz law enforcement officials would not “trust” giving an ethnic Uzbek [policeman] a gun, he said, while some individuals from ethnic minorities in turn do not trust Kyrgyz law enforcement officials, feeling so marginalized that “they do not feel Kyrgyzstan is their homeland.”[121]

Planting Evidence

All defense lawyers interviewed by Human Rights Watch accused the police of routinely planting evidence during searches of suspects’ homes. In 11 cases that Human Rights Watch investigated for this report, suspects or their lawyers and family members alleged the police planted evidence such as statements or violent videos from groups including ISIS, IMU, KTJ, and Hizb ut-Tahrir onto micro flash drives or into their cellphones, or books and pamphlets from Hizb ut-Tahrir in their homes or possessions, such as handbags. They accused the police of planting evidence as an easy way to earn bribes or obtain a conviction without having to build a case.

While Human Rights Watch is not in a position to verify the claims, planting of evidence is a recurrent complaint in Kyrgyzstan. Three government security officials acknowledged that planting of evidence takes place although two said it was not systemic.[122] When counterterrorism forces are not properly trained to build a case, “they might be tempted to plant evidence,” one official said.[123]

One official from an international organization that works closely with the security forces said that a lack of forensic capacity encouraged police and other security agents to plant evidence on suspects. Fingerprint analysis and other forensic work can take weeks or months to complete and is often questioned; with no tradition of relying on solid evidence, law enforcers resort to supplying it themselves, the official said.[124]

As part of criminal procedure reforms scheduled to enter into effect on January 1, 2019, police will be required to photograph and make audio and video recordings of searches and confiscations of evidence.[125] At time of writing, the law permitted but did not require audio and video recordings in all cases.[126]

Family Videos

“Oybek,” a man in his 30s, told Human Rights Watch that the 10th Department police had planted a Hizb ut-Tahrir video on one of his DVDs after searching his home in 2017.[127]

The police confiscated a Quran, videos, and DVDs including one containing short videos of family celebrations such as weddings and birthdays. Several days later, they charged Oybek with possession of extremist material, saying the DVD of family celebrations also contained Hizb ut-Tahrir videos. A 2017 examination by the State Commission for Religious Affairs reviewed by Human Rights Watch said that the videos contained “attributes, symbols, and logos” for Hizb ut-Tahrir, including for the “establishment of a caliphate.” However, it said they “did not” contain “terrorist propaganda” or material inciting “religious hatred.”[128]

Oybek told Human Rights Watch that the DVD had never contained a Hizb ut-Tahrir video. He said he had never been involved in subversive activity and he and his lawyer provided detailed accounts of how his job promotes the government.[129] His arrest has left him embittered, he said:

I am not an extremist. I never was an extremist. Maybe they did this to me because I am a religious person. I say my namaz [ritual prayers]. I have a beard. And I am Uzbek. Uzbeks have no voice right now. Even if I am acquitted I will be labeled a religious criminal.[130]

At the time he spoke with Human Rights Watch, Oybek was under house arrest. In 2018, a prosecutor dropped the case against him.[131]

Evidence “Lost”

In 2017, prosecutors charged “Farhod,” a man in his 20s, under article 299-2 after a team of police from the 10th Department searched his family’s home and claimed to have found a disc containing Hizb ut-Tahrir sermons. Farhod and his father, “Alisher,” told Human Rights Watch that they had never seen the disc and believed it was planted. After Alisher and Farhod recalled that a police videographer had recorded every item that the police had confiscated during the house search, their lawyer asked to see the video. Alisher and Farhod said they were certain that the video would prove that no Hizb ut-Tahrir disc had been taken from their home. However, they and their lawyer said that the prosecutor told them the video had been “lost.”[132]

The other evidence that the police offered against Farhod was a statement from a secret witness who accused him of disseminating material about Hizb ut-Tahrir in a public place at a specific time on a specific date. However, location tracking data from the witness’s cellphone showed that the witnesses was in a different location at the time Farhod was allegedly disseminating the information, his defense lawyer said.

Following these and other irregularities, Farhod’s lawyer successfully petitioned for the case to be transferred to a new judge. At time of writing, the case was still pending.[133]

Farhod and Alisher said that on the day of the search, one policeman from the 10th Department boasted to them about planting evidence after Alisher protested their innocence. Alisher said:

I kept telling the policemen, “My children and I are not involved with any extremist group.” One of them replied that, “Anyone who has a beard has committed at least one crime…We can place a bullet on the edge of your garden and you will become a terrorist, it is that easy. Even if we find the bullet on the outside of your fence, we can still make you a terrorist, the bullet will still belong to you.” When I heard this I became so frightened, I couldn’t think how to protect myself. These are the people who should be protecting us. We work, we pay taxes to pay their salaries, and instead they treat us like terrorists. Who can we turn to in this situation?[134]

Mystery Book

In 2016, “Rustam” was convicted under article 299-2 for allegedly possessing a book of writings that the State Commission for Religious Affairs found to be Hizb ut-Tahrir material. The book was the only evidence used to convict Rustam, yet it was not on the list of evidence that the police recorded as confiscating from Rustam’s house during the search that led to his arrest, Rustam’s lawyer told Human Rights Watch. Rustam claimed he had never seen the book, much less possessed it, the lawyer said.

The judge suspended Rustam’s one-year sentence after his lawyer argued that the only credible explanation for the discrepancy was that the police planted the material.[135] However, the conviction remains on Rustam’s criminal record.

Repeat Convictions

Human Rights Watch received complaints that some accused had been convicted two or more times on the basis of planted evidence. Lawyers, civil rights defenders, suspects and family members accused the police of targeting previous offenders because it was easier than finding new suspects. “They look through their lists and reopen the cases,” one lawyer said of the 10th Department police. “It’s a racket to show results at the end of the year.”[136]

Human Rights Watch reviewed three cases in which the accused alleged they were repeatedly convicted based on planted evidence. One case involved “Abdul Karim,” who in 2018 was convicted for a third time for possessing Hizb ut-Tahrir material. The first two times, Abdul Karim received suspended sentences. But in 2018, he received an eight-year sentence as a repeat offender.

In the search leading to Abdul Karim’s second conviction under article 299-2, in 2015, the police claimed to find a memory stick in his home containing Hizb ut-Tahrir propaganda. But during Abdul Karim’s court hearing, the prosecution did not produce the memory stick, saying it must have dropped out of the sealed evidence bag, which had a hole in the bottom, Abdul Karim’s lawyer and a family member said. The court convicted Abdul Karim anyway.[137]

“I feel powerless to fight this,” the family member said. “It is a vicious cycle and I see no end to it.”[138]

Extortion

People accused under article 299-2 are often subjected to extortion according to suspects, family members and lawyers. Extortion is a commonly reported problem within Kyrgyzstan’s police forces.[139]

A family member of one young man under investigation for possession of extremist material said a 10th Department police officer made clear during a search of their home in 2018 that he could make the charge go away for money. “He said, ‘If you want the boy released, you always have an option,’” the family member recalled. “It was clear to me that if I had money there would be an accommodation.”[140]

Bribes ranged from large to small, the interviewees said. One lawyer described a 2017 case in which a family sold a house to pay a bribe of 30,000 Kyrgyz soms (about US$440) demanded by a 10th Department police officer. Thirty-thousand Kyrgyz soms is a large sum for most inhabitants of Kyrgyzstan, where the World Bank in 2016 put annual per capita income at US$1,100 and the poverty rate at 25.4 percent.[141]

“Bilol” told Human Rights Watch that the authorities began questioning him in 2017 after learning that one of his family members died fighting in Syria. A 10th Department police officer told him through his lawyer that the police would stop investigating him in exchange for several thousand Kyrgyz soms (several hundred US dollars), he said, but “I told them, ‘I am not paying anything, I am not guilty.’”[142]

A few months later in 2018, he said the police and members of the GKNB searched his house and planted compact discs, which they then sent to the State Commission on Religious Affairs for examination. Bilol insisted he had never seen the discs and had no idea what they might contain:

I think they did it because I didn’t get them any money. To tell you the truth I would have given them money. But I was told that if I gave money to one police officer they would tell another and another and I would feed not just one mouth but many—it would be become a chain.[143]

At time of writing prosecutors had not yet told him if the state commission had found the contents of the discs to be extremist, he said.

Torture and Other Ill-Treatment

Human Rights Watch received more than two dozen complaints of ill-treatment, including torture, of suspects charged with terrorism or extremism related offences in Kyrgyzstan. They included complaints from lawyers, former suspects, or family members that the police or GKNB members physically abused or otherwise mistreated suspects held on charges of possessing extremist material.[144]

The complaints were as recent as 2018, with one family member recounting how she saw a male relative in a court hearing with a fresh gash on his cheek. She said the male relative told her that during his arrest the previous day, members of the 10th Department police pushed him so hard he fell and cut his face.[145]

Alleged Torture to Force Confession

“Nargiza” was detained for three months and alleged she was tortured in 2017 by 10th Department police who searched her cell phone, claiming to be acting on a tip from an informant. The police found an armed group’s recruitment video on one of her social media apps, her lawyer and a female relative told Human Rights Watch. Nargiza had not opened or downloaded the video, the lawyer and relative said.

A State Commission for Religious Affairs summary of the video from 2016 reviewed by Human Rights Watch described the video as showing a member of the group KTJ calling for recruits to fight in Syria.[146]

In her court testimony, Nargiza apologized for the video and said she did not know it was illegal. She said a family member in Turkey had sent it to her to dissuade her from traveling to Turkey to seek work.

“I never watched those video films, I never disseminated these videos to anyone and I did not download these videos from the Internet,” Nargiza told the court. “I don’t follow their ideology…I am not a member of this group,” she added of KTJ. Her relative sent her the videos to warn her that, “if you come to Turkey they will send you straight to Syria,” she said.[147]

A criminal conviction for the mere existence on a cellphone of such a video, without any evidence of a response or use of the material, is incompatible with respect for the right to freedom of expression, including the right to receive and impart information.

After her court appearance, Nargiza was able to briefly speak with family members. One relative, “Umida,” said Nargiza told them that the police took her to a local police station and tortured her in an effort to make her confess:

She told me that they took her to a dark room and put a plastic bag on her head and threatened to stick nails beneath her fingernails. They wanted her to sign a confession that her oldest son [a migrant worker] went to Syria. She said, “I won’t confess to that.”[148]

Nargiza was sentenced to three years in prison. In one of the few exceptions that Kyrgyzstan law allows to mandatory prison terms under article 299-2, a judge postponed her sentence until her youngest child reached the age of 14.

“Blood All Over”

“Tohir,” a man in his 40s who was convicted in 2015 for possession of Hizb ut-Tahrir literature that he said was planted, pointed to a large scar on the top of his head and three missing teeth as he described a raid on his home by ten masked GKNB agents in 2014:

They broke the lock, burst into the house, and one of them hit me on the head and the mouth with his gun. There was blood all over the room.… While they were searching I called an ambulance, but the police would not let them in. I called again, and a nurse entered but she was so scared she stuck a bandage on my head and ran away. I lost consciousness twice.[149]

In court papers, the GKNB alleged that Tohir threatened them with a knife and resisted arrest. Tohir contended he had grabbed the knife as a protective measure when he heard his door being broken down, before he realized the police were entering, his lawyer said.

The GKNB agents struck Tohir’s teenage daughter when she tried to stop the beating and, when she fell, repeatedly kicked her in the back, he said. The agents only showed their search warrant and called in witnesses 40 minutes after they began the search of the house and after they beat Tohir and his daughter, he said. Kyrgyzstan law requires the presence of witnesses during home searches.

The physical abuse continued at the Osh station of the GKNB, Tohir said:

They were humiliating me morally and physically, taking videos and slapping. This continued for about eight hours.… They took me to the basement, to a very small cell. I lay there for 48 hours. They gave me nothing, no breakfast, lunch, or supper. No mattress or blanket. On the way to the toilet I managed to take some water. When I got back into the cell they told me to walk as a swallow. Your nose has to be close to your knees and your hands must be behind you. I said, “Show me the rules of conduct for inside cells that say you have to take this position.” The guard asked another guard to take out a prisoner and they hit this prisoner in front of my eyes. They were beating him to show that they were in charge.[150]

Alerted to the beating and detention, representatives of the National Center for the Prevention of Torture arrived at the KGNB center in Osh and demanded to see Tohir, as they are entitled to do under domestic law. They waited one hour but were refused access, the National Center said in its 2014 report, which contains photos of Tohir’s bloodied head and other wounds.[151]

The GKNB took Tohir to an emergency room two days after his arrest, where a doctor recorded soft tissue bruises, hematomas, bruises to the chest and the left kidney, and a head injury. A government-ordered forensic examination conducted 11 days after the arrest concluded that Tohir could have received the injuries by resisting arrest with a knife. An independent forensic examination a month later faulted the government examination, noting it did not refer to Tohir’s complaints of dizziness, nausea, and skull injury. Nor did they refer him to a specialist to be examined for skull and brain trauma.[152]

In 2015 a court dismissed Tohir’s criminal complaint of torture, citing lack of evidence. The Committee Against Torture in 2013 wrote of Kyrgyzstan that “judges commonly ignore” torture allegations raised by criminal defendants and their lawyers, including reports from medical examinations.[153]

Investigation Delays

Complaints of torture often take years to complete or are dismissed, lawyers told Human Rights Watch. In one case we reviewed, “Sanjar” alleged in court documents that twice in 2014, police officers from the 10th Department abused him during interrogations. The first time, he said, the police repeatedly hit him in the head to pressure him to confess to membership in an extremist group and held him for about eight hours without food or water. Two months later, he said, the police again detained him for a day without food, water, or medicine. Doctors in the first case found evidence of physical abuse consistent with head trauma and in both instances found evidence of psychological trauma, according to court documents. Prosecutors opened a case against Sanjar under article 299-2, saying the police had found extremist material in his home, but refused to investigate the torture allegations.[154]

In 2015, Sanjar filed a complaint with a local court, which ordered an investigation. Prosecutors appealed the decision. In 2016, a higher court upheld the investigation order. At time of writing, more than four years after the alleged abuse, Sanjar’s case against the police officials was still pending.[155] In 2018, however, prosecutors reopened the case against Sanjar under article 299-2, which a court had suspended the previous year. At time of writing, his trial was ongoing.

Extortion with Beatings

In some cases, suspects or their families and lawyers told Human Rights Watch, the security forces coupled beatings with extortion. One example is “Mahmud,” a young man who alleges that 10th Department police in 2017 planted evidence on him, beat him, extorted money in return for his release, then re-arrested him two months later.[156]

Mahmud said he was approached by a group of policemen at a bazaar in southern Kyrgyzstan who asked to see a cellphone he had recently bought. Saying the phone was stolen, the police took his phone. He said that two policemen drove him to the 10th Department police station in Osh, while a third policeman, who had his phone, drove to the station in a separate car. Upon arrival, he said the policemen showed him a video on his phone that contained what he described to Human Rights Watch as “violent images from the war in Syria.” Mahmud stared at his feet, then buried his head in his hands as he described what happened next:

I asked, “How did this get onto my phone? It wasn’t there before.” One of them stood up and said, “You had this video.” He hit me in the stomach and on my forehead with his fist. He hit me so hard I cried out. One policeman outside the door looked in to see what was going on but when he saw us he left.[157]

About a half-hour later, Mahmud’s father “Aziz” arrived at the police station, alerted by an acquaintance who had seen the policemen take Mahmud from the bazaar. Aziz told Human Rights Watch that one of the three policemen informed him they had found several violent Islamist videos on his son’s phone. “They told me, ‘Your son belongs to an extremist group and will be in prison for 20 years,’” he said. Aziz said he protested that he watched his son closely and was convinced he was neither violent nor extremist. He begged the policeman to drop the case. It was then, he said, that the extortion began:

The policeman told me he needed to ask his supervisor. They were going back and forth, back and forth. He warned me that this case was not an easy one. Then he told me, “This case can’t be closed even for 50,000 or 60,000 soms [US$736 to $883]. I asked, “How much do I need to pay?” He said, “400,000 soms [US$5,888].” I said, “I am a farmer. I do not have that much money.” Finally, we settled on 150,000 soms [US$2,208]. They told me to get them the money in two hours. I rushed home and collected my money and money from my relatives and we got my son out. I asked for the phone back because we paid 7,000 soms [US$103] for it. They would not give it back.[158]

The family thought the ordeal was over. But two months later, policemen arrived at their home with a search warrant. In the room of a relative who had died years earlier, Aziz said, they rummaged inside an old bag and pulled out two sheets of paper and a book about Hizb ut-Tahrir. Aziz and Mahmud said they had never seen the book or the papers. Ultimately, the authorities did not charge the father or son. Nevertheless, Aziz said, the experience has devastated them emotionally and financially:

We are just ordinary people, common people. We are not rich. Before all of this happened, we were trying to earn money so that my son could get married. All his friends are married. All the money I had saved I gave to the police, all this money that I earned with my sweat. How will I marry him now?[159]

Abuse in pre-trial detention

Sukhrob described five days of ill-treatment while detained in 2016 in a basement, pre-trial detention center run by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

I was in isolation with no water, no toilet. My bed was one mattress with one blanket. It was a really smelly room, very stinky. They took us prisoners only twice a day to the toilet. If you need to use the toilet at any other time you have to use a dirty bucket inside the cell. During those five days I fell twice.… The guards would pick me up then just throw me back into the cell. I injured my knee and I asked to see a doctor. I showed the doctor my knee. The doctor said I needed to be taken to a traumatologist but the [detention center authorities] said, “Just prescribe ointment.”[160]

Opportunistic Arrests

Human Rights Watch received information from defense lawyers or suspects’ family members about three cases in which the police arrested people who voluntarily brought material to the authorities’ attention that the authorities decided was extremist.

One case in 2017 involved “Akmal,” a young man who received a three-year prison sentence under article 299-2.

In early 2017, Akmal bought a cellphone and downloaded videos onto it from the Internet, according to his court testimony as well as interviews with his lawyer and a family member.[161] Concerned that some of the videos contained violent messages, he showed one of the videos to a policeman at a local bazaar.

“I showed him the video to ask, ‘What kind of video is this? If it is a bad video then I want to delete it,’” he testified in court. The policeman called in an officer from the 10th Department, who examined the material and promptly arrested him, he said.[162]

An examination by the State Commission for Religious Affairs found two videos on the cellphone from the IMU and the KTJ, respectively, that contained "calls for war, for jihad, and inciting religious hatred.” The video from KTJ included a call from its leader Abu Saloh for Muslims to join the fight in Syria, it said.[163]

Akmal apologized to the court, saying he did not know it was illegal to download the videos.[164]

The family member said Akmal had no intent to incite or commit violence. “He bought this phone just to talk with girls. It was inexpensive, but all it has cost us is grief,” the relative said, adding that Akmal was the family bread-winner.[165] In 2018, an appeals court upheld Akmal’s sentence.

Crackdowns on Critics, Human Rights Defenders

Human Rights Watch reviewed several complaints that critics including lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists have been threatened for speaking out against heavy-handed tactics against extremist suspects, including those prosecuted under article 299-2. In some cases, those targeted were themselves accused under article 299-2 or their work was banned as extremist, rendering them vulnerable to wrongful prosecution under article 299-2 in the future. “The space is closing in on us,” one civil society member told Human Rights Watch.[166]

Journalist Convicted

In 2017, a Bishkek court convicted “Sayyora,” a journalist from a television station that promotes Islam, for unlawful possession of extremist material after police officers found notebooks, a newspaper, and other material about Hizb ut-Tahrir during a search of her home and laptop.[167] In her court testimony, Sayyora accused the police of planting the newspaper and she noted that she was not home during the search. She said she was using the rest of the material as research for a TV program on religious trends.[168] The court convicted her anyway, finding that she should not have stored the materials “knowing that Hizb ut-Tahrir is a banned extremist organization.” The court gave Sayyora a three-year sentence but suspended it until her two young children were grown.

Lawyer Convicted

Another case involved “Rahman,” a lawyer who in 2016 was convicted of possession of extremist material under article 299-2. The extremist materials used to convict Rahman were his case files on a client who had been found guilty under article 299-2 the previous year. “They entered my house, carried out a search and found all the files on this client,” he said of the 10th Department police and GKNB.[169]

Rahman received a three-year suspended sentence that was later reduced to one year (he was convicted before sentences under article 299-2 were mandatory). But by then he had spent two months in pre-trial detention. Now free, he cannot find a job. “No one wants to hire a lawyer with a criminal record,” he said.[170]

Human Rights Publications Banned

Between March and May 2018, five respected international, regional, and local civil society groups discovered that the Ministry of Justice had added two reports, which they had either written or provided support to publish, to its official list of banned extremist materials.[171] The unusual move potentially exposes members of the five organizations to criminal prosecution under article 299-2. Human Rights Watch considers the designation of these two reports as extremist to be unfounded.

One report, on labor migrants, was submitted in 2015 by ADC Memorial, a Brussels-based anti-discrimination organization, and Bir Duino, a local human rights organization, to the UN Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers. The other report, on the June 2010 violence and its immediate aftermath, was written by Memorial, a Moscow-based human rights organization, with the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and published in 2012 with support from Freedom House.[172]

The government’s inclusion of the two reports on the list of banned materials followed a court decision in January 2017 which found them to be extremist. The court banned “publication, reproduction, storage, transportation, and dissemination” of the reports in print or on the Internet.[173] The court also banned ADC Memorial from carrying out activities in Kyrgyzstan.

The court decision alleges that both reports “incite ethnic strife on the territory of the Kyrgyz republic.” Regarding the report by ADC Memorial and Bir Duino, the court cited a review by the Academy of Science of the Kyrgyz Republic which concluded that:

The report should be considered subjective, one-sided, and nationalist, although it does not contain direct calls to nationalist, racial, religious, or interregional hatred, or to violently overthrowing the government, or violently overthrowing the constitutional order, or public justifications of terrorism or genocide.”

None of the five human rights organizations named in the court ruling was informed of the Prosecutor General’s allegations that the materials were extremist. The groups were only given access to the analyses used to designate the reports as extremist in June.[174]

Website Blocked

In May 2017 the authorities banned as extremist a news article that accused the authorities of failing to stem social media postings by Kyrgyz nationalists that denigrated ethnic Uzbeks while aggressively prosecuting authors of postings critical of the then-president.[175] The authorities simultaneously blocked access inside Kyrgyzstan to Ferghana News, a leading online source of news about Central Asia, for publishing the article.[176] As with members of the five human rights organizations noted above, the ban renders the journalists and readers of Ferghana News vulnerable to prosecution under article 299-2.

Sentenced for Sermon

In 2015, Rashod Kamalov, a prominent imam from Kara Suu, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for possession and dissemination of extremist material under article 299-2, and for inciting religious hatred under article 299-1. While Human Rights Watch is not in a position to reach a conclusion on the facts of the case, Kamalov’s prosecution raises sufficient due-process concerns to merit a new and independent review of the evidence and trial procedures. A journalist and a man who liked a social media posting about Kamalov were prosecuted in the aftermath of the cleric’s arrest.

Kamalov succeeded his late father Rafiq Kamalov, an outspoken government critic, as the most prominent ethnic Uzbek imam in Southern Kyrgyzstan. In 2006, the fatherwas shot dead, apparently during a joint operation in 2006 by the security forces of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.[177] Rafiq Kamalov’s mosque in Kara Suu was frequented by members of Hizb ut-Tahrir but the cleric denied he was a leader of the group.[178]

The evidence used to convict Kamalov was a sermon he gave in 2014 titled “About the Caliphate,” which was contained on a compact disc that the police found during a search of his home. The State Commission for Religious Affairs quoted Kamalov as saying in a sermon: “Those who say that there will be no caliphate shall be cast out of the religion. We must bow before those that created the caliphate.” The commission found that portions of the sermon aimed to foment religious hatred and to replace the government with a caliphate.[179]

Kamalov and his defense team argued that the quotations were taken out of context and said he was preaching that “what the Islamic State is doing and what is happening in Syria is not a caliphate.” An Osh city court judge declined to accept written testimonies presented by the defense as expert testimony.[180]

In October 2015, the court convicted and sentenced Kamalov to five years in prison. A month later, an Osh regional court doubled Kamalov’s prison term to 10 years after prosecutors argued he deserved a longer sentence for using his official position of power to disseminate his messages.[181]

Kamalov and his defense team contended that his prosecution was politically motivated. Several weeks before his arrest, Kamalov had told government officials that repressive tactics by law enforcement officials such as evidence-planting, beatings, and extortion were fueling violent extremism and a flow of foreign fighters to Syria, according to media accounts and Human Rights Watch interviews with civil society members and lawyers.[182]

Detained and Deported for investigating Kamalov case

In March 2015, the police arrested Umar Farooq, a journalist and US citizen, who was in southern Kyrgyzstan to investigate the Kamalov case and inter-ethnic relations five years after the June 2010 violence. Shortly after Farooq visited Kamalov’s mosque in Kara Suu, police arrested him, saying they found discs of Kamalov’s sermons in his possession. Farooq contends the discs were planted.

Farooq was charged with possession of extremist materials under article 299-2 and with seeking to overthrow the constitutional order through his media work. He was detained for three days in the same pre-trial prison in Osh where Kamalov was being held. A local court then deported Farooq, finding that his papers were not in order, but did not prosecute him.[183]

Convicted for “Liking” Kamalov

In August 2015, officers from the 10th Department detained Abdullo Nurmatov a 20-year-old ethnic Uzbek, for liking posts on the Russian social media website, Odnoklassniki (“Classmates”), about the imam Rashod Kamalov and a journalist critical of government authorities.[184] In court papers reviewed by Human Rights Watch, Nurmatov alleges the police took him to the Osh police station and brutally beat him into making a false confession, tried to make him give them his Odnoklassniki password, and filmed him while forcing him to pretend to speak on the phone with someone in Syria.[185] His statements in court were reported by local journalists and human rights defenders:

I was beaten by six people. I lost consciousness three times.… Someone [one of the police] took my phone number and said they would contact people who are in Syria, and I would speak with them. When I asked what I would tell them I was beaten again. The phone was shoved into my hand and they began to film me with a camera. There was no man in Syria on the phone. I was seated at a table in front of a computer opened to a social network page, and I was again filmed, then again beaten.[186]

After the police released him around midnight, Nurmatov went immediately to a local hospital. Medical records reviewed by Human Rights Watch show he was diagnosed with a closed cerebro-cranial injury, bruises and swelling to the temporal area, a concussion, hearing impairment in the left ear, and complaints of headache, dizziness and nausea.

Soon after Nurmatov went public with his allegations of torture, the State Commission for Religious Affairs concluded that the material he had liked on the Odnoklassniki site belonged to Hizb ut-Tahrir.”[187]

In May 2016, a local court convicted him under article 299-2 but gave him a reduced one-year conditional sentence, as his charge pre-dated the mandatory prison sentences for possession of extremist material that began in August 2016. Prosecutors rejected his petition to file criminal charges against the police for torture.

Frozen Funds

Human Rights Watch heard numerous complaints from lawyers and suspects about the authorities freezing the finances of people convicted under article 299-2. We examined three such cases, including one involving a man who threatened to set himself on fire when he was unable to retrieve his money.

Under domestic law, the State Financial Intelligence Service maintains a list of people or entities subject to the freezing of pensions and other assets for terrorism- or extremism-related activities. Anyone serving a prison sentence for a terrorism or extremism offense is included in the list.[188] At time of writing, the list contained 939 individuals and the Ministry of Justice list of 21 banned organizations.[189]

The law provides that upon completion of sentences, offenders are to be removed from the list.[190] In practice, however, this does not always happen, defense lawyers and human rights defenders said—either because the State Financial Intelligence Agency does not update the list or because it makes use of a clause allowing it to place a person on the list based on “sufficient information” of involvement in financing terrorist or extremist activities.[191]

In a written statement to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of Justice said that domestic law allows for property subject to an asset-freezing order to be managed by trustees.[192] However, none of the people interviewed by Human Rights Watch in such cases said the authorities had allowed them to make such arrangements.

Any blocking of funds should afford those affected the right to meaningfully challenge the evidence against them and take into consideration the impact, including on dependent family members.

Self-Immolation Threat

In 2016, “Umar,” a shoe salesman and father of three from Kara Suu, doused himself with gasoline in the town square and threatened self-immolation after a bank froze his account containing US$17,500 he owed to family members and acquaintances.

In 2013, Umar received a one-year suspended sentence under article 299-2 for possessing Hizb ut-Tahrir material on two CDs found during a search of his home and for liking Hizb ut-Tahrir postings on social media such as Odnoklassniki, according to court papers and interviews with his lawyer and a family member.[193] Court papers said the material was extremist because it was from Hizb ut-Tahrir, a banned organization whose goals are “against the constitution and laws of the Kyrgyz Republic.”[194] After Umar successfully completed probation the court declared the sentence served.

In 2016, Umar sought a visa for South Korea, a destination for many migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan, to work with a friend who was in the auto repair business there, his lawyer and relative said. To apply for a South Korean visa, he needed proof of funds to start a business, so he deposited US$17,500 that he had borrowed from acquaintances and family members into a bank account, using his house as collateral for one of the loans. The South Korean government rejected Umar’s visa application. Umar then went to the bank to retrieve the borrowed funds to return them to his debtors. However, the bank informed him that the funds were “frozen” on orders of the State Financial Intelligence Service, the lawyer and family member said. They showed Human Rights Watch a letter from the bank in which the State Financial Intelligence Service ordering the bank to freeze the funds “indefinitely.”

After failing to unfreeze the funds through requests to police, prosecutors, courts, the GKNB, and the Interior Ministry, Umar requested permission to hold a peaceful protest in the Kara Suu town square to draw attention to his case. Local authorities obtained a court order to stop the protest, which Umar ignored. After he doused himself with gasoline and threatened self-immolation the police arrested him, and a court sent him to jail for two weeks for violating the order prohibiting his protest. He was freed after six days after his wife threatened to set herself on fire to protest her husband’s treatment, the lawyer and family member said. Homeless, Umar and his family moved to Turkey.[195]

“The money is still frozen to this day,” his lawyer said.

Barred from Sending, Receiving Money

In 2017, “Muzaffar” completed a seven-year sentence in a low-security penal colony for possession of one Hizb ut-Tahir book. Muzaffar said he had not committed or been accused of any wrongdoing since his release. Nevertheless, he said, the authorities have not allowed him to conduct any banking transactions.

“I cannot open a bank account, I cannot send money through the bank, and I cannot receive money,” he said. “I am blacklisted. What will happen if I ever get a pension? How will that money come to me?”[196]

Book from Mecca

“Jafar,” then 74, was convicted in 2014 under article 299-2 for owning a book he had brought back from the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that all Muslims are expected to make at least once during their lifetime. During the hajj, Jafar received a gift of a book of Hizb ut-Tahrir writings.

“It was decorated with ornaments, it was very beautiful, so he put it on display in his room,” two lawyers familiar with the case told Human Rights Watch. Jafar received a suspended sentence as his case pre-dated the mandatory prison sentences for possession of extremist material that began in August 2016. But the authorities froze his pension payments, the lawyers said. Jafar died several months later.[197]

Harassment of Suspects, Family Members

Human Rights Watch also heard allegations from three suspects that the police and GKNB subjected suspects to unnecessary visits to the police department, or threatened, harassed or insulted suspects or relatives of individuals believed to be extremists or terrorists. We heard seven additional complaints of this kind from family members of associates of individuals suspected of other terrorism- or extremism-related offenses.[198]

Two suspects accused under article 299-2 told Human Rights Watch that 10th Department officials would repeatedly summon them to the police station and make them wait hours for no little or no apparent reason. Both said they thought the long waits were deliberate.

“They would say things like, ‘We’ll give you the phone back,’ or ‘We have a document for you showing the case against you is closed,’” said “Saida,” a young woman who had been accused of possession of extremist material in 2018 after two family members were convicted of extremism-related charges. “I would wait and wait and then go home with nothing.”[199] The authorities later dropped the charges against Saida for lack of evidence.

“Rahman,” the above-mentioned lawyer who was convicted under article 299-2 in what he considers retaliation for representing a suspect convicted of the same offense, told Human Rights Watch that even after he had served his conditional one-year sentence in 2017, the police summoned him several times. “The reasons were ridiculous [such as], ‘Let us make a new photo of you; we lost your photo in our archives.’ They would keep me for several hours.”[200]

“Zuhra” said police officers repeatedly taunted family members when they went to a 10th Department station to request information on a relative who had been arrested for alleged possession of extremist material:

We went to the police department every other day and they would tell us, “Nothing good is waiting for you.” Some would come out and make bad jokes at my expense. Even though they knew I was [a conservative] Muslim, they would tell me, “Go get some alcohol and we will drink together, all of us.”[201]

Potential Backlash

Abusive responses in the name of security are not only unlawful, they also are counterproductive, creating the potential to alienate local communities and generate support for extremist armed groups. As noted in the UN Counter-Terrorism Strategy of 2006, which was reaffirmed by the UN General Assembly in 2018, human rights and rule of law are integral components of counterterrorism strategy.[202] Conversely, the Counter-Terrorism Strategy notes that violations of human rights, erosion of rule of law, ethnic, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, and socio-economic marginalization can be drivers of terrorism.[203]

“Rather than discouraging already marginalized people away from [violent] extremist organizations and recruiters, government heavy handedness plays into the narratives that extremist recruiters use,” warns one study on violent radicalization in Central Asia. “By silencing the moderate voices, the Kyrgyzstani government risks pushing marginalized communities towards more radical action.”[204]

 

Mandatory Prison Terms

Until 2016, individuals convicted for the first time under article 299-2 routinely received suspended sentences or were sent to low-security prisons known as colonies, where they lived in dormitories, and often received permission to leave daily for work or to have regular or extended home visits.[205]

In August 2016, however, the government amended the Criminal Code to impose mandatory prison terms of three to five years for first-time offenders under article 299-2, and seven to 10 years for repeat offenders or for aggravating circumstances such as distributing the material in public.[206] The amendments made no distinctions based on the content or volume of extremist material in the possession of suspects, or between suspects who did or did not disseminate the material. Only rare exceptions are granted; for example, judges may suspend the sentences of mothers until children in their custody reach age 14.

Four months earlier in April 2016, acting on amendments to the Penitentiary Code approved that month by parliament, prison authorities also began segregating all individuals convicted of terrorism- or extremism-related offenses, including those accused under article 299-2, into new, specially built wards at four prisons.[207] At time of writing, scores of prisoners had been moved into the new wards, but construction and transfers were less than halfway complete.[208]

The reported aim of the tougher sentencing regime is to prevent detainees held on extremism- and terrorism-related offenses from violently radicalizing the broader prison population.[209] Under the amendments, prisoners in the special wards are placed in “strict” regimes.[210] The authorities have not revealed details of what the regime entails.[211] However, several sources with knowledge of the system said they include reductions on family visits, correspondence, and freedom of movement inside the prison.[212] Prisoners in these special wards are monitored around the clock, in all areas, by closed-circuit video, one representative of an NGO with knowledge of the system told Human Rights Watch.[213]

Human Rights Watch could not determine the impact of the tougher sentencing regime on prisoners sentenced under article 299-2 because the State Penitentiary Service (GSIN) did not provide us with most of the data we requested on that specific offense. More broadly, however, GSIN data shows that the number of people sentenced on terrorism- or extremism-related offenses increased nearly seven-fold between 2010 and March 2018, the most comprehensive data available. As previously noted, the vast majority of terrorism and extremism convictions are for article 299-2 offenses. In contrast, the prison population as a whole increased less than 10 percent during that period.[214]

As of June 2018, at least 540 people—95 percent of them men—were serving sentences or awaiting trial in Kyrgyzstan for terrorism- or extremism-related offenses, according to GSIN. Of those, 276 were in prisons, including at least 53 who were convicted of extremism offenses such as article 299-2. Another 52 were awaiting trial. As of March 2018, 170 others were in colonies and 94 were on conditional release. That compares to 79 people serving sentences for such crimes in 2010.[215] The increase in terrorism- and extremism-related convicts began in 2014.[216] That was the first full year following the change to article 299-2 allowing prosecution for possession for extremist material regardless of whether it was distributed or intended for distribution.

The rise in numbers of terrorism- and extremism-related detainees is particularly pronounced in prisons and colonies following the August 2016 amendments that bar conditional sentencing for such offenses. Of the 341 people sentenced for terrorism- or extremism-related convictions in 2016, 142 were serving conditional sentences. By March 2018, only 94 of a total of 540 such prisoners remained on conditional release.[217]

As of September 2017, more than 80 percent of prisoners detained on terrorism- or extremism-related offenses were from southern Kyrgyzstan.[218]

Prisons “Meet Requirements”

The GSIN told Human Rights Watch that prisoners are detained in conditions that “meet requirements” for hygiene, sanitation, nutrition, medication, and health care.[219] The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has been working with Kyrgyzstan’s Justice Ministry on penal reforms for such prisoners, with the aim of bringing detention conditions “in line with national and international standards,” the GSIN said. Projects underway at time of writing included sports equipment for outdoor areas, expanding fiction and approved religious readings at prison libraries, and job training workshops.[220] Kyrgyzstan's five-year counterterrorism strategy for 2017 to 2022 lists prison rehabilitation as a priority.[221]

Human Rights Watch did not conduct prison visits for this report. Several defense lawyers, former detainees and family members described degrading conditions for prisoners held for offenses including article 299-2, as well as for the general prison population. Prisons are overcrowded and do not meet international standards for hygiene, nutrition, or medical care according to former prisoners, family members of current detainees, and human rights defenders. The prisons also lack rehabilitation programs and recreational facilities, and often have no access to reading materials, they said.[222]

A US government report described prison conditions in 2017 as “harsh and sometimes life threatening,” while the latest Committee Against Torture report on Kyrgyzstan, from 2013, described them as “extremely harsh.”[223] A representative of an international NGO who has visited prisons in Kyrgyzstan said conditions continue to be “very harsh.” The representative said that prison authorities were working to improve conditions but remained chronically underfunded.[224]

A key issue raised by members of civil society and international organizations who spoke with Human Rights Watch was a lack of rehabilitation programs, including for those sentenced for possession of extremist material. A senior government official in Kyrgyzstan agreed, saying, “Unfortunately, there are no rehabilitation programs in prison. So people leave prison more radicalized than when they entered.”[225]

Those views were echoed in a 2017 US government report on counterterrorism in Kyrgyzstan. “The primary effort on penal reform to date appears to be segregation, rather than rehabilitation,” the report said.[226]

In 2018, the UNODC and prison officials began a pilot project in one Bishkek prison to teach extremism and terrorism detainees handicrafts but at time of writing it accommodated only a few dozen prisoners.

Another frequently voiced concern was lack of risk assessment. Part of the UNODC’s work aims to improve risk assessments for detainees held on terrorism- or extremism-related offenses, two UN representatives and several local civil society members told Human Rights Watch.[227]

“You don’t want put all of these people into one group—those who read or distribute leaflets, those who got involved for financial gain, and those who are seriously committed to violent extremism,” one UN representative said. “But right now, the Kyrgyz authorities do not have the capacity to make those distinctions. By lumping together these different categories of prisoners, they could actually make the problem worse.”[228]

Human Rights Watch recognizes that prisons can be fertile ground for recruitment to violent extremist causes and acknowledges the challenges this poses to government authorities. Nevertheless, any responses must comply with international legal norms that require people deprived of their liberty be treated with humanity and dignity, and to retain all their rights under human rights law subject only to such restrictions are demonstrably incidental to incarceration.

In particular, not only torture but all forms of inhuman and degrading treatment are strictly forbidden.[229] International law also sets out that an essential aim of incarceration is reformation and social rehabilitation.[230] Human Rights Watch is also concerned by the potential for unrestricted use of closed-circuit cameras in the segregated wards in a manner that could violate the rights to privacy and dignity, even taking into account the inherent conditions of incarceration.

The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules) detail additional obligations on prison authorities. Among other measures, prisoners should be individually assessed to identify not only risks they may pose to other prisoners or to staff but also any risks they might be exposed to or special needs they may have.[231] No discrimination is allowed, including on a prisoner's religion, or political or other opinion.[232] Every prison must have clean facilities in the interests of dignity and hygiene.[233] Prisoners must be provided with nutritious food as well as drinking water whenever they need it.[234] Proper heating and ventilation, air, light, and minimum floor space must be provided, without exception.[235] Healthcare must be provided at the same level as in the community.[236]

Inadequate Medical Care

Several defense lawyers as well as family members complained of inadequate medical care in prisons. One former prisoner, “Tohir,” who alleged GKNB members seriously injured his head during severe beatings during his arrest in 2014 (see previous chapter), told Human Rights Watch that he did not receive proper medical treatment for ten months during his imprisonment that year and in 2015.

“Because of my head injuries it’s been three years that I cannot properly do namaz, I cannot touch my head fully to the floor,” he said.[237]

An Osh Province Mental Health Center examination in 2015 concluded that Tohir had developed "mixed anxiety depressive disorder” after his arrest that was “consistent with alleged torture and violence.”[238]

Open Toilets in Cells

“Maksud,” who is serving a 9-year sentence for possession of extremist material, was sharing a cell in Prison No. 27 near Bishkek with three other prisoners that had an open toilet in the corner and no recreational facilities, according to a family member, “Bobur.”

The window is very small. Inside it really smells. They only go outside for a half-hour to an hour a day. They take turns emptying the toilet with a bucket. This is the only time they go out from the cell. The food is very bad, like dry food. We brought him a television because there was nothing there. No radio. No newspapers. I brought him an Uzbek translation of the Quran. They sent it back. There is no exercise equipment, no work or job training. My brother, he gets sick because the cell is very cold [in the winter]. He is not active. He looks like a robot.[239]

“Dilmira,” a woman from southern Kyrgyzstan, began crying and buried her head in her skirt as she described to Human Rights Watch what had been her most recent visit with “Hassan,” a close family member, in Prison No. 3 near Bishkek in May 2017:

It was cold in the cell and he got sick. He had scratches all over his body. They only give out basic medicine for things like a headache. If he needs real medicine, we have to supply it. He is always so happy to see us. He cries. They are three or four men in that cell. They have nothing to do all day they just lie there in their cold cell. In that one room the toilet is in one corner and they eat in the other corner. It is very difficult for them to eat something knowing they are so close to the toilet. We take turns bringing food. Sitting in that cold cell all day they become hungry quickly.[240]

Solitary Confinement

Solitary confinement is used in prisons in Kyrgyzstan as a punishment for infractions of prison rules, including for prisoners serving sentences for article 299-2. For example, “Nuriddin,” an ethnic Uzbek man who was serving a seven-year sentence under article 299-2 in Prison No. 47 in Bishkek, was punished three times in 2016 with three to five days of solitary confinement in a basement cell, said a female relative, “Gulnora.”

The first time Nuriddin was sent to solitary confinement was for breaking prison rules by using a cellphone, Gulnora said. “They locked him up alone in the basement for five days. Then they returned him to his regular cell and a couple of days later they returned him to the basement for three days. I don’t know what he did that made them send him back.”[241]

The third time, Nuriddin was sent to the basement for shouting at a nurse after she refused to give him any medication stronger than fever-reduction pills when he got sick, Gulnora said.

While Kyrgyzstan is not unusual in retaining solitary confinement as a form of punishment, the Mandela Rules emphasize that solitary confinement should only be used in exceptional cases, as a last resort, given its devasting impact on physical and mental health. In such cases, solitary confinement should be for as short a time as possible, after authorization by a competent authority, and subject to independent review.[242] The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has called for an end to use of solitary confinement as a punishment. In 2011 he noted “[s]olitary confinement, when used for the purpose of punishment, cannot be justified for any reason.… This applies as well to situations in which solitary confinement is imposed in response to a breach of prison discipline, as long as the pain and suffering experienced by the victim reaches the necessary severity.”[243]

 

National and International Legal Standards

Kyrgyzstan is bound under its constitution and international law to respect the rights of those living within its jurisdiction. These rights include rights to freedom of religion, opinion, expression, assembly, and association; freedom from arbitrary detention and ill-treatment including torture; and rights to fair trial, due process and non-arbitrary treatment and application of the law, and privacy.

International law provides clear criteria for justified limitations on human rights, as well as on when and how derogations (temporary restrictions or partial suspension) of rights can be made. Derogations—in contrast to justified limitations—are allowed only during times of genuine emergency, and should have minimal duration and scope, commensurate with the gravity of the emergency.[244] Certain rights, such as the right to be free from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment and arbitrary detention, are never derogable.

The prosecutions and detentions documented in this report violate several rights protected under domestic law as well as Kyrgyzstan’s international human rights obligations.

National Standards

The Kyrgyzstan government’s criminalization of possessing materials it deems to be extremist under article 299-2 of the Criminal Code is overly broad and inconsistent with the protection of several rights under the country’s constitution. To the extent that article 299-2 is used to target non-violent adherents of a particular religious denomination or disproportionately used against ethnic minorities, it may also be discriminatory.

The constitution recognizes the right of every person to freedom of thought, opinion, speech, belief, assembly, religion, and association.[245] It establishes the separation of church and state and bans the pursuit of political goals by religious associations.[246] It prohibits discrimination on any grounds, including ethnicity or beliefs.[247]

The constitution categorically prohibits torture and “all other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment.”[248] Torture is also a criminal offense under national law.[249] However, the UN Committee Against Torture has found that the definition of torture in the Criminal Code of Kyrgyzstan does not meet international standards because it limits criminal responsibility to public officials, excluding others who may act in an official capacity. The Committee also found that domestic law in Kyrgyzstan fails to provide appropriate penalties for torture and warned that its statute of limitations on torture complaints may preclude investigation, prosecution and punishment.[250]

International Standards

The criminalization under article 299-2 of acquiring or possessing vaguely defined extremist materials, many of which are not posted on the government’s official website of banned material, contravenes the human rights requirement that states must define all criminal offences precisely and in a foreseeable manner. It also violates the rights to freedom of religion, expression, and association. All these rights are guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Kyrgyzstan is a party.

Imprisoning members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and other individuals who have not engaged in criminal behavior, but who may engage in peaceful acts or opinions such as opposing the government or discussing their religious and political beliefs, may constitute misuse of the criminal justice system for political ends.

Principle of Legality

The basic principles of fairness and legality are inherent to human rights standards and the rule of law and require the law to be foreseeable and predictable. Article 15(1) of the ICCPR states that “no one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed.”[251] This means that for a criminal law to be legitimate it should be precise and target specific conduct accompanied by the requisite intent. Article 299-2 in its current wording and application do not meet this test, and as Human Rights Watch research has documented, a suspect may legitimately be unaware that he or she is committing a criminal offense by possessing literature that has not been officially listed as banned.

Freedom of Religion

The ICCPR guarantees the right to freedom of thought, belief, and religion. This right includes the freedom to practice one’s religion or belief either individually or in a community, privately or publicly, in worship or in performing religious or spiritual practice and teaching.[252] The ICCPR allows restrictions on the freedom to practice a religion or belief in certain instances such as when it is necessary to protect public safety, public order, health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others. Absent any intent to cause such harm, the mere possession of religious material is protected under international law.

The UN Human Rights Committee has determined that the concept of belief and religion “should be interpreted broadly.” It expresses concern “about any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief on any grounds, including because they are newly created or that they are professed by religious minorities, to which the predominant religious community may be hostile.”[253]

Freedom of Expression

Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society. It extends not only to information or ideas that are favorably received, but also to those that are “deeply offensive,” including in the domains of journalism and religious discourse.[254] Arresting or threatening to prosecute journalists for reporting on inter-ethnic strife and crackdowns in the name of security in Kyrgyzstan violates this right.

The ICCPR imposes positive and negative legal obligations on governments to protect freedom of expression and information.[255] These include the obligations to refrain from non-permissible interference with the rights to expression and exchange of information, to protect freedom of expression and information from harm including by private persons and entities, and to facilitate their exercise.

Article 19 of the ICCPR provides:

Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference; […] Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.[256]

The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that journalists include “bloggers and others who engage in forms of self-publication in print, on the Internet or elsewhere.”[257] In a 2012 resolution adopted by consensus, the UN Human Rights Council affirmed that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.”[258]

Freedom of Association

The ICCPR states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others.”[259] The ICCPR allows narrow restrictions on the rights to freedom of assembly and association subject to a rigorous test. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.[260]

Prohibition Against Torture and Ill-Treatment

The prohibition against torture as well as other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is protected under an array of international and regional human rights treaties including the ICCPR and the Convention Against Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Convention against Torture), to which Kyrgyzstan is a party.[261]

The Convention Against Torture defines torture as both mental and physical, and specifically prohibits torture for the purposes of obtaining a confession, calling it:

Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.[262]

The prohibition on torture is absolute, in that it cannot be justified under any circumstance including a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency.[263]

The ICCPR also states that all people deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and dignity.[264] The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners set forth additional obligations.[265]

Fair Trials

The ICCPR also states that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest and that everyone is entitled to a fair trial before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal, and shall not to be compelled to confess guilt.[266]

 

Recommendations

To the Kyrgyz Republic

All Government Authorities in Kyrgyzstan

  • Ensure that all those accused of terrorism or extremism charges are afforded their full rights at all stages of criminal investigation, prosecution, and, if applicable, sentencing and detention;
  • Ensure all allegations of abuse are promptly investigated, and perpetrators are held to account;
  • Transfer the mandate to screen material for extremist content from the State Commission for Religious Affairs to the State Service for Forensic Expertise. Prioritize training and adequate staffing at the forensic center to allow it to impartially and independently screen material for extremist content, based on clearly defined and objective definitions of extremism that include the element of a deliberate intent to incite violence, in line with international standards;
  • Ensure anyone accused of offences involving prohibited material has a right to effectively challenge expert categorization of materials as extremist;
  • Include civil society and independent experts in the full review of policies and implementation of reforms set forth in the government Action Plan on Countering Extremism and Terrorism from 2017 to 2022;
  • Facilitate visits by UN special procedures whose mandates cover the issues detailed in this report. These include the Special Rapporteurs on counterterrorism, freedom of religion or belief, torture, freedom of expression and association, and the independence of judges and lawyers, as well as the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention;
  • Ensure unfettered access to Kyrgyzstan for independent human rights defenders.

Prosecutor General and Ministry of Justice

  • Immediately halt any prosecutions under article 299-2 that are solely for possession of proscribed material. Ensure prosecutions under this provision focus solely on cases in which material was used or intended to be used to incite or commit violent acts;
  • Promptly conduct an independent review with the participation of independent international legal experts of all article 299-2 cases. Drop criminal charges and take steps to vacate convictions in cases involving possession of material classified as extremist that do not involve use or intent to use such material to incite or commit violent acts;
  • Improve oversight aimed at preventing the planting of evidence, extortion, torture, and other ill-treatment of suspects by law enforcement forces, as well as serious violations of defendants’ fair trial rights. Conduct impartial and thorough investigations into all such allegations. Review criminal proceedings for all suspects accused or found guilty based on tainted evidence;
  • Ensure prompt and independent forensic medical examinations of detainees who allege that they have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment;
  • Hold to account, including where appropriate through criminal prosecutions, those responsible for torture and other acts of ill-treatment as well as other serious abuses and violations of individual’s rights;
  • Promptly post all proscribed material on the Ministry of Justice website and ensure meaningful rights to appeal decisions that categorize the material as proscribed.

Parliament and President

  • Ensure amendments to article 299-2 of the Criminal Code—to prohibit prosecution for possession of extremist material absent evidence of distribution or intended distribution—enter into force as scheduled on January 1, 2019 and are effectively implemented. In the meantime, freeze all pending prosecutions of persons for the offence of mere possession of proscribed material;
  • Revoke or substantially amend national Law No. 150 on Countering Extremist Activity of 2005 to excise overly broad or vague definitions of extremism and extremist acts. These include provisions that criminalize acts such as “affronts to national dignity” and “hooliganism” that may fall far short of direct incitement to terrorist or violent extremist offenses;
  • Restore the option of conditional sentences for individuals convicted of extremism- or terrorism-related offenses in cases where they do not pose a security threat;
  • Ensure individuals convicted of terrorism- or extremism-related offenses can access bank accounts and other financial assets upon completing their sentences, unless new evidence establishes such assets are intended for criminal use.

Prime Minister, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and State Committee for National Security (GKNB)

  • Immediately enforce a zero-tolerance policy for torture and other ill-treatment in detention, as well as the planting of evidence and extortion by any security or law enforcement member or agency. Ensure that the package of judicial reforms that includes the requirement to photograph and carry out audio and video recordings of all searches and confiscation of evidence enters into force as scheduled on January 1, 2019;
  • Appropriately hold to account police and other law enforcement forces responsible for any wrongdoing including through suspensions, dismissals, or referral for criminal prosecutions;
  • Increase efforts to diversify the ethnic composition of law enforcement forces, including the counterterrorism forces of the 10th Department and the GKNB.

State Penitentiary Service (GSIN)

  • Improve screening of prisoners detained for terrorism- and extremism-related offenses with the aim of separating non-violent offenders from violent offenders;
  • Treat all prisoners with dignity, ensure adequate hygiene, nourishment, medical care, housing, recreation and rehabilitation, and refrain from solitary confinement or use it only in exceptional cases as a last resort, in line with international human rights law and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules).

To Kyrgyzstan’s International Partners

All partners including the UN and its counterterrorism bodies, the EU, the OSCE and their member states, and donors

  • Condition counterterrorism assistance to Kyrgyzstan on the measurable improvement of human rights protections in counterterrorism and counter-extremism arrests and prosecutions, including under article 299-2;
  • Continue to document and publicly report on the human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan. Speak out publicly against ongoing and past abuses including the practice of torture and call on the government to effectively address them;
  • Prioritize the provision of legal assistance and other capacity building to Kyrgyzstan on revoking or substantially revising counterterrorism and counter-extremism measures such as article 299-2 that fail to comply with international human rights standards;
  • Offer increased training to help ensure amendments to article 299-2 of the Criminal Code enter into force as scheduled on January 1, 2019 and to improve the capacity of the State Service for Forensic Expertise to impartially and independently review allegedly extremist material for criminal content;
  • Prioritize technical and financial assistance to Kyrgyzstan for screening of prisoners detained for extremism- and terrorism-related offenses and for recreation and rehabilitation programs that comport with international human rights law and the Mandela Rules;
  • The UN Counter-Terrorism Office should monitor and include in its public reports to the Security Council and General Assembly concerns about the possible abuse of counterterrorism measures in Kyrgyzstan to target ethnic, religious, political or other groups. All UN agencies operating in Kyrgyzstan should assist in this process;
  • The UN Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism should seek to visit Kyrgyzstan and include in her public reports and to the UN Human Rights Council any concerns about use of counterterrorism measures to target ethnic, religious, political or other groups. The UN Special Rapporteurs on torture and on the independence of judges and lawyers should also request access for visits to the country;
  • The EU should ensure that genuine adherence to international human rights standards is a core element of any counterterrorism measures in Central Asia and in the bilateral Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that at time of writing it was negotiating with Kyrgyzstan;
  • Encourage and call on Kyrgyzstan’s other partners, including Russia, China, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (SCTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), to adopt counterterrorism approaches in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere in Central Asia that comply with international human rights standards.

 

Acknowledgments

This report was researched and written by Letta Tayler, senior Terrorism and Counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch, with research and writing contributions from Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The report was edited by Mihra Rittmann and Hugh Williamson, director of the Europe and Central Asia division, and Nadim Houry, director of the Terrorism and Counterterrorism division. Aisling Reidy, senior legal adviser, and Tom Porteous, deputy program director, provided legal and program reviews, respectively.

Alexander Maier, Alfa Fellow in the Europe and Central Asia Division, Aichurek Kurmanbekova, research assistant for Kyrgyzstan, Viktoriya Kim, senior coordinator for Europe and Central Asia, and Nolberto Zubía, intern in the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Division, provided additional research assistance and support.

Production and editorial assistance was provided by Michelle Lonnquist, senior associate in the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Division, and intern Tia García. Production assistance was also provided by Jose Martinez, senior coordinator, and Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager.

We also thank the victims and relatives who shared their experiences, as well as the human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, government officials, and other individuals who provided additional information and expertise. Without their assistance this report would not have been possible.

 

 

[1] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2018, Kyrgyzstan chapter (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2018), https://www.hrw.org/ world-report/2018/country-chapters/kyrgyzstan; United Nations Committee against Torture, “Concluding observations on the second periodic report of Kyrgyzstan,” CAT/C/KGZ/CO/2, December 20, 2013, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/ treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CAT/C/KGZ/CO/2&Lang=En (accessed June 25, 2018), paras. 5-6.

[2] Human Rights Watch, Distorted Justice: Kyrgyzstan’s Flawed Investigations and Trials on the 2010 Violence, June 8, 2011, https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/06/08/distorted-justice/kyrgyzstans-flaw... Human Rights Watch, World Report 2018, Kyrgyzstan chapter. See also, “OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and Government of Kyrgyzstan to intensify co-operation on inter-ethnic policy and multilingual education,” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe press release, April 12, 2018, https://www.osce.org/hcnm/377635.

[3] Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2017,” February 21, 2018, https://www.transparency.org/ news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2017 (accessed June 26, 2018).

[4] Suyunbek Shamshiev, “50,000 Migrant Workers Leave Kyrgyzstan Annually,” 24.kg, November 17, 2017, https://24.kg/eng lish/68509_50000_migrant_workers_leave_Kyrgyzstan_annually/ (accessed June 26, 2018). Some sources estimate the number of migrant workers as 1 million. Remittances to Kyrgyzstan from the diaspora total at least US$1.6 billion a year.

[5] International Crisis Group (ICG), “Kyrgyzstan: State Fragility and Radicalisation,” October 3, 2016, https://www.crisisgroup. org/europe-central-asia/central-asia/kyrgyzstan/kyrgyzstan-state-fragility-and-radicalisation (accessed June 26, 2018); Richard Barrett, “Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees,” the Soufan Center, October 2017, http://thesoufancenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Beyond-the-Calipha... es-TSC-Report-October-2017-v3.pdf; Anne Speckhard, Ardian Shajkovci, and Chinara Esengul, “Analysis of the Drivers of Radicalization and Violent Extremism in Kyrgyzstan,” International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, August 4, 2017, http://www.icsve.org/research-reports/analysis-of-the-drivers-of-radical... ing-the-roles-of-kyrgyz-women-in-supporting-joining-intervening-in-and-preventing-violent-extremism-in-kyrgyzsta/ (accessed June 26, 2018).

[6] See, e.g., ICG, “Kyrgyzstan: State Fragility and Radicalisation,” https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/central-asia/kyrgyzstan/....

[7] Search for Common Ground, “Promoting Religious Freedom through Government and Civil Society Collaboration in Kyrgyzstan,” July 2017, https://www.sfcg.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/FoR-in-Kyrgyzstan-Final_... Report_04.08.2017-1-2.pdf, p. 10.

[8] US Commission on International Religious Freedom, 2017 Annual Report, Kyrgyzstan, http://www.uscirf.gov/sites/ default/files/Kyrgyzstan.2017.pdf (accessed June 26, 2018).

[9] Human Rights Watch interviews with 11 local human rights defenders and lawyers as well as religious experts, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018. See also ICG, “Kyrgyzstan: State Fragility and Radicalisation,” https://www.crisisgroup.org/eur ope-central-asia/central-asia/kyrgyzstan/kyrgyzstan-state-fragility-and-radicalisation; and Human Rights Watch, World Report 2018, Kyrgyzstan chapter.

[10] In 2015, then-Prime Minister Temir Sariyev spoke out against the wearing of Islamic dress. The theme was reprised a year later by an NGO supported by then-President Almazbek Atambayev. The group hung banners in central Bishkek depicting women wearing traditional Kyrgyz clothing on one side and hijabs on the other, with the caption, “Oh poor nation, where are we headed?” See, e.g., Aidai Masylkanova, “Is the ISIS Threat in Kyrgyzstan Real?,” The Diplomat, August 4, 2015, https://thediplomat.com/2015/08/is-the-isis-threat-in-kyrgyzstan-real/ (accessed June 26, 2018); and Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2017, Kyrgyzstan Country Profile, https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2017/kyrgyzstan (accessed June 26, 2018). The government also has been accused of unlawfully restricting the practices of smaller religious groups including Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Ahmadi Muslims. For the most part, mainstream followers of the Russian Orthodox Church have encountered fewer barriers.

[11] Human Rights Watch interviews with members of Kyrgyzstan civil society, international NGOs, and inter-governmental organizations, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017; Felix Corley, "Kyrgyzstan: Religious censorship, sharing faiths ban?" Forum 18, May 31, 2017, http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2283 (accessed June 26, 2018).

[12] Supreme Court of the Kyrgyz Republic, Bulletin 2(63), 2016, http://jogorku.sot.kg/sites/default/files/images/2017.pdf, pp. 34-35.

[13] National Statistics Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic, 2018 Population Data, http://www.stat.kg/en/statistics/naselenie/ (accessed June 26, 2018).

[14] Human Rights Watch letter to President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbai Jeenbekov, December 20, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/ne ws/2017/12/20/hrw-letter-president-kyrgyzstan-sooronbai-jeenbekov; and Distorted Justice: Kyrgyzstan’s Flawed Investigations and Trials on the 2010 Violence, June 8, 2011, https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/06/08/distorted-justice/ kyrgyzstans-flawed-investigations-and-trials-2010-violence.

[15] See, e.g., Ulugbek Babakulov, “Farewell to Kyrgyzstan’s ‘island of democracy,’” Open Democracy, September 6, 2017, https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ulugbek-babakulov/farewell-to-ky... (accessed June 26, 2018).

[16] See, e.g., OSCE Programme Office in Bishkek, “Countering Terrorism,” https://www.osce.org/programme-office-in-bishkek /106155 (accessed June 26, 2018); and “UNODC and Japan partner with Kyrgyzstan’s Prison Service to prevent violent extremism,” United Nations in Kyrgyz Republic news release, February 16, 2018, http://kg.one.un.org/content/unct/ kyrgyzstan/en/home/news/kg-news/2018/unodc-and-japan-partner-with-kyrgyzstans-prison-service-to-preve.html (accessed June 26, 2018).

[17] Simon Hooper, “UK Prevent strategist to build counter-extremism programmes in Central Asia,” Middle East Eye, May 23, 2017, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/home-office-prevent-strategist-build-c... (accessed June 26, 2018).

[18] “Press Statement on United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia,” UN Security Council press release, SC/13179, January 25, 2018, https://www.un.org/press/en/2018/sc13179.doc.htm (accessed June 26, 2018). See also Hugh Williamson, “UN Secretary-General Fails to Speak Up for Rights in Central Asia,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, June 15, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/15/un-secretary-general-fails-speak-rig....

[19] “Council Conclusions on the EU strategy for Central Asia,” 10387/17, Council of the European Union, June 19, 2017, http://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/23991/st10387en17-conclusions-on-th... (accessed June 26, 2018), para. 5.

[20] Delegation of the European Union to the Kyrgyz Republic, “Kyrgyz Republic and the EU,” May 12, 2016, https://eeas.europ a.eu/delegations/kyrgyz-republic/1397/kyrgyz-republic-and-eu_en; “General information about EU projects in Kyrgyzstan,” May 12, 2016, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/kyrgyz-republic/1398/general-informat... stan_en; and “EU Supporting Rule of Law and Rural Development in the Kyrgyz Republic with €23 million,” European Commission news release, February 16, 2017, https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/news-and-events/eu-supporting-rule-law-an... (all accessed June 26, 2018). See also, “EU Ready To Start Talks On 'Ambitious' Bilateral Agreement With Kyrgyzstan,” RFE/RL, November 9, 2017, https://www.rferl.org/a/eu-kyrgyzstan-uzbekistan-mogherini-visit/28843969.html (accessed June 26, 2018).

[21] “Jeenbekov names Kyrgyzstan’s allies in the fight against terrorism,” Radio Azattyk, May 9, 2018, https://rus.azattyk.org/a/29216614.html (accessed June 26, 2018).

[22] Regional Treaties, Agreements, Declarations and Related, Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, June 15, 2001, entered into force March 29, 2003, http://www.refworld.org/docid/49f5d9f92.html (accessed June 26, 2018).

[23] The campaigns are named “Strike Hard” and “Enduring Peace.” See “China: Big Data Fuels Crackdown in Minority Region,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 26, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/26/china-big-data-fuels-crackdown-minority-region.

[24] Anara Mamytova, “China to provide Kyrgyzstan 100 million yuan grant aid,” 24.kg, March 23, 2017, https://24.kg/ english/47683_China_to_provide_Kyrgyzstan_100_million_yuan_grant_aid_/ (accessed June 26, 2018).

[25] Akhilesh Pillalamarri, “The United States Just Closed Its Last Base in Central Asia,” The Diplomat, June 10, 2014, https://thediplomat.com/2014/06/the-united-states-just-closed-its-last-base-in-central-asia/ (accessed June 26, 2018).

[26] See, e.g., Ahmed Rashid, “They’re Only Sleeping: Why militant Islamicists in Central Asia aren’t going to go away,” New Yorker, January 14, 2002, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/01/14/theyre-only-sleeping (accessed June 26, 2018); Tommy Caldwell, “The Push: An Excerpt From Tommy Caldwell's Gripping New Memoir,” Climbing, May 5, 2017, https:/ /www.climbing.com/people/the-push-an-excerpt-from-tommy-caldwells-grippin... (accessed June 26, 2018).

[27] Joanna Paraszczuk, “How to Recruit Militants & Influence People: IS's First-Ever Kyrgyz Recruitment Video,” RFE/RL, July 27, 2015, https://www.rferl.org/a/islamic-state-kyrgyz-recruitment-video/27155247.html (accessed June 26, 2018).

[28] “A Year After St. Petersburg Subway Blast, Russia Says Probe Almost Finished,” RFE/RL, April 3, 2018, https://www.rferl.or g/a/russia-peterburg-subway-bombing-probe-almost-finished/29141942.html (accessed August 26, 2018); “Istanbul Reina club suspect 'confesses': official,” Al Jazeera, January 17, 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/01/istanbul-reina-clu b-suspect-confesses-official-170117084328630.html (accessed June 26, 2018); Catherine Putz, “3 Convicted for Chinese Embassy Attack in Bishkek,” The Diplomat, June 30, 2017, https://thediplomat.com/2017/06/3-convicted-for-chinese-emba ssy-attack-in-bishkek/ (accessed June 26, 2018); “Trial begins in Turkey over IS attack on Istanbul airport,” DW, November 13, 2017, https://www.dw.com/en/trial-begins-in-turkey-over-is-attack-on-istanbul-... (accessed July 30, 2018); “Stockholm Truck Attack Suspect Pleads Guilty As Trial Opens,” RFE/RL, February 14, 2018, https://www.rferl.org/a/s weden-uzbekistan-tajikistan-stockholm-truck-attack-trial/29037023.html (accessed July 22, 2018); “New York truck attack suspect charged,” Washington Post, November 2, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/11/0 1/new-york-attack-probe-expands-to-uzbekistan-as-possible-militant-links-explored/?utm_term=.4e7e92a409b2 (accessed August 23, 2018); Rukmini Callimachi and Andrew E. Kramer, “Video Purports to Show Tajikistan Attackers Pledging Allegiance to ISIS,” New York Times, July 31, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/31/world/asia/isis-tajikistan-video-atta... (accessed August 23, 2018).

[29] UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee, “Foreign terrorist fighters,” https://www.un.org/sc/ctc/focus-areas/foreign-terrorist-fighters/ (accessed June 26, 2018).

[30] See, e.g., “Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees,” the Soufan Center, http://thesoufancente r.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Beyond-the-Caliphate-Foreign-Fighters-and-the-Threat-of-Returnees-TSC-Report-October-2017-v3.pdf. Other regions that the study estimates to have significant numbers of nationals who fought in Syria and Iraq are the Middle East (›7,000), Western Europe (›5,700), the Maghreb (›5,300), and South and Southeast Asia (›1,500), followed by the Balkans (›800) and North America (›400). See also, “Analysis of the Drivers of Radicalization and Violent Extremism in Kyrgyzstan,” International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, http://www.icsve.org/research-reports/analysis-of-the-drivers-of-radical... (accessed June 26, 2018).

[31] See, e.g., UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, Enhancing the Understanding of the Foreign Terrorist Fighters Phenomenon in Syria, July 2017, http://www.un.org/en/counterterrorism/assets/img/Report_Final_20170727.pdf (accessed June 26, 2018). According to the Soufan Center, 8,700 people traveled from all former Soviet republics to Syria and Iraq—the highest figure for any region in the world. That figure included Dagestanis and Chechens among others, not only members of the Central Asian diaspora. See “Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees,” the Soufan Center, http://the soufancenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Beyond-the-Caliphate-Foreign-Fighters-and-the-Threat-of-Returnees-TSC-Report-October-2017-v3.pdf.

[32] See, e.g., Noah Tucker, “Central Asian Involvement in The Conflict in Syria and Iraq: Drivers and Responses,” USAID, May 2015, http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PBAAE879.pdf (accessed June 26, 2018); “Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees,” the Soufan Center, http://thesoufancenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Beyond-the-Caliphat e-Foreign-Fighters-and-the-Threat-of-Returnees-TSC-Report-October-2017-v3.pdf; and Thomas F. Lynch III, Michael Bouffard, Kelsey King, and Graham Vickowski, “The Return of Foreign Fighters to Central Asia: Implications for US Counterterrorism Policy,” Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University, October 29, 2016, http://ndupress.ndu.edu/Portals/68/ Documents/stratperspective/inss/Strategic-Perspectives-21.pdf (accessed July 22, 2018), pp. 5 and 23. Three independent security experts as well Bishkek-based diplomats, academics, and human rights defenders also expressed this concern to Human Rights Watch during interviews in Kyrgyzstan in June-July 2017 and by telephone and Internet.

[33] Royal United Services Institute and Search for Common Ground, “Causes and Motives of Radicalization Among Central Asian Labor Migrants in the Russian Federation, “https://www.sfcg.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/RUSI-report_Central-Asia... (accessed July 14, 2018), p. 4.

[34] State Committee for National Security (GKNB) portion of consolidated government responses from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Human Rights Watch regarding the information in this report, June 22, 2018. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with senior government official, Kyrgyzstan, May 2018. As with other government officials and representatives of NGOs, the name and other details were withheld upon interviewee’s request.

[36] Ibid.

[37] In 2013, Jabhat al-Nusra pledged loyalty to Al-Qaeda. However, in 2016 it renamed itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in an apparent attempt to distance itself from Al-Qaeda, and the following year merged with other groups to become Tahrir al-Sham.

[38] Human Rights Watch interview with senior government official, Bishkek, July 2017.

[39] “Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees,” the Soufan Center, http://thesoufancenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Beyond-the-Calipha....

[40] Ministry of Internal Affairs portion of the consolidated government responses from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Human Rights Watch, June 22, 2018. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[41] UN Committee against Torture, “Concluding observations on the second periodic report of Kyrgyzstan,” http://tbinternet. ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CAT/C/KGZ/CO/2&Lang=En, paras. 5-6.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid., para. 5.

[44] “Zero tolerance towards torture—uniting efforts of the government and society,” Delegation of the European Union to the Kyrgyz Republic news release, February 9, 2018, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/kyrgyz-republic/39643/zero-tolerance-... (accessed June 26, 2018).

[45] For more information, see the official website of the National Center of the Kyrgyz Republic for the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, http://npm.kg/en/.

[46] “Zero tolerance towards torture—uniting efforts of the government and society,” Delegation of the European Union to the Kyrgyz Republic news release, February 9, 2018, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/kyrgyz-republic/39643/zero-tolerance-... (accessed June 26, 2018).

[47] Human Rights Watch interview with senior member of Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[48] As of June 2017, the only non-Muslim entry on the list of banned organizations is the Unification Church. The full list is: 1. Al-Qaeda; 2. Taliban; 3. East Turkestan Islamic Movement; 4. Kurdistan People's Congress (“Kongra-Gel”); 5. Eastern Turkestan Liberation Organization; 6. Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami; 7. Islamic Jihad Union; 8. Turkestan Islamic Party (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan); 9. Unification Church; 10. Zhaishul Mahdi; 11. Jund-al-Khalifa; 12. Ansarullah (Ansar Allah); 13. Takfir Wal-Hijra; 14. Acromiya; 15. Said Buryatsky; 16. Islamic State; 17. Jabhat al-Nusra; 18. Imam Bukhari Battalion; 19. Jannat Oshiklari; 20. Monotheism and Jihad Front; 21. Yakyn-Inkar. See “List of Organizations Whose Activity is Banned on the Territory of the Kyrgyz Republic,” State Committee for Religious Affairs, June 2017, http://religion.gov.kg/ru/relgion_ organization/%D1%82%D1%8B%D1%8E%D1%83-%D1%81%D0%B0%D0%BB%D1%8B%D0%BD%D0%B3%D0%B0%D0%BD-%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B9-%D0%B1%D0%B8%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%BB%D0%B5%D1%80/ (accessed July 23, 2018).

[49] Evgenii Novikov, “The Recruiting and Organizational Structure of Hizb ut-Tahrir,” Terrorism Monitor Vol: 2, Issue: 22, Jamestown Foundation, November 17, 2004, https://jamestown.org/program/the-recruiting-and-organizational-structur... (accessed June 26, 2018).

[50] Hizb ut-Tahrir also has been accused of anti-Semitism by countries including Germany, whose ban on the group was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in 2012. See “Media statement regarding ISIS’s declaration in Iraq,” Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, July 2, 2014, http://www.hizb.org.uk/current-affairs/media-statement-regarding-isiss-d... (accessed June 26, 2018); ICG, “Syria Calling: Radicalisation in Central Asia,” January 20, 2015, https://www.crisisgroup.org/ europe-central-asia/central-asia/syria-calling-radicalisation-central-asia; US Institute of Peace (USIP), “Preventing Violent Extremism in Kyrgyzstan,” October 2014, https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/SR355_Preventing-Violent-Extrem... (accessed June 27, 2018); and "Complaint about prohibition of Islamic organisation’s activities in Germany declared inadmissible," European Court of Human Rights press release, ECHR 260 (2012), June 19, 2012.

[51] Human Rights Watch interviews with four international and Kyrgyzstan-based consultants, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[52] “Nine-Month, 2016 Summation of the Results of Operational and Official Activity for the Republic,” Ministry of Internal Affairs news release, October 17, 2016, http://mvd.kg/index.php/rus/mass-media/all-news/item/2828-mvd-podvedeny-....

[53] Human Rights Watch interviews with six local human rights defenders, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[54] Law No. 97 on Amending Certain Legislative Acts of the Kyrgyz Republic (the Civil Procedure Code of the Kyrgyz Republic, the Law of the Kyrgyz Republic on Countering Extremist Activity), July 1, 2016, http://cdb.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/111376.

[55] Ulan Nazarov, “Kyrgyzstan takes action to protect ‘vulnerable’ youth population from propaganda,” Caravanserai, December 21, 2017, http://central.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_ca/features/2017/12/21/... (accessed June 26, 2018); “Kyrgyzstan shuts down websites with Taliban and Islamic State content,” AkiPress.com, January 8, 2018, https://akipress.com/news:600657/ (accessed June 26, 2018).

[57] Criminal Code of October 1, 1997, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/568, arts. 299 and 299-2.

[58] The Russian provision is article 1(1) of Russia’s Federal Law No. 114-FZ, On Combating Extremist Activities, July 25, 2002, http://base.garant.ru/12127578/. The other countries in the former Soviet sphere with measures criminalizing storage or distribution of material that the authorities deem extremist are Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Slovakia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. In some of these countries, such provisions are administrative rather than criminal offenses. For a comprehensive analysis of such laws, see Alexander Verkhovsky, Criminal Law on Hate Crime, Incitement to Hatred and Hate Speech in OSCE Participating States, (The Hague: SOVA Center, 2016), https://www.nhc.nl/assets/uploads/2017/ 07/NHC-Criminal-Law_10.pdf (accessed June 26, 2018).

[59] The requirement of “clarity” of the criminal law—often referred to as the “void for vagueness” doctrine—is enshrined in article 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). See UN General Assembly, “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),” Resolution 2200A (XXI) (1966), entered into force March 23, 1976, in accordance with article 49, http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx (accessed June 27, 2018), art. 4. See also Manfred Nowak, UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: CCPR Commentary, 2nd rev. ed., (Kehl am Rhein: Engel, 2005), p.361.

[60] Law No. 60 of the Kyrgyz Republic, On Amendments and Additions to Certain Legislative Acts of the Kyrgyz Republic, February 20, 2009, art. 1(2), http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/203112?cl=ru-ru.

[61] Law No. 180 of the Kyrgyz Republic, On Amendments and Additions to the Criminal Code, August 3, 2013, art. 1(9), http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/203989?cl=ru-ru.

[62] Human Rights Watch interviews with 13 local human rights defenders and lawyers and representatives of international NGOs, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018, as well as by phone and Internet.

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with a representative of an international NGO via Internet communication, May 2018.

[64] Article 63 of the Criminal Code as amended by Kyrgyzstan Law No. 162, On Amending Certain Legislative Acts in the Sphere of Combating Terrorism and Extremism, August 2, 2016, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/568.

[65] Court documents on file with Human Rights Watch.

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with senior official in Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[67] Darya Podolskaya, “Kubat Otorbaev resigns as Ombudsman of Kyrgyzstan,” 24.kg, June 26, 2018, https://24.kg/english/ 88977_Kubat_Otorbaev_resigns_as_Ombudsman_of_Kyrgyzstan/ (accessed July 23, 2018).

[68] Article 315 of the Criminal Code as amended by Law No. 10 of the Kyrgyz Republic of January 24, 2017, effective January 1, 2019, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/111527.

[69] “Time is very short. Very little has been done, and much remains to be done,” Kyrgyzstan’s President Sooronbai Jeenbekov said in May 2018. “Implementation of judicial and legal reform and fighting against corruption is the most priority work in Kyrgyzstan,” Office of the President, May 17, 2018, http://www.president.kg/ru/sobytiya/11658_prezident_sooronbay_ghe enbekov_realizaciya_sudebno_pravovoy_reformi_i_borba_protiv_korrupcii__samaya_prioritetnaya_rabota_v_kirgizstane.

[70] Human Rights Watch separate interviews with three representatives of international NGOs and four local civil society members, Bishkek, May 2018.

[71] Kyrgyzstan Law No. 150 on Countering Extremist Activity, August 17, 2005, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/1748, art. 1.

[72] Human Rights Watch online interview with Noah Tucker, June 21, 2017.

[73] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, Article 19: Freedoms of opinion and expression, CCPR/C/GC/34 (2011), http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/gc34.pdf (accessed June 26, 2018), para. 46.

[74] Article 19, “Kyrgyzstan: Law on Countering Extremist Activity,” December 2015, https://www.article19.org/data/files/ medialibrary/38221/Kyrgyzstan-Extremism-LA-Final.pdf (accessed June 26, 2018), p. 4.

[75] Ibid., p. 10.

[76] Kyrgyzstan Law No. 150 on Countering Extremist Activity, August 17, 2005, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/1748, art. 13.

[77] Human Rights Watch separate interviews with 11 human rights defenders and lawyers, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[78] Ministry of Justice, List of Extremist Materials, http://minjust.gov.kg/ru/content/950.

[79] Ibid., No. 6.

[80] Ibid., No. 3.

[81] Kyrgyzstan Law No. 150 on Countering Extremist Activity, August 17, 2005, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/1748, art. 13.

[82] Ministry of Justice letter to Human Rights Watch, August 30, 2017. Letter on file with Human Rights Watch.

[83] Human Rights Watch separate interviews with 11 human rights defenders, lawyers, and religion experts, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018.

[84] See, e.g., “Kyrgyzstan: Film Ban Violates Free Speech,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 4, 2012, https://www. hrw.org/news/2012/10/04/kyrgyzstan-film-ban-violates-free-speech; “Kyrgyz Indigo” and “Labrys,” “Alternative Report on the Implementation of the Provisions of ICCPR Related to LGBT People In Kyrgyzstan,” March 2014, https://tbinternet.ohchr. org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/KGZ/INT_CCPR_CSS_KGZ_16586_E.pdf (accessed July 23, 2018).

[85] Human Rights Watch separate interviews with six defense lawyers, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018.

[86] Supreme Court of the Kyrgyz Republic, Bulletin 2(63), 2016, http://jogorku.sot.kg/sites/default/files/images/2017.pdf, pp. 35-36.

[87] Copies on file with Human Rights Watch.

[88] State Commission for Religious Affairs expert examination dated January 11, 2017. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[89] Written comments from State Commission for Religious Affairs, October 5, 2017. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[90] Human Rights Watch interviews with members of NGOs monitoring the transfer, Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[91] Government authorities did not respond to requests from Human Rights Watch for data from 2017 and 2018 on article 299-2 arrests, charges, and convictions. Human Rights Watch reached the number of at least 258 convictions based on data from government sources and NGOs, as well as interviews with defense lawyers in Kyrgyzstan. The governmental sources included published material from the Prosecutor General’s Office; “Nine-Month, 2016 Summation of the Results of Operational and Official Activity for the Republic,” Ministry of Internal Affairs news release, October 17, 2016, http://mvd.kg/index.php/rus/m ass-media/all-news/item/2828-mvd-podvedeny-itogi-operativno-sluzhebnoj-deyatelnosti-ovd-respubliki-za-9-mesyatsev-2016-goda; Open Viewpoint Foundation, “Freedom of Religion or Belief in the Kyrgyz Republic: An Overview,” October 1, 2014, http://www.osce.org/odihr/124810?download=true (accessed June 26, 2018), p. 17; “Review of the judicial practice for the consideration of criminal cases on terrorism and extremism,” Kyrgyz Republic, Bulletin of the Supreme Court, 20(63) 2016, http://www.jogorku.sot.kg/sites/default/files/byulleten_263_2016.pdf, p. 34; and “Exchange of experience and information on the practice of dealing with crimes related to terrorism and extremism, Speech of Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court of the Kyrgyz Republic, VE Esenkanov,” in Kyrgyz Republic, Bulletin of the Supreme Court, 20 (64) 2017, http://jogorku.sot.kg/sites/default/files/images/2017.pdf, p. 178.

[92] Data from the Prosecutor General’s Office that was shared by a third party. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[93] Ministry of Internal Affairs portion of the consolidated government responses from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Human Rights Watch, June 22, 2018. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[94] US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, “Kyrgyz Republic 2016 International Religious Freedom Report,” 2016, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/269178.pdf (accessed July 23, 2018). The report did not list the arrest figures by specific offense.

[95] Data from the State Penitentiary Service (GSIN) published by UNODC, March 2018. On file with Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch interviews with nine defense lawyers, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018.

[96] Human Rights Watch interviews with 11 defense lawyers, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[97] Human Rights Watch interviews with Bishkek-based diplomats, NGO representatives and security experts, and local human rights defenders, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017. See, e.g., US Department of State, Bureau of Counterterrorism, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2016: Kyrgyz Republic,” July 2017, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/272488.pdf (accessed June 26, 2018).

[98] Ibid. See also ICG, “Kyrgyzstan: State Fragility and Radicalisation,” https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/ central-asia/kyrgyzstan/kyrgyzstan-state-fragility-and-radicalisation.

[99] Human Rights Watch interview with a government official, Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[100] Human Rights Watch separate interviews with two Ministry of Internal Affairs security officials, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018.

[101] Human Rights Watch interview with a Ministry of Internal Affairs security official, Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[102] Human Rights Watch interview with a second Ministry of Internal Affairs security official, Kyrgyzstan, June-July, 2017.

[103] Prosecutor General’s Office portion of the consolidated government responses from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Human Rights Watch, June 22, 2018. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[104] Ibid. According to the letter, two cases were investigated, one of which was suspended and the other dismissed for lack of evidence.

[105] Human Rights Watch interview with a member of the Kyrgyzstan Coalition against Torture, Kyrgyzstan, July 2017. The coalition joins 16 human rights organizations working on torture prevention. It interviewed the prisoners in Correctional Colony No. 27 in Moldovanovka, on the outskirts of Bishkek. A copy of the survey is on file with Human Rights Watch.

[106] Letter from Deputy Ombudsman Erlan Alimaev to Human Rights Watch May 17, 2018. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[107] Human Rights Watch interview with senior official from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[108] Bulletin of the Supreme Court, 20(63) 2016, pp. 34-35. Of the 252 convictions, 46 were women and two were children. The Supreme Court study did not provide demographic breakdowns for convictions solely under article 299-2.

[109] Ministry of Internal Affairs portion of the consolidated government responses from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Human Rights Watch, June 22, 2018. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[110] Human Rights Watch interviews with two independent religious scholars and three government officials, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018. USIP, “Preventing Violent Extremism in Kyrgyzstan,” October 2014, https://www.usip.org/sites/ default/files/SR355_Preventing-Violent-Extremism-in-Kyrgyzstan.pdf (accessed June 27, 2018).

[111] Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Internal Affairs counterterrorism official, Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[112] GKNB portion of the consolidated government responses from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Human Rights Watch regarding the information in this report, June 22, 2018. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[113] Human Rights Watch interview with defense lawyer, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[114] Human Rights Watch interview with “Dilshod,” Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[115] State Commission for Religious Affairs expert opinion of October 2016. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[116] Human Rights Watch interview with “Sukhrob,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017. Details of the interview withheld to protect interviewee from possible reprisal.

[117] Erica Marat, “Kyrgyzstan’s Fragmented Police and Armed Forces,” Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies, 18 (2010), https://journals.openedition.org/pipss/3803 (accessed July 23, 2018), para. 25.

[118] Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), “Kyrgyz Republic Parliamentary Elections: OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report,” October 4, 2015, https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/kyrgyzstan/219186?download=true (accessed June 27, 2018), p. 20.

[119] Human Rights Watch interview with representative of an international organization, Kyrgyzstan, May 2018. A UNODC pamphlet said that 6 percent of the police forces nationwide were minorities in 2014. In Osh, where nearly half the population is ethnic Uzbek, 9 percent of the police forces were minorities that year. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[120] National Statistics Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic, 2018 Population Data, http://www.stat.kg/en/statistics/naselenie/ (accessed June 26, 2018).

[121] Human Rights Watch interview with senior government official, Bishkek, July 2017.

[122] Human Rights Watch interviews with three government officials, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018.

[123] Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Interior security official, Bishkek, July 2017.

[124] Human Rights Watch interview with representative of an inter-governmental organization, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[125] Criminal-Procedural Code of the Kyrgyz Republic of February 2, 2017, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/111530?cl=ru-ru#st (accessed July 18, 2018), art. 163.

[126] Criminal-Procedural Code of the Kyrgyz Republic of June 30, 1999, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/9?cl=ru-ru (accessed July 18, 2018), art. 181.

[127] Human Rights Watch interview with “Oybek,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[128] State Commission for Religious Expertise opinion of 2017. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[129] Human Rights Watch is withholding details of the job to protect “Oybek” from potential retaliation.

[130] Human Rights Watch interview with “Oybek,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[131] Human Rights Watch Internet communication with Oybek’s lawyer, August 2018.

[132] Human Rights Watch interviews with “Farhod,” “Alisher,” and their lawyer, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[133] Human Rights Watch Internet communication with lawyer for “Farhod,” August 2018.

[134] Human Rights Watch interview with “Alisher,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[135] Human Rights Watch interview with defense lawyer, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017. Please note that Rustam was convicted before the Criminal Code was amended in August 2016 to mandate prison terms for article 299-2 offenses.

[136] Human Rights Watch interviews with lawyers, accused, and family members, Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[137] Human Rights Watch interview with lawyer and family member of “Abdul Karim,” Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[138] Human Rights Watch interviews with family member of “Abdul Karim,” Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[139] See, e.g., US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, “Kyrgyz Republic 2017 Human Rights Report,” 2017, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/277529.pdf (accessed June 27, 2018).

[140] Human Rights Watch interview with family member of accused, Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[141] World Bank, “Kyrgyz Republic homepage,” https://data.worldbank.org/country/kyrgyz-republic (accessed June 27, 2018).

[142] Human Rights Watch interview with “Bilol,” Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[143] Ibid.

[144] Human Rights Watch interviews with seven defense lawyers, accused and family members, and civil society members, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018.

[145] Human Rights Watch interview with “Mavlyuda,” Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[146] Copy of court papers on file with Human Rights Watch.

[147] Copy of court papers on file with Human Rights Watch.

[148] Human Rights Watch interview with “Umida,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[149] Human Rights Watch interview with “Tohir,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[150] Ibid.

[151] National Center of the Kyrgyz Republic on the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Annual Report 2014, pp. 77-79. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[152] Copy of forensic examinations and court papers on file with Human Rights Watch.

[153] UN Committee against Torture, “Concluding observations on the second periodic report of Kyrgyzstan,” CAT/C/KGZ/CO/2, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?sy... (accessed June 25, 2018), para. 6(d).

[154] Court papers on file with Human Rights Watch.

[155] Court papers on file with Human Rights Watch.

[156] Human Rights Watch interview with “Mahmud” and his father “Aziz,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[157] Human Rights Watch interview with “Mahmud,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[158] Human Rights Watch interview with “Aziz,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[159] Ibid.

[160] Human Rights Watch interview with “Sukhrob,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[161] Human Rights Watch interviews with lawyer and family member of "Akmal," Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[162] Court sentencing order for "Akmal," 2017. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[163] Ibid.

[164] Ibid.

[165] Human Rights Watch interview with relative of “Akmal,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[166] Human Rights Watch interviews with 12 civil society members, lawyers, journalists, and human rights defenders, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018.

[167] Court decision on file with Human Rights Watch.

[168] Court decision on file with Human Rights Watch.

[169] Human Rights Watch interview with “Rahman,” Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[170] Ibid.

[171] Ministry of Justice, List of Extremist Materials, No. 4, http://minjust.gov.kg/ru/content/950.

[172] Both the court decision and the Ministry of Justice’s List of Extremist Materials erroneously attribute the 2012 report to ADC Memorial rather than to Memorial. The two organizations are not affiliated.

[173] Court decision on file with Human Rights Watch.

[174] Human Rights Watch email and telephone correspondence with representatives of the organizations whose material was banned, May-June 2018.

[175] Ministry of Justice, List of Extremist Materials, No. 17, http://minjust.gov.kg/ru/content/950. See also “RSF calls for end to prosecutions of Kyrgyz media and journalists,” Reporters Without Borders news release, June 26, 2017, https://rsf.org/en /news/rsf-calls-end-prosecutions-kyrgyz-media-and-journalists (accessed June 27, 2018). The article, by Ulugbek Babakulov, was “People are like animals. Calls for reprisals against the ‘Sarts’ in Kyrgyz segments of social networks,” Ferghana News, May 23, 2017, http://www.fergananews.com/articles/9421 (accessed June 27, 2018).

[176] The GKNB accused Babakulov of violating article 299-1 of the Criminal Code, a companion provision to article 299-2, for writing the article. In response, Babakulov fled the country. See Ulugbek Babakulov, “Farewell to Kyrgyzstan’s ‘island of democracy,’” Open Democracy, September 6, 2017, https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ulugbek-babakulov/ farewell-to-kyrgyzstans-island-of-democracy (accessed June 27, 2018).

[177] Government authorities said Rafiq Kamalov was accidentally killed in crossfire, but his death sparked an outcry among many ethnic Uzbeks. See Igor Rotar, “Kyrgyzstan: Imam's killing seen as attack on independent Islam,” Forum 18, August 24, 2006, http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=835 (accessed June 27, 2018).

[178] Alla Pyatibratova, “Kyrgyz Mufti Fends Off Extremism Charges,” Institute for War and Peace Reporting, February 21, 2005, https://iwpr.net/global-voices/kyrgyz-mufti-fends-extremism-charges (accessed June 27, 2018).

[179] Court paper on file with Human Rights Watch. See also Peter Leonard, “Kyrgyzstan: Trial Marks Escalation in Religious Crackdown,” Eurasia.net, August 13, 2015, https://eurasianet.org/s/kyrgyzstan-trial-marks-escalation-in-religious-crackdown (accessed June 27, 2018).

[180] Ibid.

[181] Court document on file with Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch interviews with five civil society members and lawyers, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017. See also, “Kyrgyzstan Court Stiffens Imam's Sentence,” Eurasia.net, November 24, 2015, https://eurasianet.org/s/kyrgyzstan-court-stiffens-imams-sentence (accessed June 27, 2018).

[182] Human Rights Watch interviews with five civil society members and lawyers, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[183] Human Rights Watch interviews with civil society members and lawyers, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017. See also Umar Farooq, “Kyrgyzstan and the Islamists,” The Diplomat, November 16, 2015, https://thediplomat.com/2015/11/kyrgyzstan-and-the-islamists/ (accessed June 27, 2018).

[184] Details of the case are documented in court papers and local media accounts, and by the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights. Copies on file with Human Rights Watch.

[185] Court papers on file with Human Rights Watch.

[186] Shohruh Saipov, “Kyrgyzstan: Put ‘Class!’ In ‘Classmates,’” Ferghana News, April 28, 2016, http://www.fergana news.com/article.php?id=8955.

[187] State Commission for Religious Affairs opinion cited in Osh City Court judgment of Osh City court of May 18, 2016 (First Instance Court). Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[188] Regulations on the list of persons involved in terrorist and extremist activities or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as amended by the Resolution No. 716 of October 12, 2012, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/38264, sect. 2.

[189] State Financial Intelligence Service, National List of Persons Involved in Terrorist and Extremist Activities or the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, https://fiu.gov.kg/page/20.

[190] Regulations on the list of persons involved in terrorist and extremist activities or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as amended by the Resolution No. 716 of October 12, 2012, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/38264, para. 12.

[191] Ibid., para. 4.

[192] Ministry of Justice portion of the consolidated government responses from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Human Rights Watch, June 22, 2018, referring to the Law of on Countering Money Laundering and Financing Terrorism or Extremism of 2006, art. 2. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[193] Human Rights Watch interviews with lawyer for “Umar” and family member, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[194] Kara Suu Municipal Court documents of April 28 and June 3, 2013. Copies on file with Human Rights Watch.

[195] Human Rights Watch interviews with lawyer for “Umar” and family member, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[196] Human Rights Watch interview with “Muzaffar," Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[197] Human Rights Watch, separate interviews with two defense lawyers, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[198] Human Rights Watch interviews with seven former suspects or their family members or acquaintances, and five defense lawyers, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018.

[199] Human Rights Watch interview with “Saida,” Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[200] Human Rights Watch interview with “Rahman,” Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[201] Human Rights Watch interview with “Zuhra,” Kyrgyzstan, May 2018.

[202] UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, “UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy,” A/RES/60/288, September 20, 2006, http://www.un.org/en/terrorism/strategy-counter-terrorism.shtml#poa1 (accessed June 27, 2018), Pillar IV.

[203] Ibid., Pillar I. The UN Security Council, the Human Rights Council, and the Secretary General have also warned of the link between human rights violations and terrorism; see, e.g., Secretary-General's opening remarks at High-level Conference on Counter-Terrorism,” United Nations statements, June 28, 2018, https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2018-06-28/secretary-gener... (accessed July 23, 2018).

[204] Thomas F. Lynch III, Michael Bouffard, Kelsey King, and Graham Vickowski, “The Return of Foreign Fighters to Central Asia: Implications for US Counterterrorism Policy,” Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University, October 29, 2016, http://ndupress.ndu.edu/Portals/68/Documents/stratperspective/inss/Strat... (accessed July 22, 2018), p. 18.

[205] Human Rights Watch interviews with 11 local defense lawyers, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018. Of the 252 people convicted of terrorism or extremism charges from 2013-2015, 176—nearly three-fourths—received suspended sentences, according to the Supreme Court’s 2016 study, Supreme Court of the Kyrgyz Republic, Bulletin 2(63), 2016, http://jogorku.sot.kg/sites/default/files/images/2017.pdf, pp. 34.

[206] Article 63 of the Criminal Code as amended by Kyrgyzstan Law No. 162, On Amending Certain Legislative Acts in the Sphere of Combating Terrorism and Extremism, August 2, 2016, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/568.

[207] Article 52 of the Penitentiary Code as supplemented by Kyrgyzstan Law No. 44, On Amending the Penitentiary Code of the Kyrgyz Republic, April 16, 2016, http://cdb.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/111324, art. 1.

[208] Human Rights Watch interviews with representatives of three international organizations and NGOs that work on security and detention issues in Kyrgyzstan, two in person and one via Internet, May 2018.

[209] “In Kyrgyzstan, prisoners convicted of extremism are kept separate from other prisoners,” Central Asia Online, May 19, 2016, http://inozpress.kg/news/view/id/48619.

[210] Article 52 of the Penitentiary Code as supplemented by Kyrgyzstan Law No. 44, On Amending the Penitentiary Code of the Kyrgyz Republic, April 16, 2016, http://cdb.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/111324, art. 1.

[211] General provisions only broadly set forth separation from the rest of the prison population. See Internal Regulations of Correctional Institutions of the Penal System of the Kyrgyz Republic as amended by Resolution No. 322 of June 12, 2014, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/95347?ckwds, chapter 39.

[212] Human Rights Watch interviews with five defense lawyers and civil society members, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018, as well as representatives from two international organizations and one NGO that work on security and detention issues in Kyrgyzstan, two in person and one via Internet, May 2018.

[213] Human Rights Watch Internet communication with NGO representative, May 2018.

[214] Data from the GSIN published by UNODC, March 2018. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[215] The data on detainees in prisons as of June 2018 was provided by GSIN in the consolidated government responses from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Human Rights Watch of June 22, 2018. The data on detainees in colonies and serving conditional sentences was published by UNODC in March 2018. Copies on file with Human Rights Watch.

[216] GSIN data published by UNODC, March 2018. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[217] Ibid.

[218] Number of Convicts in the Penal System in Kyrgyzstan, UNODC pamphlet based on GSIN data, October 2017. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[219] GSIN letter to Human Rights Watch, October 5, 2017.

[220] Ibid.

[221] Action Plan on implementing the Kyrgyz Government Program on Countering Extremism and Terrorism 2017-2022, Resolution No. 414-r, September 20, 2017, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/215948#unknown.

[222] Human Rights Watch interviews with two former prisoners, family members of three other prisoners, 11 human rights lawyers, and five representatives of international organizations and NGOs, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018.

[223] US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, “Kyrgyz Republic 2017 Human Rights Report,” 2017, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/277529.pdf (accessed June 27, 2018);UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, Mission to Kyrgyzstan, A/HRC/19/61/Add.2, February 21, 2012, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/Re gularSession/Session19/A-HRC-19-61-Add2_en.pdf, para. 69; UN Committee against Torture, “Concluding observations on the second periodic report of Kyrgyzstan,” http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?sym bolno=CAT/C/KGZ/CO/2&Lang=En, para. 20.

[224] Human Rights Watch Internet communication with representative of an international NGO, May 2018.

[225] Human Rights Watch interviews with civil society members and with a senior government official, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017 and May 2018.

[226] US Department of State, Bureau of Counterterrorism, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2016: Kyrgyz Republic,” July 2017, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/272488.pdf (accessed June 26, 2018).

[227] Human Rights Watch interviews with 13 members of local civil society groups and international organizations, Kyrgyzstan and via Internet communication, June-July 2017 and May 2018.

[228] Human Rights Watch interview with member of an international organization, Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[229] ICCPR, art. 7.

[230] Ibid., arts. 10-1 and 10-3.

[231] UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules), E/CN.15/2015/L.6/Rev.1, May 21, 2015, http://www.unodc.org/documents/commissions/CCPCJ/CCPCJ_ Sessions/CCPCJ_24/resolutions/L6_Rev1/ECN152015_L6Rev1_e_V1503585.pdf (accessed June 27, 2018), rules 89, 93, 94.

[232] Ibid., rule 2.

[233] Ibid., rules 15, 16, and 18-21.

[234] Ibid., rule 22.

[235] Ibid., rules 12, 14, and 42.

[236] Ibid., rules 24-29, and 31.

[237] Human Rights Watch interview with “Tohir,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[238] Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[239] Human Rights Watch interview with “Bobur,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[240] Human Rights Watch interview with “Dilmira,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[241] Human Rights Watch interview with “Gulnora,” Kyrgyzstan, June-July 2017.

[242] The Mandela Rules, rules 43-46.

[243] UN General Assembly, Interim Report of the Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, A/66/268, August 5, 2011, http://www.un.org/ga/search/ view_doc.asp?symbol=A/66/268.

[244] The ICCPR stipulates that states parties may derogate from certain human rights obligations during a "time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation,” but only "to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation" and in a manner that does not discriminate solely on the basis of race, color, sex, language, religion, or social origin. See ICCPR, art. 4.

[245] Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, arts. 31-35.

[246] Ibid., arts. 7, 4(3).

[247] Ibid., art. 16(2).

[248] Ibid., art. 22.

[249] Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic, art. 305-1.

[250] UN Committee against Torture, “Concluding observations on the second periodic report of Kyrgyzstan,” http://tbinternet. ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CAT/C/KGZ/CO/2&Lang=En, para. 10.

[251] ICCPR, art. 15(1).

[252] Ibid., art. 18.

[253] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 22: Article 18 (Freedom of Thought, Conscience or Religion), CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4, July 30, 1993, http://www.refworld.org/docid/453883fb22.html (accessed June 27, 2018), para. 2.

[254] ICCPR, art. 19; UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34: Article 19 (Freedoms of Opinion and Expression), CCPR/C/GC/34, July 29, 2011, www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/gc34.pdf, para. 11.

[255] ICCPR, art. 19.

[256] Ibid., art. 19(1,2).

[257] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, para. 44.

[258] UN Human Rights Council, “The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet,” A/HRC/20/L.13, June 29, 2012, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/LTD/G12/147/10/PDF/G1214710.pd....

[259] ICCPR, art. 22.

[260] Ibid., art. 22(2).

[261] Ibid., art. 7. UN Human Rights Council, “Convention Against Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” Resolution 39/46 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987, in accordance with article 27(1), http://www.ohchr. org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CAT.aspx (accessed June 27, 2018).

[262] Convention Against Torture, art. 1.

[263] Ibid., art. 2(2).

[264] ICCPR, art. 10.

[265] The Mandela Rules.

[266] ICCPR, art. 9, 14(1) and 14(3)(g).

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Police officers outline handcuffed suspected Boko Haram militants in Maiduguri, northest Nigeria, on July 18, 2018. 

© 2018 Getty Images

(Abuja) – Nigeria’s prosecution of suspected Boko Haram members has been characterized by serious legal shortcomings, and the authorities are failing to prioritize prosecution of those most responsible for the group’s atrocities, Human Rights Watch said today.

In October 2017, authorities began trials of Boko Haram suspects, some of whom have been detained since the conflict began in 2009. Most of the 1,669 suspects prosecuted so far were charged with providing material and non-violent support to the group. People and communities victimized by its brutal attacks have been excluded from observing or testifying in the legal proceedings.

“Nigeria needs to pursue justice for those responsible for Boko Haram’s atrocities and end the prolonged detention of thousands of suspects,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “However, to achieve justice and deter extremist attacks, the Nigerian government’s overall strategy and trial procedures need to conform with constitutional safeguards and international standards.”

The first round of trials, in October 2017, involved 575 defendants and was shrouded in secrecy, drawing concerns about fair trial and due process issues from several rights groups, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Subsequent rounds in February and July 2018 at Wawa Cantonment, a remote military base in Kainji, Niger State, were open to a few monitors from nongovernmental groups and some media personnel.

In the third round, which Human Rights Watch monitored on July 9 and 10, over 200 defendants, including three women, were tried for offenses under the Terrorism Prevention Amendment Act of 2013. Three judges of the Federal High Court presided over the trials in small makeshift courtrooms on the military base where the suspects had been detained. The courts convicted 113 defendants, acquitted 5, and discharged 97 without trial based on the court’s determination that they had no case. Nine cases were struck out due to errors, some of which caused defendants who had been tried and convicted or discharged in previous rounds to be inadvertently brought to trial again, and nine more were adjourned for further trial in Abuja.

In 7 of about 60 cases Human Rights Watch monitored, Federal Justice Ministry prosecutors brought charges for murder, kidnapping, and other crimes, including during gruesome attacks in Damaturu, Bama, and Baga in 2015, and the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in April 2014. But most defendants were prosecuted solely for providing “material and non-violent support” to Boko Haram, including by repairing their vehicles, laundering their clothes, or supplying them with food and other items.

 The proceedings were very short, with some lasting less than 15 minutes, raising several fair trial and due process concerns. Most charges were couched in ambiguous and vague terms without the crucial information Nigerian law requires, like the specific date, place, and details of the alleged offense. Other procedural lapses included a lack of official interpreters and the use of untrained unofficial interpreters; reliance on alleged confessions; charging previously discharged defendants again for the same offenses; and unclear orders for rehabilitation for some defendants whose releases were ordered. All had public defenders, and some defendants told Human Rights Watch that they had not been able to consult with their lawyers until the day of trial.

A 28-year-old woman charged with concealing information, providing support, and knowingly aiding and abetting the kidnap of children by Boko Haram told Human Rights Watch that she had not been allowed to contact any member of her family to prepare a defense since she was arrested in Kaduna in 2013. She was found guilty and sentenced to time already spent in detention.

Some suspects were tried individually, but others were tried in groups, in some cases without consideration of whether they had been coerced into committing the offense for which they were being tried or had done it simply to survive. The volume of defendants in the “material support” category made it difficult to focus available resources on prosecuting those charged with more serious offenses, a few of whose cases were deferred for further trial in Abuja.

In one case, a defendant accused of failing to provide information to the authorities regarding the activities of Boko Haram mechanics told the court after pleading guilty that he could not report because his community was under the control of Boko Haram, and there was no way to access the authorities. Human Rights Watch previously documented forced recruitment of students, teachers, and others at the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency.

Although the courts discharged 97 defendants and acquitted five more in the July trials, there are fears that they might not have been released. Several people ordered released in the previous trial rounds were arraigned for the same charges in July, apparently inadvertently.

On July 25, Human Rights Watch sent its findings to the justice ministry; the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, a government-funded public defense agency; and the National Human Rights Commission, seeking a response to questions and concerns about the fair trial and due process irregularities observed. Human Rights Watch also inquired about the time and opportunities for the defendants to build their defense and the failure to release people acquitted or discharged in previous rounds of the trials.

In its response, the Legal Aid Council said its lawyers had met with all the defendants before and during the trials. The agency asserted that participation in a deradicalization program aimed at deterring individuals from violent extremism was compulsory for all defendants, and that their fate after the trials was the responsibility of the attorney general and national security adviser. In what appears to be a contradiction, the Federal Justice Ministry told Human Rights Watch the ministry’s role was strictly prosecutorial, and it had no information on the release or rehabilitation of defendants.

The National Human Rights Commission, which also monitored the trials, said in its response that it shared Human Rights Watch’s concerns about thelack of official interpreters, defective charges, inadequate defense, and reliance on confessional statements at the trials.

In March, the National Human Rights Commission called on the federal government to ensure the immediate removal from military detention facilities of 475 Boko Haram suspects, who were discharged due to lack of sufficient evidence to bring charges against them in the second round of trials in February

In 2017, the federal government adopted a Policy Framework and National Action Plan for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, which highlights access to justice, human rights, the rule of law, and community engagement to prevent and counter Boko Haram extremism. However, there was little sign of this being applied in the recent trials, Human Rights Watch said.

The International Criminal Court prosecutor will continue the preliminary examination of the situation in Nigeria, including for crimes committed in the Boko Haram conflict. The examination includes a focus on whether national prosecutions are genuine.

The government should make improving trial procedures a priority. It should also consider creating truth commissions or other community reconciliation efforts for those accused of lesser, non-violent crimes so that the justice system can focus first on those accused of the worst crimes. Similar approaches have achieved a measure of success in other countries, including  Timor-Leste.

Nigeria is among a number of countries, including Iraq and Egypt, in which trials for terrorism suspects raise due process concerns. The Nigerian trials are taking place amid increased international support for the country’s counterterrorism efforts. In 2017, the United States approved the sale of US$593 million worth of military equipment to Nigeria, including 12 A-29 Super Tucano light-attack aircrafts the Obama administration had delayed because of human rights concerns. The United Kingdom recently renewed a defense pact with Nigeria, while the United Nations pledged continued assistance in areas including support for criminal justice processes that comply with human rights and rule of law.

“The UN and donor countries should focus not just on boosting military might, but also on ensuring genuine justice and accountability in the campaign against Boko Haram,” Ewang said. “Trials that abuse suspects’ rights are not only unlawful; they can backfire by alienating local communities and handing a recruitment card to groups like Boko Haram.” 

Lack of Interpreters

The courts did not provide official Hausa and Kanuri interpreters for the proceedings, although the majority of the defendants in the cases observed only understood one of those languages. Ad hoc arrangements using people at the trial who could speak the languages appeared to be inadequate. In one of the courts, a justice ministry prosecutor was co-opted as the court’s interpreter in Hausa, while a soldier interpreted in Kanuri.

In one case, an observer who spoke the language brought glaring errors in a co-opted interpreter’s translation to the judge’s attention, after which the judge changed the interpreter. Furthermore, the conflicting roles of soldiers and prosecutors acting as interpreters violates fair trial standards.

Lack of Adequate Legal Defense

The proceedings also raised concerns about whether the defendants and their legal representatives had adequate time and opportunity to present their cases. All defendants were represented by court-appointed public defenders from the government-funded Legal Aid Council. The lawyers did not present evidence or call any witnesses other than the defendants. In many cases, the lawyers appeared unprepared and unfamiliar with the case materials. Some defendants told Human Rights Watch that they had not been in contact with any lawyers, family, or community members since the day of their arrest.

A 32-year-old defendant told Human Rights Watch he had no access to a lawyer from his arrest near Abuja in 2015 until the trials began.

Joy Bob-Manuel, the director general of the Legal Aid Council, said in her letter the defense team interviewed the defendants at the military base in October 2017 and thereafter on the day of trial to refresh their recollection of the cases. She said the lawyers did not investigate the defendants’ claims because it is not the agency’s duty to conduct another investigation beyond that carried out by the security agencies.

The 1999 Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right of defendants to adequate time and facilities to prepare for defense in line with the Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa.

Lack of Prosecutable Evidence; Use of Confessions

All the convictions at the trials Human Rights Watch monitored were based solely on confessions. The prosecution did not present any other substantial material evidence or witnesses. There was no testimony from victims or witnesses, except from investigating police officers who secured the confessions.

The officers’ claims that they observed due process safeguards, including for writing confessions, are inadequate to allay concerns about torture, duress, and threats. Human Rights Watch has documented torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by Nigerian law enforcement agencies, and found such treatment to be widespread and routine. The Nigerian Military has also been reported to use torture, starvation, and other brutal abuses in the war against Boko Haram.

In one case, a defendant pleaded not guilty in the Chibok case. But after a brief interrogation, the judge convicted and sentenced him to 20 years in prison based solely on a confession, without inquiring into the circumstances under which it was made.

The justice ministry said in its letter that its staff accompanied the investigating police officers during interrogation to ensure due process in obtaining confessions. The Legal Aid Council also said it asked the defendants about the circumstances and analyzed the statements to ensure they complied with the law on proof of evidence and the administration of criminal justice. 

The Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa affirms the right of an accused person against being compelled to confess guilt. It states that confessions or other evidence obtained by any form of coercion should not be admitted as evidence or considered as proof of any fact at trial or in sentencing.

Orders for Rehabilitation

In this round of trials, the courts acquitted 5 defendants and discharged 97 without trial, based on the prosecution’s admission or the court’s determination that there was no evidence to support their trial. The judges ordered some of the discharged defendants to undergo rehabilitation programs to facilitate their reintegration into society. But the judges provided no details about what rehabilitation should entail and did not explain the criteria for releasing people unconditionally.

In one case, the judge ruled that charges of receiving and possessing articles supporting acts of terrorism and jihad should be dropped for lack of evidence. The judge then vaguely ordered the release of the defendant with “rehabilitation and assistance from government,” although he had already spent four years in detention.

Double Jeopardy

Some defendants had already been tried and sentenced or discharged by the court in previous rounds of trials. In at least two instances, a defense lawyer objected to the proceedings on those grounds, saying in one case that a defendant had already been sentenced to three years in prison on the same charges and that the other had been ordered to be discharged during the trials in February.

Although the new charges were immediately dropped, it was an indication that the courts’ orders had not been carried out five months after they were issued.

In March, the National Human Rights Commission said the federal government should ensure the immediate removal from military detention facilities of 475 Boko Haram suspects who were discharged in the second round of trials in February. But the justice ministry and the Legal Aid Council both told Human Rights Watch that the issue was outside their jurisdiction.

 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Mosul’s Civil Status Directorate. 

© 2018 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

(Erbil) – Iraqi security officers are threatening, and in some cases arresting, lawyers seen to be providing legal assistance to Islamic State (ISIS) suspects and families perceived to be related to ISIS members, effectively denying them legal services, Human Rights Watch said today.

Lawyers said that, fearing for their lives, they have stopped representing ISIS suspects or people perceived to be related to them. As a result, ISIS suspects are relying on state-appointed defense lawyers, who rarely provide an adequate defense, and families with perceived ties to ISIS suspects are generally left without access to legal services.

“The Iraqi government is attacking lawyers for doing their job and is effectively preventing people who need legal services from getting them,”  said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “In addition to being illegal, these attacks have a corrosive effect on the rule of law by sending a message that only some Iraqis have the right to legal representation.”

In July and August 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 17 lawyers working in and around Mosul for international and local organizations that provide legal services to those affected by Iraq’s recent armed conflict. The services include defending people against terrorism charges and assisting families who lived under ISIS control to get the civil documentation they need to live in government-controlled areas, an well as for welfare benefits (known as Public Distribution System or PDS cards) that they lost during their time under ISIS.

The lawyers all said they had witnessed or experienced threats and other verbal harassment by National Security Service or Ministry of Interior Intelligence and Counter Terrorism officers for providing legal representation to those viewed by security forces as “ISIS” or “ISIS families.” One said an Interior Ministry intelligence officer detained him for his legal activities for two hours, while another said that intelligence officers detained two other legal aid workers for two months, finally releasing them without charge.

The lawyers all said that officers automatically viewed certain people as ISIS-affiliated based on where they are from or their tribe or family name, or whether they or their relatives show up on a set of databases of those “wanted” for ISIS affiliation.

The lawyers who assisted clients to obtain documentation said that while they do not ask potential clients if they have relatives wanted by the authorities, they have responded to the threats by rejecting clients if they have any indication that a family has a relative wanted or detained for ISIS affiliation. They said that representing these families would lead to further personal threats, and that even with their legal assistance, these families would be refused civil documentation.

Iraqis lacking full civil documentation can readily be deprived of their basic rights. They cannot freely move around for fear of arrest, get a job, or apply for welfare benefits. Children denied birth certificates may be considered stateless and may not be allowed to enroll in school. Women unable to obtain death certificates for their spouses are unable to inherit property or remarry. Those with missing civil documentation need to go through a sometimes-onerous administrative process and benefit greatly from the help of a lawyer in passing through the different hurdles to obtain their documents.

Four of the lawyers said they provided legal representation to ISIS suspects facing criminal prosecution. But all four said that they would only accept a client if they were convinced they were innocent, and were in prison erroneously, most often because they shared a name with an ISIS suspect.

The head of one organization providing legal services said on July 13 that at the beginning of 2018, she attempted to open a project to provide legal representation to women and children held on terror charges. She hired a female lawyer, who quit within two months, saying the work was too dangerous. A second female lawyer and then a male lawyer she hired also quit for security reasons. “It is the end of the program,” she said. Another organization’s lawyer said he attended a meeting in Mosul in February between the deputy head of the National Security Service in Mosul and lawyers from the Mosul Bar Association. He said the deputy told the lawyers, “I advise you not to represent any terror suspects.” One lawyer responded that some might be innocent, to which the deputy responded, “It doesn’t matter,” the lawyer said.

He said that he and the other lawyers interpreted this to be a clear threat. He said that one lawyer ignored the advice and did represent a few terror suspects at the Nineveh counterterrorism court, but dropped the cases quickly after a court security officer approached him asking why he took the cases, and said, “are you with ISIS?”

Over the last year, Human Rights Watch has also received information from judges and lawyers of over a dozen lawyers in Nineveh who are wanted, some of whom have been detained and are in prison on terrorism charges, including five in the Ministry of Interior Intelligence prison in Faisaliya, east Mosul.

International law guarantees anyone accused of a crime access to a lawyer at all stages of criminal proceedings, including during the investigation, the pretrial proceedings, and during the trial itself. Under article 1 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, “All persons are entitled to call upon the assistance of a lawyer of their choice to protect and establish their rights and to defend them in all stages of criminal proceedings.” Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Iraq, says everyone charged with a criminal offense has the right to defend themselves through legal assistance of their own choosing, as well as to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of their defense and to communicate with counsel of their own choosing.

Under international criminal law, lawyers and judges can be prosecuted in exceptional cases when they have directly contributed to war crimes or crimes against humanity, including the war crime of executions following unfair trials.

On August 30, Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to Haidar al-Agaili, a representative of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council, the Ministry of Interior’s inspector general, and the deputy head of the National Security Service, requesting further information about why lawyers are coming under attack. Human Rights Watch also asked what measures the authorities have taken to end the attacks and requested information on the number of lawyers in detention on terror charges, and the basis for those charges.

In his response on September 3, al-Agaili said that lawyers who experienced such attacks could file a complaint with a judge, the Bar Association, the Commission for Human Rights, or the Offices of the Inspector-General at the Defense and Interior Ministries, and that “there has been ongoing coordination between the Syndicate of Lawyers [Bar Association] and the Judicial Council, to end such cases of intimidation and harassment against lawyers.” He added that, “If any such allegations come to be true, appropriate measures will be taken to deter those involved in such practices.”

The lawyers interviewed for this report said, however, that in their experience many judges in and around Mosul worked intimately with the security services. Comments that some judges made to Human Rights Watch dismissing claims of harassment and justifying the arrests of lawyers appeared to support those statements. Two senior members of the Bar Association also told Human Rights Watch that the arrests were justified and appeared to side with judges and security services in their comments. As a result, none of the lawyers had filed complaints with either body. None of the lawyers said they had approached the Independent Commission for Human Rights, or the Offices of the Inspector General.

Al-Agaili also asserted that, “There are no cases of detention of individuals in the context of them being lawyers.” Al-Agaili said that some allegations of ISIS-affiliation might stem from local communities that were forced to live under ISIS. He said the allegations did not stem from the security services.

The inspector general should investigate threats by Intelligence officers against lawyers. The National Security Service should investigate threats against lawyers by its officers.

The High Judicial Council should make public the basis for the prosecuting lawyers arrested last year on terror charges and ensure that no lawyers are prosecuted contrary to the UN standards. It should ensure that the rights of the lawyers and other detainees held on ISIS-affiliation chargeschoose their legal representation are fully met. It should take all necessary measures to ensure that those whom the authorities perceive as having ISIS affiliation should nonetheless be guaranteed nondiscriminatory access to courts and government identification documents.

The Prime Minister and the Head of the Bar Association should issue statements calling for all Iraqi officials to fully respect provision 24 of the Law of Lawyers (No. 173 of 1965 with amendments), that a lawyer should not face personal criminal or civil consequences for legal submissions they make in proceedings on behalf of their clients.

In line with its standing invitation to all UN experts, Iraq should invite the special rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on the independence of judges and lawyers, to visit Iraq to investigate and make appropriate recommendations to combat the attacks on lawyers and the legal profession.

International donors funding assistance to displaced families in Iraq and the legal profession should press for an immediate end to arbitrary arrests, threats, intimidation, and harassment by security officials of lawyers and other legal aid workers assisting the displaced. They should press both relevant civilian authorities and security officials to ensure unimpeded access to courts and civil registries for organizations providing legal aid and nondiscriminatory access to civil documentation for all displaced Iraqis, including those with a perceived ISIS affiliation or their families.

“Now that Iraq says it has turned a corner, with an end to the war against ISIS, the authorities should make every effort to ensure that they respect and protect all its citizens’ basic rights,” Fakih said. “The Iraqi government should not be carrying out collective punishment.”

The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers state that anyone arrested or charged with a criminal offense shall, in all cases in which the interests of justice require it, be entitled to have a lawyer assigned to them who has experience and competence commensurate with the nature of the offense to  provide effective legal assistance, without payment by the defendant if they lack sufficient means to pay for such services.

The principles state that: “Governments shall ensure that lawyers … are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference,” and “shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.”

They also state that lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions, and that lawyers shall have civil and penal immunity for statements made in good faith in pleadings or in their professional appearances before a court.

Threats
“Khaled,” a lawyer for an organization providing legal assistance to people in and around Mosul, said that in February the intelligence director approached him in the Ministry of Interior’s intelligence office in the town of Hammam al-Alil, where he was seeking security clearance and civil documents for local families displaced by the fighting to camps. All families must receive security clearance to get the documents or to return to their home areas. He said that the intelligence director said, “If you bring names that are on the wanted list, then we will interrogate you.”

Later that month, his organization was holding legal aid sessions at a schoolhouse in Mosul. After the first session, men who said they were intelligence officers from the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha'abi), which are under the prime minister’s command, approached him, and one said, “This neighborhood has many ISIS families and you are not allowed to assist them.” Khaled said he explained the nature of the organization and the basic humanitarian principles behind its work. But during the next two sessions he saw men in civilian dress who appeared to be monitoring the sessions, so the organization ended the project.

“Mahmoud,” who manages a team of lawyers for another organization, said that in the past months, intelligence officers threatened him in four different offices that issue new civil documentation. He said that in April he went to the Civil Status Directorate in Hammam al-Alil with a stack of files on behalf of local families displaced to nearby camps. But the Ministry of Interior’s intelligence officer who grants security clearance refused to stamp the files and said, “You NGOs support ISIS and you are not afraid?” Mahmoud took this as a threat.

In May, he went to the ministry’s office in Qayyarah, 60 kilometers south of Mosul, for the same purpose. The officer there refused to stamp the files, without even looking at the names, and threatened: “You are here to defend ISIS families – we know what you are up to. You better watch out.”

Mahmoud said in early June he sent a team of lawyers to al-A'yadhia, 60 kilometers northwest of Mosul. The ministry officials got his phone number from his team and called him, ordering him to come there. When he said he was busy and could not, the officer threatened, “We will find a way to bring you here.” He refused to stamp any of the files and the lawyers left.

He said that most recently, in late July he had traveled to the Civil Status Directorate in Tal Afar, 60 kilometers west of Mosul, with a stack of files on behalf of local families. The ministry official there also refused to grant security clearance: “He refused to take the files and threatened, ‘You are not allowed to come here to help IDPs get their identity cards. Your only job is to provide humanitarian assistance.’

A lawyer for another organization said he went to Qayyarah’s Civil Status Directorate with the files of two teenage boys whose father had died and whose mother had abandoned them. The lawyer said he approached a National Security Service officer to obtain security clearance to seek civil documentation for the boys. The lawyer said that the officer looked through the file and refused, saying, “If you bring me another case like this, I will take you to a place where you can’t see the sun.”

Another person managing a team of lawyers for an organization, “Akram,” said that in mid-June his team called him to say that security officers at the Mosul Civil Status Directorate were preventing them from bringing in files for security clearance on behalf of families that the officers perceived to be ISIS-affiliated. Akram said he went to the directorate and met with the senior security officer, who he thought was from the Ministry of Interior Intelligence, but who did not identify himself clearly. He said the officer told him to stop bringing these files to the directorate, saying, “We won’t process them and if you continue to work on these types of cases and bring them to us, we will hurt you and your team.” Two other lawyers said they received the same kinds of threats at the Civil Directorate in east Mosul and at the Nineveh counterterrorism court.

“Ibrahim,” who said he would never feel safe defending a suspect if there was any significant evidence of ISIS affiliation, said in early August the state appointed him to represent an ISIS suspect on trial at the Nineveh counterterrorism court. After the trial ended, he said an officer from the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) forces under Interior Ministry command approached him and said, “In the morning we bring one person and in the afternoon we take five people.” Ibrahim said he understood this as a clear threat that he might be arrested. He complained to the judge on the spot, and said the judge admonished the officer.

He said that in November 2017, he also received a call from an unknown number as he was driving through the main checkpoint into the city of Erbil and heard a voice threaten, “I know you are a lawyer with an organization who is helping ISIS and today you were at the court and now you are at the checkpoint going to Erbil,” before hanging up.

Arrests
“Karim,” another lawyer, said that in June he went to the Interior Ministry’s intelligence office in Shirqat, 90 kilometers south of Mosul, to obtain security clearance for three local families displaced to a camp:
An officer there looked at the files, checked their names against a database, and said they were “wanted.” He then said I was not allowed to leave the office – he would take me to a judge to arrest me for cooperating with ISIS. I called my boss and after about two hours of high-level interventions by a few individuals, the officer let me leave the office, but confiscated the families’ files. That whole time I was telling the officer I didn’t know these were ISIS families.

He said that since then he has feared arrest, even if he leaves his job.

Khaled said that in January he was working in partnership with another local organization to help families from Bazwaya, a suburb east of Mosul, to obtain their civil documents. He said the partner organization’s director called him to say that Interior Intelligence Ministry officers at the Bazwaya Civil Status Directorate had detained two of their staff when they were trying to get the families’ files stamped.

Khaled waited a month for the situation to calm down before visiting the office of the partner organization in Bazwaya. When he arrived, he said, two Interior Intelligence officers were stationed at the door. They blocked his entrance and asked him why he was there. He said he argued his way in and spoke to the head of the organization, who said it was because of Khaled and the files his organization had handed over for processing that his staff were detained. The organization’s director later told Khaled that his staff members were released after two months without charge.

When Human Rights Watch inquired into the lawyers who have been detained in Nineveh, two judges at the Nineveh counterterrorism court and a judge at the Mosul Criminal Court all said the lawyers were being charged for specific acts committed before or during ISIS’s rule, or for more recently collaborating with families of ISIS suspects in identifying and murdering witnesses testifying against their relatives.

Human Rights Watch asked to see the case files of the lawyers being charged, hoping to determine the basis of the charges against them, but judges refused, saying the cases were “top secret.” One senior judge said that since the warrants were issued, private lawyers had stopped taking on defense cases of suspects they believed might be affiliated with ISIS, only taking on cases of people they thought were clearly wrongly charged, usually for having similar names to wanted individuals.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Syrians inspect the site of a suicide attack in Sweida, Syria on Wednesday, July 25, 2018. 

© 2018 SANA via AP

(Beirut) – Islamic State (also known as ISIS) fighters are holding at least 27 people hostage, including at least 16 children, in southern Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. Local residents say that ISIS is holding the hostages in the eastern region of the Sweida desert and hoping to use them as leverage in negotiations with the Syrian government and Russia.

ISIS kidnapped the residents during a July 25, 2018 attack in the Sweida governorate, which is under government control. Earlier in August, ISIS beheaded one hostage, and another died under unclear circumstances. Hostage-taking is a war crime and ISIS should immediately release the hostages.

“For a month now, families of the kidnapped Sweida have been calling for the release of their loved ones,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Civilian lives should not be used as bargaining chips, and ISIS should release all the hostages immediately.”

Human Rights Watch spoke to four witnesses and relatives of those kidnapped from al-Shbeki, one of the villages ISIS attacked. Witnesses and relatives of victims provided the names of at least 27 people kidnapped, and of 57 people killed in the attack. According to local activists, 16 children between ages 7 and 15 were among those kidnapped.

Hostage-taking is defined as detaining people and then threatening to compel a third party to carry out or abstain from specific acts as an explicit or implicit condition for the hostages’ release or safety. It is a war crime.

ISIS killed local men, women, and children during the July 25 attack, which ISIS claimed responsibility for. On July 28, ISIS released images showing kidnapped women and a video of a woman dressed in white, who states that ISIS will only release the hostages if the “[Syrian] military will stop its campaign on Yarmouk… if you don’t meet their demand they will kill us."

The kidnappings took place against the background of a major, multi-pronged attack by ISIS on the same day in various locations in Sweida governorate, during which at least 200 people were killed. Four witnesses from al-Shbeki village told Human Rights Watch that during the July 25 attack on their village, ISIS intentionally targeted civilians, storming homes and killing entire families, and attacking areas where no Syrian government security forces or other military objectives were present, while indiscriminately attacking others.

On August 4, a local media organization reported it had received a video showing Muhannad Abu Ammar, 19, one of those kidnapped, being beheaded. The outlet circulated photos of the beheading online. A relative of Abu Ammar from al-Shbeki who saw the photos confirmed his identity to Human Rights Watch.

On August 9, a second hostage, a woman by the name of Zahya, died in ISIS custody of unknown causes. News outlets reported ISIS had shared photos of the body, attributing her death to illness, and relatives confirmed she had suffered from medical problems, including diabetes and cardiac problems but said they are unsure of her cause of death.

Local sources report that clashes between ISIS and the Syrian government and its allies are ongoing in the governorate. At the same time, local news sources and an affiliate of the Syrian government report that negotiations are taking place to release the hostages in exchange for allowing the ISIS militants to leave the area.

One man who spoke with Human Rights Watch said his mother and sister were kidnapped by ISIS but later escaped. He said they had been abducted from their home and then taken with 30 others to the eastern part of the Sweida desert. He and other men followed the militants to the area to track the remaining hostages but were not able to rescue any of the hostages. The Syrian government and associated militia then started an offensive against ISIS in Sweida desert in order to rescue the hostages.

“When I found out that they took my mother and sister, it made me crazy,” he said. “The dead bodies are one thing but where are our women and children? Why is no one helping us?”

Witnesses who arrived at the scene between an hour to three hours after the attack told Human Rights Watch that ISIS had snipers on rooftops and were shooting residents as they fled or tried to drive the injured to hospitals. They identified the fighters as members of ISIS, because when they entered the city square, they announced their presence as the Caliphate and shouted Allah Akbar [God is Great]. According to the witnesses, the fighters killed the residents using both guns and knives.

One resident, whose family occupies several houses in the village, said he had moved from house to house until he reached his father’s house, where he found the bodies of his father, two brothers, and two male cousins, all adults stacked on top of one another. Based on what he saw, he believes they were executed at close range. He provided their names.

The majority of residents in the area belong to the Druze religion, a religious minority in Syria. Many are members of the National Defence Forces (NDF) – a pro-government militia. Three of them told Human Rights Watch they took up arms against the ISIS militants and had captured and killed many of the fighters.

On July 25, a local news outlet published a video of a public execution of an alleged ISIS fighter. The news outlet said the execution was carried out in the Sweida city center by people affiliated with pro-government militia in retaliation for the attack. On August 7, a second execution was carried out. Local news outlets videotaped and posted the execution, and indicated the executioners were members of the pro-government militias

International human rights law and international humanitarian law prohibit summary and extrajudicial executions of both civilians and combatants. Under the laws of war, deliberately killing civilians and injured, surrendered, or captured soldiers is a war crime.

“Mob justice and revenge are no answer to ISIS atrocities,” said Fakih. “Without a commitment to justice for violations by all sides, it will be difficult to deter more abuses.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

Mahmoud said he was hung in the “bazoona” position at least six times while in detention, for hours. He said that at least four of those times, he lost consciousness before being taken down. Sometimes officers threw water at him before beating his back with a metal cable, he said.

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – Two former detainees and the father of a man who died in detention have provided details of ill-treatment, torture, and death in facilities run by the Iraqi Interior Ministry in the Mosul area, Human Rights Watch said today.

A detainee held by the ministry’s Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Office in an east Mosul prison from January to May 2018 said he witnessed and experienced repeated torture during interrogations, and saw nine men die there, at least two from the abuse. Another man from Mosul, arrested in March by local police, died during police interrogation in the Mosul police station, his father said. And a man who was held in the Intelligence and Counter Terrorism prison in Qayyarah said he saw other men returning from interrogations with signs of abuse on their bodies.

“These latest allegations reflect not only the brutal treatment of Interior Ministry detainees in the Mosul area, but also the failure of law enforcement and the judiciary to provide justice when there is evidence of torture,” Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said. “The government’s failure to investigate torture and death in detention is a green light to security forces that they can inflict torture without any consequences.

Because of the relatively low release rate from the facilities the men were held in and the exceptional fear former detainees have expressed, researchers were unable to find other former detainees who were willing to speak. However, the torture methods described are consistent with torture practices by other Interior Ministry forces that have been described to researchers by other former detainees and captured in photos and videos released by a photojournalist, Ali Arkady, in May 2017.

Under the Convention Against Torture, which Iraq joined in 2011, torture is defined as the deliberate infliction of severe pain or suffering, physical or mental, by a public official for a specific purpose such as obtaining information or confession or as punishment.

Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed the former detainees and the father of the detainee killed in detention in July and August in person and by phone. They each provided either physical, documentary, or photographic evidence to corroborate their statements. The men detained and released did not tell judges they were abused or had witnessed abuse, for fear of reprisals from their guards, and said they would take no steps to report the abuse. One said he had bruises all over his arms, which were visible to the judge, but the judge failed to inquire about them or to investigate the possible use of torture. The father who lost his son said he lodged an official complaint with police but had yet to receive a response.

Salam Abeed Abdullah said that Mosul police arrested his son Dawud Salam Abeed, a laborer, on March 22 saying they were taking him in for questioning. Abdullah was told two days later that his son had died from a heart attack during interrogation. But when the family got the body a month later, it showed bruises and wounds.

“Mahmoud,” 35, who asked to remain anonymous, said he turned himself in to intelligence officials in Mosul in January after his employer told him that the Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Office had issued an arrest warrant for him. He was held for four months, during which he was tortured repeatedly, because he was suspected of affiliation with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). He described torture methods used on him and other detainees and said he saw two people die from torture.

Mahmoud was released in May, after four months, by an investigative judge at the Nineveh counterterrorism court who found there was no evidence linking Mahmoud to ISIS. When Mahmoud appeared before the judge in his first hearing, the judge did not raise questions about his treatment, though his arms were visibly bruised, he said. He said he did not tell the judge he had been abused, because he was afraid of the guards’ response. Mahmoud named to Human Rights Watch four officers who tortured him.

“Most nights I have nightmares where I think I am still in prison,” he said. “I wake up sweating and am only able to catch my breath once I look around and see I am in my own home, lying next to my wife.” He said he was too fearful of retribution by the forces that held him to seek redress for the abuse.

“Karim” was held for 11 months, first at the Intelligence and Counter Terrorism prison in Qayyarah, 60 kilometers south of Mosul, and then in the Faisaliya prison where Mahmoud was held. He told Human Rights Watch in July that he was not interrogated or tortured but that he saw signs of torture on five men in the Qayyarah prison.

A judge found in May 2017, shortly after he was detained, that there was no clear evidence against him and ordered a security check to clear him for release. But he was held until May 2018, when his lawyer was able to locate him and demonstrate to the judge there was no evidence against him.

Iraq’s constitution prohibits “all forms of psychological and physical torture and inhumane treatment.” It says that, “any confession made under force, threat, or torture shall not be relied on, and the victim shall have the right to seek compensation for material and moral damages incurred in accordance with the law.” The Criminal Procedure Code also prohibits the use of “mistreatment, threats, injury, enticement, promises, psychological influence or use of drugs or intoxicants” to extract a confession.

However, Iraq’s criminal justice system relies heavily on a confession as the sole evidence in a trial, including in particular the current trials of thousands of ISIS suspects. Judges in Iraq rarely respond to allegations of torture in the courtroom appropriately. Most ignore the allegations, or, in some cases, they order a retrial without investigating the officer implicated in the abuse.

On August 12, Human Rights Watch wrote to Haidar al-Agaili, a representative of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council, requesting a response to the interviewees’ allegations. Al-Agaili stated in an initial reply email on August 14, that he was committed to investigating the death of Dawud Salam Abeed, but unable to investigate the other allegations so long as the subjects remained anonymous. Human Rights Watch pointed out in a subsequent letter that it had furnished sufficient information, including time periods, locations, and the individuals involved, to investigate the allegations of torture and multiple deaths in detention. Al-Agaili stated in a later email that same day, referring to the request for his office to launch an investigation:

I would like to say that we are in agreement, because we will surely do this. However, opening an investigation based on the “account” of an unknown person is difficult. Nonetheless, we will do everything we can.

 

Human Rights Watch also provided the information to the Interior Ministry’s inspector general. The inspector general should conduct a transparent investigation into torture practices and deaths at the Mosul police station and the prison in Faisaliya and publish his findings publicly. He should ensure any commanders implicated in the abuses reported are sanctioned appropriately, including through criminal charges, and ensure Mahmoud and others who suffered abuse obtain reparations.

Any country providing support to the Interior Ministry’s security forces should investigate whether their assistance contributed to the violations Human Rights Watch documented and consider suspending their support until the abuses stop. They should ensure further assistance to these security forces does not contribute to torture and other serious abuses, including assessing whether the Iraqi authorities are taking genuine steps to investigate and prosecute allegations of serious violations, including torture in custody.

They should ensure any ongoing or future training of military, security, or intelligence forces includes thorough instruction on the principles and application of the laws of war and human rights, particularly with regard to detainee rights.

“Detainees and their families are putting forward concrete evidence of abuse in Ministry of Interior facilities,” Fakih said. “Now it is up to the authorities to show they have the right structures in place to investigate, prosecute, and compensate.”

Abeed
Salam Abeed Abdullah said that the police arrested his son at 11:30 p.m. on March 22. The police provided no reason for the arrest, but said they wanted to interrogate his son at the local police station. Two days later via personal contacts, Abdullah said he finally confirmed the station in which his son was being held. An officer at the station informed him that Abeed had died that morning during an interrogation, allegedly because of a heart attack. Abdullah said he demanded a forensic medical examination, but the officer said they would need to wait for a medical investigative team to come from Baghdad.

On April 23, police returned Abeed’s body to his family saying the team had conducted an examination but would need to issue the report from Baghdad. The family has never received the report. Abdullah showed researchers three photos of Abeed’s body, which show wounds on Abeed’s forehead and the back of his head, bruising and burn marks to both of his legs, bruising to his shoulders, and dried blood in both ears and his nose.

“Mahmoud”
He said he turned himself in at the Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Office and prison compound in Faisaliya, east Mosul, in January and was released in late May. He said he was held in an overcrowded cell with other detainees who were all held for alleged ISIS affiliation. Prison officers would not let him contact his family or a lawyer, and no independent prison monitors visited the area of the prison he was held in, he said. He said he had no access to medical care and was only allowed to use the bathroom twice a day, with guards beating detainees if they took too long in the toilet.

Mahmoud said he was beaten on the soles of his feet many times while in detention as a form of punishment, including for requesting to call and speak to his family.

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Mahmoud said he saw two cellmates die from torture during interrogation sessions. He detailed a number of torture techniques interrogators also used on him, including being hung from his hands bound behind his back in a technique called the “bazoona” at least six times, and being beaten multiple times, including on the soles of his feet, a technique internationally referred to as “falaka.”

He showed researchers scars consistent with his allegations of torture, including on his back from a beating with a metal cable, and marks to his penis and testicles, where officers burned him with a hot metal ruler. He said he also witnessed officers torture other inmates, including by hanging them from a hook and tying a one-liter water bottle to their penis, causing inflammation. He showed researchers the medications a doctor had prescribed to him upon his release. He was losing his nails at the time of the interview because of a lack of calcium, he said.

In May, an investigative judge at the Nineveh counterterrorism court released Mahmoud after two court sessions after finding there was no evidence linking Mahmoud to ISIS. He said guards at the courthouse forced him to sign a paper after his first hearing but did not allow him to read it. He did not know whether he had a state-appointed lawyer in the hearing but said that no one spoke on his behalf. His wife hired a private lawyer who was able to petition the judge to hold a second hearing for Mahmoud and was able to secure his release. Mahmoud said the private lawyer was unable to meet with him privately before the second hearing.

Diagram of the cells where Mahmoud said he was held in Faisaliya Prison from January until May, 2018

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Mahmoud’s Cell
Mahmoud said he was held in a cell of about 2 by 3 meters, with 50 to 70 men, many of whom had been held for as long as a year, and all were being detained on terror charges. He said there were three cells, including one for female detainees, he determined, based on their voices, with cameras in each. The detainees were prohibited from speaking among themselves. He said they were allowed out of their cell twice a day, in the morning and evening, to use the bathroom, but were beaten if they took more than two minutes each to use the toilet.

Mahmoud’s Torture Sessions

Mahmoud said that on his first night in prison, an officer, whom he named to researchers, blindfolded him, bound his hands, and took him from his cell into an area the detainees called the “maidan” or square. He said, “I could hear the voices of three officers.” They uncovered his eyes and began interrogating him, at which point he started pleading that he had done nothing wrong. They kicked him and warned, “Tomorrow we will start the initial phase of the interrogation,” he said.

Mahmoud said he was hung in the “bazoona” position at least six times while in detention, for hours. He said that at least four of those times, he lost consciousness before being taken down. Sometimes officers threw water at him before beating his back with a metal cable, he said.

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

The next morning, he said, a guard took him to the square again, where he saw the same three officers:

For 15 minutes they beat me with plastic and metal pipes and cables, without saying anything. Then they took my hands, bound them behind my back, and hung me by the hands, in a position called the “bazoona,” with my feet off the ground, and they said, “You will stay like this until your shoulders get dislocated.” They left me like this for an hour and then they threw water at me. After that I blacked out.

 

He said that when he regained consciousness he was lying on the floor, and saw another two detainees, both naked, kneeling in the “scorpion” position with their hands tied together behind their back.

He said he also recognized a fourth officer who was in the room and gave the officer’s name to Human Rights Watch.

Mahmoud described seeing at least one detainee in the “scorpion” position. He said that in order to cause more pain, at times an officer would kick the detainee to the ground, onto their back, and then stand on their shoulders, crushing their arms and hands beneath them.

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

He said that at this point officers gave him some water, then one started beating his legs and waist with a plastic pipe. Then they hung him in the “bazoona” position again, with one officer tugging on his feet, while the others threw water at him and beat his back with a metal cable.

He said that after a while they took him down, unbound his hands, laid him on his chest, and an officer stepped on his shoulders, claiming it would help put the shoulders back into their sockets:

While I lay there, guards brought in three more prisoners, and the officers started beating two of them, and then hung them up from their hands, bound behind their heads on two hooks next to the two small windows in the room. As they did this, one officer said to me, “Look at those two, that will be you soon.” Both were covered in bruises. One was in his underwear, the other naked. After a while, I am not sure how long because it was so hard to get a sense of time in there, the senior officer in the room ordered the other officers to tie a full one-liter bottle of water to a string and hang it from each of their penises.

He said that a guard took him to his cell for a few hours, but then took him back to the square. “Right when I walked in [the officers] started kicking and hitting me, and one officer told me to raise my head, and then slapped me so hard I almost fell over.” He said the officers started interrogating him about the role his brother had held in a Mosul government office before and during the time of ISIS rule. When he entered the square that second time, he saw that the two men hanging near the windows were still in the same position.

Over the next months of his detention, he said, officers hung him in the “bazoona” position at least six times, four of which led to him blacking out, and beat him many times, including 15 lashes with a cable for asking if he could call his family. “I am ashamed to admit that I started to get excited whenever I saw new prisoners arrive, as it meant the officers would be busy with them, and leave me alone,” he said.

On one occasion, about a week into his detention, he said, he was caught talking inside his cell, so officers started beating him, saying he would get 20 lashes. He said he challenged them by saying, “You are beating me like ISIS beat people, what is the difference between you and ISIS?” which led them to beat him more. He was screaming so much that they then laid him down on his chest, lifted his legs at the knee, and beat the soles of his feet many times with plastic pipes. They stopped four times, forced him to stand up and jump around in a puddle of water before continuing, to get the blood to flow back into his feet and increase the pain, he said.

Three months into his detention, he said, a guard caught him and six other prisoners speaking together on camera and took them into the square. There, officers forced them down on their chests and started beating the soles of their feet, Mahmoud said. He and one other detainee were screaming and moving their legs, so officers turned the two of them around:

One officer pinned my shoulders down, another held down my legs, and a third who was wearing gloves grabbed a small metal ruler that was being heated on the tea stove and held it against the length of my penis. I flinched from the pain and so the officer burned me a second time on my testicles. They burned the other detainee once on his penis too. I went to the doctor after I got out because I am still in so much pain, I can’t have sex or do anything with my penis, and I am not sure if it will get better.

He said that throughout his time in detention officers allowed him no medical treatment or medication, but did provide some pills and creams to cellmates who appeared to act as prison snitches.

Deaths in Custody

While he was in detention, Mahmoud said, nine men died in his cell, two after returning from interrogations and the rest in the cell for unclear reasons. One died two-and-a-half months into Mahmoud’s detention, he said. The detainee, “Ammar,” confessed to ISIS affiliation and gave the officers the names of five cousins who he said also were ISIS supporters, he later told Mahmoud. The next day the officers started detaining the cousins. Mahmoud said:

At 2 a.m., I heard screaming coming from the square and one of his cousins was insisting to the officers that he did nothing wrong. After a bit, the officers carried the cousin into our cell and threw him on the ground right next to me, covered in a wet blanket. He was completely unconscious. We changed his clothes, so he was dry. We tried to revive him with food and juice, but he could barely speak. Ammar stayed far away, he was scared that if he tried to help him, the officers would beat him.

The next morning guards came and took Ammar away to court with five other detainees, and that evening the guard came back for his cousin. We heard screams all night, and the guard only brought him back in the early morning unconscious. We took off his clothes and saw he had two big bruises to his waist on either side, green bruises on his arms, and a long red burn down the length of his penis. We tried to clean the burn wound and he didn’t even flinch. His face looked almost blue. He started to revive, and tried to stand up and gasp for air, but fell to the ground. He then defecated on himself, so we cleaned him up, and changed his clothes.

A few hours later, I heard him start whispering the names of his wife and children, and then he fell silent. I was screaming for the guard, yelling that he was dying, but the guard said he could not open the cell door without an order from his officer. The cousin drew in a sharp breath and then was dead. When we realized that he was dead, we did something that made us feel like we are not humans anymore, we stripped him and took his clothing, because we were all desperate for clothes.

As Mahmoud broke down crying, he said that as the day wore on, the man’s body began to smell. Finally, in the evening a guard opened the cell to collect another detainee for interrogation. Mahmoud said:

I told him the man had died, and he responded, “Let him die, it is a dog that died. It doesn’t matter if 10 or 20 more die, they are ISIS and deserve to die.”

The officer told a group of the detainees to carry the body out into the hallway and leave it covered by a blanket near the bathroom. Mahmoud said that night when they were taken to the bathroom, and the next morning, he still saw the body there, before it was taken away. While they went to the bathroom, guards were covering their noses because of the stench.

Mahmoud said a second man died in his cell within four days of arriving at the prison. He said he heard the man telling officers he had no link to ISIS, but that he had remarried a second wife and his first wife got angry and made the report. Mahmoud said he saw officers hanging the man through a window in the hallway that looked into the square and later saw him on the ground in the square every day being interrogated, as Mahmoud passed by to go to the bathroom. “On the fourth night a guard brought him back to the cell, and in the morning he didn’t wake up and we realized he had died,” he said. “That morning the guard had us carry his body into the hallway, after which they must have removed it.”

“Karim”
On July 10, researchers interviewed “Karim,” who was held for 11 months after his arrest in May 2017, first in the Qayyarah prison, but after 11 months, officers closed the Qayarrah facility, a group of three abandoned and dilapidated houses, and transferred the detainees to Faisaliya.

While in Qayyarah, Karim said, he was held in overcrowded conditions and forbidden from speaking to other detainees. He said no one interrogated him, but that he saw other men returning from interrogations with signs of torture on their bodies.

He said he saw five men from his cell taken for interrogations and they were returned 7 to 12 hours later crying and unable to move their arms or shoulders. “They could not eat or drink,” he said. “We had to feed them. We even had to help them go to the bathroom.” They told him they had been held in the “bazoona” position. He said Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF) staff visited the hospital and took one detainee out of his cell, because he had such visible signs of torture through beatings by metal cables.

He said that a judge found in May 2017 that there was no clear evidence against him and ordered the National Security Service and intelligence service to run a check on him to clear him for release. But he remained in custody, and in April 2018, authorities transferred him and the other detainees to Faisaliya. In Faisaliya he described a large hanger where he was held with at least 70 other men for a month, until his lawyer was able to locate him and demonstrate to the judge that there was no evidence against him.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zagidat Abakarova, 33, and her one-year-old daughter Mariam, returned to Dagestan, Russia, from northern Syria in October 2018

© Tanya Lokshina

“I thought she was in Turkey, close to the Syrian border, but still in Turkey… and then they told me she was in Iraq.” Galina’s eyes fill with tears as she picks at her salad in a Grozny cafeteria. “She is in prison in Baghdad.”

Galina Pratsak, 59, arrived in Chechnya from Bryansk, central Russia, hours before we met, hoping to retrieve her grandchildren from Baghdad with the help of a program for returning Russian women and children from Iraq and Syria. The program was started about a year ago by Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, with the Kremlin’s support.

Between August 2017 and February 2018, over 90 children and women arrived in Russia under its auspices, on special “humanitarian” flights to Grozny, Chechnya’s capital. Among those already returned are Russian nationals from Chechnya, Dagestan, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Oryol, and Moscow, as well as several from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and other countries of the former Soviet Union. Most of the returnees are children. The few women who have returned are those the authorities in the areas of their capture chose not to prosecute. But now the program seems to have been suspended, without explanation.

Most of the foreign women and children currently in detention in Iraq belong to a group of more than 1,400 foreigners detained by Iraqi forces last August after the battle for the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) stronghold of Tal Afar ended. Since January, Iraq has proceeded with rushed trials against foreign women on charges of illegal entry and membership in or assistance to IS without sufficiently taking into account the individual circumstances of each case and sentencing most to life in prison or death by execution. Over 20 women of Russian origin already tried have all received life sentences.

Globally, Russia had the most active program to return detainees from Iraq and Syria, notably women and children. In fact, with Indonesia, Russia was the only country to take back women and children from Syria—until the US recently took back one American woman and her children. Some EU countries have taken nationals from Iraq but none from Syria so far (at least not publicly). All in all, when Russia’s returns program was launched in 2017, it represented a good practice. However, it is no longer active.

A Life Sentence in Iraq

In July, an Iraqi criminal court handed Galina’s daughter, 31-year-old Elena, a life sentence for illegal entry into Iraq and for supporting IS. She is in prison in Baghdad with her four children. The two older ones, Lilya and Rustam, were born in Bryansk, in 2008 and 2013 respectively. The younger ones are two-and-a-half-year-old Sakina and 16-month-old Djafar. Their grandmother said she found out only in December that they had been born in Iraq, in areas under IS control.

“We had video chats all the time,” she told me. “But it was always from inside the house. Her place was comfortable, and she and the kids seemed happy. And then toward the end of August last year, she sent me several messages saying things weren’t good any longer and she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t share any details, wouldn’t answer my questions, wouldn’t put the video on. I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then, they just disappeared. Months went by before I found out she and the kids were jailed in Baghdad, with other [captured] women and children.”

Galina is Russian Orthodox. Her daughter married a man of Tajik origin who was not religious but didn’t mind when Galina baptized Lilya. He was naturalized in Russia and joined the Russian army when Lilya was a baby. Instead of returning home after two years of service, he traveled to Tajikistan. Elena and Lilya stayed with Galina. Lilya was two-and-a-half when Galina realized, while giving her a bath, that the girl’s little cross was missing. She asked Elena about it, and her daughter said she and Lilya had embraced Islam.

“A few weeks later, she started wearing a long skirt and full sleeves. Eventually, she donned a hijab. Then, she told me her husband had moved to Turkey and she and Lilya will join him there. So, they left,” Galina said.

Elena kept in touch with her mother, and in early 2013 returned to Bryansk, five months pregnant. She gave birth to Rustam and stayed at her mother’s home with the children until he was 14 months old before returning, supposedly to Turkey. Soon afterward, Elena told Galina during one of their frequent chats that the children’s father died and that Elena had remarried.

She gave birth to Sakina and Djafar with her second husband and kept reassuring Galina that he was a good man and treated the children from her first marriage just like his own. Galina enjoyed her video sessions with Elena and the kids. She would have preferred to have them close by, but at least it seemed her daughter had a beautiful family and kept a good house.

Elena was last in contact with Galina on August 26, 2017. As time went by with no updates from her daughter, Galina did not know where to turn. Finally, on December 20, the human rights ombudsman for Bryansk shocked her with the news that Elena and the children were in an Iraqi jail, and that Elena was awaiting trial on charges of membership in IS.

Human Rights Watch cannot determine what Elena’s role was during the time she lived in IS-controlled territory. Her mother, however, is adamant.

“Yes, I understand, it’s a terrorist organization and my daughter lived under their auspices.” Galina looks up from her barely touched plate of food. “But she is no terrorist! The pregnancies, the births, the nursing, the household—that’s all she did. And they [Iraqi authorities] are saying that as long as she lived with one of those men, cooked, cleaned, it makes her a participant and she will spend the rest of her life in jail. I just cannot wrap my brain around it…”

Human Rights Watch has interviewed close relatives of four of these women in Russia and they all emphasized, like Galina, that the women’s activities in IS were limited to having children and taking care of the household.

Respecting Due Process

Although Human Rights Watch cannot verify the claims about any particular woman’s role under IS, there have been well-publicized reports indicating that under IS many women were limited to homemaking and most were subject to restrictions on their movement. Basic due process requires that any prosecutions guarantee women the opportunities to raise defenses, including whether they were coerced or did not knowingly engage in criminal conduct. Courts should examine evidence regarding each woman’s actions and issue convictions and sentences only where they are supported by evidence of individual culpability.

Iraq should change its approach and consider alternatives to criminal prosecution for those against whom there is no evidence that they were combatants or involved in committing serious crimes. Russia should consider repeated requests by the relatives of already sentenced women to discuss with the Iraqi government the possibility of transferring the women to Russia to serve their sentences on Russian soil.

With respect to foreign children, their well being should be a priority for all parties involved. In December 2017, just a few days before Galina found out about the fate of her daughter and grandchildren, President Putin said in a news conference, “Children, when taken to armed conflict zones, did not make a decision to go there and we have no right to abandon them there.” He commended Kadyrov on his work on returns.

Many families desperate to bring their loved ones back from Syria and Iraq took his words as a sign that the returns program would be further developed and many more flights with returnees would follow. Instead, the program appears to have been suspended in early 2018, with no explanation. The families knock on all doors, but their increasingly desperate questions remain unanswered.

Russia should resume the returns of children, either under the auspices of the so-called Kadyrov program or by other means. In carrying out the returns, Russian authorities should not discriminate between children born on Russian soil and children born to a parent of Russian origin, as long as the best interests of the children are being served and parental consent for the children’s return is sought.

Galina came to Grozny to hand over her grandchildren’s birth certificates and give power of attorney to a leading representative of Kadyrov’s returns program, who promised to bring the children back to Russia if the circumstances allow.

“They don’t know when, but they will try… Though I thought all the four kids could be brought back but they’re now saying it’s only about the two elder ones because the littlest ones weren’t born here. So, at least those two… But what about the other two? What will happen to them? And my daughter, will she die there in jail? Couldn’t she serve her sentence in Russia? I’d bring the children to visit her as often as possible. If I get the children back, that is,” Galina sighs looking at me for answers, answers I don’t have.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Lebanese soldier at an army post in the hills above the Lebanese town of Arsal

© 2016 Reuters

(New York) – The United States should ensure no foreign Islamic State (also known as ISIS) suspects held by local allies in Syria are transferred to a country where they are at risk of torture or unfair trials, Human Rights Watch said today.

The US handed over eight Lebanese detainees from northern Syria to Lebanese Military Intelligence, the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar reported on August 2, 2018. Military Intelligence held them for over a month without any communication with their families or judicial authorities, al-Akhbar said. Lebanon’s military confirmed on August 1 that Military Intelligence was holding the men and indicated they had been referred to judicial authorities. This is the first public account of an evident transfer by the US of detainees from northern Syria to their home countries.

“The US should create a transparent process with strong safeguards to ensure that no ISIS suspect is transferred to a country where they are at risk of torture or an unfair trial,” said Nadim Houry, terrorism/counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. “Transferring detainees in total secrecy without basic legal protections is a recipe for abuse.”

Human Rights Watch has no information on the treatment of the eight men in Lebanese custody. However, Human Rights Watch and Lebanese human rights organizations have routinely documented credible reports of torture in Lebanon, including by Military Intelligence, in some cases leading to the death of detainees. The authorities have failed to properly investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment by security services, and accountability for torture in detention remains elusive.

The US has assisted the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria to detain hundreds of foreign ISIS suspects. No country has sought to take back its nationals and the US, concerned by instability in northern Syria, has begun returning suspected fighters to their country of origin, the Wall Street Journal reported on July 19. The Journal quoted a senior US Defense Department official saying about two dozen men had been returned while “another 100 or so are in the process of being sent back to their countries.” The official did not provide specifics about the countries involved.

The SDF, with US assistance, is holding an estimated 593 men from 47 countries accused of being ISIS fighters or members – many from Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, and Russia, the New York Times reported. About 80 are reported to be from Europe, including about 10 to 15 each from France and Germany. Al-Akhbar has reported that prior to the transfer, at least 13 Lebanese were in custody in northern Syria.

The US plays a key role in the detention of these men by helping the SDF run and secure its detention facilities, Human Rights Watch said. The New York Times reported that US Special Operations forces visit the prisons multiple times a week to offer expertise on running them, train guards, and help process new detainees using biometrics and interrogation. On a visit to one detention facility, a New York Times journalist reported, a US military official denied his request to speak with a detainee.

The United Nations Convention against Torture, to which the US is a party, as well as international humanitarian law, prohibits the transfer of detainees to a country where “there are substantial grounds for believing” they would be in danger of being tortured or would otherwise face mistreatment. Anyone taken into custody in Syria should at a minimum have the opportunity to contest the basis for their detention before an independent adjudicator and have the assistance of counsel. They should also be able to contest their transfer to another country because of risk of torture or an unfair trial.

The autonomous administration in Northern Syria, which is not a sovereign government, has set up local ad-hoc counterterrorism courts, but has only tried Syrian and Iraqi nationals. Local officials told Human Rights Watch they preferred not to prosecute foreigners and hoped countries would take back their nationals and “reduce the burden on them.” But foreign governments have expressed reluctance to take back ISIS suspects, citing fears that they represent a security threat. Some countries have also indicated concern about evidentiary and legal challenges that would prevent them from prosecuting these ISIS suspects.

The future of foreign ISIS members held in northern Syria was discussed at a meeting of key defense ministers of the International Coalition to Defeat ISIS in Rome in February, but no agreement was reached. In addition to the almost 600 foreign men, the SDF is also holding about 2,000 women and children who are affiliated with ISIS in three camps for the displaced. These women and children come from over 40 countries. The SDF says they are holding them temporarily until their countries take them back, but so far, only Russia, Indonesia, and more recently the US are publicly known to have taken some of their nationals back from these camps.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for increased international cooperation to ensure justice for ISIS’s horrific crimes. Given the uncertainty in northern Syria and in the absence of credible options to prosecute ISIS suspects fairly in local trials, Human Rights Watch has supported calls for prosecutions by other countries that have jurisdiction and can provide fair trials. This has meant opposing any transfer to the US detention facility at Guantanamo, where they would be subject to military commissions, which do not meet international fair trial standards, or to home countries that practice torture or cannot provide fair trials.

The US has not publicly disclosed the countries where foreign nationals have been transferred, making it impossible to determine the risks those returned might face. The Journal reported that a US defense official said the US is monitoring the transfer agreements to ensure the detainees will be securely held and “treated humanely.” Nothing about the content of these agreements has become known, so it has not been possible to assess their effectiveness or whether the US has sought agreements from countries that are known to torture detainees.

The recent transfer to Lebanon raises human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said. The handover occurred only through coordination with Lebanese Military Intelligence and for weeks the detainees had no access to judicial authorities or their families, al-Akhbar reported. The Lebanese army issued a statement only several weeks after the alleged transfer, indicating that Military Intelligence had handed judicial authorities eight Lebanese accused of ISIS membership who had fought in Syria and Iraq and who had been “delivered to Military Intelligence by friendly security agencies…and in coordination with Lebanese judicial authorities.” The Army did not specify when it took custody of them.

Human Rights Watch has also previously raised concerns about the independence, impartiality, and competence of Lebanon’s Military Tribunal, whose judges often do not have legal training and are subordinate to the defense minister, and where trials take place behind closed doors.

“The US transfers of ISIS suspects to Lebanon became known because of the country’s vibrant press,” Houry said. “Dealing with these cases and ISIS atrocities presents no easy solution, but without a transparent process that permits suspects to raise torture concerns and clarity about US detention policy in northern Syrian, there is a risk that new crimes will just be piled on top of past ones.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

© 2015 Human Rights Watch

In the last few weeks, hundreds of Syrian families learned that their loved ones who had disappeared in government detention facilities had died. Many said that they found out as they requested routine records from the Syrian administration and were stunned to find that the authorities had recently registered their relatives as dead. The authorities generally specified no cause of death, just a date, in many cases years ago. Most of those that listed a cause said “heart attack” with no further explanation.

Each new confirmation of death has rippled through social media, spreading heartache to Syrian families displaced by repression and conflict. My Facebook timeline, populated by Syrian friends and activists I have met working on the country over the last decade, currently reads like an unfolding digital eulogy for many of the country’s leading activists who had been held and disappeared by government forces.

For years, many of the families of these activists had sought information about their fate, often spending their entire savings bribing security officials in the hope of receiving an update. To no avail. Since 2011, Syrian authorities have consistently denied having any information on those detained or last seen in their custody even though Syria’s security services have meticulous records for everything, including those they kill in detention.

This bureaucracy of death was exposed in early 2014, when a defector code-named Caesar, whose job in the military police was to photograph the bodies of dead detainees, smuggled out thousands of photos and internal documents, exposing how every detainee death was recorded, indexed, and photographed. There were even written instructions for burials. The authorities knew who died but decided to withhold this information from the families – until now.

A disappearance, in law, is when a person is last seen in the custody of state forces, and the state authorities refuse to admit they have detained the person or to say where they are being detained. Why the systematic reliance on disappearances I once asked a defector in 2014. “Detaining someone limits their ability to act, but disappearing them, paralyzes the entire family,” he said. “The family will divert all their energies to finding them. As a tool for control, it can hardly be beaten.”

For years, the relatives of detainees, Syria’s opposition, and human rights groups have campaigned to place the issue of the detainees at the forefront, advocating for families’ right to know, access for international monitors, and accountability for widespread torture and mistreatment in Syrian detention facilities. The Syrian government repeatedly obstructed the efforts.

So why has the government decided to start releasing this information after years of denials?

Despite the government’s obstruction, the issue has not gone away. With so many detainees whose fate is unknown, it is simply too big an issue to ignore. Some groups, among them the Syrian Network for Human Rights, estimate that the Syrian government is responsible for the disappearance of over 80,000 people.

A working group to examine the fate of detainees was created in December 2017 as part of the eighth round of de-escalation talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. Composed of members from the three Astana guarantor states – Iran, Turkey, and Russia – as well as the United Nations, the working group held a second meeting on the sidelines of the following round of Astana talks in May. The next meeting is to be hosted by Turkey. There is little transparency about the working group’s discussions, but notably the Syrian government began updating personal records shortly after the group was established. Coincidental? Possibly.

It is always hard to know what motivates decisions by the Syrian authorities. But their decisions are never random. I suspect that the government hopes to preempt having to answer questions about the fate of the thousands believed to be in government detention by stating that those missing are dead and that their families have been informed.

This is exactly how the Syrian authorities handled the issue of those it detained and later disappeared from Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s during its military presence in the country. After years of denying requests by Lebanese families for information about missing relatives, Syria agreed in May 2005 to a joint Syrian-Lebanese committee to look into cases. Families hoping for a breakthrough were quickly disappointed. No investigation was opened.

Most cases remained without answers but in a handful of cases, the Syrian government acknowledged that some detainees died or had been executed following summary trials. No bodies were ever returned, no details provided, no one was held accountable, and no family got closure. But for the Syrian government, the file had been closed.

The Syrian government should not be allowed to get away with mass disappearances and murder again. Families of the disappeared have a right to know what happened to their loved ones. If they are dead, the families should be able to recover the remains and learn about the circumstances of the death through an independent investigation. There also needs to be accountability for the enforced disappearances and deaths in detention. For those who remain in detention, access to detention facilities for international monitors remains imperative.

A mere update of the records, which may or may not be accurate, does not do this, nor does it absolve the Syrian government of its responsibility for the mass disappearances, torture, and death of thousands of Syrians.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Home Secretary Sajid Javid walks out of the Home Office on April 30, 2018 in London, England.

© 2018 Getty/Chris J. Ratcliffe

Like a dripping corrosive liquid, ISIS and the response it provokes from governments are slowly eating away at key human rights principles. Driven by a desire to appear tough on the extremist group, Western democracies are compromising on principles they have defended for years. Each compromise, on its own, may appear small or limited to exceptional cases, but together, these compromises are eroding the edifice of key protections that have been built over the last half century.

The latest casualty is the United Kingdom’s long-standing opposition to the death penalty and its corollary refusal to extradite or share evidence in cases in which the death penalty could be exercised. The Daily Telegraph has published extracts from a letter from UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in which he agrees to hand over intelligence to help prosecute captured ISIS members Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee el-Sheikh, both members of ISIS’ infamous cell of British jihadists knows as the “Beatles.” This in itself is unexceptional. What is exceptional is that Javid says in the letter that the UK will not seek any “assurances” that the pair will not face the death penalty in the US.

The British government, like other European governments, has for decades refused to extradite people alleged to have committed serious criminal offenses, including acts of terrorism, to the US and other countries without an assurance that they would not be subject to the death penalty. This policy is based on firm human rights norms, which prohibit transfer of an individual to somewhere that they may risk inhuman treatment (as may happen on death row in the US), and opposition to the death penalty, long abolished in the UK and across most of the European continent.

The British policy also extends to refusing to provide evidence or cooperation in trials where the death penalty is being sought or where there is a risk of torture or ill-treatment. The UK maintained this position even in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Indeed, the UK government has refused to extend legal cooperation to prosecution of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, and instead supports calls for the prison’s closure.

Javid’s letter acknowledges this policy. He notes in his letter that “it is the long-held position of the UK to seek death penalty assurances, and our decision in this case does not reflect a change in our policy on assistance in US death penalty cases generally, nor the UK Government’s stance on the global abolition of the death penalty.” If that’s the case, why did he find that “there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case”?

Javid provides no details. Is it because he thinks that the US will not pursue the death penalty? The US has not said anything to suggest that and it seems unlikely given these men have been publicly accused of kidnapping, torturing and murdering US and UK citizens. Or is it because the UK revoked their citizenship, as has been widely reported, but not yet officially confirmed by the UK government? Nowhere in the published excerpts does Javid make this argument and in the past, the UK has not limited its policy of no collaboration in death penalty cases to British nationals. Nor can simply revoking citizenship with the stroke of a pen absolve the UK from its duty to avoid exposing them to the risk of capital punishment or other serious human rights abuse.

The answer may actually lie in another UK government document from which the Telegraph also quoted in its report. Issued on the same day as the letter and circulated to key civil servants, a government briefing reportedly notes that Javid and Boris Johnson, then UK foreign secretary, decided to share evidence with the US on the two ISIS members “without seeking death penalty assurance” as “they concluded that the risks associated with no prosecution being brought against Kotey and El-Sheikh if UK evidence is not shared, outweigh the risks of direct UK assistance to a conviction that could lead to execution and the implications for the UK’s wider death penalty policy.”

Take the time and reread the sentence. This is not language that defends a longstanding principle of British policy and fundamental human rights norms, but rather the language of competing policy interests and compromises.

Moreover, the second document referenced in the Telegraph’s exposé says that the UK government “will not lobby the US not to send them to” Guantanamo despite its preference for federal trials and a desire to see that prison closed. And so, it appears that standards on fair trial, due process and adherence to the rule of law – all undermined at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp – are also up for compromise. But they don’t have to be.

The prosecution of these two men, like other ISIS members suspected of committing heinous crimes, is important and is something that Human Rights Watch has long called for. But why shouldn’t the UK insist on the same guarantees from the US that it has sought in cases of other suspected terrorists? Why compromise on a key principle when it is possible to articulate support for US prosecutions in federal courts while insisting on the same assurances usually sought from the US that the death penalty will not be applied?

The UK’s position is particularly troubling given that the parents of the US hostages, which these men are accused of torturing and killing, have opposed the death penalty for them. In a powerful joint op-ed in February, the parents of four American ISIS victims wrote that they “agree with the longstanding British government position that it would be a mistake to send killers like these to the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, or to seek the death penalty in court. Either path would make them martyrs in the eyes of their fanatic, misled comrades in arms – the worst outcome.”

British officials may try to present its position in these cases as a compromise of necessity to get the US to prosecute these men. But US authorities are perfectly capable of prosecuting people alleged to have committed terrorism offenses without recourse to the death penalty.

The leaked letter is a stain on the moral authority of the UK government as it seeks to promote human rights around the world. It represents a massive step backward in building and promoting a criminal justice system in which the death penalty has no place. And it can be viewed as a victory for countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, which have been fervent proponents of the death penalty.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – Iraq’s National Security Service (NSS), an Iraqi intelligence agency reporting to Iraq’s prime minister, has acknowledged for the first time that it is detaining individuals for prolonged periods of time, despite not having a clear mandate to do so, Human Rights Watch said today. NSS is holding more than 400 detainees in a detention facility in east Mosul. As of July 4, 2018, 427 men were there, some of whom had been held for more than seven months.

A blank NSS arrest warrant provided to Human Rights Watch. 

© 2018 Private

One person held there briefly in April described horrendous conditions, and said that detainees had no access to lawyers, family visits, or medical care. He described one prisoner dying in April after being tortured for months. Human Rights Watch was granted access to the facility on July 4. The detention conditions appeared improved but remained overcrowded.

“National Security Service officials in Baghdad told us that the intelligence agency has no authority to hold prisoners, but changed their line once we were able to see the prisoners for ourselves,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Baghdad needs to publicly clarify which authorities have the right to hold and interrogate detainees.”

On April 17 a senior NSS official in Baghdad denied operating any detention facilities and claimed that the agency only holds small numbers of people for up to 48 hours before transferring them to places of formal detention. But researchers were granted access to the facility, where officials said 427 prisoners were being held at the time. A subsequent written response from the Baghdad office confirmed the NSS is holding prisoners in one facility in Mosul, but then proceeded to speak about detention facilities in the plural form. Given the serious contradiction in statements and facts on the ground, the NSS should clarify the number of prisoners it is detaining and the number and location of facilities it is using to detain them. Iraqi authorities should declare the number of detention facilities across Iraq. Judicial authorities should investigate the allegations presented in this report.

On May 16, Human Rights Watch interviewed Faisal Jeber, 47, an archaeologist, who said that on April 3 a group of three Ministry of Interior Intelligence officers in uniform and two armed men in civilian dress, one of who told Jeber he was “from the Prime Minister’s Office” arrested him at an archaeological site in east Mosul, claiming he had no permission to be there and accusing him of illegal excavations at a public heritage site. They first took him to an intelligence office, before turning him over to NSS officers who called a judge to endorse the arrest, Jeber said. Jeber was not given an opportunity to speak to the judge. NSS then brought him to a two-story house next to the NSS office in al-Shurta neighborhood in Mosul. Jeber said that on the ground floor of the house he saw four rooms being used as cells to hold prisoners and estimated that at least 450 prisoners were held with him based on a daily head count.

Jeber said he was taken before an investigative judge at Mosul’s criminal court on April 4, and then returned to the prison for a second night and released the following day pending trial. Upon arrival at the prison, he said guards confiscated his glasses and watch, and other personal items. When he was released, Jeber said guards did not give him his shoes or socks back, sending him out barefoot, and kept his belt, keychain, and headphones.

While Jeber was only held for 48 hours, he said he spoke with six men and one boy detained in the cell with him who told him NSS held them for between four months to two years, some being transferred to several NSS facilities before arriving at this one. Human Rights Watch researchers visited the facility on July 4, and the head of the NSS in Mosul showed them a brand new prison block that had been built next to the house where Jeber had been held. The new facility had three rooms and held 427 adult male prisoners, according to the NSS official. He said they transferred all prisoners under the age of 18 to another facility. He said some had been at the prison for up to seven months.

Another NSS officer who spoke to researchers on condition of anonymity said that some had been held for over one year, having been transferred from Qayyarah to Bartalla and on to Mosul when the detention site opened there seven months ago. The second officer said they had been holding the prisoners in a house next door, but after “pressure from Baghdad,” a few months ago they built the new prison block and transferred the prisoners there to improve conditions. The three rooms were clean, with air-conditioning, but like other prisons in Iraq extremely overcrowded.

The head of the NSS in Mosul said all the prisoners were wanted for ISIS affiliation, and were interrogated before they were either brought before an investigative judge or handed over to another security entity if that entity had the person on one of their “wanted” databases, including the Ministry of Interior’s intelligence branch, or military intelligence. He said they only arrested people after obtaining a warrant, and that all detainees had access to a judge and a lawyer within 24 hours of their arrest. Human Rights Watch did not interview any of the detainees at the facility.

Two Mosul lawyers who defend ISIS suspects said that in their experience, many prisoners are seeing an investigative judge within 24 hours, but have no government-appointed lawyer present then, nor later when the NSS interrogates them further. While the seven detainees told Jeber they had been brought before an investigative judge, none of them had access to a lawyer and they did not know if a lawyer was present to provide them with a defense during their hearing.

Iraq’s Criminal Code of Procedure allows police and “crime scene officers” to detain and interrogate criminal suspects if they have a warrant. It defines crime scene officers broadly, making it impossible to ascertain which forces are included. The NSS head in Mosul said that the NSS was authorized to arrest, hold, and interrogate prisoners.

However, Hamid al-Zerjawi, deputy National Security Service chief, told Human Rights Watch on April 17, that the NSS has no functional detention facilities in the country, and only one facility in Baghdad that is not yet operational. He conceded that the NSS held small numbers of people for up to 24 hours after their arrest at one of their offices, before bringing them before a judge, who could allow them an extra 24 hours of detention, before they needed to transfer the detainee to a formal detention facility. He said the NSS never held any detainee for over 48 hours.

On July 11, the NSS’s Baghdad office responded to Human Rights Watch inquiries into the facility. The written response acknowledged that the NSS is holding detainees at a single facility in Mosul with the consent of the High Judicial Council in Nineveh, that all detainees are held under judicial arrest warrants, see a judge within 24 hours of arrest, and are transferred to Ministry of Justice prisons upon being sentenced. The response did not provide any numbers of detainees nor details into the length of time they are being held at the facility, but stated that detainees are allowed to retain a lawyer, or have one appointed by the court, but added: “most lawyers in the governorate of Nineveh abstain from arguing terrorism cases.” It said there were no detainees under the age of 18.

The Iraqi authorities should publicly clarify which forces have a legal mandate to arrest, hold, and interrogate suspects, and provide a list of all official detention facilities. They should transfer all detainees to prisons run by authorities with a legal mandate to detain people. Such sites should be built to accommodate detainees, and equipped to meet basic international standards, even if this requires transferring the detainees outside of the Nineveh governorate, where Mosul is located. All detainees should have a medical screening upon arrival and be ensured access to medical care. Judges should only order detention in locations, and under the authority of forces, legally authorised to hold detainees, and order the immediate release of detainees or prisoners being held in inhuman or degrading conditions or otherwise detained unlawfully.

The authorities should also ensure that there is a clear legal basis for detention, that all detainees have access to legal counsel including during interrogation, and that detainees are moved to facilities accessible to government inspection, independent monitors, relatives, and lawyers, with regular and unimpeded access. The authorities should immediately notify families of the detention of their loved ones and which authority is detaining them and promptly take detainees before a judge to rule on the legality of their detention. They should immediately comply with any order by judges to release detainees.

Children alleged to have committed illegal acts should be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards. International law allows authorities to detain children pretrial in limited situations, but only if formally charged with committing a crime, not merely as suspects. The authorities should release all children not yet formally charged.

“Authorities should be doing whatever it takes to make sure that families know where their loved ones are,” Fakih said. “The government should crack down on forces with no legal mandate that are holding detainees for months on end without seeing a judge.”

The Former Detainee’s Account
Faisal Jeber, the archeologist, told Human Rights Watch that the detainees he spoke to said they were being held on suspicion of ISIS affiliation and alleged that during interrogations NSS officers had beaten them with plastic or electrical cables, electrocuted them, beaten the soles of their feet, and hung them with their hands bound behind their backs.

Jeber said that at 3 a.m. on his first night at the prison, an argument broke out between two prisoners in his room. He said two guards came in, took the two men out, and in front of the window Jeber saw each guard beat one of the men with plastic cables and pipes for about 20 minutes, cursing and shouting at them before returning them to the room.

He said that first night in detention he was told that a man had died after being tortured: 

My first night it was the time when we all get to use the bathroom. As we were getting ready to leave our room in a line, we heard voices coming out of the room and it was chaos; the guards were saying someone had died. One prisoner with me said that he had been in the cell with the man who died, and said he was in his thirties, had been at the prison for some time, and had been tortured to the point that he had been half paralyzed.

The NSS July 11 response acknowledged deaths at the prison, stating, “There have been very limited cases of death, which were judicially documented,” without providing any further detail. The response also stated,

 

There has been no use of torture inside detention centers, and no signs of torture or ill-treatment have been found, knowing that there is a department within the NSS that is specialized in these cases if they occur.

Jeber described the conditions in the facility, raising concerns about overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, and unreasonable restrictions on using the bathroom. He said that the room he was held in had a single window and small ventilator and was about 4 by 5 meters:

As I walked in I saw that half the prisoners were standing and the other half sitting because there wasn’t enough room for all of us to sit at the same time. My fellow inmates told me that I was the 79th person in the room. All around me on the walls were plastic bags hanging as well as plastic bottles holding a dark yellow liquid. The prisoners told me that was the only way that I could use the bathroom- urinate into the bottle or defecate into the bag- because the NSS guards only allowed prisoners to use the bathroom once every two days.

He said that at night the prisoners slept in shifts in the scabies-infested room because there was not enough room for all of them to lie down, with some standing until 6 a.m., before it was their turn to lie down with their heads between the legs of other prisoners.

Jeber also raised concerns about the absence of medical care for the detainees. He said that the first night of his detention one man in his cell suffered an epileptic seizure but received no medical attention. Other prisoners told him the guards had said that a doctor would only come if someone died and the body needed to be removed.

The NSS head in Mosul told Human Rights Watch that a representative from the Health Ministry visited there regularly to provide medical assistance, something Human Rights Watch was unable to verify.

The conditions the NSS held Jeber and others in, before the transfer to the new facility, are similar to the dire conditions at other prisons in the towns of Qayyarah and Hammam al-Alil, that Human Rights Watch visited in 2017.

Most of the prisoners Jeber spoke to said they had been able to bribe the guards to allow them to communicate with their families indirectly but none had been allowed a family visit. One gave Jeber his uncle’s phone number. Jeber said, “After I was released I called his uncle, who was surprised that he was still alive and said the family had no news of him since he had disappeared during the Mosul battle in early 2017.” The anonymous officer said that they forbade prisoners to have any visits or contact with their families or the outside world. The NSS July 11 response stated that detainees were only allowed to contact their families after the interrogation period ends.

Jaber believed that there were at least 450 prisoners in the home at the time he was held, because on the two days he was held there he said guards at the facility did a headcount and he overheard them counting at least 450 prisoners.

The NSS response

The NSS officer who spoke to researchers on the condition of anonymity said that officers know some prisoners are innocent. He said the NSS held many of them for months because Nineveh only has one counterterrorism judge hearing cases of detainees held by the NSS, leading to long delays. He said in cases where a defendant does not confess to a crime, the judge needs to order a range of investigations to be carried out by various security actors which also takes a long time to complete.

The NSS head in Mosul stated that the detention site has many prisoners they would like to transfer to other authorities, with a judge’s order, but that there is no room available in other prisons. The prohibition against arbitrary detention is enshrined in Iraq’s constitution and civil code. Under international criminal law, widespread or systematic use of arbitrary detention can be considered a crime against humanity if it is applied as part of a state policy.

Iraq’s penal code says that arbitrary detention is a criminal act if, among other conditions, the person who commits the offense issues a false arrest or detention order, threatens the person with death or torture, and holds the person for more than 15 days.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am