Recent reports that the US monitored calls between members of President Trump’s campaign staff and Russian intelligence personnel have renewed controversy about the surveillance powers of the National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI), and how those bodies handle the information they collect. But anyone concerned about the scope or legality of the US government’s warrantless intelligence surveillance should also worry about the way these programs may affect the country’s border and immigrant communities.

A general view shows part of the Loma Blanca neighborhood as a section of the border fence marking the boundarie with El Paso, U.S. is seen on the background, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico January 18, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

The US currently has two main “foreign” surveillance powers it can—in practice—use to obtain and sift through information on people within its borders without a warrant. (We do not yet know whether either of these was the legal basis for intercepting the conversations with Trump’s campaign staff). 

The first, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is scheduled to expire at the end of this year, setting the stage for an intense debate in Congress about reforming surveillance. Under Section 702, the NSA (with telecommunications companies’ help) automatically searches virtually all the Internet communications flowing over the fiber optic cables that connect the US to the rest of the world—a practice known as “upstream” scanning. 

As of 2015, 26 percent of people in the United States were first- or second-generation immigrants.  Upstream monitoring, as we currently understand it, means that whenever any of these tens of millions of people—or anyone else in the US—sends an email to a friend or family member in another country, the US government is likely searching those communications to see if they contain e-mail addresses or other “selectors” of interest. This kind of suspicionless, warrantless, disproportionate monitoring violates human rights.

In addition to Section 702, Executive Order 12333 allows the NSA and other US agencies to vacuum up the communications of US citizens and lawful permanent residents in the course of foreign surveillance. Leaked documents indicate that pursuant to EO 12333, the US has grabbed records of potentially all telephone calls in countries including Mexico and the Philippines. In other words, if you are in El Paso, Texas and have called your mother in Juárez, Mexico, US intelligence agencies probably have a record of your call. They can use this data to map social networks—and share it for law enforcement purposes.

The US’ vast warrantless surveillance powers are not only an issue for legal wonks or the technically savvy: they may be affecting people and communities throughout the United States and the world. Congress and the judiciary should regard them as direct threats to both US democracy and human rights.

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

(New York) – The latest revisions to China’s Criminal Law impose up to seven years in prison for “spreading rumors” about disasters, Human Rights Watch said today. The revised law, which took effect November 1, 2015, does not clarify what constitutes a “rumor,” heightening concerns that the provision will be used to curtail freedom of speech, particularly on the Internet.

“The revised Criminal Law adds a potent weapon to the Chinese government’s arsenal of punishments against netizens, including those who simply share information that departs from the official version of events,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities are once again criminalizing free speech on the Internet, which has been the Chinese people’s only relatively free avenue for expressing themselves.”

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee approved the addition of a provision to article 291(1) of the Criminal Law (Criminal Law Amendment Act (9)), which states that whoever “fabricates or deliberately spreads on media, including on the Internet, false information regarding dangerous situations, the spread of diseases, disasters and police information, and who seriously disturb social order” would face prison sentences – with a maximum of seven years for those whose rumors result in “serious consequences.” The vagueness of the provision means that individuals doing nothing more than asking questions or reposting information online about reported local disasters could be subject to prosecution.

In the past, the Chinese government has detained netizens who questioned official casualty figures or who had published alternative information about disasters ranging from SARS in 2003 to the Tianjin chemical blast in 2015, under the guise of preventing “rumors.”

The revision was made in the context of a wider effort to rein in online freedom since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013:

  • In August 2013, the authorities waged a campaign against “online rumors” that included warning Internet users against breaching “seven bottom lines” in their Internet postings, taking into custody the well-known online commentator Charles Xue, and closing popular “public accounts” on the social media platform “WeChat” that report and comment on current affairs;
  • In September 2013, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (the state prosecution) issued a judicial interpretation making the crimes of defamation, creating disturbances, illegal business operations, and extortion applicable to expressions in cyberspace. The first netizen who was criminally prosecuted after this took effect was well-known blogger Qin Huohuo, who was sentenced to three years in prison in April 2014 for allegedly defaming the government and celebrities by questioning whether they were corrupt or engaged in other dishonest behavior;
  • In July and August 2014, authorities suspended popular foreign instant messaging services, including KakaoTalk, claiming the service was being used for “distributing terrorism-related information”;
  • In 2015, government agencies such as the State Internet Information Office issued multiple new directives, including tightening restrictions over the use of usernames and avatars, and requiring writers of online literature in particular to register with their real names;
  • In 2015, the government has also shut down or restricted access to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which many users depend on to access content blocked to users inside the country and also help shield user privacy;
  • In March 2015, authorities also deployed a new cyber weapon, the “Great Cannon,” to disrupt the services of GreatFire.org, an organization that works to document China’s censorship and facilitate access to information;
  • In July 2015, the government published a draft cybersecurity law that will requires domestic and foreign Internet companies to increase censorship on the government’s behalf, register users’ real names, localize data, and aid government surveillance; and
  • In August 2015, the government announced that it would station police in major Internet companies to more effectively prevent “spreading rumors” online.
     

Activists in China are regularly prosecuted for speech-related “crimes,” Human Rights Watch said. The best known of these crimes is “inciting subversion,” which carries a maximum of 15 years in prison. But authorities have also used other crimes such as “inciting ethnic hatred,” as in the case of human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who has been detained since May 2014 for a number of social media posts questioning the government’s policies towards Uighurs and Tibetans.

While providing the public with accurate information during disasters is important, the best way to counter inaccurate information would be to ensure that official information is reliable and transparent, Human Rights Watch said.

Above all, journalists should have unimpeded access to investigate and inform the public about these events, and the wider public should have the freedom to debate and discuss disaster response.

“The casualties of China’s new provision would not be limited to journalists, activists and netizens, but the right of ordinary people and the world to know about crucial developments in China,” Richardson said. “The best way to dispel false rumors would be to allow, not curtail, free expression.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Bangladesh's President Abdul Hamid (3rd R) and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (2nd L) walk near female members of the Bangladesh army at the national parade ground in Dhaka on December 16, 2015. 

© 2015 Ashikur Rahman / Reuters
(New York) – The Digital Security Act passed by the Bangladeshi parliament last week, despite vehement opposition from the country’s journalists, strikes a blow to freedom of speech in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. The law, which replaces the much-criticized Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT), retains the most problematic provisions of that law and adds more provisions criminalizing peaceful speech.

“The new Digital Security Act is a tool ripe for abuse and a clear violation of the country’s obligations under international law to protect free speech,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “With at least five provisions criminalizing vaguely defined types of speech, the law is a license for wide-ranging suppression of critical voices.” 

The new Digital Security Act is a tool ripe for abuse and a clear violation of the country’s obligations under international law to protect free speech.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Several provisions violate international standards on free expression.

Section 21 authorizes sentences of up to 14 years in prison for spreading “propaganda and campaign against liberation war of Bangladesh or spirit of the liberation war or Father of the Nation.” The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the independent expert body that monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bangladesh is a party, has expressly stated laws that penalize the expression of opinions about historical facts are incompatible with a country’s obligations to respect freedom of opinion and expression.

Section 25(a) authorizes sentences of up to three years for publishing information that is “aggressive or frightening” – broad terms not defined in the law. The use of such vague terms violates the requirement that laws restricting speech be formulated with sufficient precision to make clear what speech would violate the law. The vagueness, combined with the harsh potential penalty, increases the likelihood of self-censorship.

Section 31 imposes sentences of up to 10 years for posting information that “ruins communal harmony or creates instability or disorder or disturbs or is about to disturb the law and order situation.” With no clear definition of what speech would be considered a violation of the law, the provision leaves the government-wide scope to prosecute speech it does not like. Moreover, almost any criticism of the government may lead to dissatisfaction and the possibility of public protests. The government should not be able to punish criticism on the grounds that it may “disturb the law and order situation.”

Section 31 also covers speech that “creates animosity, hatred, or antipathy among the various classes and communities.” While preventing inter-communal strife is important, it must be done in ways that restrict speech as little as possible. UN human rights experts have stated that restrictions on public debate in the name of racial harmony must not be imposed to the “detriment of human rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.” The law’s overly broad definition of “hate speech” opens the door for arbitrary and abusive application of the law and creates an unacceptable chill on the discussion of issues relating to race and religion.

Section 29, like the much-abused section 57 of ICT Act, criminalizes online defamation. While section 29, unlike the ICT Act, limits defamation charges to those that meet the requirements of criminal defamation in the penal code, it is nevertheless contrary to a growing recognition that defamation should be considered a civil matter, not a crime punishable with imprisonment.

Section 28 authorizes sentences of up to five years in prison for speech that “injures religious values or sentiments.” While this provision, unlike section 57 of the ICT, requires intent, it still fails to comply with international norms. As noted in the seminal Handyside case, freedom of expression is applicable not only to information or ideas “that are favorably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock, or disturb the State or any sector of the population.” A prohibition on speech that hurts someone’s religious feelings, reinforced by criminal penalties, cannot be justified as a necessary and proportionate restriction on speech.

The new law also grants law enforcement authorities wide-ranging powers to remove or block online information that “harms the unity of the country or any part of it, economic activities, security, defense, religious value or public order or spreads communal hostility and hatred,” and to conduct warrantless searches and seizures if a police officer has reason to believe it is possible that “any offense under the Act” has been or is being committed.

Journalists in Bangladesh also opposed section 32 of the law, which authorizes up to 14 years for gathering, sending, or preserving classified information of any government using a computer or other digital device, noting that doing so is a means to expose wrongful actions by officials. The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has stressed the need to protect, not prosecute, those who disclose information in the public interest, and the Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information make clear that journalists should not be prosecuted for receiving, possessing or disclosing even classified information to the public.

“I don’t know why our journalists are becoming so sensitive,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, asserting that the law was for the national good. “Journalism is surely not for increasing conflict, or for tarnishing the image of the country.”

The Bangladesh Editors’ Council has said it will protest the passage of the Act as “against the freedom guaranteed by the constitution, media freedom and freedom of speech.”

“The passage of this law utterly undermines any claim that the government of Bangladesh respects freedom of speech,” Adams said. “Unless parliament moves swiftly to repeal the law it just passed, the rights of the country’s citizens to speak freely will remain under serious threat.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has recently made moves likely to appeal to the country’s Shia minority. This includes neutering the country’s once-powerful religious establishment, which has spewed anti-Shia vitriol and demonized Shia religious practices for decades, as well as changes to the 2018-19 Saudi school curriculum to remove some anti-Shia images and rhetoric.

But some of the worst abuses of the Saudi state of its Shia citizens and their ability to practice their religion remain unchanged.

Saudi Shia in the Eastern Province town of Qatif observed this stark reality first-hand over the past week, as authorities banned certain public aspects of their annual Ashura commemoration. Activists told Human Rights Watch that this year Shia cannot broadcast rituals inside some of their Husseiniyas (religious gathering spaces) via loudspeakers, and Saudi authorities have removed food stands and vendors that sell clothes, books, and flags. It also appears that public mourning rituals have been restricted to certain hours.

Saudi Arabia’s education reforms also did not remove all anti-Shia rhetoric in textbooks, especially at the secondary school level. One secondary textbook, for example, contains a section that condemns “building mosques and shrines on top of graves,” a common Shia and Sufi practice. The same text also refers to Shia using the derogatory moniker rafidha, meaning “rejectionists.”

Furthermore, dozens of Saudi Shia remain in prison, merely for participating in protests since 2011 calling for full equality and basic rights for all Saudis. Prosecutors recently filed charges and requested the death penalty against five Eastern Province activists, including female human rights activist Israa al-Ghomgham. While there are many Shia on death row accused of acts of violence but convicted in patently unfair trials, authorities have alleged no such acts against al-Ghomgham and the other four. Rather, they are seeking to execute them on charges such as “incitement to protest” and “chanting slogans hostile to the regime.”

Saudi Arabia cannot solve its Shia discrimination problem with baby steps. Rather, authorities should allow Shia to build houses of worship and freely engage in their traditions and practices, remove all demonization of Shia in textbooks, and release all Shia languishing in jail on protest-related crimes convicted in unfair trials.

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

Relatives of detained activist Abdallahi Yali gather at their home in Nouakchott, Mauritania, September 2018. 

© 2018 Eric Goldstein/Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – A Mauritanian criminal court has charged an activist with incitement to violence and racial hatred for social media messages decrying racial discrimination in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should drop any charges against the activist, Abdallahi Salem Ould Yali, that relate to his peaceful speech on behalf of his marginalized community, and ensure he has speedy access to all the evidence against him.

Yali has been in pre-charge detention in Nouakchott prison since his arrest on January 24, 2018. He faces a long prison sentence if convicted as charged under the penal code, the cybercrimes law, and the counterterrorism law.

“No one should be put on trial simply for pointing out the plight of their own community,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “If the authorities are alleging actual incitement to violence, they should give Yali and his representatives timely access to the evidence they are using against him.”

The referral order, issued by an investigating judge in the West Nouakchott Court’s anti-terrorism branch on September 3, indicates that the charges are based solely on Yali’s WhatsApp messages. It does not specify the number or the dates of those messages but says Yali was active in a WhatsApp group that included some 250 participants.

In WhatsApp messages that Human Rights Watch has heard and that are seemingly Yali’s, the 43-year-old activist decries the lot of his marginalized Haratines community. Haratines are the dark-skinned, Arabic-speaking descendants of slaves who constitute about one-third of the country’s population. In those clips, the speaker calls on the Haratines community to stand up for their rights and resist “the system,” elites, and President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

The referral order said that Yali also declared, in a WhatsApp group, “these dogs must be shown their limits,” and “bring weapons from outside and I will stand with you.” Yali’s lawyer, Ahmed Ely Messoud, told Human Rights Watch that he could not confirm these quotes because the court had not yet made available to the defense any voice recordings that may be part of the case file

Even if it were to turn out that Yali had made such remarks in a WhatsApp group, prosecutions for incitement to violence or racial hatred should be conducted under an overall framework of respect for freedom of speech, as set out by United Nations and other experts in the Rabat Plan of Action. Detention before trial should be the exception, not the norm, Human Rights Watch said.

Yali is charged under article 83 of the penal code for “inciting citizens to arm themselves against the authority of the state or against one another.” The articles of the cybercrime law that he allegedly violated punish “incitement to violence or racial hatred” and “insult[ing] a person by reason of his belonging to a race or color, or ancestry, or national or ethnic origin, or a group that is defined by any of these characteristics.” He is also charged under the 2010 counterterrorism law, which includes in its definition of a terrorist act “an appeal to incite ethnic, racial or religious fanaticism.”

Human Rights Watch researchers met with Yali’s family during a visit to Nouakchott on September 6. His relatives said he had no prior criminal record and was the sole breadwinner for his family, including his six children.

No trial date has been set; the courts are still in their summer recess.

Ethnicity and discrimination are politically sensitive issues in Mauritania and form the basis for many laws that contain broad provisions used to punish peaceful critical speech, Human Rights Watch said.

Mauritanian authorities should review the penal code, the cybercrime law, and the counterterrorism law, Human Rights Watch said. They should eliminate overbroad and sweeping articles that fail to meet international human rights norms for defining such offenses as incitement to commit violence or racial hatred clearly and narrowly.

In December 2014, a court sentenced a popular blogger, Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaïtir, to death for apostasy, because of a blog post criticizing caste discrimination. Although an appeals court commuted his sentence to two years in prison, making him eligible for immediate release, he remains in arbitrary detention in an unrevealed location.

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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© 2018 Human Rights Watch

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

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha attends a news conference as the junta marked the third anniversary of a military coup in Bangkok, Thailand May 23, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Jorge Silva
(New York) – Thailand’s military junta should immediately lift restrictions on civil and political rights so that upcoming national elections can be free and fair, Human Rights Watch said today. The laws on the election of members of parliament and selection of senators were announced in the Royal Gazette on September 12, 2018, paving the way for an election between February and May 2019.

Current laws, policies, and practices of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which seized power in May 2014, do not permit political parties to freely organize, express their views, or campaign. As a result, Thailand does not yet have an environment for free and fair elections.

“With an election approaching after four years of military rule, Thailand’s junta needs to fully return democratic freedoms to the Thai people and ensure political parties can participate fully in the process,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government should rescind restrictive orders and restore freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.”

The Thai junta retains unchecked power with total impunity for human rights violations. Over the past four years, authorities have routinely enforced censorship and blocked public discussions about human rights and democracy. The government has prosecuted hundreds of activists and dissidents on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for peaceful expression of their views.

Public gatherings of more than five people are prohibited. The authorities have summoned thousands of people and pressured them to stop criticizing the junta. The military arbitrarily arrests and detains people suspected of opposing the junta, holding them for up to seven days without access to lawyers or safeguards against mistreatment.

Since the beginning of 2018, more than 100 pro-democracy activists have faced illegal assembly – and in some cases sedition – charges for peacefully pressing the junta to hold promised elections without further delay and to lift all restrictions on fundamental freedoms.

Local activists expressed concerns to Human Rights Watch that independent monitoring of elections will not be possible under current conditions. Thai authorities frequently retaliate with criminal charges, including for criminal defamation and Computer-Related Crime Act violations, against anyone who reports allegations of state-sponsored abuses and official misconduct. The junta forcibly blocked efforts to monitor the constitutional referendum in 2016 and prosecuted many people involved in such activities.

After the 2014 military coup, the United States, European Union, Australia, Japan, and many other countries made clear that bilateral relations could not be fully restored until Thailand held free and fair elections to establish a democratic civilian government and improved its respect for human rights. To ensure that the upcoming election will be a genuine democratic process, the United Nations and Thailand’s friends should press the junta to:

  • End the use of abusive, unaccountable powers under sections 44 and 48 of the 2014 interim constitution;
  • End restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly;
  • Lift the ban on political activities;
  • Free everyone detained for peaceful criticism of the junta;
  • Drop sedition charges and other criminal lawsuits related to peaceful opposition to military rule;
  • Transfer all civilian cases from military courts to civilian courts that meet fair trial standards;
  • Ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to work, including by dropping politically motivated lawsuits against them; and
  • Permit independent and impartial election observers to freely monitor the election campaign and the conduct of the elections, and issue public reports.

“The UN and Thailand’s allies should publicly state that they will only recognize an election that meets international standards,” Adams said. “A vote cannot be free and fair when the basic democratic rights of the Thai people are being suppressed.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A man and woman use their mobile phones as commuters walk past the columns of the Bank of England in the City of London, July 3, 2012. 

© 2012 Reuters

Buried in the confirmation hearings record of former US Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo is an alarming observation about US surveillance that has never received the level of attention it deserves.

A ruling today by the European Court of Human Rights ought to change that.

In January 2017, US Senator Ron Wyden noted in a written question for Pompeo – now US Secretary of State -- that even if the CIA does not directly ask another government for surveillance data, it can still receive “targeted collection against, or bulk collection that includes the communications of US persons.”

Wyden went on to flag that the data vacuumed up by foreign agencies “could include the communications of U.S. political figures and political activists, leaders of nonprofit organizations, journalists, religious leaders, businesspeople whose interests conflict with those of President Trump, and countless innocent Americans.”

In other words, the US may not specifically request foreign data about its own citizens in a way that ignores US protection standards – but it can sit back and receive such data without asking for it. The intelligence agencies might even get the data in bulk, as Pompeo had previously acknowledged.

The European Court of Human Rights said today in Big Brother Watch and others v. the United Kingdom that countries should have specific, rights-protecting laws governing their requests of surveillance data from other governments. While the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over the US, it made an important point that is true everywhere: if authorities can simply request surveillance data from other countries at will, they could easily avoid privacy protections in their own laws.

Human Rights Watch, which submitted a brief to the court on the issue of intelligence-sharing, was disappointed to see the court duck the important issue of whether this ruling applies to surveillance data a state receives through an intelligence-sharing program without making specific requests. But logically, the same concerns and human rights standards apply.

US surveillance threatens the rights of people worldwide – not just US citizens or others in the United States. And if the authorities can sidestep restrictions imposed by Congress or the US courts by letting other governments do the dirty work, that would circumvent crucial checks on their spying powers. Lawmakers should sit up and take notice.

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

Police detain a protester in St. Petersburg, Russia.

© 2018 David Frenkel/Mediazona
(Moscow) – Police arbitrarily detained hundreds of peaceful protesters, including older people and children, taking part in demonstrations across Russia on September 9, Human Rights Watch said today. The detainees were protesting corruption and government plans to raise the pension age. In many cities, the police kicked peaceful protesters and beat them with truncheons.
 
Human Rights Watch interviewed five people arrested during the protests in St. Petersburg, including two children, ages 16 and 17, and an 80-year old man. Human Rights Watch also reviewed images, video footage, and media reports from the rallies.
 
“The government’s strong-arm response is a warning to Russians that the government doesn’t want them to protest plans for the pension system, or to protest anything else,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Nevertheless, people have a right to express their views about pension reform, which will have direct, personal impact, or any other issue of public interest, including by peacefully taking to the streets to do so.” 
 
Protestors who were beaten by police sustained injuries, including bruising, abrasions, fractures, and concussions. A widely shared video shows a member of parliament, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, hitting a protester in Moscow in the face, saying, “I’m telling you right now, I’ll hit you in the skull until you bleed.” 
 
According to OVD-Info, an independent group that monitors arbitrary detentions and police abuse, law enforcement officers detained at least 1,195 people, including at least 60 children, across 39 cities. At least 623 people were arrested in St. Petersburg and 184 in Ekaterinburg. Police also detained at least 14 journalists who were covering the protests and beat at least three of them. 
 
Most of those detained received court orders to pay fines, starting at 5,000 rubles (about US$72), or to complete up to 120 hours of community service, or sentences of up to 15 days detention. One supporter of Alexei Navalny, the political opposition leader who had called for nationwide protests, was sentenced to the maximum 300,000 ruble (US$4,306) fine by a court in Tambov. 
 
Human Rights Watch interviewed four people in St. Petersburg who were rounded up between 5:30 and 6 p.m., as police encircled protesters on the Pirogovskaya Embankment. They were taken to various police stations. 
 
One of them was a 17-year-old boy who said that he was terrified as the police cordoned off the crowd into several rings and forced him into one of them. “They were pushing us from all sides, and beat people who tried to resist,” he said. 
 
A 21-year-old woman said she was not one of the protesters but was caught up in a police encirclement on the embankment. Police kept the crowd tightly squeezed together for about an hour, during which she saw a man pass out and several women who appeared to be having panic attacks. Police did not call for medical help, she said.
 
The people interviewed said the police packed protesters into overcrowded buses, and three of them, each on a different bus, said they were driven around for about four hours, then taken to police stations for processing. The young woman said that when a young man on her bus got sick during the ride, police dragged him out to the sidewalk, where he lay until an ambulance came about 20 minutes later.
 

Police in St. Petersburg detain Yuri Sternik, a pensioner, in St. Petersburg, Russia.

© 2018 David Frenkel/Mediazona
The 80-year-old man who was interviewed said that he left the main protest near Lenin Square around 2:40 p.m. and stopped a few streets away. He formed a single-person-protest, wearing a hat with photos and slogans protesting the pension reform. Five minutes after he began his individual protest, police detained him. He said police pushed him onto a bus, after which he became ill and had to be taken directly to a hospital, where he underwent tests and was released the same evening.
 
None of the protesters interviewed said they saw police maltreat other protestors at the stations. The 16-year-old boy said he saw at least 17 other children, including four who were the same age as him, in the police station where he was taken to wait for a charge sheet. 
 
His arrest report was drawn up only after his parents arrived at the station, and he was released before midnight. 
 
Police released the 17-year-old boy at 11:30 p.m. The next day, the boy observed some of the court hearings, and said he witnessed one judge warning detainees that raising objections would increase their penalties.
 
Human Rights Watch also interviewed a young woman and a 35-year-old man who spent the night at the police station, and the next day were fined in one case 10,000 rubles (US$145) and 15,000 rubles (US$217) in the other. 
 
The protests coincided with local elections in 80 regions. Local authorities in 12 cities permitted the protests to takes place, but 59 other cities refused permission. The St. Petersburg local authorities at first authorized a rally there but withdrew permission three days beforehand, claiming that there was a damaged water pipe near the approved site.
 
In early August, Navalny had called for nationwide protests against raising the retirement age. On August 25, police detained him for organizing “Voter’s Strike” rallies in January to boycott the presidential election. On August 27, a court found him guilty of repeated violations of regulations on public gatherings and sentenced him to 30 days in jail. 
 
Between September 4 and 9, police detained at least 48 other activists in 20 cities, including nine coordinators with Navalny’s regional offices. Most had to spend a night at a police station, and 14 were charged with misdemeanors, including swearing in public and public rally violations. Authorities also pressed criminal charges against 25-year-old Navalny supporter, Taras Loboychenko from Chelyabinsk, for allegedly calling for public riots. If convicted, Loboychenko faces up to three years in prison. 
 
“Rounding up peaceful protesters violates fundamental human rights, even if the demonstration wasn’t pre-authorized,” Williamson said. “It’s also very unlikely to persuade people that the government’s pension reforms are being made in their best interests.” 
 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Activist Tep Vanny at the Supreme Court after it upheld a decision to deny her bail, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 25, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters
(New York) – The Cambodian government should immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for peacefully exercising their fundamental rights, Human Rights Watch said today in launching a new webpage. Political Prisoners Cambodia profiles 30 current and recent political prisoners in Cambodia. Twenty-one were released as Prime Minister Hun Sen attempts to regain international legitimacy after sham elections in July.

Political prisoners and pre-trial detainees include members and supporters of the dissolved main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP); activists; human rights defenders; and journalists reporting for independent media outlets. Each has been detained or convicted and imprisoned for criticizing or otherwise running afoul of Hun Sen or the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Most recently, on August 31, 2018, Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, 69, was convicted of espionage and sentenced to six years in prison apparently for making disparaging remarks about Hun Sen and the CPP.

“Cambodia has jailed a Who’s Who of prominent critics of Hun Sen and his ruling party,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government should immediately release all political prisoners and drop all charges, including against opposition leader Kem Sokha. Hun Sen should commit to ending the arrest of critics, which he continues to use to prop up his dictatorial rule.”

Cambodia has jailed a Who’s Who of prominent critics of Hun Sen and his ruling party.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Kem Sokha, leader of the opposition CNRP, which was dissolved in 2017 by the government-controlled Supreme Court. A longtime member of parliament and human rights activist, Sokha was arbitrarily arrested on September 3, 2017 on fabricated treason charges. He was held in a remote prison near the border with Vietnam. On September 10, 2018, Sokha was released from prison and placed under house arrest. The court banned Sokha from meeting with “former officials of the Cambodian National Rescue Party … foreigners, especially those who may be involved in this case” and ordered him to “refrain from a political meeting or other political activities…” Treason charges and the threat of a long prison sentence remain.

Those wrongfully convicted and imprisoned include:

  • Chao Veasna, Poipet’s former commune council deputy chief from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (one of two parties that combined to form the CNRP), was convicted in 2017 of incitement and intentional damage with aggravating circumstances. He was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay approximately US$15,000 in damages. The case followed a protest in Poipet in 2015 at which Veasna was not present in which gendarmes fired shots to disperse protesters and seriously beat a protester.
  • Sam Sokha, a labor activist, was convicted in absentia in January 2018 on charges including “insulting a public official” after she threw a shoe at a CPP election billboard in April 2017. She fled to Thailand where the United Nations refugee agency granted her refugee status. In February, Thai officials forcibly returned her to Cambodia, where she was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison.

Since sham elections in July 2018 in which the CPP took all 125 seats in the National Assembly, King Norodom Sihamoni has pardoned 16 political prisoners at the request of Hun Sen. Three others, who had been convicted but had not begun to serve their prison sentences, also received pardons. Although Sihamoni has the constitutional authority to issue pardons on his own, to date he has only acted upon Hun Sen’s request.

Many of the released prisoners still have other charges pending against them. Hun Sen has publicly threatened the re-arrest of those released if they continue to criticize the government or fail to pay court-imposed fines related to their convictions. In one case, Hun Sen publicly stated that Kim Sok, a political commentator released on August 17 after serving 18 months in prison on charges of incitement and defamation, would be sent back to prison if he didn’t pay damages to Hun Sen of approximately US$200,000 imposed at the time of his conviction. After his release, Kim Sok said he would continue to speak out against the government and in favor of democracy. On August 28, a Phnom Penh judge issued a summons for Kim Sok to appear on September 14 on second charges of defamation and incitement.

“The threat of being sent back to prison on other charges shows that the recent releases are just a piece of political theater and does not represent any change in Hun Sen’s approach to critics,” Adams said. “Kim Sok is being threatened with being sent back to prison simply for saying he would continue to criticize the government.” 

Cambodia’s Criminal Code includes criminal offenses that seriously undermine the right to freedom of expression, such as criminal defamation, insulting government officials, discrediting judicial decisions, and a newly enacted lese majeste law. Since 2017, the government has also passed several new laws that have further restricted the rights to freedom of expression and association.

Cambodia has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which enshrines the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Cambodian authorities routinely misuse the courts, which lack judicial independence, to target members of the political opposition, civil society activists, and journalists, Human Rights Watch said. Trials, particularly those resulting from politically motivated charges, systematically violate the fair trial rights of defendants.

“Cambodia’s trading partners and donors should tell the government that it must stop harassing and prosecuting critics and immediately release those unjustly held,” Adams said. “They need to make it clear to Hun Sen that it will not be business as usual so long as the government is holding political prisoners.” 
 

Political Prisoners in Cambodia

Total as of September 10, 2018: 10 political prisoners serving prison sentences or held in pre-trial detention. Another 16 individuals have recently been released from prison, four of whom still face politically motivated criminal charges.

 

Venerable Horn Sophanny, 25

Venerable Horn Sophanny

© Radio Free Asia

Venerable Horn Sophanny is an activist member of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, a group led by monk But Buntenh. Authorities arrested and defrocked Sophanny on June 21, 2017. He was charged with illegal possession of a weapon after he had posted a photo of himself on social media posing with a toy gun, accompanied by a statement that he needed a gun to protect himself from what he called Prime Minister Hun Sen’s upcoming “civil war” during the 2018 elections. On December 19, 2017, the Battambang Provincial Court convicted Sophanny of inciting the commission of a felony (article 495 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to two years in prison.

 

Heng Leakhena (also known as Hin Van Sreypov), 37

Heng Leakhena (also known as Hin Van Sreypov)

© Radio Free Asia

Heng Leakhena (also known as Hin Van Sreypov), a former CNRP member, was arrested on July 12, 2017, at a local bus station after she had posted on Facebook a video in which she accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of ordering the murder of prominent political commentator Kem Ley. On January 11, 2018, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted her of inciting the commission of a felony (article 495 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced her to one-year in prison and a one million riel fine (US$250).

 

Sam Sokha, 38

Sam Sokha

© Radio Free Asia

Sam Sokha, a labor and opposition activist, was seen in an April 2017 video throwing her shoe at a CPP campaign billboard that contained photos of Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin. The 13-second video went viral on social media.

Sokha fled to Thailand after government called for her arrest. She received refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). On January 25, 2018, the Kampong Speu Provincial Court convicted her in absentia of insulting a public official and incitement to discriminate (articles 494, 496 and 502 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced her to two years in prison and a fine of 5 million riels (US$1,250).

Despite her protected status as a refugee, Thai authorities arrested her and, over UNHCR and diplomatic objections, forcibly returned her to Cambodia on February 8, 2018. On February 9, Cambodian officials transferred her to Kampong Speu provincial prison to start serving her sentence.

Sokha sought a retrial, demanding the opportunity to be present in court to defend herself. However, in March the Kampong Speu Provincial Court upheld her conviction and sentence.
 

Chhun Sithi

Chhun Sithi

 

© Radio Free Asia

Chhun Sithi, a CNRP commune councilor in Stung Kach commune, Pailin province, was arrested on October 24, 2017, a day after he posted a video clip on social media with a message to Prime Minister Hun Sen stating that he would not defect to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) even if the main opposition party, the CNRP, was dissolved or he was stripped of his position. On March 23, 2018, the Pailin Provincial Court convicted  him of inciting the commission of a felony (article 495 of the Criminal Code) and insulting a public official (article 502). The court sentenced him to one year in prison with a fine of eight million riels (US$2,000).

Chao Veasna, 54

Chao Veasna

© LICADHO

Chao Veasna, an ethnic Khmer Krom, was a Poipet commune council deputy chief from the Candlelight Party (renamed from the Sam Rainsy Party after the law changed to ban the use of a person’s name in the name of a political party). During an anti-government protest outside the Poipet customs office in May 2015 at which Veasna was not present, military police fired warning shots to disperse protesters and seriously beat one protester. With commune elections scheduled for June 2017, on February 16, 2017, a Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court investigating judge questioned Veasna for four hours and sent him to Banteay Meanchey provincial prison in connection with the May 2015 protest. Veasna was charged with inciting the commission of a felony (articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code) and, as an accomplice, with intentional damage with aggravating circumstances (general aggravation and in relation to status of the victim) (articles 29, 410, 411 and 412), as well as with intentional damage with aggravating circumstances (using dangerous means and causing injury) (articles 413 and 414). On June 7, 2018, the Provincial Court convicted and sentenced Veasna to five years’ imprisonment. He was also ordered to pay a total of approximately US$15,000 for damages to the customs office building and several cars.
 

James Ricketson, 69

James Ricketson

©LICADHO

James Ricketson, an Australian filmmaker, was arrested on June 3, 2017, on fabricated charges of “stealing information.” Authorities photographed him flying a drone without a permit over a political rally staged by the CNRP. On June 9, 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Ricketson with espionage (article 446 of the Criminal Code), claiming he gathered information for a foreign power that could damage national security. After a seven-day trial, on August 31, 2018, the Phnom Penh Court convicted him of espionage (articles 439 and 446) and sentenced him to six years in prison.
 

Ismail Pin Osman, 45

Ismail Pin Osman

© LICADHO

Ismail Pin Osman was a reserve National Assembly candidate for the CNRP in Kampong Cham province in the 2013 national election. He is a member of the ethnic Cham Muslim community. He was arrested by anti-trafficking police in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district on February 9, 2018, after returning from Thailand, where he had fled under pressure from authorities to defect to the ruling CPP. He is currently in pre-trial detention on charges of unlawfully removing female workers for cross-border transfer (article 11 of the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation). If convicted, he faces from 7 to 15 years in prison.

Kheang Navy, 50

Kheang Navy

© LICADHO

Kheang Navy, a primary school headteacher in Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province, was arrested on May 13, 2018. Police questioned him for hours without a lawyer present. He remains in pre-trial detention and faces 1-5 five years in prison, a large fine for a May 12, 2018 social media post blaming the king and the Cambodian royal family for the 2017 dissolution of Cambodia’s main opposition party, the CNRP, as well as for the “loss of Khmer land.” Navy allegedly posted the comment on the Facebook page of a Kampong Thom government official who had attended a celebration of King Norodom Sihamoni’s birthday in Kampong Thom province. Under article 437 bis, the new lese majeste law, prosecutors may bring a criminal lawsuit on behalf of the monarchy against anyone deemed to have insulted the royal family.

Ban Samphy, 70

 

Ban Samphy

©LICADHO

On May 13, 2018, Ban Samphy, former head of the CNRP in Siem Reap province, shared a post on Facebook that included a photo of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany, and a photo of King Norodom Sihamoni, accompanied by a video clip of angry villagers affected by flooding. His post compared the king unfavorably to Cambodia’s former kings. On May 20, 2018, the police in Chikreng district, Kampong Kdey commune, Siem Reap province, arrested Samphy and questioned him. The investigating judge of the Siem Reap Provincial Court charged Samphy the same day with “insult of the king” (article 437 bis of Cambodia’s Criminal Code), which carries a punishment of up to five years in prison. He is currently in pre-trial detention.
 

Political Prisoners Under House Arrest

Kem Sokha, 65, released on bail on September 10, 2018 but placed under house arrest

Kem Sokha

© LICADHO

Kem Sokha, leader of the now dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and a member of the National Assembly, was arrested around midnight on September 3, 2017 at his house in Phnom Penh. Eight Prime Minister bodyguard unit officers led a contingent of more than 100 police to carry out the arrest. In a highly unusual move, authorities immediately sent him to the remote Trapeang Phlong prison (Correctional Center 3), in Tbaung Khmom province near the border with Vietnam. On the basis of a false allegation that he had committed a crime in flagrante delicto (caught in the act of committing a crime), the National Assembly stripped him of his parliamentary immunity.

On September 5, 2017, prosecutors charged him with conspiring with a foreign power (article 443 of the Criminal Code). If convicted, he faces 15-30 years in prison. Sokha’s arrest came after Hun Sen accused him of plotting to topple the government with support from the United States based on a highly edited videotape of a speech Sokha gave in Australia in 2013. On May 26, 2018, the court summoned eight individuals – including members of nongovernmental organizations – to appear for questioning as witnesses in Sokha’s case.

On April 19, 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its Opinion No. 9/2018 declared Kem Sokha’s detention “arbitrary” and “politically motivated.”

Sokha had been previously convicted in 2016 on politically motivated charges for failure to appear as a witness against two CNRP parliamentary members detained in a fabricated prostitution case. The court sentenced him to five months in prison, but he remained under de facto house arrest, surrounded by CNRP supporters and police outside CNRP headquarters until December 2016, when he received a royal pardon.

On September 10, 2018, Sokha was released from prison and placed under house arrest. The court order specifically bans Sokha from meeting with “former officials of the Cambodian National Rescue Party… foreigners, especially those who may be involved in this case” and orders him to “refrain from a political meeting or other political activities…” Treason charges remain in force. If Sokha conducts any political activities or misses a court appearance he will be sent back to prison.
 

Recently Released Political Prisoners

Uon Chhin, 49, released on bail August 21, 2018

Uon Chhin

© LICADHO

Uon Chhin, a former Radio Free Asia (RFA) cameraman, was arrested on November 14, 2017, in Phnom Penh, on the same day as his colleague Yeang Sothearin. The arrests occurred two months after the RFA shut down its Cambodia operations, alleging government harassment of its reporters. Prosecutors filed baseless espionage charges, accusing Chhin and Sothearin of illegally setting up a broadcast studio with the purpose of continuing to file news reports for RFA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. On November 18, 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court formally charged Chhin with supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to Cambodia’s national defense (article 445 of the Criminal Code). If convicted, he faces between 7 to 15 years in prison. The court has repeatedly denied his bail requests.

In March 2018, prosecutors brought unfounded charges against Chhin and Sothearin that they produced pornography in violation of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation. If convicted of these additional charges, they face 16 years in prison.

While Chhin was released on August 21, 2018, the charges against him were not dropped.
 

Yeang Sothearin, 35, released on bail August 21, 2018

 

Yeang Sothearin

© LICADHO

Yeang Sothearin (also known as Yeang Socheameta), Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) former Phnom Penh bureau office manager and a news editor, was arrested on November 14, 2017, in Phnom Penh on the same day as his colleague Uon Chhin. The arrests occurred two months after the RFA shut down its Cambodia operations, alleging government harassment of its reporters. Prosecutors filed baseless espionage charges, accusing Sothearin and Chhin of illegally setting up a broadcast studio with the purpose of continuing to file news reports for RFA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Sothearin on November 18, 2017, with supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to Cambodia’s national defense (article 445 of the Criminal Code). He faces 7 to 15 years in prison if convicted and has been repeatedly denied bail since his arrest.

In March 2018, prosecutors brought unfounded charges against Chhin and Sothearin that they produced pornography in violation of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation. If convicted of these additional charges, they face 16 years in prison.

While Sothearin was released on August 21, 2018, the charges against him were not dropped.
 

Kim Sok, 37, released on August 17, 2018 after serving his prison sentence

 

Kim Sok

© LICADHO

Kim Sok, a political commentator, was arrested on February 17, 2017, and charged with criminal defamation and incitement based on a complaint filed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The charges stemmed from an interview he gave to Radio Free Asia in which he alluded to the alleged involvement of the ruling CPP in the murder of prominent political commentator Kem Ley in July 2016. On August 10, 2017, a court convicted Sok of defamation (article 305 of the Criminal Code) and inciting the commission of a felony (articles 494 and 495) and sentenced him to 18 months in prison and a fine of 8 million riels (US$2,000) to be paid to the government and 800 million riels ($200,000) in damages to be paid to the CPP. On November 17, 2017, the Court of Appeal upheld both his conviction and sentence. On July 2, 2018, the Supreme Court also upheld the verdict. A second defamation complaint filed by Hun Sen is pending at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

On August 17, 2018, Kim Sok was released after serving his sentence. After his release Kim Sok said he would continue to speak out against the government and in favor of democracy. On August 28, a Phnom Penh judge issued a summons for Kim Sok to appear on September 14 on second charges of defamation and incitement. Kim Sok reportedly fled Cambodia to avoid arrest.
 

Tep Vanny, 36, released on August 20, 2018, but convicted four days later in a separate case – enforcement of that suspended prison sentence is pending appeal

Tep Vanny

© LICADHO

Tep Vanny is a prominent community land rights activist in Phnom Penh and the recipient of the 2013 Vital Voices Global Leadership Award.

Vanny long opposed the government’s now completed plan to drain Boeung Kak lake for high-end residences and commercial properties, which the city rented to Shukaku Inc., a private company led by ruling CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin. Authorities arrested her on August 15, 2016, during a peaceful protest. On August 22, 2016, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Vanny and Bov Sophea, a fellow community member, of insulting a public official (article 502 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced them both to the six days they had already served in pre-trial detention.

The authorities then restarted long-dormant politically motivated charges against Vanny. On September 19, 2016, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Vanny and three other Boeung Kak lake community members (Kong Chantha, Bo Chhorvy, and Heng Mom) for obstructing a public official with aggravating circumstances and insulting a public official (articles 502 and 504) and sentenced them to six months in prison. The charges stemmed from their participation in a protest in November 2011 outside the Phnom Penh municipality office, where they demanded justice in the Boeung Kak land dispute. On February 23, 2017, the Court of Appeal upheld their conviction and prison sentence. On December 8, 2017, the Supreme Court agreed, though the Supreme Court’s presiding judge left the enforcement of the prison sentence to the discretion of the prosecutor, so none of the four women have yet served their prison sentence.

For Vanny’s participation in a protest outside Hun Sen’s house in March 2013, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted her on February 23, 2017 of intentional violence with aggravating circumstances (article 218) and sentenced her to two and a half years in prison and a fine of 5 million riels (approximately US$1,250). The court also ordered Vanny to pay compensation of 9 million riels (approximately $2,250) to two security guards, the plaintiffs who alleged injury. The court denied consideration of video evidence showing that the two security guards were responsible for the violence, in a trial that otherwise did not meet international fair trial standards. On August 8, 2017, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld the ruling, as did the Supreme Court on February 8, 2018.

On August 23, 2018, Tep Vanny was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni. Four days later, on August 27, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted her and five fellow community members of making death threats related to a community dispute. Although the complainant retracted her complaint, the prosecutor and investigating judge continued to pursue the case. The court sentenced all six to suspended six-month prison sentences; the suspension is conditional for five years, during which the sentence may be enforced against any of the defendants who are found guilty of having committed a crime.
 

Sourn Serey Ratha, 44, released on August 23, 2018

Sourn Serey Ratha

© Radio Free Asia

Sourn Serey Ratha, a dual Cambodian-US citizen, is the founder and president of the Khmer People Power Movement (KPPM) and later the Khmer Power Party (KPP). He was arrested on August 13, 2017 for criticizing the deployment of Cambodian troops to the Lao border during a trip by Prime Minister Hun Sen to Laos in mid-2017 to settle a border dispute between the two countries. On August 14, authorities charged Ratha with inciting military personnel to disobedience (article 471 of the Criminal Code), demoralizing the army (article 472) and inciting the commission of a felony (articles 494). On August 25, 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Ratha and sentenced him to five years in prison and fined him 10 million riels (US$2,500). On October 12, 2017, the Court of Appeal upheld his conviction. On May 18, 2018, the Supreme Court also did.

The government has labelled Ratha’s KPPM party a terrorist group. While in self-imposed exile in 2015, a court convicted Ratha in absentia for endangering government institutions or violating the integrity of the national territory (article 453) and of using force or violence to deter eligible voters from voting (article 124 of the Law on Election of Members of the National Assembly). The court sentenced him to seven years in prison. Upon Hun Sen’s request, King Sihamoni pardoned Ratha on July 10, 2015, thereby allowing him to return to Cambodia without fear of imprisonment. In March 2015, the Ministry of Interior gave permission to Ratha to form a political party to contest in the elections: Ratha formed the Khmer Power Party.

In December 2015, Ratha filed a complaint against Foreign Minister Hor Namhong for defamation and incitement because the minister had failed to write an official apology letter, recanting his allegation that his KPP party had committed terrorist acts.

On May 15, 2018, Ratha posted a letter on his Facebook page, apologizing to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Royal Armed Forces and seeking a pardon. He was released on August 23, 2018 after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni based on a request by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
 

Um Sam An, 44, released on August 25, 2018

Um Sam An

©LICADHO

Um Sam An is a dual US-Cambodian national and a former Member of Parliament of the now-dissolved CNRP. In May 2015, Sam An left Cambodia for the United States to seek evidence that would substantiate his allegations that Prime Minister Hun Sen had used the wrong maps to demarcate the Cambodia-Vietnam border. He was arrested on his return to Cambodia on April 11, 2016, on the basis of a post he made on Facebook that included his findings on the politically contentious dispute. Although covered by parliamentary immunity, prosecutors used a loophole in the law – permitting prosecutions for crimes in flagrante delicto (caught in the act), to bring him to trial. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Sam An on October 10, 2016 of inciting the commission of a felony (article 495 of the Criminal Code) and inciting racial discrimination (article 496) and sentenced him to two and a half years in prison. The court also fined him 4 million riels (US$1000). On October 27, 2017, the Supreme Court upheld his conviction and prison sentence. After further appeals, the Supreme Court again upheld the conviction and prison sentence.

On August 25, 2018, Sam An was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.
 

An Batham, 37, released on August 28, 2018

An Batham

© LICADHO

An Batham is a Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) youth member. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters, and activists of Cambodia’s dissolved opposition party, the CNRP, and was convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges for events that occurred in July 2014 during a CNRP-led protest. On July 21, 2015, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Batham of participating in an insurrectionary movement (articles 456 and 457 of the Criminal Code), in a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards, and sentenced him to seven years in prison. On May 20, 2018, the Phnom Penh Court of Court of Appeal upheld both his conviction and prison sentence.

On August 28, 2018, Batham was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.
 

Ke Khim, 35, released on August 28, 2018

Ke Khim

© private

Ke Khim is a CNRP supporter. He is one of the 14 members of Cambodia’s now-dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges for events that occurred in July 2014 during a CNRP-led protest. On July 21, 2015, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced him to seven years in prison for participating in an insurrectionary movement (articles 456 and 457 of the Criminal Code) in a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards. After hearings from April 21 to 23, 2018, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal ruled on May 20 to uphold both the conviction and prison sentence.

On August 28, 2018, Khim was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.
 

Khin Chamreun, 34, released on August 28, 2018

 

Khin Chamreun

© LICADHO

Khin Chamreun is a CNRP Phnom Penh youth chief.  He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the dissolved CNRP who were convicted on politically motivated insurrection charges for helping lead a CNRP-led protest in July 2014. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Chamreun in July 2015 of participating in and leading an “insurrectionary” movement (articles 456, 457, and 459 of the Criminal Code) in a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards. The court sentenced him to 20 years in prison. In April 2018, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld both his conviction and prison sentence.

On August 28, 2018, Chamreun was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.
 

Meach Sovannara, 47, released on August 28, 2018

 

Meach Sovannara

© LICADHO

Meach Sovannara was a CNRP candidate for parliament from Banteay Meanchey province and is a dual Cambodian and US national. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of Cambodia’s now-dissolved opposition CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges connected to July 2014 protests in Phnom Penh. On July 21, 2015, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Sovannara of participating in and leading an insurrectionary movement (articles 456, 457, and 459 of the criminal code), in a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards. The court sentenced him to 20 years in prison. The Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld his conviction and sentence on May 20, 2018.

On March 26, 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen scolded officials of Correctional Center 1 for allegedly allowing Sovannara to use a mobile phone in prison and ordered them to remove it “immediately,” while telling Sovannara he would never “come out.”

On August 28, 2018, Sovannara was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.
 

Neang Sokhun, 34, released on August 28, 2018

Neang Sokhun

© LICADHO

Neang Sokhun is a CNRP Chhbar Ampov district youth leader. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the now-dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges in connection with July 2014 protests led by the CNRP. The Phnom Penh Municipal court convicted Sokhun on July 21, 2015, on charges of participating in an insurrectionary movement (articles 456 and 457 of the criminal code). The Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld his conviction and sentence on May 20, 2018.

On August 28, 2018, Sokhun was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.
 

Oeur Narith, 38, released on August 28, 2018

 

Oeur Narith

© LICADHO

Oeur Narith is one of the 14 CNRP officials, supporters and activists convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges in connection with a CNRP-led protest in July 2014 in Phnom Penh. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Narith, a CNRP public affairs officer, of participating in and leading an insurrectionary movement (articles 456, 457, and 459 of the criminal code), in a trial that violated the defendant’s fair trial rights and sentenced him to 20 years’ imprisonment. The Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld the conviction and sentence in a ruling released on May 20, 2018.

On August 28, 2018, Narith was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.
 

Ouk Pich Samnang, 54, released on August 28, 2018

 

Ouk Pich Samnang

© LICADHO

Ouk Pich Samnang is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the now-dissolved CNRP convicted on politically motivated insurrection charges in connection with a CNRP-led protest in July 2014. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found him guilty of participating in an insurrectionary movement (articles 456 and 457 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to seven years in prison. Both the conviction and prison sentence were upheld by the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal on May 20, 2018.

Authorities harassed Samnang in a separate case related to an October 2014 protest outside Hun Sen’s house. A farming community from Preah Vihear province protested and demanded that the government help solve their land dispute. On September 10, 2015, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Samnang of committing intentional violence and obstructing authorities despite the prosecutors’ failure to present evidence of wrongdoing. The judge sentenced him to two years in prison and ordered him to pay 10 million riels (US$2,500) in damages to pay for medical treatment of injured security guards and damaged Daun Penh district security equipment. On July 20, 2016, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld his conviction and prison sentence.

On August 28, 2018, Samnang was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.
 

San Kimheng, 31, released on August 28, 2018

 

San Kimheng

© LICADHO

San Kimheng is a CNRP district youth leader from Tuol Kork in Phnom Penh. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the now-dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection for events that occurred in July 2014 during a CNRP-led protest. On July 21, 2015, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Kimheng of participating in an insurrectionary movement (articles 456 and 457 of the Criminal Code), in a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards and sentenced him to seven years in prison. After appeal hearings from April 21 to 23, 2018, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld both the conviction and prison sentence on May 20.

On August 28, 2018, Kimheng was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.
 

San Seikhak, 31, August 28, 2018

 

San Seikhak

© LICADHO

San Seikhak is a CNRP youth member.  He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the now-dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges for events that occurred in July 2014 during a CNRP-led protest. Along with the others, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Seikhak on July 21, 2015, of participating in an insurrectionary movement (articles 456 and 457 of the Criminal Code), in a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards. The court sentenced Seikhak to seven years in prison. After appeal hearings from April 21 to 23, 2018, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal on May 20 upheld both the conviction and prison sentence.

On August 28, 2018, Seikhak was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.
 

Sum Puthy, 50, released on August 28, 2018

 

Sum Puthy

© LICADHO

Sum Puthy is a CNRP Chhbar Ampov district council member. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of Cambodia’s now-dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges for events that occurred in July 2014 during a CNRP-led protest. With the others, Puthy was tried on July 21, 2015 in a judicial process that did not meet international fair trial standards. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Puthy of participating in an insurrectionary movement (articles 456 and 457 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment. After appeal hearings from April 21 to 23, 2018, the Court of Appeal on May 20 upheld both his conviction and prison sentence.

On August 28, 2018, Puthy was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.
 

Tep Narin, 31, released on August 28, 2018

 

Tep Narin

© LICADHO

Tep Narin is a CNRP youth member. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of Cambodia’s now-dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges for events that occurred during a July 2014 CNRP-led protest. On July 21, 2015, Narin was convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of participating in an “insurrectionary” movement (articles 456 and 457 of the Criminal Code), in a speedy trial that violated the defendant’s fair trial rights and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. After appeal hearings from April 21 to 23, 2018, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld on May 20 both the conviction and prison sentence.

On August 28, 2018, Narin was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Roeun Chetra, 34, released on August 28, 2018

Roeun Chetra

© LICADHO

Roeun Chetra is a CNRP youth member. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the now-dissolved opposition CNRP who was convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges for events that occurred in July 2014 during a CNRP-led protest. Authorities arrested Chetra, on August 4, 2015. On June 13, 2016, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted him of participation in an insurrectionary movement (article 457 of the Criminal Code), intentional acts of violence (article 218) and inciting the commission of a felony (article 495), in a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment.

On August 28, 2018, Chetra was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.
 

Yea Thong, 27, released on August 28, 2018

Yea Thong

© LICADHO

Yea Thong is a CNRP youth member. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges connected to events during a CNRP-led protest in July 2014. Authorities arrested him on August 4, 2015. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted him on June 13, 2016, on charges of participation in an insurrectionary movement (article 457 of the Criminal Code), intentional acts of violence (article 218) and inciting the commission of a felony (article 495) and sentenced him to seven years in prison after a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards.

On August 28, 2018, Thong was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.
 

Yun Kimhour, 29, released on August 28, 2018

Yun Kimhour

© private

Yun Kimhour is a CNRP youth member. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the now-dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges connected to a July 2014 CNRP-led protest. Authorities arrested him on August 4, 2015. On June 13, 2016, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Kimhour of participating in an insurrectionary movement (article 457 of the Criminal Code), intentional acts of violence (article 218), and inciting the commission of a felony (article 495) and sentenced to seven years in prison. The trial failed to meet international fair trial standards.

On August 28, 2018, Kimhour was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

One of the signal achievements of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements and the UN peacekeeping mission that followed was the release of large numbers of political prisoners imprisoned by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The Paris Agreements and the 1993 Cambodian constitution committed the government to international human rights standards and a non-return to the policies and practices of the past.

However, basic rights have been under constant attack by Hun Sen and the CPP throughout. Political killings, arbitrary arrests, and a politicized and corrupt judiciary have characterized the human rights situation in the country. In the past few years, the Cambodian government has returned to the routine practice of arresting and imprisoning individuals for their political statements or activities. Cambodia’s infamously sub-standard prisons now routinely hold political prisoners and pre-trial detainees for exercising their basic rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association. Activists, opposition members, and supporters, journalists and ordinary citizens expressing critical opinions on- and offline are regular targets of the government. Trials are acts of political theater, decided in advance, in violation of fair trial standards. In many cases Hun Sen has announced the results of trials before they take place.

Foreign governments and donors have been slow to react. At most they have issued ad hoc and ritualistic statements of concern. Now is the time for them to speak with one voice and demand that all political prisoners and detainees be immediately and unconditionally released and the harassment of persons for the peaceful expression of their opinions end.

An Batham


An Batham, 37
Released on August 28, 2018

An Batham is a Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) youth member. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters, and activists of Cambodia’s dissolved opposition party, the CNRP, and was convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges for events that occurred in July 2014 during a CNRP-led protest. On July 21, 2015, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Batham of participating in an insurrectionary movement (articles 456 and 457 of the Criminal Code), in a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards, and sentenced him to seven years in prison. On May 20, 2018, the Phnom Penh Court of Court of Appeal upheld both his conviction and prison sentence.

On August 28, 2018, Batham was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Ban Samphy


Ban Samphy, 70

On May 13, 2018, Ban Samphy, former head of the CNRP in Siem Reap province, shared a post on Facebook that included a photo of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany, and a photo of King Norodom Sihamoni, accompanied by a video clip of angry villagers affected by flooding. His post compared the king unfavorably to Cambodia’s former kings. On May 20, 2018, the police in Chikreng district, Kampong Kdey commune, Siem Reap province, arrested Samphy and questioned him. The investigating judge of the Siem Reap Provincial Court charged Samphy the same day with “insult of the king” (article 437 bis of Cambodia’s Criminal Code), which carries a punishment of up to five years in prison. He is currently in pre-trial detention.

Chao Veasna


Chao Veasna, 54
Sentenced: 5 years

Chao Veasna, an ethnic Khmer Krom, was a Poipet commune council deputy chief from the Candlelight Party (renamed from the Sam Rainsy Party after the law changed to ban the use of a person’s name in the name of a political party). During an anti-government protest outside the Poipet customs office in May 2015 at which Veasna was not present, military police fired warning shots to disperse protesters and seriously beat one protester. With commune elections scheduled for June 2017, on February 16, 2017, a Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court investigating judge questioned Veasna for four hours and sent him to Banteay Meanchey provincial prison in connection with the May 2015 protest. Veasna was charged with inciting the commission of a felony (articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code) and, as an accomplice, with intentional damage with aggravating circumstances (general aggravation and in relation to status of the victim) (articles 29, 410, 411 and 412), as well as with intentional damage with aggravating circumstances (using dangerous means and causing injury) (articles 413 and 414). On June 7, 2018, the Provincial Court convicted and sentenced Veasna to five years’ imprisonment. He was also ordered to pay a total of approximately US$15,000 for damages to the customs office building and several cars.

Chhun Sithi


Chhun Sithi
Sentenced: 1 year

Chhun Sithi, a CNRP commune councilor in Stung Kach commune, Pailin province, was arrested on October 24, 2017, a day after he posted a video clip on social media with a message to Prime Minister Hun Sen stating that he would not defect to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) even if the main opposition party, the CNRP, was dissolved or he was stripped of his position. On March 23, 2018, the Pailin Provincial Court convicted him of inciting the commission of a felony (article 495 of the Criminal Code) and insulting a public official (article 502). The court sentenced him to one year in prison with a fine of eight million riels (US$2,000).

Hin Van Sreypov


Heng Leakhena, 37
Sentenced: 1 year

Heng Leakhena (also known as Hin Van Sreypov), a former CNRP member, was arrested on July 12, 2017, at a local bus station after she had posted on Facebook a video in which she accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of ordering the murder of prominent political commentator Kem Ley. On January 11, 2018, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted her of inciting the commission of a felony (article 495 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced her to one-year in prison and a one million riel fine (US$250).

Horn Sophanny


Horn Sophanny, 25
Sentenced: 2 years

Venerable Horn Sophanny is an activist member of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, a group led by monk But Buntenh. Authorities arrested and defrocked Sophanny on June 21, 2017. He was charged with illegal possession of a weapon after he had posted a photo of himself on social media posing with a toy gun, accompanied by a statement that he needed a gun to protect himself from what he called Prime Minister Hun Sen’s upcoming “civil war” during the 2018 elections. On December 19, 2017, the Battambang Provincial Court convicted Sophanny of inciting the commission of a felony (article 495 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to two years in prison.

Ismail Pin Osman


Ismail Pin Osman, 45

Ismail Pin Osman was a reserve National Assembly candidate for the CNRP in Kampong Cham province in the 2013 national election. He is a member of the ethnic Cham Muslim community. He was arrested by anti-trafficking police in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district on February 9, 2018, after returning from Thailand, where he had fled under pressure from authorities to defect to the ruling CPP. He is currently in pre-trial detention on charges of unlawfully removing female workers for cross-border transfer (article 11 of the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation). If convicted, he faces from 7 to 15 years in prison.

James Ricketson


James Ricketson, 69
Sentenced: 6 years

James Ricketson, an Australian filmmaker, was arrested on June 3, 2017, on fabricated charges of “stealing information.” Authorities photographed him flying a drone without a permit over a political rally staged by the CNRP. On June 9, 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Ricketson with espionage (article 446 of the Criminal Code), claiming he gathered information for a foreign power that could damage national security. After a seven-day trial, on August 31, 2018, the Phnom Penh Court convicted him of espionage (articles 439 and 446) and sentenced him to six years in prison.

Ke Khim


Ke Khim, 35
Released on August 28, 2018

Ke Khim is a CNRP supporter. He is one of the 14 members of Cambodia’s now-dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges for events that occurred in July 2014 during a CNRP-led protest. On July 21, 2015, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced him to seven years in prison for participating in an insurrectionary movement (articles 456 and 457 of the Criminal Code) in a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards. After hearings from April 21 to 23, 2018, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal ruled on May 20 to uphold both the conviction and prison sentence.

On August 28, 2018, Khim was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Kem Sokha


Kem Sokha, 65
Released on bail on September 10, 2018, but placed under house arrest

Kem Sokha, leader of the now dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and a member of the National Assembly, was arrested around midnight on September 3, 2017 at his house in Phnom Penh. Eight Prime Minister bodyguard unit officers led a contingent of more than 100 police to carry out the arrest. In a highly unusual move, authorities immediately sent him to the remote Trapeang Phlong prison (Correctional Center 3), in Tbaung Khmom province near the border with Vietnam. On the basis of a false allegation that he had committed a crime in flagrante delicto (caught in the act of committing a crime), the National Assembly stripped him of his parliamentary immunity.

On September 5, 2017, prosecutors charged him with conspiring with a foreign power (article 443 of the Criminal Code). If convicted, he faces 15-30 years in prison. Sokha’s arrest came after Hun Sen accused him of plotting to topple the government with support from the United States based on a highly edited videotape of a speech Sokha gave in Australia in 2013. On May 26, 2018, the court summoned eight individuals – including members of nongovernmental organizations – to appear for questioning as witnesses in Sokha’s case.

On April 19, 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its Opinion No. 9/2018 declared Kem Sokha’s detention “arbitrary” and “politically motivated.”

Sokha had been previously convicted in 2016 on politically motivated charges for failure to appear as a witness against two CNRP parliamentary members detained in a fabricated prostitution case. The court sentenced him to five months in prison, but he remained under de facto house arrest, surrounded by CNRP supporters and police outside CNRP headquarters until December 2016, when he received a royal pardon.

On September 10, 2018, Sokha was released from prison and placed under house arrest. The court order specifically bans Sokha from meeting with “former officials of the Cambodian National Rescue Party… foreigners, especially those who may be involved in this case” and orders him to “refrain from a political meeting or other political activities…” Treason charges remain in force. If Sokha conducts any political activities or misses a court appearance he will be sent back to prison.

Khin Chamreun


Khin Chamreun, 34
Released on August 28, 2018

Khin Chamreun is a CNRP Phnom Penh youth chief. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the dissolved CNRP who were convicted on politically motivated insurrection charges for helping lead a CNRP-led protest in July 2014. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Chamreun in July 2015 of participating in and leading an “insurrectionary” movement (articles 456, 457, and 459 of the Criminal Code) in a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards. The court sentenced him to 20 years in prison. In April 2018, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld both his conviction and prison sentence.

On August 28, 2018, Chamreun was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Kim Sok


Kim Sok, 37
Released on August 17, 2018, after serving his prison sentence

Kim Sok, a political commentator, was arrested on February 17, 2017, and charged with criminal defamation and incitement based on a complaint filed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The charges stemmed from an interview he gave to Radio Free Asia in which he alluded to the alleged involvement of the ruling CPP in the murder of prominent political commentator Kem Ley in July 2016. On August 10, 2017, a court convicted Sok of defamation (article 305 of the Criminal Code) and inciting the commission of a felony (articles 494 and 495) and sentenced him to 18 months in prison and a fine of 8 million riels (US$2,000) to be paid to the government and 800 million riels ($200,000) in damages to be paid to the CPP. On November 17, 2017, the Court of Appeal upheld both his conviction and sentence. On July 2, 2018, the Supreme Court also upheld the verdict. A second defamation complaint filed by Hun Sen is pending at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

On August 17, 2018, Kim Sok was released after serving his sentence. After his release Kim Sok said he would continue to speak out against the government and in favor of democracy. On August 28, a Phnom Penh judge issued a summons for Kim Sok to appear on September 14 on second charges of defamation and incitement. Kim Sok reportedly fled Cambodia to avoid arrest.

Meach Sovannara


Meach Sovannara, 47
Released on August 28, 2018

Meach Sovannara was a CNRP candidate for parliament from Banteay Meanchey province and is a dual Cambodian and US national. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of Cambodia’s now-dissolved opposition CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges connected to July 2014 protests in Phnom Penh. On July 21, 2015, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Sovannara of participating in and leading an insurrectionary movement (articles 456, 457, and 459 of the criminal code), in a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards. The court sentenced him to 20 years in prison. The Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld his conviction and sentence on May 20, 2018.

On March 26, 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen scolded officials of Correctional Center 1 for allegedly allowing Sovannara to use a mobile phone in prison and ordered them to remove it “immediately,” while telling Sovannara he would never “come out.”

On August 28, 2018, Sovannara was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Neang Sokhun


Neang Sokhun, 34
Released on August 28, 2018

Neang Sokhun is a CNRP Chhbar Ampov district youth leader. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the now-dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges in connection with July 2014 protests led by the CNRP. The Phnom Penh Municipal court convicted Sokhun on July 21, 2015, on charges of participating in an insurrectionary movement (articles 456 and 457 of the criminal code). The Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld his conviction and sentence on May 20, 2018.

On August 28, 2018, Sokhun was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Oeur Narith


Oeur Narith, 38
Released on August 28, 2018

Oeur Narith is one of the 14 CNRP officials, supporters and activists convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges in connection with a CNRP-led protest in July 2014 in Phnom Penh. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Narith, a CNRP public affairs officer, of participating in and leading an insurrectionary movement (articles 456, 457, and 459 of the criminal code), in a trial that violated the defendant’s fair trial rights and sentenced him to 20 years’ imprisonment. The Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld the conviction and sentence in a ruling released on May 20, 2018.

On August 28, 2018, Narith was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Ouk Pich Samnang


Ouk Pich Samnang, 54
Released on August 28, 2018

Ouk Pich Samnang is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the now-dissolved CNRP convicted on politically motivated insurrection charges in connection with a CNRP-led protest in July 2014. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found him guilty of participating in an insurrectionary movement (articles 456 and 457 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to seven years in prison. Both the conviction and prison sentence were upheld by the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal on May 20, 2018.

Authorities harassed Samnang in a separate case related to an October 2014 protest outside Hun Sen’s house. A farming community from Preah Vihear province protested and demanded that the government help solve their land dispute. On September 10, 2015, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Samnang of committing intentional violence and obstructing authorities despite the prosecutors’ failure to present evidence of wrongdoing. The judge sentenced him to two years in prison and ordered him to pay 10 million riels (US$2,500) in damages to pay for medical treatment of injured security guards and damaged Daun Penh district security equipment. On July 20, 2016, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld his conviction and prison sentence.

On August 28, 2018, Samnang was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Roeun Chetra


Roeun Chetra, 34
Released on August 28, 2018

Roeun Chetra is a CNRP youth member. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the now-dissolved opposition CNRP who was convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges for events that occurred in July 2014 during a CNRP-led protest. Authorities arrested Chetra, on August 4, 2015. On June 13, 2016, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted him of participation in an insurrectionary movement (article 457 of the Criminal Code), intentional acts of violence (article 218) and inciting the commission of a felony (article 495), in a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment.

On August 28, 2018, Chetra was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

San Kimheng


San Kimheng, 31
Released on August 28, 2018

San Kimheng is a CNRP district youth leader from Tuol Kork in Phnom Penh. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the now-dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection for events that occurred in July 2014 during a CNRP-led protest. On July 21, 2015, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Kimheng of participating in an insurrectionary movement (articles 456 and 457 of the Criminal Code), in a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards and sentenced him to seven years in prison. After appeal hearings from April 21 to 23, 2018, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld both the conviction and prison sentence on May 20.

On August 28, 2018, Kimheng was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

San Seihak


San Seihak, 31
Recently Released

San Seikhak is a CNRP youth member. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the now-dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges for events that occurred in July 2014 during a CNRP-led protest. Along with the others, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Seikhak on July 21, 2015, of participating in an insurrectionary movement (articles 456 and 457 of the Criminal Code), in a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards. The court sentenced Seikhak to seven years in prison. After appeal hearings from April 21 to 23, 2018, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal on May 20 upheld both the conviction and prison sentence.

On August 28, 2018, Seikhak was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Sourn Serey Ratha


Sourn Serey Ratha, 44
Released on August 23, 2018

Sourn Serey Ratha, a dual Cambodian-US citizen, is the founder and president of the Khmer People Power Movement (KPPM) and later the Khmer Power Party (KPP). He was arrested on August 13, 2017 for criticizing the deployment of Cambodian troops to the Lao border during a trip by Prime Minister Hun Sen to Laos in mid-2017 to settle a border dispute between the two countries. On August 14, authorities charged Ratha with inciting military personnel to disobedience (article 471 of the Criminal Code), demoralizing the army (article 472) and inciting the commission of a felony (articles 494). On August 25, 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Ratha and sentenced him to five years in prison and fined him 10 million riels (US$2,500). On October 12, 2017, the Court of Appeal upheld his conviction. On May 18, 2018, the Supreme Court also did.

The government has labelled Ratha’s KPPM party a terrorist group. While in self-imposed exile in 2015, a court convicted Ratha in absentia for endangering government institutions or violating the integrity of the national territory (article 453) and of using force or violence to deter eligible voters from voting (article 124 of the Law on Election of Members of the National Assembly). The court sentenced him to seven years in prison. Upon Hun Sen’s request, King Sihamoni pardoned Ratha on July 10, 2015, thereby allowing him to return to Cambodia without fear of imprisonment. In March 2015, the Ministry of Interior gave permission to Ratha to form a political party to contest in the elections: Ratha formed the Khmer Power Party.

In December 2015, Ratha filed a complaint against Foreign Minister Hor Namhong for defamation and incitement because the minister had failed to write an official apology letter, recanting his allegation that his KPP party had committed terrorist acts.

On May 15, 2018, Ratha posted a letter on his Facebook page, apologizing to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Royal Armed Forces and seeking a pardon. He was released on August 23, 2018 after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni based on a request by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Sum Puthy


Sum Puthy, 50
Released on August 28, 2018

Sum Puthy is a CNRP Chhbar Ampov district council member. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of Cambodia’s now-dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges for events that occurred in July 2014 during a CNRP-led protest. With the others, Puthy was tried on July 21, 2015 in a judicial process that did not meet international fair trial standards. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Puthy of participating in an insurrectionary movement (articles 456 and 457 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment. After appeal hearings from April 21 to 23, 2018, the Court of Appeal on May 20 upheld both his conviction and prison sentence.

On August 28, 2018, Puthy was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Tep Narin


Tep Narin, 31
Released on August 28, 2018

Tep Narin is a CNRP youth member. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of Cambodia’s now-dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges for events that occurred during a July 2014 CNRP-led protest. On July 21, 2015, Narin was convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of participating in an “insurrectionary” movement (articles 456 and 457 of the Criminal Code), in a speedy trial that violated the defendant’s fair trial rights and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. After appeal hearings from April 21 to 23, 2018, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld on May 20 both the conviction and prison sentence.

On August 28, 2018, Narin was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Tep Vanny


Tep Vanny, 36
Released on August 20, 2018, but convicted four days later in a separate case – enforcement of that suspended prison sentence is pending appeal

Tep Vanny is a prominent community land rights activist in Phnom Penh and the recipient of the 2013 Vital Voices Global Leadership Award.

Vanny long opposed the government’s now completed plan to drain Boeung Kak lake for high-end residences and commercial properties, which the city rented to Shukaku Inc., a private company led by ruling CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin. Authorities arrested her on August 15, 2016, during a peaceful protest. On August 22, 2016, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Vanny and Bov Sophea, a fellow community member, of insulting a public official (article 502 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced them both to the six days they had already served in pre-trial detention.

The authorities then restarted long-dormant politically motivated charges against Vanny. On September 19, 2016, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Vanny and three other Boeung Kak lake community members (Kong Chantha, Bo Chhorvy, and Heng Mom) for obstructing a public official with aggravating circumstances and insulting a public official (articles 502 and 504) and sentenced them to six months in prison. The charges stemmed from their participation in a protest in November 2011 outside the Phnom Penh municipality office, where they demanded justice in the Boeung Kak land dispute. On February 23, 2017, the Court of Appeal upheld their conviction and prison sentence. On December 8, 2017, the Supreme Court agreed, though the Supreme Court’s presiding judge left the enforcement of the prison sentence to the discretion of the prosecutor, so none of the four women have yet served their prison sentence.

For Vanny’s participation in a protest outside Hun Sen’s house in March 2013, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted her on February 23, 2017 of intentional violence with aggravating circumstances (article 218) and sentenced her to two and a half years in prison and a fine of 5 million riels (approximately US$1,250). The court also ordered Vanny to pay compensation of 9 million riels (approximately $2,250) to two security guards, the plaintiffs who alleged injury. The court denied consideration of video evidence showing that the two security guards were responsible for the violence, in a trial that otherwise did not meet international fair trial standards. On August 8, 2017, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld the ruling, as did the Supreme Court on February 8, 2018.

On August 23, 2018, Tep Vanny was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni. Four days later, on August 27, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted her and five fellow community members of making death threats related to a community dispute. Although the complainant retracted her complaint, the prosecutor and investigating judge continued to pursue the case. The court sentenced all six to suspended six-month prison sentences; the suspension is conditional for five years, during which the sentence may be enforced against any of the defendants who are found guilty of having committed a crime.

Um Sam An


Um Sam An, 44
Released on August 25, 2018

Um Sam An is a dual US-Cambodian national and a former Member of Parliament of the now-dissolved CNRP. In May 2015, Sam An left Cambodia for the United States to seek evidence that would substantiate his allegations that Prime Minister Hun Sen had used the wrong maps to demarcate the Cambodia-Vietnam border. He was arrested on his return to Cambodia on April 11, 2016, on the basis of a post he made on Facebook that included his findings on the politically contentious dispute. Although covered by parliamentary immunity, prosecutors used a loophole in the law – permitting prosecutions for crimes in flagrante delicto (caught in the act), to bring him to trial. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Sam An on October 10, 2016 of inciting the commission of a felony (article 495 of the Criminal Code) and inciting racial discrimination (article 496) and sentenced him to two and a half years in prison. The court also fined him 4 million riels (US$1000). On October 27, 2017, the Supreme Court upheld his conviction and prison sentence. After further appeals, the Supreme Court again upheld the conviction and prison sentence.

On August 25, 2018, Sam An was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Uon Chhin


Uon Chhin, 49
Released on bail August 21, 2018

Uon Chhin, a former Radio Free Asia (RFA) cameraman, was arrested on November 14, 2017, in Phnom Penh, on the same day as his colleague Yeang Sothearin. The arrests occurred two months after the RFA shut down its Cambodia operations, alleging government harassment of its reporters. Prosecutors filed baseless espionage charges, accusing Chhin and Sothearin of illegally setting up a broadcast studio with the purpose of continuing to file news reports for RFA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. On November 18, 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court formally charged Chhin with supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to Cambodia’s national defense (article 445 of the Criminal Code). If convicted, he faces between 7 to 15 years in prison. The court has repeatedly denied his bail requests.

In March 2018, prosecutors brought unfounded charges against Chhin and Sothearin that they produced pornography in violation of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation. If convicted of these additional charges, they face 16 years in prison.

While Chhin was released on August 21, 2018, the charges against him were not dropped.

Yeang Sothearin


Yeang Sothearin, 35
Released on bail August 21, 2018

Yeang Sothearin (also known as Yeang Socheameta), Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) former Phnom Penh bureau office manager and a news editor, was arrested on November 14, 2017, in Phnom Penh on the same day as his colleague Uon Chhin. The arrests occurred two months after the RFA shut down its Cambodia operations, alleging government harassment of its reporters. Prosecutors filed baseless espionage charges, accusing Sothearin and Chhin of illegally setting up a broadcast studio with the purpose of continuing to file news reports for RFA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Sothearin on November 18, 2017, with supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to Cambodia’s national defense (article 445 of the Criminal Code). He faces 7 to 15 years in prison if convicted and has been repeatedly denied bail since his arrest.

In March 2018, prosecutors brought unfounded charges against Chhin and Sothearin that they produced pornography in violation of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation. If convicted of these additional charges, they face 16 years in prison.

While Sothearin was released on August 21, 2018, the charges against him were not dropped.

Yea Thong


Yea Thong, 27
Released on August 28, 2018

Yea Thong is a CNRP youth member. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges connected to events during a CNRP-led protest in July 2014. Authorities arrested him on August 4, 2015. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted him on June 13, 2016, on charges of participation in an insurrectionary movement (article 457 of the Criminal Code), intentional acts of violence (article 218) and inciting the commission of a felony (article 495) and sentenced him to seven years in prison after a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards.

On August 28, 2018, Thong was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Yun Kimhour


Yun Kimhour, 29
Released on August 28, 2018

Yun Kimhour is a CNRP youth member. He is one of the 14 officials, supporters and activists of the now-dissolved CNRP convicted of politically motivated insurrection charges connected to a July 2014 CNRP-led protest. Authorities arrested him on August 4, 2015. On June 13, 2016, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Kimhour of participating in an insurrectionary movement (article 457 of the Criminal Code), intentional acts of violence (article 218), and inciting the commission of a felony (article 495) and sentenced to seven years in prison. The trial failed to meet international fair trial standards.

On August 28, 2018, Kimhour was released after a royal pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Sam Sokha


Sam Sokha, 38
Sentenced: 2 years

Sam Sokha, a labor and opposition activist, was seen in an April 2017 video throwing her shoe at a CPP campaign billboard that contained photos of Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin. The 13-second video went viral on social media.

Sokha fled to Thailand after government called for her arrest. She received refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). On January 25, 2018, the Kampong Speu Provincial Court convicted her in absentia of insulting a public official and incitement to discriminate (articles 494, 496 and 502 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced her to two years in prison and a fine of 5 million riels (US$1,250).

Despite her protected status as a refugee, Thai authorities arrested her and, over UNHCR and diplomatic objections, forcibly returned her to Cambodia on February 8, 2018. On February 9, Cambodian officials transferred her to Kampong Speu provincial prison to start serving her sentence.

Sokha sought a retrial, demanding the opportunity to be present in court to defend herself. However, in March the Kampong Speu Provincial Court upheld her conviction and sentence.

Kheang Navy


Kheang Navy, 50

Kheang Navy, a primary school headteacher in Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province, was arrested on May 13, 2018. Police questioned him for hours without a lawyer present. He remains in pre-trial detention and faces 1-5 five years in prison, a large fine for a May 12, 2018 social media post blaming the king and the Cambodian royal family for the 2017 dissolution of Cambodia’s main opposition party, the CNRP, as well as for the “loss of Khmer land.” Navy allegedly posted the comment on the Facebook page of a Kampong Thom government official who had attended a celebration of King Norodom Sihamoni’s birthday in Kampong Thom province. Under article 437 bis, the new lese majeste law, prosecutors may bring a criminal lawsuit on behalf of the monarchy against anyone deemed to have insulted the royal family.

X
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Activist and photographer Shahidul Alam arrives surrounded by policemen for an appearance in a court, in Dhaka, Bangladesh on August 6, 2018. 

© 2018 MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

A Bangladesh court today rejected the bail plea of renowned photographer and activist Shahidul Alam. He had been arrested on August 5, 2018 just hours after denouncing on Al Jazeera and on Facebook the government’s crackdown on massive student protests demanding traffic safety, as well as other human rights abuses.

The prosecutor argued that the government does not care about world opinion. Well, it should.

Alam, 63, is accused under the draconian section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act for “false propaganda” on social media. By going after such a prominent figure, whose detention has attracted wide international attention, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina apparently wants to show that no one who dares criticize or challenge its actions will be spared.

In the decade that Bangladesh’s ruling party, the Awami League, has been in office, human rights have repeatedly been compromised. Scores of people, including opposition supporters, have become victims of  enforced disappearances. Others were detained and kneecapped – deliberately shot in the lower leg – many permanently disabled. Hundreds have been killed in so-called gunfights or “crossfire” – euphemisms for extrajudicial executions.

Newspaper editors face being charged with criminal defamation and sedition. Journalists and broadcasters are routinely under pressure from the authorities to restrain criticism of the government. Opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia remains in prison, denied bail after being convicted in a corruption case that her supporters say is politically motivated.

The recent crackdown has been heavy-handed. Blogger Pinaki Bhattacharya has gone into hiding. Parents of student protesters had to demand their children be produced in court after they were held in secret detention for days. Numerous others like Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury, a road safety campaigner, are under arrest, facing trumped-up charges.

Influential governments and donors need to respond, and soon, to call for an end to the government’s flagrant abuses. As a start, they should call for the immediate release of Shahidul Alam and others held in politically motivated cases.

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

Nguyen Trung Truc holds a sign, “Condemn the Vietnamese communist for terrorizing Pastor [Nguyen Trung] Ton”. 

© Private 2016
(New York) – Vietnamese authorities should drop all charges against Nguyen Trung Truc for peaceful rights activism and release him immediately, Human Rights Watch said today.

Nguyen was arrested in August 2017 for involvement with a human rights group called the Brotherhood for Democracy. Authorities charged him with “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration” under article 79 of the 1999 penal code. The People’s Court of Quang Binh province is scheduled to hear his case on September 12, 2018.

“Nguyen Trung Truc is yet another victim of the Vietnamese government’s campaign against people who advocate human rights and democracy,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The country is now becoming a giant prison for anyone who speaks up against the government or acts to advance basic rights.”

Nguyen, 44, has a long history of involvement in pro-democracy activities. He was a boat person who spent more than seven years in a refugee camp in Hong Kong in 1990s, then was deported back to Vietnam in 1997. In 2003, he went to work in Malaysia, where he joined the Vietnam Restoration Movement (Phong trao Chan hung nuoc Viet), founded by the rights activists Vu Quang Thuan and Le Thang Long. The organization advocated for Vietnam to adopt a multi-party, democratic political system. Le says that the movement’s goal is to advance “corporate reform, non-violence, dialogue, and listening for the mutual and long-term interest of the country.”

The police newspaper said in September 2017 that Nguyen “actively wrote many reactionary documents with content that propagandized a distorted image of Vietnam; answered interviews and participated in illegal protests in Malaysia.” Malaysia deported him back to Vietnam in September 2012.

In August 2015, Nguyen joined the Brotherhood for Democracy, which was founded in April 2013 by rights campaigner Nguyen Van Dai and fellow activists. With the stated goal “to defend human rights recognized by the Vietnam Constitution and international conventions” and “to promote the building of a democratic, progressive, civilized, and just society for Vietnam,” the Brotherhood for Democracy is a network of activists both in and outside Vietnam who campaign for human rights and democracy in Vietnam.

Nguyen acted as the group’s representative in Vietnam’s central region. He participated in protests against Formosa, a Taiwanese steel company that dumped toxic waste into the sea and caused a massive marine disaster along the central coast of Vietnam in April 2016.

In July 2016, Nguyen Trung Truc and seven other people went to Cua Lo in Nghe An province to attend a wedding of a fellow activist. A group of several dozens of people in civilian clothes attacked and severely beat them, and seized their phones, wallets, and official government identification. The assailants abandoned them in a deserted forest. Nguyen said he suffered a bruised back and bloody mouth, nose, and ears and later required stiches for a cut on his ear.

Nguyen is the ninth member of the Brotherhood for Democracy put on trial since the beginning of 2018. In April, the authorities convicted and sentenced eight other people to between seven and 15 years in prison – Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thu Ha, Nguyen Trung Ton, Truong Minh Duc, Nguyen Bac Truyen, Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Van Tuc and Tran Thi Xuan. In June, under international pressure, the Vietnamese government released Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha on the condition that they would go into exile in Germany.

“The Brotherhood for Democracy is facing a sustained crackdown as Vietnam seeks to punish its leaders for daring to advocate for basic freedoms to speak out, join a group, and peacefully protest,” Robertson said. “Vietnam’s international donors and trade partners should demand that Hanoi respects basic freedoms and stop making criticizing the government a crime.”

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Thai national flag flies against a stormy sky in Lampang, Thailand, July 14, 2017. 

© 2017 Yvan Cohen/LightRocket via Getty Images
(New York) – Thai authorities are wrongfully prosecuting online news outlets and social media users for reporting an alleged rape case at a popular tourist island in Thailand, Human Rights Watch said today.

On September 4 and 5, 2018, police arrested 12 Facebook users from across Thailand under the draconian Computer-Related Crime Act for sharing information about an alleged rape of a 19-year-old British tourist in June 2018 on Koh Tao island. Arrest warrants were also issued against Suzanne Emery, British publisher of the online newspaper Samui Times, and Pramuk Anantasin, Thai-American administrator of the CSI LA Facebook page, for reporting the story and raising concerns about the quality of the police work.

“The Thai police appear to be using computer-related crime charges against anyone who questions their shoddy investigation of the Koh Tao island rape case,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately drop these bogus charges.”

According to information provided by the police, investigating officers, in this case, have never interviewed the victim or conducted a forensic examination of evidence. Yet the police announced that no rape happened. 

The police accused the 14 people charged with publishing false information online and misleading the public. Maj. Gen. Surachet Hakpal, deputy commissioner of the Tourist Police, said this tarnished Thailand’s reputation as a tourism destination and undermined the police’s credibility. The offense under the Computer-Related Crimes Act carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of 100,000 Thai baht (US$3,100).

In March 2017, the Thai government told the United Nations Human Rights Committee during the review of the country’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that it respects media freedom and freedom of expression. However, since the military coup of May 2014, the Thai government’s record on these issues has been poor, as the authorities have repeatedly harassed and persecuted people for their speech, writings, and internet postings critical of government agencies and officials. Government agencies, including the police, have frequently accused critics of making false statements with the intent of damaging their reputation.

“The Thai police should recognize that their reputation is better served by solving crimes than prosecuting their critics,” Adams said. “The government should reform the Computer-Related Crimes Act so it can no longer be misused for stifling critical online media and retaliating against critics.”  

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am