Freedom House Condemns Criminal Prosecution of Kyrgyz Human Rights Defender | Freedom House

Freedom House Condemns Criminal Prosecution of Kyrgyz Human Rights Defender

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Freedom House today denounced the prosecution for libel of a human rights defender in Kyrgyzstan. Freedom House described the action against Mr. Maksim Kuleshov, the Kyrgyz human rights defender, as an attempt by authorities to limit his human rights activities, suppress his freedom of expression and discourage other citizens from filing complaints against the militia.

In December 2005, a militia department head in the city of Tokmok, Anarkul Koshokbaev, filed a "personal criminal case" for libel against Mr. Kuleshov, a prominent local human rights defender. Mr. Kuleshov's crime was having filed a complaint against a security service that had allegedly seized his property at a peaceful protest in Tokmok last month. 

"The prosecution for criminal libel by a senior security official will have a chilling effect on Krygyz citizens' exercise of their constitutional guarantee of free speech, especially when its content challenges the status quo," said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House.  "If someone can be charged for merely filing an official complaint in Kyrgyzstan, there can never be any real checks on those in power."

Mr. Kuleshov held a peaceful demonstration against torture in Kyrgyzstan earlier in December 2005 in Tokmok, of which the authorities were notified in advance. Local newspapers responded by reporting the existence of torture in the city's temporary detention facilities. 

Mr. Kuleshov and a witness claim that during the protest, militiamen and others in civilian clothes took the flashcard from Mr. Kuleshov's digital camera. Mr. Kuleshov then filed a complaint against the militia's actions with prosecutors, referring to the people who took his flashcard as an organized criminal group. In response, Mr. Koshokbaev brought an individual criminal complaint alleging libel against Mr. Kuleshov. 

"Mr. Kuleshov's charges demonstrate once again that freedom of expression and human rights in general are still very limited in Kyrgyzstan," said Stuart Kahn, director of Freedom House in Kyrgyzstan. "Allegations of torture in Kyrgyzstan have been ongoing, and Mr. Kuleshov was ultimately taken to court simply for being an active and concerned citizen."

Mr. Kuleshov is a member of the Voice of Freedom, a Kyrgyz human rights group that is affiliated with Freedom House.

This year, Freedom House improved Kyrgyzstan's score for political rights and civil liberties in its annual survey, Freedom in the World, but noted that the country suffers from a serious lack of government transparency.

Freedom House, an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has monitored rights in Kyrgyzstan since independence in 1991, and has been working with human rights defenders in the country since 2002.

More background on Kyrgyzstan is available on the Freedom House website:

Freedom in the World 2005: Kyrgyzstan
Freedom of the Press 2005: Kyrgyzstan 
Countries at the Crossroads 2004: Kyrgyzstan
Nations in Transit 2005: Kyrgyzstan

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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