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

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

© 2016 Reuters/Charles Platiau

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

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

But despite this discussion, President Macron did not waver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REUTERS/Charles Platiau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nadim Houry

Director, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program

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

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

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

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Across Iraq, there are men, women and children – perhaps over 100,000 if one extrapolates from statistics the government has issued on people detained on terror charges - that society has labeled “ISIS families.” In some cases, their fathers, husbands or sons are alleged to have picked up arms with the Islamic State (ISIS) when the group took control of their village. In other cases, a family member merely chose to keep showing up for work at their local hospital or government office once ISIS took control of the area in which they lived.

Graffiti that reads "Daesh (ISIS)," marks the home of relatives of an ISIS member in a west Mosul neighborhood, Iraq. 

© 2018 Private

Most of these families are living in camps that the international community built for families displaced by the fighting between Iraqi forces and ISIS between 2014 and 2017. Though these camps house “regular” displaced families as well, they have become de facto prisons for these so-called “ISIS families.” What happens to these people may be one of Iraq’s most significant obstacles to national security and future stabilization.

Over the last two years, I have visited over a dozen of these camps outside of Mosul, which ISIS took over in June 2014 and maintained control of for three years. The camps are run by a range of local and international humanitarian organizations. Since the fall of ISIS, most families with perceived ISIS affiliations have been told by their communities, tribal leaders, government offices, and even Iraq’s army that they are not welcome to return home, and these camps are being used to enforce such policies. I have seen security forces at the gate deny families their right to freely come and go, either for a simple hospital visit or to return home.

The root of the obstacles facing these families is something that on its face sounds somewhat benign: a security-screening regime.

Security officers have told me that when ISIS began taking territory, many Iraqi families fled those areas, and when they first came into contact with Iraqi or Kurdistan Regional Government security and military officials, gave them names of neighbors who they accused of taking up arms with ISIS. Forces that have a legal mandate to detain, hold and interrogate terrorist suspects, and even some that don’t, put these names on wanted lists -- without much coordination between them. This can lead to for possible rearrests of people already cleared by one group for release. They have been using these lists to hold people, including in unofficial prisons, and prosecute them, sometimes based on confessions extracted by torture.

Lawyers, as well as judges, that Human Rights Watch has spoken to across Iraq, say these lists create inherent problems because of the prevalence of common names -- for example, a name like Muhammad Ahmed. If it is flagged, it can lead to anyone in Iraq with that name getting arrested, sometimes multiple times. “Same name” cases are swelling prison and court numbers, according to senior judges in courts in Nineveh and Baghdad. Staff at several local companies and organizations have told me about recent internal disputes, where one employee has threatened to add a colleague to one of these wanted lists -- as this is proving to be an effective way of meting out personal or familial revenge.

In tandem with these roundups, everyone who needs to contact the government—for an identity card, passport, birth or marriage certificate, or simply to enter a courthouse, has to undergo a security screening to ensure they are not on one of these “wanted” lists. The families of people -- most of them men or boys -- on the lists, whether rightly or wrongly, routinely fail security screenings, particularly if they are unwilling to pay bribes to officials. Some are threatened with arrest, sometimes to lure in a relative on the list who isn’t already in custody.

A senior judge we interviewed in Mosul and a lawyer working at an international organization told us that the Interior Ministry has issued an order that says to get a security clearance, families of ISIS members must appear in court to provide information about the suspected person’s whereabouts and activities and “denounce” them- both of them saw the order. Lawyers who have tried to assist these families are being threatened and, in some cases, are even arrested themselves.

The family members who haven’t been arrested end up stuck in the camps. And, since most lack at least one important civil document, they are at risk of being arrested at checkpoints, and cannot get a job, or obtain a death certificate to inherit property, or dissolve their marriage.

In these camps, I have met women who tried to remain in their homes after Iraqi forces retook their neighborhoods, but were sent to these camps by military or security officials against their will. One elderly woman, Nawfa Hadi Hussain, told me she fled her home for a camp in March 2017, but returned that June, after neighbors said her house had been burned, with “ISIS” graffitied on the wall. She moved into a small side room that had not been destroyed with her daughter and granddaughter. In September, federal police came to the home, she said, claiming that neighbors had complained about their presence, as an “ISIS family,” because both of her sons had joined the group, and sent the women to a camp, which housed other families accused of ISIS ties.

Many of the families in the camp who are perceived as ISIS-affiliated have no male relatives with them. Hussain and other women detained with her told me that when they arrived, the male security officers confiscated the few identity documents they had, snuffing out any chance they might have had to return home at will.

I have seen three instances in which camp security officials from various military and security bodies verbally abused families for allegedly having a son who joined ISIS. I saw one yell at a woman, “Why didn’t you poison your son when you cooked him his dinner, once you knew he joined ISIS?” I have seen these same guards, armed with AK-47s, weave through the tents, intimidating and threatening women and children, in violation of the civilian and humanitarian character that are supposed to be found at such a camp. Camp management staff and men from the community have told the aid groups running the camps that more and more women are coming forward to report these men for pressuring them to have sex in exchange for small amounts of money.

An international aid group told me that at a camp in Anbar, it received reports that guards are demanding sex from women if they want to leave the camp to receive medical assistance, or even to visit their husbands in prison.

In the camp where Hussain is being held, armed security forces brutally beat a local lawyer who is living in the camp and working for an international organization that’s trying to help families get documentation so they can return home. Security forces later claimed to us that the lawyer was outside his tent after an 8:30 p.m. curfew. But even if there was a curfew, that is no justification for the abuse. Lawyers have told us they do not feel safe trying to help these families.

Out of desperation, some women confined in the camps have started divorcing their husbands or obtaining a death certificate, and remarrying men seen as “clean” so they will be allowed to leave. But such new marriages create complications, because these new husbands do not want to raise the women’s children. The children are seen as tainted by their fathers, and it is customary for children to remain with their fathers or paternal relatives if their mothers remarry.

Over the last month, I interviewed four grandfathers and an uncle who are the de-facto guardians of their sons’ or brothers’ children, in a camp near Mosul. The father of “Kareem,” told us that his son died in December 2016 in the town of Shirgat while it was in ISIS hands. Kareem’s wife “Hanaa,” 28, was left behind with three children, ages 3 to 9. He told us:

[Hanaa] left us three months ago to find a husband in Shirgat, so that she could return home. I don’t know anything about the new husband, all I know is that he refused to take in my grandchildren. [Hanaa] tries to visit them from time to time, but it’s not easy for her. I will take care of them until I die, but then what?

Another grandfather told us, “I will raise my grandchildren as my own.” But even when children are lucky enough to have relatives willing and able to step in and support them, forcing women to choose between remaining with their children in confinement or leaving them to be able to go home is a tragedy.

To make matters worse, families usually can’t get a valid birth certificate for children born in ISIS territory. So, they can’t enroll in school, even schools inside the camps. What will happen to these children as they grow up. “Ammar,” 47, told us he is raising his two grandsons after their mother was able to negotiate her way out of the camp six months earlier to find a new husband and remarry. She hasn’t visited her children since. His son, their father, went missing in Mosul two and a half years ago. He said:

“Neither of the boys have any identity papers, and I cannot get new documents for them, as their parents would need to be present to do that, and even then it would be really hard. What is the fate of my grandsons?”

The conditions in these camps are grim and getting worse, as international humanitarian aid for Iraq’s displaced is drying up. Families have told me the water they are given is so dirty that they are using stockings, rocks, and sand as makeshift filters. Suicide has become common in at least some of the camps, international monitors and camp management have told me.

The Iraqi government has sanctioned this camp detention policy, without any publicized national reconciliation strategy or plan to remove the obstacles facing these families and facilitate their safe and dignified return home, or local integration elsewhere in Iraq. The government also appears not to have developed a response to the sexual abuse and exploitation or to address the protection needs of the female-headed households. As far as we can tell, the government has also failed to set aside funds to provide services in the camps, as international funds taper off—and with them some of the oversight by aid groups.

It is hard to view this prison camp policy targeting families with perceived ISIS affiliations as anything but short-sighted, fundamentally destabilizing and criminal. It has echoes of policies in Iraq’s recent past, in the context of de-Baathification, which many feel may have contributed to the rise of ISIS.

Iraq’s new government will take office in the coming weeks and will need to urgently engage in planning to release all families being held against their will, and to open reconciliation discussions at all levels to bring communities back together and facilitate principled returns.

While ISIS continues to carry out individual attacks, the war is largely over. Iraqis should now be asking their government whether the security clearance system is appropriate to regulate all interactions between citizens and their government. The new government needs to scrap the entirely inappropriate, onerous and de facto abusive system that has been weaponized to collectively punish women and children, leading to further marginalization and risk of extremist recruitment. In this post-conflict phase, if Iraq is to move forward, the task for the new Iraqi government should be to ensure that all of its citizens feel safe and protected.

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

A Pittsburgh Police officer walks past the Tree of Life Synagogue and a memorial of flowers and stars in Pittsburgh on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, in remembrance of those killed and injured when a shooter opened fire during services Saturday at the synagogue.

© 2018 AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

If there is one thing the massacre at a Jewish synagogue, the pipe bombs mailed to leading Democratic party figures, and the racist violence that claimed the lives of two African-Americans in a Louisville Kroger store last week show, it’s that far-right and racist extremism are serious threats in the United States. Though law enforcement took swift action towards investigating and prosecuting those accused of carrying out these attacks, it is not clear the US federal government is taking this threat as seriously as it should.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US has devoted enormous energy and resources towards countering threats posed by those accused of affiliation with extremists associating themselves with Islam both in the US and abroad. When US officials seek greater surveillance authority, they also frequently do so by emphasizing threats they say are posed by Muslims.

But since 9/11, according to a 2017 Government Accounting Office report, far-right violent extremists have committed 62 attacks in the US, far more than the 23 carried out by people connected to Islamic extremists. These attacks have killed close to the same number of people, 106 compared to 119. A New American Foundation study, using different definitions, found far-right extremists committed 86 deadly attacks compared to the 104 committed by Islamist extremists.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the US needs to adopt a federal domestic terrorism statute like some are proposing. Many crimes committed by far-right extremists are prosecuted at the state level because those carrying out the attacks are not connected to an international terrorism group. Enacting a federal domestic terrorism statute risks embedding some of the same problems associated with use of the overbroad federal material support for terrorism statute that Human Rights Watch and others have documented.

But at a minimum, the US should examine whether the lopsided allocation of resources to countering Islamic extremist threats, and US policy priorities, are really justified when the threats posed by far-right extremists are on the rise.

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

Dear Prime Minister Wickremesinghe,

Human Rights Watch welcomes Sri Lanka’s renewed efforts to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979 (PTA) with a law that meets its reform commitments to the United Nations Human Rights Council and comports with international human rights standards. Enacting and implementing a counterterrorism law that upholds human rights protections would be an important advance for the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

Attached below are Human Rights Watch’s comments on the Counter Terrorism Act of 2018 (CTA), the bill intended to replace the PTA. The draft law received conditional approval from the Cabinet of Ministers on September 11, 2018 and was submitted to the Sri Lankan Parliament on October 9, where it may undergo further revisions.

This draft represents a significant improvement over previous proposals, but it should be strengthened by removing several problematic provisions. Human Rights Watch is concerned by media reports that Parliament may consider amendments that reduce rather than enhance the CTA’s human rights protections in a process that excludes meaningful public scrutiny.

Human Rights Watch has monitored human rights in Sri Lanka for three decades. We documented violations of the laws of war and child recruitment by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the mistreatment of Sri Lankan migrant workers in the Gulf, and serious abuses, including torture, by state security forces during and since the conflict that ended in 2009. Throughout we have worked closely with Sri Lanka’s human rights organizations and advocates.

We look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue with your government to ensure that the proposed CTA does not incorporate any of the unlawful and counterproductive elements that were the hallmark of the globally discredited PTA.

Sincerely yours,

                                                            

Meenakshi Ganguly                                       Nadim Houry

South Asia Director                                        Director

Asia Division                                                  Terrorism/Counterterrorism Division

Human Rights Watch                                     Human Rights Watch

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

The draft Counter Terrorism Act of 2018 (CTA)[1] represents a significant improvement over previous proposals to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA),[2] although several  problematic provisions remain. The bill narrows definitions of terrorism acts, strengthens protections against custodial torture and coerced confessions, reduces pre-charge and pre-trial detention periods, and increases access by suspects to legal counsel and family members.

Critically, the drafters resisted proposals to restore capital punishment, which had been removed from the PTA three decades ago. More broadly, the proposed expansion of powers of magistrates and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka may serve as important checks on the abusive conduct by law enforcement that characterized arrests and detentions under the PTA.[3]

Nevertheless, the bill’s list of terrorism acts should be narrowed further. Detention Orders – directives that place suspects in police custody – cannot be challenged for at least 14 days and may be extended to eight weeks total, an inordinate period absent exceptional circumstances. Suspects may be jailed for up to one year without charge in contravention of international human rights law prohibitions on detention without charge.

Sri Lankan media have reported that changes to the bill are being considered by Parliament with no opportunity for meaningful public scrutiny. Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned about efforts to restore provisions that flout international due process standards such as the admission of confessions to the police.[4] We are also concerned by the bill’s lack of a sunset clause and review mechanisms.

Definition of Terrorism

The draft CTA substantially reduces the list of acts considered to be terrorist offenses. In contrast to a previously circulated proposal, the draft law no longer criminalizes “words either spoken or intended to be read that threaten the unity of Sri Lanka,” an offense that would violate freedom of expression under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).[5]

However, Part I of the proposed CTA still includes several overbroad definitions of terrorism offenses, such as “intimidating a population” (sections 3(a) and 6). Intimidation does not per se rise to the level of an act that would reasonably be considered terrorism. Human Rights Watch recommends that this phrase be removed.

The CTA also criminalizes as terrorism the act of “wrongfully or unlawfully compelling the government of Sri Lanka, or any other government, or an international organization, to do or to abstain from doing any act" (section 3(b)). The word “wrongfully” is dangerously vague and could capture legitimate protests against government policies.

The CTA further criminalizes dissemination of material with the intent to incite terrorism, “notwithstanding that such conduct does not expressly advocate such offence” (section 6 (g)). This language creates the potential for an overbroad interpretation of incitement, which should be criminalized under the CTA only when it is a direct call to terrorist action. International law provides that freedom of expression extends not only to information or ideas that are favorably received, but also to those that are “deeply offensive.”[6]

To be terrorist under the draft law definitions, the abovementioned acts must be coupled with one of several separately listed offenses. Of great concern is the inclusion in these separate lists of “theft, in respect of State or private property” (section 3(2)(e)) and of “theft or mischief or other damage to property of the State… associated with any essential service” (section 7 (c)).

Under these provisions, a protester who carries out an act of mischief such as spray-painting graffiti or placing billboards on the wall of a public hospital or other government building that provides an essential service could be charged with terrorism. Similarly, a protester could be charged with terrorism for stealing a blanket while protesting against austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank—a criminal act, but hardly one intended to create a state of mass panic and cause death or serious physical harm for ideological, political or political ends.

Another concern is the offense of “interference with any automated or electronic or computerized system” (section 3(2)(g)). Coupled with the aim of “wrongfully compelling a government to act,” this provision could result in a whistleblower being charged with terrorism for exposing a government abuse.

Commendably, the draft CTA contains certain exemptions for “good faith” acts. Section 10(l), for example, exempts the publication of material “in good faith with due diligence for the benefit of the public or in national interest.” However, “good faith” clauses are not a substitution for more narrower and clearer definitions of terrorist acts.

Arrests

Part II of the draft CTA improves protections during arrests and police custody. Significantly, the police must present a detained suspect to a magistrate within 48 hours (section 21), reduced from 72 hours under the PTA. That two-day maximum period complies with article 9 of the ICCPR, which requires that anyone arrested on a criminal charge be brought before a judge “promptly.”[7] The draft law directs the police to take “every possible measure” to ensure that the arrest of a female suspect is carried out by or in the presence of a female arresting officer, and requires any searches of women and girls to be carried out by a female arresting officer (sections 22-23). A family member must be notified within 24 hours of a suspect’s arrest (section 25), as well as where the suspect is being detained and the name of the arresting officer.

In contrast to the PTA, which limited arrest powers to the police, members of the armed forces or the Coast Guard may also make such arrests. Outside of an armed conflict situation, armed forces personnel typically do not have law enforcement training. Permitting them to carry out arrests facilitates arbitrary arrests and mistreatment in custody, which undermine counterterrorism efforts.

Police Detention

The draft CTA limits Detention Orders by reducing the period that suspects can be held in police custody to eight weeks total: four periods of 14 days, with extensions beyond the first 14-day period requiring a magistrate’s approval (section 31). A magistrate may reject any requested extensions and instead send a suspect to judicial custody after the initial 14-day period. That provision would significantly reduce the excessive police detention periods under the PTA, which authorized three months of detention, renewable five times for a total of 18 months. Risk of torture in Sri Lanka is highest during the initial period of arrest and police custody.[8]

To reduce the possibility of ill-treatment in detention, the draft CTA also requires a magistrate to interview a suspect in private, without the arresting police present, during police detention (section 28). The magistrate also has unrestricted access to the suspect, without providing advance notice, during the police detention period (section 32).

However, Human Rights Watch remains concerned that the initial 14-day police detention period cannot be overturned by a magistrate. Furthermore, appeals of Detention Order extensions can take up to three weeks (section 38).

Pre-Charge Judicial Detention and Bail

Part III of the draft CTA significantly shortens pre-charge judicial custody to six months with a second, six-month extension upon an application by the attorney general approved by a High Court judge (section 30). Magistrates must grant bail after six months or, in the case of an extension, 12 months, if no indictments are filed by that time, unless they believe that defense counsel is unduly prolonging the proceedings. Under the PTA, suspects were routinely held for several years without charge or trial, and the attorney general had a right of veto over the granting of bail.[9]

While an improvement over past practice under the PTA, holding a suspect without formal charge for 12 months is excessive and contrary to article 9 of the ICCPR.[10] In another concern, bail can only be granted during the 6-to-12-month pre-charge period of judicial detention as an exceptional measure, on the order of a High Court judge (section 29). The ICCPR provides that a suspect “shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release.” It directs that detaining suspects awaiting trial “shall not be the general rule,” although release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial or other stages of judicial proceedings.[11]

Torture

The draft CTA contains strong provisions to protect against torture, which the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have found to be widely practiced against PTA detainees, particularly during police detention.[12]

As previously noted, Section II provides that magistrates must interview a suspect in private when he or she is first brought to court. If magistrates suspect torture, they may order a forensic examination and medical treatment and may bar the police officer overseeing custody from further access to the suspect (section 28). A magistrate is required to order an investigation if the medical examination concludes torture was probable. However, if torture is suspected, the magistrate should be required to order a forensic examination, and to separate possible torturers and their colleagues from the suspect as a protective measure.

The draft law requires magistrates to make unannounced visits to places of detention to check on and interview suspects. Magistrates who see evidence of torture must order a forensic examination. Should those examinations show torture, they must also order criminal proceedings against the alleged torturers (section 32).

To be admissible as evidence, confessions must be made to a magistrate. This is a significant improvement from the PTA, which allowed the use of police confessions despite widespread evidence that they were obtained through torture and other ill-treatment. Furthermore, immediately prior or after making a confession, the suspect must be examined by a forensic expert and a forensic report produced. Under the CTA, the burden of proving the confession was voluntary lies with the prosecuting authority (section 80).

Rights to Counsel

The draft CTA provides terrorism suspects with access to legal counsel while in police custody (Part II, section 44), including prior to any interview by the police (Part III, section 54). It also requires that police interviews are held and recorded in a language that the suspects understand (section 54). UN reports have long expressed concern over the lack of access to legal counsel under the PTA.[13]

For the most part, these draft provisions adhere to fundamental rights under the ICCPR.[14] However, the proposed law does not clarify whether a suspect’s lawyer may be present during questioning. Moreover, a member of the armed forces or the Coast Guard may hold a suspect for a full day before handing over the detainee to the police, effectively delaying access to a lawyer for up to 24 hours (sections 17-18). Parliament should ensure that suspects have access to a lawyer during police questioning as well as during any detention or questioning by the military or Coast Guard.

Penalties

In keeping with Sri Lanka’s de facto moratorium on the death penalty, an inherently cruel form of punishment, Part I of the draft CTA sets life imprisonment as the maximum penalty for a terrorism-related offense. The Cabinet of Ministers rejected calls for restoring capital punishment for the worst terrorism offenses, including those resulting in death. Of concern, however, are the CTA’s overbroad definitions of terrorism, which create the potential for prison sentences of up to 15 years for people who have committed less serious crimes that do not constitute terrorism (sections 11-12).

Human Rights Commission

Sections II and III of the draft CTA substantially strengthen the powers of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to protect terrorism suspects from human rights violations. Among other measures, the commission must be notified within 24 hours of a suspect’s detention and be granted “prompt” access to the detainee (section 25). The authorities must also maintain a database for terrorism-related cases, including details on ill-treatment, and provide the commission with access to the data (section 26).

Significantly, a Human Rights Commission representative may interview detainees and inspect their case files with no advance notice (section 34). The commission must be notified of detainees’ transfers and release (sections 42-43). The commission, as well as the magistrate, have authority to register a complaint about conditions of police or prison detention (section 48), and the inspector general of police or superintendent of prisons is required to take all feasible steps to ensure humane treatment.

Police Investigative Powers

Section IV of the draft CTA significantly expands judicial control over police investigative powers. It requires the police to obtain a judicial order to access information in a suspect’s bank accounts and other financial institutions (section 63), to obtain data from service providers (section 64), to freeze a suspect’s assets or bar them from travel (section 66), or to monitor, record or intercept phone, mail and electronic communications (section 67). As with other expansions of magistrates’ powers, such reforms will depend on the independence and impartiality of the Sri Lankan judiciary.

Ministerial Orders

Part IX of the proposed CTA opens the door to arbitrary closures of civil society groups by allowing the Sri Lankan minister of law and order to ban an organization for one year, with indefinite extensions, on “reasonable suspicion” of committing an offense in the draft law or of “acting in a manner prejudicial to the national security of Sri Lanka” (section 81). Although the measure includes the right of appeal, neither the initial proscription nor the renewal requires judicial review.

In an improvement from the PTA, the draft law substantially limits the minister’s virtually unfettered powers to issue Restriction Orders – limitations on the movements of suspects not placed under formal arrest (section 82). It provides that a minister can only request a Restriction Order upon the recommendation of the inspector general of police, and that the High Court approve the request. It also allows suspects to appeal the orders, specifies that the restrictions must be necessary and proportionate, and limits the period of restrictions to 6 months total with monthly reviews, compared to 18 months under the PTA. However, the limitations that the draft CTA allows can be severe, such as bans on domestic and foreign travel as well as communication or association with specified individuals. Given the overly broad grounds for placing a person under a Restriction Order, the potential remains for disproportionate curtailment of the rights to freedom of movement and association.

Recommendations

Human Rights Watch urges the Sri Lankan Parliament to promptly repeal the PTA. If replacing the PTA with the CTA, the Parliament should finalize the draft CTA in a transparent and participatory process that brings the law into full compliance with international human rights standards.

Specifically, Parliament should include the following reforms in the CTA:

  • Definitions: Narrow the definition of terrorism offenses to exclude acts such as “mischief,” “intimidating a population,” and dissemination of material without a clear element of intent to kill or cause serious physical harm for ideological, religious, or political purposes.
  • Arrests: Restrict warrantless arrests, including by the Coast Guard and military, to urgent situations such as averting an imminent threat.
  • Detention Orders: Require judicial review for initial Detention Orders, not just for extensions of the initial order.
  • Bail: Authorize pre-trial bail as general practice, absent clear evidence of potential harm from granting a suspect conditional release.
  • Torture: Require magistrates to order a forensic examination, and to separate the potential torturer from the suspect, in all cases in which they suspect torture.
  • Legal Counsel: Clarify that a suspect’s lawyer may be present during as well as prior to questioning, and that all efforts should be made to provide access to counsel within 24 hours even in cases in which the military or Coast Guard make the arrest.
  • Penalties: Reject attempts to restore the death penalty for terrorism offenses.
  • Human Rights Commission: Ensure that the Human Rights Commission has adequate resources to apply its expanded powers under the CTA, and that it can act without political interference.
  • Ministerial Orders: Narrow and clarify the legal basis for banning an organization. Require judicial adjudication with a right to appeal of all government orders to proscribe organizations.
  • Sunset Clause: Provide that the CTA will automatically lapse after two years. Condition renewal on an independent review of the law’s impact on human rights.
  • PTA accountability: Call on the Attorney General to review all PTA cases, and appropriately prosecute law enforcement and other government officials implicated in the torture and other ill-treatment of suspects under the PTA.
 

[1] Proposed Counter Terrorism Act of 2018 (CTA), Bill No. 268, Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, September 17, 2018, http://www.documents.gov.lk/files/bill/2018/10/532-2018_E.pdf.

[2] Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provision) Act, No. 48 of 1979, http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/shrilanka/document/actsandordina....

[3] Human Rights Watch, Locked Up Without Evidence: Abuses under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act, January 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/01/29/locked-without-evidence/abuses-und..., pp. 21-40.

[4] “Counter-Terrorism Bill: Major break from draconian PTA,” Sunday Observer, September 16, 2018, http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2018/09/16/news-features/counter-terrorism-....

[5] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx.

[6] 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, https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/gc34.pdf, para. 11.

[7] The UN Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that interprets the ICCPR, considers “promptly” to mean within 48 hours absent “absolutely exceptional” circumstances. See Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 35, CCPR/C/GC/35, December 14, 2014, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?s..., para. 33.

[9] See UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on its visit to Sri Lanka, A/HRC/39/45/Add.2, July 23, 2018, http://undocs.org/A/HRC/39/45/Add.2., paras. 21-22, 35-36; Human Rights Watch, Locked Up Without Evidence, p. 43.

[10] ICCPR, art. 9(b).

[11] ICCPR, art. 9(c).

[12] See Human Rights Watch, Locked Up Without Evidence, pp. 2-4, 22-42; see also UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Mission to Sri Lanka, A/HRC/40/XX/Add.3, July 23, 2018, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/LK/Sri_LankaReportJuly2018.PDF, paras. 8, 17-20, 24-27; Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Inhuman, Cruel or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on His Trip to Sri Lanka, A/HRC/34/54/Add.2, December 22, 2016, http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/34/54/Add.2, paras. 24-27, 31; and Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on its visit to Sri Lanka, A/HRC/39/45/Add.2, July 23, 2018, para. 25.

[13] See, for example, UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on its visit to Sri Lanka, A/HRC/39/45/Add.2, July 23, 2018, paras. 32-33.

[14] ICCPR article 14(3) provides that suspects are entitled to legal counsel and that they must be informed of the charges against them in a language that they understand.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Sri Lankan police stand guard at a protest calling for the release of Tamil activists being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in Colombo, Sri Lanka, October 14, 2015.

© 2015 Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images

(Colombo) – Sri Lanka’s draft counterterrorism law significantly improves upon the current, abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) but needs further safeguards against rights violations, Human Rights Watch said in a commentary released today. Parliament should amend the bill to fully comply with international human rights standards and resist pressure to roll back its reforms.

The Counter Terrorism Act of 2018, drafted to replace the PTA, narrows the definition of terrorism, increases protections against torture and coerced confessions, and reduces pretrial detention. But overbroad provisions could be used to prohibit peaceful protests and ban nongovernmental organizations. Curbs on police powers remain insufficient.

“The Sri Lankan government has finally addressed the torture-tarred Prevention of Terrorism Act, but the proposed law needs stronger human rights protections,” said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Parliament should reject attempts to add abusive clauses and pass a bill that advances the rule of law.”

The Cabinet of Ministers submitted the draft law to parliament on October 9, 2018. Media reports suggest that there is pressure within parliament to reduce the bill’s rights protections. Measures reportedly under consideration would include restoring the Prevention of Terrorism Act’s use of confessions to police as evidence in court.

Sri Lanka has agreed to calls by the United Nations Human Rights Council and the European Union to repeal the current law as part of the government’s accountability and reconciliation measures for widespread abuses during the country’s 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009. Government security forces committed multiple serious human rights violations under the PTA, which the government enacted as an emergency measure in 1979 and made permanent in 1982. The government has yet to carry out most reforms pledged to the Human Rights Council in its 2015 resolution.

Parliament should bring the draft law into full compliance with international human rights standards in a transparent and participatory process, Human Rights Watch said. The law should automatically lapse after two years, with renewal to be considered after an assessment of its impact on human rights.

The Attorney General’s Office should review all PTA prosecutions that are tainted by credible evidence of torture or other abuse and provide redress for violations. It should also prosecute and hold to account all law enforcement and other government officials implicated in the abuse of terrorism suspects.

“After years of stalling, Sri Lanka finally appears poised to scrap its discredited Prevention of Terrorism Act,” Tayler said. “The government should start demonstrating its seriousness about breaking with past abuses by strengthening its new counterterrorism bill.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

An armed police officer stands guard outside the Houses of Parliament in London, April 2017.

© 2017 Chris J Ratcliffe/AFP/Getty Images

(London) – The United Kingdom Parliament should scrap provisions in a new counterterrorism bill that excessively restrict freedom of expression, freedom of movement, and privacy, Human Rights Watch said today. The draft law punishes a single click on terrorist content online with up to 15 years in prison.

The sweeping Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill would criminalize travel to areas the government designates terrorist risk zones, which could obstruct family visits, news reporting, and aid work. It would also erode rights to consult a lawyer during stops at ports, airports, and borders.

“The new UK counterterrorism bill veers dangerously toward the logic of guilty until proven innocent,” said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Parliament should strip this bill of provisions that risk harming legitimate activities in the name of security.”

Government officials contend the bill contains ample safeguards and is a necessary response to deadly Islamic State (also known as ISIS)-inspired attacks in London and Manchester in 2017, as well as poisonings in Salisbury in March 2018 for which the UK blames Russia. The House of Lords, the upper chamber of Parliament, sent the bill to a review committee following an impassioned debate on October 9. The House of Commons approved the draft law in September and a final vote is expected in late 2018 or early 2019.

In an attempt to clamp down on internet-inspired attacks, the draft law would criminalize even one click on, or view of, online content that the authorities deem useful to preparing or committing a terrorist act. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) upholds the freedom to receive and express opinions and information even if they offend, shock, or disturb. Viewing or clicking on offensive content should not be criminalized absent a clear link to inciting, preparing, or carrying out an unlawful act, Human Rights Watch said.

The provision allows the accused to argue that they have a “reasonable excuse” to view the content. However, the only excuse it specifies is not knowing or having no reason to believe that the content was terrorism-related. That could leave researchers, journalists, and those who click through “ill-judged curiosity” but no criminal intent unprotected, the UK human rights group Liberty wrote.

The bill also criminalizes “reckless” expressions of support for a banned organization, regardless of whether the person succeeds – intentionally or unintentionally – in encouraging its audience to support the group. The provision does not specify what constitutes expressions of support.

As the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights noted in a report seeking 29 changes to the bill, the “reckless” offense is disproportionate, ambiguous, and “could have a chilling effect” on academic debates. While the concept of “recklessness” exists for certain criminal acts, such as causing physical harm, it should never be applied to speech, which must contain an element of intent to be criminal, Human Rights Watch said. UK law already criminalizes “glorification” and “encouragement” of terrorism, as well as “inviting support for a proscribed organization,” making this one of several clauses in the bill that are unnecessary as well as overreaching.

The bill would also criminalize the online publication of an image depicting a flag or other item that would prompt “reasonable suspicion” that the person posting the image is a member or supporter of a proscribed organization. This could lead to unjust prosecutions for publishing historical, satirical, or journalistic material, Human Rights Watch said.

A recent amendment would punish traveling to or remaining in areas abroad that the UK Secretary of State designates terrorist risk zones with prison terms of up to 10 years. The proposal, which mirrors an overbroad 2015 Australian law, aims to deter UK nationals from joining armed groups abroad and returning to commit attacks at home.

While concern about the potential security risk posed by some returning fighters is warranted, the measure could target travel to visit family, attend funerals, report on conflicts, or provide life-saving food and medical care, Human Rights Watch said. The proposal allows such travel if the person provides a “reasonable excuse,” but unjustly places the burden of proof on the traveler.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) upholds everyone’s right to leave any country and the right to enter their own country. The UN independent human rights expert on countering terrorism has expressed concern about overbroad foreign fighter travel bans.

In response to the Salisbury poisonings, the bill also would empower customs and immigration officials to stop, question, search, and copy or seize personal belongings of anyone at ports, airports or border crossings to determine whether they may be involved in “hostile activity” on behalf of a foreign government. Detention could last up to six hours. No grounds for suspicion would be required and hostile activity is vaguely defined. Failure to provide information or belongings would be punishable by up to 51 weeks in prison.

Border officials could question the person for up to an hour without a lawyer. In addition, a senior police official could require that legal consultation take place within eyeshot and earshot of the authorities in certain cases – for example, if the authorities express concern that a lawyer might engage in evidence tampering. The right of detainees to see a lawyer is enshrined in the ECHR and the ICCPR, and the UN Human Rights Committee has interpreted that right to include legal consultation in private. The Law Council of England and Wales called the proposal’s potential to damage lawyer-client privilege “severe.”

The proposed powers are similar to those already in force in the UK for counterterrorism stops-and-searches, which have disproportionately affected members of ethnic minorities. In one positive step, the measure would clarify that answers given during such questioning are not generally admissible as evidence.

Another clause would decrease independent oversight of police retention of fingerprints and DNA samples of people arrested for serious terrorism offenses. In certain cases, the provision would increase the retention period from two to five years with no review by the country’s biometrics commissioner. Extensive retention of personal data for suspects not even charged with a crime violates the right to privacy enshrined in both the ECHR and the ICCPR.

The bill also would amend the UK’s Prevent program, aimed at preventing people from being drawn into terrorism, allowing local authorities to refer people they consider vulnerable to special risk-assessment panels. Currently, only police officers can make such referrals. The program has been criticized by two UN human rights experts. Before making such a change, the government should commission an independent review to assess the program’s effectiveness and its impact on individuals and communities, Human Rights Watch said.

The UN human rights expert on counterterrorism and the UK’s outgoing independent reviewer of terrorism legislation have also criticized portions of the bill as disproportionately broad or invasive.

“At home, the new UK counterterrorism bill risks subverting the very freedoms and democratic principles that it purports to protect,” Tayler said. “Abroad, it gives countries with fewer checks and balances a dangerous excuse to follow suit.”

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

“And what about the Amish?” a government security official in Kyrgyzstan asked, leaning forward intently. He was meeting in Bishkek with Human Rights Watch to discuss Kyrgyzstan’s crackdown on extremism.

The official was noting similarities between the Amish, a traditionalist Christian group dedicated to the will of Jesus, and Yaqyn Inkar, an Islamic group dedicated to replicating the life of the Prophet Mohammed.

The Amish eschew technology, travel by horse-drawn buggy, dress plainly in solid colors – women cover their heads – and educate their children themselves. Yaqyn Inkar members eschew technology, travel by foot, wear traditional white clothes, and educate their children themselves – boys and girls separately. In the United States, Amish communities are a popular destination for school trips. In Kyrgyzstan, Yaqyn Inkar is banned.

The official’s question underscores the challenges facing Kyrgyzstan’s secular state as it seeks to define extremist threats to national security. Conservative religious groups, a majority of them Islamic, are gaining popularity in the predominantly Muslim country. While many of these groups denounce violence, the authorities contend that some are secretly linked with Islamist armed movements such as the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) or are a stepping stone to violent groups.

Concerns about armed extremism are understandable. Central Asians, including from Kyrgyzstan, have joined Islamist armed groups in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, and since 2016 have been implicated in attacks in New York, Stockholm, Istanbul, St. Petersburg, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

But the government’s response includes an abusive crackdown on videos, pamphlets, and other material that the authorities outlaw under a dangerously elastic definition of extremist. As a new Human Rights Watch report illustrates, hundreds of people have been investigated or convicted in recent years for mere possession of such material, without a need for any evidence that they intended to use it to carry out ideologically or politically motivated violence.

Human Rights Watch tallied at least 258 convictions for possession of extremist material since 2010. During a trip to Bishkek in September, we learned of at least 100 additional convictions and 500 open investigations. A number of these cases involve additional offenses, but the authorities could not tell us how many. At least seven other post-Soviet countries are banning material they deem extremist.

Material banned in Kyrgyzstan includes abhorrent ISIS videos, but also a report to a United Nations committee on migrant workers, the film “I am Gay and Muslim,” and pamphlets from Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group that seeks an Islamic caliphate but publicly disavows violence. Those threatened or convicted for possession of extremist material include civil society members, journalists, and defense lawyers, and people whose only apparent crime is being a religious conservative. Since 2016, the government has mandated prison terms of three to five years for possession of such banned materials alone.

Several accused and their lawyers told us that counterterrorism police and state security agents planted evidence and demanded bribes to make cases go away, or in some cases beat suspects to extract confessions. In several cases that we documented, the authorities only declared the material in question extremist in nature after the suspects were arrested for possessing it.

Many of the accused are members of Kyrgyzstan’s ethnic Uzbek minority. Although government authorities adamantly deny targeting people by ethnicity or religious affiliation, several suspects and lawyers told us they believe this is the case. That perception is sowing distrust instead of uniting Kyrgyzstan’s people against armed threats.

“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,” an ethnic Uzbek man who was convicted in 2017 for possessing a magazine and three other pages of literature from Hizb ut-Tahrir, all several years old. Sukhrob said that the material was planted.

Under a new law that is to enter into force in January, the government will no longer criminalize mere possession of material it deems extremist, absent an intent to use it for violent ends. In meetings last week in Bishkek, government officials assured us that they are committed to carrying out this reform on schedule.

That is good news. But what of the hundreds of people arrested for possession since Kyrgyzstan approved this scheduled change back in December 2016? The Prosecutor General’s Office said it does not intend to review previous charges or convictions for possession, absent a petition from each defendant. That places an unfair burden on the accused. Equally worrisome, the planned reforms will not amend Kyrgyzstan’s definition of extremism, which includes “vandalism” and “affronts to national dignity.”

Narrowing the definition of extremism, reviewing all prosecutions based on mere possession of extremist material, and holding law enforcement officials to account for any abuses should be top priorities for Kyrgyzstan. Foreign donors – including UN agencies, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the European Union and its member states – should condition aid on such reforms.

Anything less is foolhardy. As the United Nations has repeatedly warned, abusive counterterrorism measures can fuel the narrative of extremist armed groups that demonize state authorities to gain recruits. Kyrgyzstan should focus on genuine threats, not throw people in jail for the videos they watch or the books they read.

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

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

© 2016 Ulan Asanaliev/RFE/RL

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: How Not to Fight Terrorism

Interview: How Not to Fight Terrorism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Methodology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Background

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

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

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

Religious Freedom

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

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

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

Ethnicity Issues

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

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

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

International Counterterrorism Cooperation

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Security Threats and Counterterrorism

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

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

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

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

Foreign Fighters

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Responses

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

Torture of Suspects

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

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

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

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

Banned Groups including Hizb ut-Tahrir

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

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

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

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

Extremist Watch List

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

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

Internet Restrictions

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

 

Criminalizing Possession of Extremist Material

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

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

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

No Intent Required

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insufficient Reforms

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

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

Overbroad Definition of Extremism

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

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

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

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

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

List of Proscribed Content

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

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

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

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

Problematic Screening of Material

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Arrests and Convictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Responses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affiliations of Suspects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planting Evidence

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

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

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

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

Family Videos

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

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

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

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

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

Evidence “Lost”

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

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

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

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

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

Mystery Book

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

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

Repeat Convictions

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

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

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

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

Extortion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Torture and Other Ill-Treatment

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

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

Alleged Torture to Force Confession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Blood All Over”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investigation Delays

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

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

Extortion with Beatings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abuse in pre-trial detention

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

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

Opportunistic Arrests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crackdowns on Critics, Human Rights Defenders

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

Journalist Convicted

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

Lawyer Convicted

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

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

Human Rights Publications Banned

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

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

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

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

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

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

Website Blocked

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

Sentenced for Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detained and Deported for investigating Kamalov case

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

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

Convicted for “Liking” Kamalov

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

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

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

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

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

Frozen Funds

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Immolation Threat

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

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

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

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

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

Barred from Sending, Receiving Money

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

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

Book from Mecca

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

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

Harassment of Suspects, Family Members

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential Backlash

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

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

 

Mandatory Prison Terms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prisons “Meet Requirements”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inadequate Medical Care

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

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

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

Open Toilets in Cells

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

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

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

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

Solitary Confinement

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

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

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

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

 

National and International Legal Standards

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

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

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

National Standards

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

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

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

International Standards

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

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

Principle of Legality

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

Freedom of Religion

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

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

Freedom of Expression

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

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

Article 19 of the ICCPR provides:

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

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

Freedom of Association

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

Prohibition Against Torture and Ill-Treatment

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

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

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

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

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

Fair Trials

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

 

Recommendations

To the Kyrgyz Republic

All Government Authorities in Kyrgyzstan

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

Prosecutor General and Ministry of Justice

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

Parliament and President

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

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

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

State Penitentiary Service (GSIN)

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

To Kyrgyzstan’s International Partners

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

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

 

Acknowledgments

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[36] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid., para. 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[75] Ibid., p. 10.

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

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

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

[79] Ibid., No. 6.

[80] Ibid., No. 3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[87] Copies on file with Human Rights Watch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[143] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[150] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[159] Ibid.

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

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

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

[163] Ibid.

[164] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

[170] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[180] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[191] Ibid., para. 4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[217] Ibid.

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

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

[220] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[229] ICCPR, art. 7.

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

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

[232] Ibid., rule 2.

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

[234] Ibid., rule 22.

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

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

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

[238] Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[248] Ibid., art. 22.

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

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

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

[252] Ibid., art. 18.

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

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

[255] ICCPR, art. 19.

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

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

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

[259] ICCPR, art. 22.

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

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

[262] Convention Against Torture, art. 1.

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

[264] ICCPR, art. 10.

[265] The Mandela Rules.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is being arrested?

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

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

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

What types of materials are considered extremist?

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

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

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

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© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Is there anything clearly not extremist on this list?

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

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

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

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

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

How serious is the problem of armed extremism in Kyrgyzstan?

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

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

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

© 2016 Ulan Asanaliev/RFE/RL

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

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

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

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

Does this crackdown focus on any particular ethnic group?

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

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

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

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

How did you do research for this report?

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

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

Did anybody’s story stick with you?

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

Why is this crackdown so disconcerting?

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018 Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lack of Interpreters

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

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

Lack of Adequate Legal Defense

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

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

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

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

Lack of Prosecutable Evidence; Use of Confessions

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

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

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

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

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

Orders for Rehabilitation

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

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

Double Jeopardy

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

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

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

 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Mosul’s Civil Status Directorate. 

© 2018 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arrests

“Karim,” another lawyer, said that in June he went to the Interior Ministry’s intelligence office in Shirqat, 90 kilometers south of Mosul, to obtain security clearance for three local families displaced to a camp:

An officer there looked at the files, checked their names against a database, and said they were “wanted.” He then said I was not allowed to leave the office – he would take me to a judge to arrest me for cooperating with ISIS. I called my boss and after about two hours of high-level interventions by a few individuals, the officer let me leave the office, but confiscated the families’ files. That whole time I was telling the officer I didn’t know these were ISIS families.

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am