Internet freedom in Kyrgyzstan continued to decline during the coverage period, as the fallout from the political unrest following the October 2020 parliamentary elections brought on significant legal and constitutional changes. The government disrupted mobile internet access for hours in the country’s capital, Bishkek, during the election-related protests, where journalists also experienced physical attacks. Analysts expressed significant concern that the new constitution, which passed by an April 2021 referendum that independent observers characterized as lacking respect for rule of law, contained measures that threaten citizen’s rights to free of expression. Law enforcement officials retaliate against ordinary internet users who critique the president and other powerful political figures. Troll farms linked to former customs official Raimbek Matraimov, who was involved in a high-profile corruption scandal, played a significant role in manipulating the online information environment leading up to the October elections. Courts routinely block websites and content that allegedly incite hatred or are deemed “extremist.”
After two revolutions ousted authoritarian presidents in 2005 and 2010, Kyrygyzstan adopted a parliamentary form of government. However, several days of widespread political unrest, protests, prison breaks, and violence followed the October 2020 parliamentary elections, which were deeply impacted by fraud among powerful officials. The events surrounding the elections prompted Sooronbay Jeenbekov and Kubatbek Boronov to resign as president and prime minister, respectively, paving the way for nationalist politician Sadyr Japarov, who had been convicted of kidnapping but escaped custody during the postelection turmoil, to seize power and declare himself acting president and acting prime minister. Japarov resigned from both posts in November in order to qualify as a candidate in the January 2021 snap–presidential elections, which he won. He then called a referendum to form a new constitution, which was approved in an April 2021 poll that independent observer missions characterized as lacking credibility and respect for rule of law. Corruption is endemic in Kyrgyzstan’s public and private institutions, and the judiciary lacks any semblance of independence.
- During the protests over the results of the parliamentary election in October 2020, the government disrupted mobile internet access in Bishkek for a few hours (See A3), and online journalists faced physical attacks and online harassment (see C7).
- A number of former officials at the State Communications Agency (SCA) were detained or removed from their positions in February and March 2021 for selling radio frequencies well below market rate and for preventing smaller internet service providers from entering the market (see A4).
- In July 2020, the government restricted access to Change.org after a petition calling for the resignation of former president Jeenbekov was posted. Access to the website was restored in March 2021, when the supreme court overturned the initial ruling (see B1).
- Large-scale troll networks linked to former customs official Raimbek Matraimov were discovered to be supporting both former president Joonbekov and current president Japarov (see B5).
- The new constitution, passed by a referendum in April 2021 that Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers claimed lacked respect for rule of law, includes measures that threaten free expression and inhibit the independence of the judiciary (see C1).
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||3.003 6.006|
Access to the internet declined during the coverage period: as of 2019, the overall penetration rate reached 82 percent, according to State Communication Agency (SCA) statistics.1 As of January 2021, the SCA claimed there were approximately 5.5 million internet users out of a population of 6.6 million: 5.28 percent less than in 2019. However, the reliability of the SCA’s data on internet penetration rates has been called into question by some analysts; the agency’s data on the number of internet users comes from service providers.
In 2019, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reported Kyrgyzstan had 4.5 fixed broadband prescriptions per 100 inhabitants.2 Kyrgyzstan’s 2020 active mobile penetration rate, estimated at 112 percent by the SCA,3 was lower than last year’s active mobile penetration rate of 118.8.4 Third-generation (3G) technology for mobile networks is available to much of the country. Fourth-generation (4G) services continued to expand during the coverage period, with one operator, Nur Telecom, claiming in January 2020 that its 4G network reached 97 percent of the population.5 Fifth-generation (5G) technology has yet to be adopted.
Despite being more readily available, mobile internet connections are slower and of lower quality than fixed ones. According to March 2021 data from Ookla’s Speedtest, the average download speed on mobile internet connections was just 20.60 megabits per second (Mbps), compared to 46.88 Mbps on fixed-line connections.6 Kyrgyzstan lags behind neighboring Kazakhstan in terms of average speeds, but compares favorably to other Central Asian countries.
In 2018, the Digital Central Asia and South Asia (CASA)–Kyrgyz Republic project came into effect.7 Funded by the World Bank, the ongoing project aims to provide 60 percent of the population with broadband internet via nearly 400 miles of fiber-optic cables in five years.
Internet connections in rural areas rely on vulnerable infrastructure from the state-owned internet service provider (ISP), KyrgyzTelecom. In March 2019, the Issyk-Kul region was disconnected for 13 hours after a KyrgyzTelecom fiber-optic cable was intentionally damaged.8
- 1. State Communication Agency, “Отчет о деятельности за 2020 год [Report on Performance for 2020],” 2020, http://nas.gov.kg/media/attachments/%D0%9E%D1%82%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%82_%D0%….
- 2. “Fixed Broadband Subscriptions per 100 inhabitants,” ITU World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators 2020 Database, August 2021, https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx
- 3. State Communication Agency, “Отчет о деятельности за 2020 год [Report on Performance for 2020],” 2020, http://nas.gov.kg/media/attachments/%D0%9E%D1%82%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%82_%D0%….
- 4. State Communication Agency, “Отчет о деятельности за 2019 год [Report on Performance for 2019],” 2019, https://nas.gov.kg/media/attachments/%D0%9E%D1%82%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%82%D0%….
- 5. “O! surpasses 97% LTE network coverage,” CommsUpdate, January 31, 2020, https://www.commsupdate.com/articles/2020/01/31/o-surpasses-97-lte-netw….
- 6. Speedtest, “Speedtest Global Index,” https://web.archive.org/web/20210418110757/https://www.speedtest.net/gl….
- 7. State Committee for Information Technologies and Communications of the Kyrgyz Republic, “Проект «Digital CASA – Кыргызская Республика» [Project ‘Digital CASA – Kyrgyz Republic’],” March 1, 2018, http://www.ict.gov.kg/index.php?r=site%2Fpress&pid=58&cid=1.
- 8. “Преднамеренное повреждение линии злоумышленниками, привело к аварии сети [Intentional damage of the cable by adversaries led to the network failure],” KyrgyzTelecom, March 1, 2019, http://kt.kg/news/?ELEMENT_ID=3434.
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||2.002 3.003|
In recent years, the average price of an internet connection has decreased, becoming more affordable for much of the population, though fixed broadband prices remain steep. Prices offered by ISPs in Bishkek, the capital, where the information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure is well-developed and competition is greater, are lower than in rural areas. Additionally, the quality of connection is better in Bishkek than in rural areas, where the majority of the population lives.1
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a 5 gigabytes (GB) fixed broadband subscription cost 8.2 percent of gross national income (GNI) per capita in 2019, while a monthly mobile broadband plan offering 1.5 GB of data cost just 2.8 percent of GNI per capita.2 The monthly price of a 3 Mbps fixed broadband subscription in Bishkek was 513 soms ($6.04) in 2021, which is affordable for much of the population and represents a decrease from the 2020 price.3 The monthly price for the same subscription in the rural Batken region was 614 soms ($7.24).4
The development of mobile networks increasingly provides a viable alternative to fixed-line broadband internet connections. According to 2021 research by the UK-based company Cable, Kyrgyzstan has the second-least expensive mobile data rates in the world, with the price for 1 GB of mobile data averaging $0.15.5
In March 2020, as COVID-19 began to spread in Kyrgyzstan, the government requested that service providers refrain from disconnecting subscribers who could not pay their bills for three months. Reportedly, not all companies heeded this request.6 Many service providers did give their subscribers zero-rated access to official and educational resources during the pandemic.7
The World Bank has observed digital divides in terms of geography, gender, and language (most online content is in Russian) in Kyrgyzstan.8 Ongoing access issues were laid bare by the pandemic. Many schoolchildren could not participate in distance learning programs because they could not reliably access the internet or did not own internet-enabled devices such as smartphones—meaning that they were effectively excluded from the education system.9 In May 2020, the Ministry of Education and Science announced that 30,000 students did not have smartphones and therefore could not communicate with their teachers.10
- 1. “Rural population (% of total population),” The World Bank, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.RUR.TOTL.ZS.
- 2. ITU Publications, “Price Statistics,” 2021, https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/publications/prices20….
- 3. “Тарифные План- г. Бишкек [Tariff Plans-Bishkek City],” Jet, http://jet.kg/jet/internet/rates/bishkek/.
- 4. “Тарифные План- г. Баткен [Tariff Plans-Batken Region],” Jet, http://jet.kg/jet/internet/rates/batken/.
- 5. “Worldwide mobile data pricing: The cost of 1GB of mobile data in 228 countries,” Cable.co.uk, https://www.cable.co.uk/mobiles/worldwide-data-pricing/.
- 6. Bakyt Smailov, “Будет ли бесплатный интернет — о двоякой ситуации в отрасли [Will there be free internet - about a twofold situation in the industry ],” Sputnik, April 3, 20120, https://ru.sputnik.kg/society/20200403/1047697595/internet-oplata-otsro….
- 7. “Beeline информирует об изменении срока действия бесплатного доступа на образовательные каналы и сайты [Beeline informs about the change in the validity period of free access to educational channels and websites],” Beeline, https://beeline.kg/ru/events/actions/beeline-informiruet-ob-izmenenii-s….
- 8. “Project Appraisal Document On A Proposed Credit,” World Bank, February 27, 2018, http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/233891521770539859/pdf/Kyrgyz….
- 9. Ajzhamal Dzhamankulova, “Образование не для всех: Как в Кыргызстане из-за пандемии впервые массово ввели онлайн-обучение для школьников и что пошло не так? [Education is not for everyone: How was online education for schoolchildren massively introduced in Kyrgyzstan because of the pandemic, and what went wrong?],” Kloop, August 8, 2020, https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/08/08/obrazovanie-ne-dlya-vseh-kak-v-kyrgyzs….
- 10. Zhazgul Masalieva, “Дистанционное обучение. У 30 тысяч школьников нет смартфонов для обратной связи [Distance learning. 30 thousand schoolchildren do not have smartphones for feedback],” 24.kg, May 15, 2020, https://24.kg/vlast/152868_distantsionnoe_obuchenie_u30tyisyach_shkolni….
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||4.004 6.006|
The government periodically attempts to increase its control over the internet. Using security or economic issues as pretexts, officials or members of Parliament sometimes call for the centralization of the country’s internet infrastructure. Their initiatives seldom gain traction.
To connect to the international internet, ISPs are not required to use government-owned channels, though getting their own channel can be challenging, as it requires permission from the Border Control Service. Kyrgyzstan’s 10 major ISPs operate international internet connections via Kazakhstan and China. In the past, websites blocked in Kazakhstan1 and Russia (Kazakhstan connects to the international internet through Russia) were also blocked in Kyrgyzstan, though these issues have not been reported recently. Chinese filtering does not affect access to web content in Kyrgyzstan.
For a few hours during the October 2020 protests, which led to former president Sooronbay Jeenbekov’s resignation, mobile internet was shut down in the center of Bishkek where clashes between protestors and security forces occurred. All three main mobile operators blamed technical problems and a network overload for the disruptions on October 5 and 6, denying that they had received any orders from the government.2
There are three internet exchange points (IXPs) in Kyrgyzstan: two managed by a telecommunications industry group, the Association of Telecommunications Operators,3 as well as one controlled by the Kyrgyzstani branch of the Internet Society (ISOC).4
- 1. “Кыргызстан отрезал доступ к популярному блог-порталу LiveJournal [Kyrgyzstan blocked access to the popular blog-portal LiveJournal],” Centrasia, October 18, 2008, https://centrasia.org/newsA.php?st=1224309420
- 2. В Бишкеке не работает сотовая связь. Операторы объяснили, почему. [Mobile communications don’t work in Bishkek. Mobile operators explained why.] Sputnik. October 6, 2020 https://ru.sputnik.kg/society/20201006/1049888349/V-Bishkeke-ne-rabotae….
- 3. Association of Telecommunications Operators, “Точка Обмена Трафиков [Traffic Exchange Point],” http://aoc.kg/ru/content/point.
- 4. “О нас [About Us],” Fergana Valley Internet Exchange Point, http://fvixp.isoc.kg/.
|Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?||3.003 6.006|
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 to reflect the impact that corruption, particularly around the sale of radio frequencies, has had on the diversity of the ICT sector.
Though there are no direct obstacles for ISPs and mobile service providers seeking to enter the market (besides getting licensed, a formality), they must still confront several indirect barriers. One is the high cost of building ICT infrastructure. Existing ISPs are not obligated to share their infrastructure, and there is no cap on the prices they can charge for renting out bandwidth. Another is the obligation to install surveillance equipment on all communications networks, which increases start-up costs (see C5).1
The telecommunications sector is relatively liberalized and competitive compared to other countries in the region; however, the state-owned KyrgyzTelecom remains the largest ISP, which had an estimated fixed broadband market share of about 60 percent in 2009, when the last study was conducted.2 There are nine other major ISPs, some of which have their own international internet channels and all of which are privately owned.
There are four mobile service providers offering mobile broadband: Beeline, Megacom, Nur Telecom (operating under the brand “O!”), and KT Mobile.3 Nur Telecom claims to be the leading operator in terms of market share.4 Megacom was nationalized in 2010 amid political upheaval.
In recent years, a wave of scandals concerning the SCA, telecommunications companies, and the sale of radio frequencies have come to light. In March 2021, the Association of Telecommunications Operators accused Azamat Dyikanbaev, the head of the SCA from June 2020 to May 2021, of impeding the work of smaller telecommunication operators by stopping their licenses or refusing to continue them. The “groundless refusals” led to the termination of 22 licenses, particularly in rural areas, and forced some of the companies to go bankrupt.5 In May 2021, Dyikanbaev, who had recently been appointed Minister of Digital Development, was arrested for extorting a foreign company that was leading a “Safe City” project (see A5).6
Also, in February 2021, Yevgeny Krazhan, the former general director of Beeline operator Sky Mobile LLC, was taken into pretrial detention for allegedly bribing to government officials in exchange for a cheaper license for radio frequencies. According to the Prosecutor General’s office, in 2016 the SCA reissued the radio frequency for a mere 1,000 soms ($11.79), when similar licenses had been sold for 298.8 million soms ($352,372). In December 2020, Azamat Arnaev, the head of the Department of Defense, Law Enforcement, and Emergencies was detained in connection to the illegal sale of radio frequencies.7
In May 2020, SCA director Natalia Chenogubova, two State Committee for National Security (SCNS) officers, a deputy from the television company AlaTV, and other regulatory officials were detained on corruption charges in connection with the allegedly illegal transfer of a radio frequency. In March 2020, Beeline had purchased AlaTV for $1.8 million, securing the company’s 200-megahertz (MHz) frequency, which was designated for television broadcasts. Beeline then repurposed that frequency for 4G services with the SCA’s approval. In the past, such frequencies had been auctioned off by the state for between $10 million and $25 million.8 Upon learning of the deal, lawmakers lamented the loss of state revenue and accused then–prime minister Mukhammedkaliy Abylgaziyev of complicity.9 While denying the charges, Abylgaziyev took a leave of absence in May 2020 and resigned the next month. Beeline also denied any wrongdoing. The head of the Association of Telecommunications Operators claimed the sale of the frequency was legal and questioned lawmakers’ assessments of lost revenue.10
In August 2019, mobile operator KT Mobile (a subsidiary of KyrgyzTelecom operating under the brand “Salam”), started offering services using Megacom’s infrastructure as a virtual operator.11 The company’s debut was preceded by a scandal involving the revelation that its executives (one of whom was former prime minister Abylgaziyev’s nephew) were drawing exorbitant salaries. Subsequently, the executives stepped down.12 As of December 2019, KT Mobile had just 1,200 active subscribers.13
There are no obstacles to providing free and open internet access through Wi-Fi hotspots.14
- 1. Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic, “Инструкция о порядке взаимодействия операторов электросвязи и операторов мобильной сотовой связи с государственными органами Кыргызской Республики, осуществляющими оперативно-розыскную деятельность [Instruction on cooperation of communication operators and mobile operators with state bodies of Kyrgyz Republic in operative investigative activities],” June 30, 2014, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/96622?cl=ru-ru.
- 2. Chuyoung Park, Andrey Yershov, and Alexey Kobzev, “ICT Infrastructure Co-Deployment with Transport and Energy Infrastructure in North and Central Asia,” United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, September 3, 2019, https://www.unescap.org/sites/default/files/ICT%20Infrastructure%20Co-D….
- 3. ”Обзор телеком рынка Кыргызстана: Фиксированная, мобильная и международная связь [Telecom Market Overview in Kyrgyzstan: Fixed, Mobile and International Communications,” Digital.Report, June 2, 2017, https://digital.report/kyirgyizstan-svyaz/.
- 4. “О компании [About the company],” О.kg, https://o.kg/ru/o-kompanii/istoriya-kompanii/.
- 5. "Страшно представить". Открытое письмо о возможном повышении главы ГАС Азамата Дыйканбаева [‘Scary to imagine:’ An open letter on the possible promotion of the head of the State Construction Agency Azamat Dyikanbaev],” Kaktus.media, March 26, 2021, https://kaktus.media/doc/434395_strashno_predstavit._otkrytoe_pismo_o_v….
- 6. “Deputy Chairman of Cabinet of Ministers detained for money extortion,” 24.kg, May 20, 2021, https://24.kg/english/194657_Deputy_Chairman_of_Cabinet_of_Ministers_de….
- 7. “Бывший гендиректор Beeline Евгений Кражан заключен под стражу в СИЗО ГКНБ на 2 месяца. [Former Beeline CEO Yevgeny Krazhan is detained in the SCNS pre-trial detention center for 2 months],” Kloop, February 4, 2021, https://kloop.kg/blog/2021/02/05/byvshij-gendirektor-beeline-evgenij-kr….
- 8. Catherine Putz, “Kyrgyz Prime Minister Steps Down Amid Telecom Scandal,” The Diplomat, June 17, 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/06/kyrgyz-prime-minister-steps-down-amid-t….
- 9. Bakyt Toregeldu uulu, “В КР разгорается новый коррупционный скандал. При чем тут премьер-министр? [A new corruption scandal flares up in the Kyrgyz Republic. What does the prime minister have to do with it?],” Kyrgyz Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, June 12, 2020, https://rus.azattyk.org/a/30624993.html.
- 10. “Оценка частот в миллиарды сомов не имеет никакого разумного основания — Куренкеев. [Estimation of the frequency cost to several billion doesn’t have reasonable base – Kurenkeev],” Akchabar May 29, 2020, https://www.akchabar.kg/ru/article/opinion/ocenka-chastot-v-milliardy-s….
- 11. “Сотовый оператор Salam продвигает тариф с бесплатными звонками на номера «Кыргызтелекома» [Mobile operator Salam promotes plan with free calls on KyrgyzTelecom numbers],” Economist.kg, October 21, 2019, https://economist.kg/2019/10/21/sotovyj-operator-salam-prodvigaet-tarif….
- 12. “В "КТ Мобайл" снова сменился директор. Им стал Мирлан Кубаталиев [The new director in “KT mobile” has changed again. It’s Mirlan Kubataliev],” Kaktus Media, February 3, 2020, https://kaktus.media/doc/405253_v_kt_mobayl_snova_smenilsia_direktor._i…
- 13. “У «КТ Мобайл» сегодня 1200 активных абонентов, это приравнено к нулю по нынешним меркам, - ФГИ ["KT Mobile” has 1200 active subscribers now, it’s practically zero for now – Fund of the State Estate],” Today.kg, December 19, 2019 “, https://today.kg/news/177782/.
- 14. State Communication Agency, “Положение о лицензировании деятельности по использованию радиочастотного спектра [Regulations on the licensing of activities on the use of the radio frequency spectrum],” https://world.nas.gov.kg/images/Poloj_RCHS-18.docx.
|Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?||1.001 4.004|
During the coverage period, the government created a new regulatory body. Historically, regulatory bodies that oversee service providers do not always operate in a free and fair manner.
In May 2021, after the new constitution was enacted (see C1), President Japarov signed the decree “On the Cabinet of Ministers in the Kyrgyz Republic,” which transformed the recently created State Service of the Digital Development into the Ministry of Digital Development and allowed the head of the ministry to serve as vice-prime minister in the new council of ministers.1 This change followed the February 2021 creation of State Service of the Digital Development, which assumed the functions previously performed by the State Committee of Information Technologies and Communication (SCITC)—created in 2016—and its subsidiary, the SCA.2
Azamat Dyikanbaev, the first Minister of Digital Development was arrested for extorting a Chinese company implementing a “Safe City” project just two weeks after his appointment in May 2021.3 Dastan Dogoev, who previously headed the SCITC, was appointed Minister of Digital Development after Dyikanbaev’s arrest.4
The precise mandate for the Ministry of the Digital Development remained unclear at the end of the coverage period. Previously, the SCITC’s responsibilities included developing ICT policy, governing the ICT sector, and facilitating the sector’s development. The committee also issued licenses for ISPs, set standards, and ensured those standards were followed. Committee heads from the private sector tended to push reforms forward, while those from a government background have been more resistant to change. Institutional memory has also been limited, as incoming SCITC heads usually changed all key staff.
- 1. “Садыр Жапаров преобразовал правительство в кабинет министров. Структура [Sadyr Japarov transformed the government into cabinet of Ministers. The structure],” Kaktus.media, May 5, 2021, https://kaktus.media/doc/437746_sadyr_japarov_preobrazoval_pravitelstvo….
- 2. The Government resolution, Feb 12, 2021, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/158019.
- 3. Адвокат: Азамата Дыйканбаева обвиняют в вымогательстве 2,6 млн сомов [Advocate: Azamat Dyikanbaev is accused in extortion 2.6 million som bribe],” Azattyk, May 21, 2021, https://rus.azattyk.org/a/advokat-azamata-dyykanbaeva-obvinyayut-v-vymo….
- 4. "Dastan Dogoev appointed Minister of Digital Development of Kyrgyzstan," 24.kg, May 21, 2021, https://24.kg/english/194743_Dastan_Dogoev_appointed_Minister_of_Digita….
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||4.004 6.006|
Authorities continued to engage in disproportionate and arbitrary blocking of online content during the coverage period, largely reflecting official concerns about extremism. The government and judiciary’s broad application of anti-extremism laws has impacted various websites hosting user-generated content. While popular social media platforms are freely accessible, the authorities are examining methods for censoring individual pages on these platforms.
As of May 2021, 77 websites, most of which offer MP3 and audio downloads, were blocked by a court decision, allegedly for hosting extremist content.1
In July 2020, Change.org, a website that hosts online petitions, was inaccessible for internet users of most ISPs including MegaCom, Beeline, Aknet, and Homeline, after a petition calling for the impeachment of former president Jeenbekov was posted.2 Though the website was blocked in July, the Oktyabrsky District Court did not officially order the blocking until September 2020, citing extremist content. In December 2020, the Media Policy Institute, representing the office of Change.org, filed a cassation appeal to the Supreme Court, which overturned the decision in March 2021.3
In 2019, authorities blocked more than 100 websites and 300 accounts on social media platforms for extremism or promoting drug use, according to the Prosecutor General’s office.4 A list of blocked websites maintained by the private ISP Megaline, however, includes some websites that do not seem to fit into the categories outlined by authorities, like video and audio hosting sites or the University of Pennsylvania’s online library.5
A series of court decisions in 2017 led to the blocking of several websites, including the music and podcast streaming platform SoundCloud, for hosting “extremist” content. The action against SoundCloud specified that all SoundCloud files—regardless of their authorship—could no longer be distributed or stored.6 A request for information submitted by the online news website Kloop revealed that the blocking request came from the prosecutor general’s office. The courts have ordered blocks on several subdomains of Blogger, LiveJournal, and WordPress; some ISPs that do not utilize deep packet inspection (DPI) technologies were forced to block all subdomains that share the blogs’ internet protocol (IP) addresses.7
Courts have also ordered the blocking of URLs that link to specific content on Facebook, the Russian social media platform Odnoklassniki (OK), Twitter, and YouTube.8 However, these orders were not carried out due to the technical challenges associated with blocking individual pages on social media platforms by URL.
Also in 2017, courts ordered the blocking of the Internet Archive and JustPaste.it in their entirety under an anti-extremism law. The Internet Archive, which offers access to billions of deleted webpages, was apparently blocked for allowing local users to bypass restrictions on extremist content normally inaccessible in the country. Some users speculated that the decision was related to a deleted article available on the site that criticized the award of a government contract to a Czech company.9 JustPaste.it is a widely used text publishing tool that inadvertently became popular with extremist movements as a means to spread propaganda.10 The website was still blocked as of May 2021, while the Internet Archive had been unblocked.
- 1. Megaline, “Список заблокированных ресурсов [List of blocked resources],” https://megaline.kg/klientam/zablokirovannyie-resursyi/,
- 2. “Change.org petition website blocked in Kyrgyzstan,” 24.kg, July 20, 2020, https://24.kg/english/159670__Changeorg_petition_website_blocked_in_Kyr….
- 3. “Сайт глобальной платформы Change.org разблокирован в Кыргызстане [The website of global platform change.org is unblocked in Kyrgyzstan],” Internews in KR, Mar 2, 2021, https://internews.kg/glavnye-novosti/sajt-globalnoj-platformy-change-or….
- 4. Gulmira Makanbai kyzy, “В Кыргызстане заблокировали более 100 сайтов и 300 аккаунтов в соцсетях [More than 100 websites and 300 accounts in social networks were blocked in Kyrgyzstan],” 24.kg, February 10, 2020, https://24.kg/obschestvo/143172_vkyirgyizstane_zablokirovali_bolee_100_….
- 5. Megaline, “Список заблокированных ресурсов [List of blocked resources],” https://megaline.kg/klientam/zablokirovannyie-resursyi/; The University of Pennsylvania’s online library, https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu
- 6. Eldiyar Arykbaev, “Суд в Кыргызстане признал экстремистским музыкальный сервис SoundCloud [Kyrgyz court finds SoundCloud music service extremist],” Kloop, May 11, 2018, https://kloop.kg/blog/2018/05/11/sud-v-kyrgyzstane-priznal-ekstremistsk…
- 7. Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic, “Список экстремистских материалов [List of extremist materials],” http://minjust.gov.kg/upload/files/2018-02-22/5ef8d6cbd9fc8e912a750413a…
- 8. Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic, “Список экстремистских материалов [List of extremist materials],” http://minjust.gov.kg/upload/files/2018-02-22/5ef8d6cbd9fc8e912a750413a…
- 9. “Kyrgyzstan blocks Archive.org on extremism grounds,” Global Voices, July 21, 2017, https://globalvoices.org/2017/07/21/kyrgyzstan-blocks-archive-org-on-ex…
- 10. Jacob Silverman, “Loose Tweets Sink Ships,” Politico, August 28, 2014, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/08/islamic-state-twitter-1…
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||2.002 4.004|
The government does not often force outlets to remove content, though it pressured social media users to remove content during the coverage period. The law does not oblige publishers or hosts to remove any content except for material that relates to extremism or terrorism. Journalists who work online have occasionally removed political content under threat of violence from unknown actors (see C7).
Law enforcement agencies have taken actions against citizens who joked about or critiqued former president Jeenbekov on social media, summoning them to their offices, or calling or visiting them with threats to initiate criminal cases and demands that they remove any offensive posts and apologize (see C7). In July 2020, comedian Nazgul Alymkulova posted a video where the president’s head was superimposed onto a famous rapper. She was interrogated and the video was removed from her page, which she alleged was due to someone hacking into her account.1
In July 2020, a migrant whose mother had recently died posted a video online criticizing the president. She later posted a video calling the president “Khan from God” and apologized for her initial post. Similarly, that same month, Eldiyar Zholdoshev posted a video criticizing the president’s response to the pandemic, later removing it after the Bishkek Main Directorate of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Internal Affairs summoned him to make a public apology, which he refused to do (see C3).2
Prior to the blocking of Change.org (see B1) in July 2020, users who posted the petition demanding the resignation of the president on social media also received visits from the police and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, demanding that they remove the content in question.3
In April 2020, a doctor was allegedly pressured by his employer to remove a Twitter post criticizing the quality of the personal protective equipment (PPE) issued to him amid the COVID-19 pandemic.4 He subsequently deleted his entire Twitter account, but not before being forced to post an apology. Other social media users who complained online about PPE or the response to COVID-19 pandemic in the country were reportedly visited by agents from the State Committee for National Security (SCNS) and warned “not to aggravate the situation.” In some cases, these users subsequently published public apologies that the SCNS insists were not forced.5
- 1. “Kyrgyzstan: Security services summon stand-up for questioning,” Eurasianet, July 16, 2020, https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-security-services-summon-stand-up-for…
- 2. “Тот, кого нельзя называть. Как кыргызстанцев преследуют за критику президента. [He who must not be named. How Kyrgyzstanis are persecuted for the president critics ],” August 1, 2020, http://media.kg/news/tot-kogo-nelzya-nazyvat-kak-kyrgyzstanczev-presled…
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. Ayday Irgebaeva,“Медик рассказал о плохих средствах защиты. Его заставили принести извинения [The medic spoke about poor protective equipment. He was forced to apologize],” Kloop, April 12, 2020, https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/04/12/medik-rasskazal-o-plohih-sredstvah-zas….
- 5. “The modern-day struggle sessions of Central Asia,” Eurasianet, June 25, 2020, https://eurasianet.org/the-modern-day-struggle-sessions-of-central-asia; “Учитель школы № 64: Сотрудники ГКНБ заставляли меня извиняться на камеру [Teacher of School No. 64: SCNS officers forced me to apologize on camera],” April 30, 2020, https://vesti.kg/proisshestviya/item/71085-uchitel-shkoly-64-sotrudniki….
- 6. Facebook, “Transparency Report: Kyrgyzstan Jan – Jun 2019,” https://transparency.fb.com/data/content-restrictions/country/KG.
- 7. Google, “Transparency Report: Government requests to remove content – Kyrgyzstan” https://transparencyreport.google.com/government-removals/by-country/KG…
- 8. Twitter, “Transparency Report - Kyrgyzstan”, Accessed July 30, 2021, https://transparency.twitter.com/en/reports/countries/kg.html
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||2.002 4.004|
Court orders are often used to block websites and remove content in Kyrgyzstan. The courts justify blocking sites, such as the Internet Archive and SoundCloud, under Article 315 of the criminal code, which prohibits extremist materials. These are expansively defined under the Law on Countering Extremist Activity as anything that stokes “ideological, political, racial, national, or religious hatred or enmity.”1 The Prosecutor General’s office can also issue blocking and content removal requests to courts. The reasons for blocks are indicated in the court materials, which are only shared with the parties involved, not the public. Thus, in most cases, civil society cannot ascertain why a website was blocked and if the decision was proportional. Furthermore, the appeals process for challenging blocking orders is only open to the owner of the web resource being blocked or their official representative.
In August 2021, after the coverage period, president Japarov signed the Law on Protection from False Information, which poses threats to free expression and user privacy.2 In August 2020, former President Jeenbekov vetoed the Law on Information Manipulation, the predecessor to the new law. In May 2021, parliament established a reconciliation group to develop a new draft, 3 which became the Law on Protection from False Information. Though parliament initially failed to pass the new bill in June 2021, it passed in a second vote in July 2021 after the president hosted a number of lawmakers at his residence.4 The law enables individual or companies to file a complaint about false or defamatory information, which websites or social media platforms must remove within 24 hours. If the content is not removed, the individual or company who filed the complaint can then request the suspension of the website or the social media account that posted the information.5 The Cabinet of Ministers is tasked with establishing a procedure for these complaints, which is not outlined in the law.6
To facilitate this mandate, the law would de-anonymize website administrators and social media account holders (see C4)7 and require that service providers retain provide user’s real names to the government’s “single registry system” (see C6).8
In January 2020, political party Uluu Kyrgyzstan and local NGO Kyrgyz El announced the collection of 25,000 signatures in support of a bill regulating online content to protect children from harmful information.9 The draft was formally registered in Parliament in May 2020 but did not advance during the coverage period.10 The bill would subject putatively harmful online content containing obscene language, denying “family values,” and more, to “state control and examination,” to ensure that it is safe for children to consume. A comparison by FackCheck.kg found that, in many places, the bill is identical to comparable legislation already in effect in Russia.11 An earlier version of the bill was introduced in February 2019 and drew criticism from Adilet, which warned it could be used to violate freedom of expression.12
The Ministry of Justice’s official site, which hosts the official list of banned extremist and terrorist materials,13 contains outdated information and does not offer a full picture of website blocking. Compounding this lack of transparency, only a few ISPs, such as Megaline, publish lists of blocked sites and display a descriptive page when these sites are reached.
While ISPs are not directly liable for the content on their networks, they can lose their licenses if they fail to carry out a court order to block content.
- 1. “’We Live in Constant Fear’,” Human Rights Watch, September 17, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/09/17/we-live-constant-fear/possession-…
- 2. “Kyrgyz President Signs Controversial 'False Information' Bill Into Law,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty, August 24, 2021, https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyzstan-false-information-law/31425483.html.
- 3. ЖК образовал согласительную группу по проекту закона «О манипулировании информацией» [The parliament established a conciliation group on the draft ‘On Information Manipulation’],” Akipress, June 2, 2021, https://kg.akipress.org/news:1706951.
- 4. Human Rights Watch, “Kyrgyzstan: “False Information” Law Threatens Free Speech,” August 3, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/03/kyrgyzstan-false-information-law-th….
- 5. Christopher Schwartz, “Kyrgyzstan’s not so “wonderful” anti-disinformation law,” openDemocracy, June 29, 2020, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/kyrgyzstans-not-so-wonderful-anti-….
- 6. Committee to Project Journalists, “Kyrgyzstan parliament approves ‘false information’ bill,” August 10, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/08/kyrgyzstan-parliament-approves-false-informatio….
- 7. Committee to Project Journalists, “Kyrgyzstan parliament approves ‘false information’ bill,” August 10, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/08/kyrgyzstan-parliament-approves-false-informatio….
- 8. Human Rights Watch, “Kyrgyzstan: “False Information” Law Threatens Free Speech,” August 3, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/03/kyrgyzstan-false-information-law-th….
- 9. “Партия "верующих патриотов" собирает подписи за законопроект об ограничении Интернета [Party of “faithful patriots” is collecting signatures for the law on Internet restriction],” Kaktus Media, January 14, 2020, https://kaktus.media/doc/404092_partiia_veryushih_patriotov_sobiraet_po….
- 10. “О проекте Закона «О защите детей от информации, причиняющей вред их здоровью или развитию» [On the draft Law ‘On the Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health or Development’],” Parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic, http://kenesh.kg/ru/draftlaw/594026/show
- 11. Aizhamal Dzhamankulova, “Депутатка Гульшат Асылбаева предложила защищать детей от вредной информации. Законопроект скопирован с российского [Deputy Gulshat Asylbayeva proposed to protect children from harmful information. The bill was copied from the Russian],” Kloop, May 25, 2020, https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/05/25/deputatka-gulshat-asylbaeva-predlozhil….
- 12. “АНАЛИЗ концепции проекта Закона КР «О защите детей от информации, причиняющей вред их здоровью или развитию» [ANALYSIS the concept of the draft Law of the Kyrgyz Republic "On protecting children from information that is harmful to their health or development"],” Legal Clinic Adilet, March 19, 2019, http://www.adilet.kg/ru/news/full/368 .
- 13. Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic, “Экстремисттик материалдардын тизмеси [List of extremist materials],” http://minjust.gov.kg/ky/content/951 .
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||3.003 4.004|
Self-censorship exists online to a certain degree, primarily as a result of government restrictions on inciting hatred. All posts on online forums are strictly moderated to limit hateful content, and online journalists, bloggers, and everyday users generally try to avoid issues concerning ethnic relations. Other laws may increase self-censorship, such as those governing defamation. Amendments to the code of violations penalizing the dissemination of false information amid the COVID-19 pandemic (see C2) and the increase in forced content removals (see B2) could have chilling effects and increase self-censorship.
|Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?||2.002 4.004|
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because of the activity of troll networks linked to former customs official Raimbek Matraimov around the October 2020 elections.
Online platforms, such as forums and social networks, have been used to manipulate public opinion. Trolls hired by various actors influence online discussions by expressing favorable or unfavorable views on politicians and political issues. According to Oxford University researchers, political and private actors in Kyrgyzstan use fake Facebook accounts to promote narratives favorable to the accounts’ backers.1 Research by FactCheck.kg from July 2018 exposed a small-scale network of fake Facebook accounts supporting President Jeenbekov and another group supporting his rival, former president Atambayev.2
In October 2020, the non-profit news outlet openDemocracy revealed that they had stopped collaborating with investigative journalist Elnura Alkanova because of her links to Matraimov, which included her decision to run for parliament as part of Mekenim Kyrgyzstan, Matraimoiv’s party, and her role in running a troll network. The openDemocracy report demonstrated that she had led a network of trolls to create fake accounts; tarnish a joint investigation by Azattyk (an affiliate of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; RFE/RL), the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), and the investigative journalism site Kloop (see C3); and praise Matraimov. Previously, openDemocracy had nominated her for a $125,000 award, which she won.3
In the wake of the October 2020 election, the same network of Matramaiov-linked trolls, who had initially supported Sooronbay Jeenbekov’s candidacy for president and the Mekenim Kyrgyzstan party, began promoting Sadyr Japarov’s candidacy for president.4 An additional investigation by Kloop revealed that the same team continued to support Matraimov and president Japarov,5 with monthly salaries for individuals ranging from $100 to $3,000, depending on the activities they performed.6
In December 2020, Facebook reportedly removed a number of Facebook and Instagram accounts, groups, and pages that engaged in political activities in violation of their policy on coordinated inauthentic behavior. In one case, Facebook linked a network, which focused primarily on the 2020 parliamentary election and the 2021 snap presidential election, to a company called Media Center.7
Various online media outlets, some of which are owned by politicians or powerful business interests, are also used as tools of political influence. The television channel “September,” affiliated with opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev, came under pressure during Atambayev’s presidential term and ceased broadcasting in August 2017, becoming an online-only outlet.8 The television channel “April,” affiliated with Atambayev himself, came under pressure after Atambayev moved into the opposition. In August 2019, the government raided the offices of April—ostensibly in connection with a corruption probe into Atambayev—restricting journalists’ access to the studio and forcing them to broadcast exclusively over the internet.9
News outlets, including those that publish online, are sometimes given editorial guidance by their owners. According to the US State Department, in Kyrgyzstan, “some news outlets instructed their reporters not to report critically on certain politicians or government officials.”10 These instructions are at times the result of government pressure.
- 1. Samantha Bradshaw and Philip N. Howard, “The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation,” Project on Computational Propaganda, Oxford University, https://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/research/cybertroops2019/.
- 2. “Профессиональная фабрика троллей в Кыргызстане [Professional fabric of trolls in Kyrgyzstan],” Factcheck.kg, August 08, 2018, https://factcheck.kg/professionalnaya-fabrika-trollej-v-kyrgyzstane/.
- 3. “Questions over former journalist’s role in Kyrgyzstan’s customs scandal,” openDemocracy, October 2, 2020, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/questions-over-former-journalists-….
- 4. "Фабрика троллей" Матраимовых и Жээнбековых начала работать на Садыра Жапарова [Matraimov and Jeenbekov “Troll team” started to work on Sadyr Japarov ],” Kaktus.media, Oct 8, 2020, https://kaktus.media/doc/423035_fabrika_trolley_matraimovyh_i_jeenbekov….
- 5. “Матраимов и Жапаров. Когда на двоих одна "фабрика троллей [Matraimov and Japarov. Sharing one ‘troll’ team],” Kaktus.media, Feb 21, 2021, https://kaktus.media/doc/432331_matraimov_i_japarov._kogda_na_dvoih_odn….
- 6. “Пожарная команда власти»: как легко создать фабрику фейков в Кыргызстане [‘Fire brigade of power:’ creating troll team easily],” Kloop, December 31, 2020, https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/12/31/pozharnaya-komanda-vlasti-kak-legko-so….
- 7. “December 2020 coordinated inauthentic behavior report,” Facebook, December 2020, https://about.fb.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/December-2020-CIB-Repor….
- 8. Alexandra Titova, “«Сентябрь» будет вещать в интернете как «Жалбырак ТВ» [‘September’ will broadcast on the Internet as ‘Jalbyrak TV’],” Kloop, August 28, 2017, https://kloop.kg/blog/2017/08/28/sentyabr-budet-veshhat-v-internete-kak….
- 9. “Kyrgyzstan Urged To Protect Media Pluralism After Opposition TV's Closure,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, August 14, 2019, https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyzstan-urged-to-protect-media-pluralism-aft….
- 10. U.S. State Department, “2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Kyrgyz Republic” https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-prac…
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||2.002 3.003|
There are no regulations imposed by the government that negatively impact users’ or online media outlets’ ability to publish content online. Media outlets are not required to register with the government. However, according to the 2018 Media Sustainability Index by the International Research and Exchange Board (IREX), “government pressure skews the advertising market,” which was not especially large to begin with.1 A 2019 report from Central European University (CEU) noted that media outlets are seldom able to generate the appropriate cash flow to assure their independence. The CEU report singled out just four outlets that were financially vaible: Kloop.kg, financed mostly through grants and income generated from paid trainings for journalists; Kaktus.kg, with income from grants and advertisements; and 24.kg and Super.kg, both of which have an advertisement-based business model.2
- 1. IREX, “Media Sustainability Index 2018 – Kyrgyzstan” https://www.irex.org/sites/default/files/pdf/media-sustainability-index…
- 2. ”Media Influence Matrix: Kyrgyzstan,” Center for Media, Data and Society, Central European University, October 2019, https://cmds.ceu.edu/sites/cmcs.ceu.hu/files/attachment/basicpage/1622/…
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability?||3.003 4.004|
Recent research has demonstrated that the internet, and in particular social media platforms and messaging applications, have become an important source of alternative information for users.1 The main participants in online communities tend to encompass the wealthier, urban segments of the population who can afford consistent internet access (see A2). However, in October 2020 president Sadyr Japarov, a former convicted kidnapper,2 used social media to appeal to the Kyrgyz-speaking rural audience and project an image of himself as a national patriot and savior of the nation.3 Massive troll farms (B5) also provide a biased perspective on social media (see B5).
- 1. “Online News Consumption in Central Asia,” Institute for War and Peace Reporting Central Asia, 2019, https://school.cabar.asia/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/web_research_eng.p…
- 2. “A Convicted Kidnapper Is Chosen to Lead Government of Kyrgyzstan,” The New York Times. Oct 15, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/10/world/asia/kidnapper-kyrgyzstan-prim….
- 3. “How Kyrgyz social media backed an imprisoned politician’s meteoric rise to power,” oDR, Oct 15,2020, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/how-kyrgyz-social-media-backed-an-….
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||5.005 6.006|
Digital activism remains limited in Kyrgyzstan, despite the availability of online mobilization tools. The government does not place any restrictions on these tools or their use.
In April 2021, several hundred activists gathered in front of the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Bishkek. The crowd was protesting the police’s inability to apprehend the individuals who kidnapped Aizada Kanatbekov earlier in the month; she was found murdered by suffocation two days after the protest. Even though the kidnapping was recorded on Bishkek’s “Safe City” cameras and the police received several calls from the woman, law enforcement took no action, ostensibly because kidnapping for marriage—ala kachuu in Kyrgyz—was considered a national tradition. News of the murder spread across social media and led to a spontaneous rally the next day demanding that the police and Ministry of Internal Affairs be held accountable, that the practice of ala kachuu be prosecuted, and that authorities take steps to better protect women’s rights.1 Two days after the protests, the heads of the city and regional police department were fired and several police officers were punished.2
In November 2020, hundreds of people gathered at a rally in Bishkek to protest the proposed constitution, which they decried as a move towards authoritarianism.3 The rally was organized and led by the youth movement Bashtan Bashta, which continued the rallies under the slogan “For legitimacy!” every Sunday for several months leading up to a constitutional referendum (see C1).4
During the October 2020 protests over vote rigging in the parliamentary elections, the government restricted access to the internet (see A3).
- 1. “Что требуют участники митинга "Остановите фемицид"? Резолюция [What do participants of rally “Stop femicide” demand? Resolution],” Kaktus.media, April 8,2021, https://kaktus.media/doc/435330_chto_trebyut_ychastniki_mitinga_ostanov….
- 2. “Убийство Айзады Канатбековой: Наказаны 44 сотрудника милиции, ряд начальников уволен [Murder of Aizada Kanatbekova: 44 police officers were punished, several chiefs fired],” Azattyk, April 10, 2021, https://rus.azattyk.org/a/31196382.html.
- 3. Ayzirek Imanaliyeva, “Kyrgyzstan: Hundreds rally against constitutional tinkering,” Euarasia.net, November 22, 2020, https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-hundreds-rally-against-constitutional….
- 4. “В Бишкеке прошел очередной марш, организованный движением «Баштан башта» [Recurrent rally organized by the movement ‘Bashtan bashta’ occurred in Bishkek],” Azattyk, March 28, 2021, https://rus.azattyk.org/a/31173598.html.
|Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence?||2.002 6.006|
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because measures in the new constitution threaten freedom of expression and further diminish the independence of the judiciary.
The constitutional reforms initiated by President Japarov posed new threats to freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary.
On April 10, 2021, voters approved the referendum for a new constitution, which concentrated power in the hands of the president. A joint opinion from the Venice Commission and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) highlighted issues with the process of drafting the constitution, including the limited opportunity for public consultation and the general “lack of respect for the principles of rule of law and legality.”1
The constitution, adopted in May 2021, includes vague definitions that could negatively impact freedom of speech. For example, Article 10 on mass media mentions that activities that contradict the “moral and ethical values and public consciousness of the people of the Kyrgyz Republic” may be restricted by law to protect the younger generation; this could lead to increased censorship of media outlets and individuals.2
Additionally, the law gives the president power to strip immunity of members of Parliament and appoint judges. The Venice Commission and OSCE’s report stresses that Article 70 of the constitution gives the president the authority to appoint judges “all the way down to the local level.”3 Corruption among judges, who are generally underpaid, is already widespread, hindering the fairness of decisions in freedom of expression cases and other litigation. In March 2018, a group of activists, lawyers, and human rights defenders began to compile a list of judges they believed to be corrupt or biased, working with people who claimed to have been victimized by biased rulings and judicial corruption.4
Article 32 of the constitution guarantees the right to freedom of thought, expression, speech, and the press.5 Article 29 protects privacy, including private communications shared by phone or electronic methods, and forbids the collection or dissemination of confidential information without the subject’s consent.6
The government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic only exempted journalists working for state-run outlets from strict quarantine measures.7
- 1. The Venice Commission, “Kyrgyzstan - Joint Opinion of the OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission on the Draft Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic adopted by the Venice Commission at its 126th Plenary Session (online, 19-20 March 2021),” March 19, 2021, https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-….
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. Kubanychbek Zholdoshev, Farangis Najibullah, “Kyrgyz Activists Name and Shame ‘Corrupt’ Judges,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 8, 2018, https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyz-corrupt-judges-activists-rally-name-sham….
- 5. “Kyrgyzstan - Draft law on the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic,” Venice Commission, February 23, 2021, https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-REF(2021)017-e.
- 6. Ibid.
- 7. Asel Sultan, “Central Asian Media Struggles with Covid-19 Quarantine,” Institute for War and Peace Reporting, April 14, 2020, https://iwpr.net/global-voices/central-asian-media-struggles-covid-19.
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||2.002 4.004|
There are several vaguely defined laws used to penalize legitimate online activities.
In January 2021, the Ministry of Internal Affairs proposed amendments to Criminal and Criminal Procedural Codes that would classify the incitement of “political enmity” as well as “national, ethnic, or racial enmity” as “extremist.” According to Human Rights Watch, the amendment could provide opportunities for the prosecution of government critics and substantially restrict rights for freedom of expression.1 The amendment passed the first reading in Parliament in April 2021, but after surge of criticism, it was excluded during the second reading in May.2
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the parliament amended the code of violations in April 2020 to introduce fines for disseminating false information “aimed at violating the rule of law, or actions that violate public order and peace of individuals” during a state of emergency or when martial law has been declared.3
In October 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecutor general’s office must obtain the approval of the president before filing lawsuits in defense of their “honor and dignity.” The ruling further required that such defamation lawsuits must only seek nonpecuniary damages.4 The ruling followed a series of defamation lawsuits filed by the prosecutor general’s office in 2017 against media outlet Zanoza for libeling then-president Atambayev in articles that compared him to well-known authoritarian rulers and implied that he was corrupt.5 The suits resulted in a fine of 12 million soms ($141,500) against Zanoza and the court-ordered removal of the allegedly defamatory articles.6
In April 2018, following criticism from journalists, parliamentarian Dastan Bekeshev withdrew legislative amendments to the civil code first introduced in 2017, which would have mandated fines of 20,000 soms ($236) or more for online content deemed to discredit a citizen’s “honor,” “dignity,” or “business reputation.”7 In 2011, the parliament decriminalized libel, aligning the law with the 2010 constitution.8 Defamation is only a criminal offense in cases of insult against judges and other participants in legal proceedings or desecration of the state, state symbols, and state institutions.9
The criminal code, which entered force in January 2019, outlaws inciting ethnic, national, racial, religious, or interregional hostility (Article 313, previously Article 299-1) and provides for prison terms of five to ten years for violators.10 The code also punishes the possession of “extremist materials” with the intent to distribute (Article 315, previously Article 299-2) with up to five years in prison.11 Previously, possession of “extremist materials” was illegal regardless of intent. Critics have long argued that these provisions are vulnerable to abuse. In some cases, the government has sought to apply these antiextremism laws to restrict nonviolent political speech.
Several laws also impose disproportionate restrictions on freedom of expression. Notably, the Law on Countering Extremist Activities, last amended in 2016,12 criminalizes public expressions of approval of and justification for extremism or terrorism, raising concerns about possible restrictions on legitimate expression online. The law also defines the scope of extremist materials that Article 315 (previously, Article 299-2) of the criminal code prohibits.13
Under a 2014 amendment to the criminal code, those found guilty of disseminating “knowingly false messages about the commission of crimes” faced steep fines and prison sentences of up to three years.14 In the 2019 criminal code, the maximum sentence under this provision, Article 344, was increased to five years.15 Even though, according to case law, this provision does not apply to mass media, the SCNS has nevertheless used it to harass online media outlets (see C3).16
- 1. “Kyrgyzstan: Proposed Legal Changes Threaten Political Dissent,” Human Rights Watch, May 3, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/03/kyrgyzstan-proposed-legal-changes-t….
- 2. Жогорку Кенеш убрал пункт о политической вражде — Никитенко. [Jogorku Kenesh excluded mention on political enmity - Nikitenko],” Kloop, May 29, 2021, https://kloop.kg/blog/2021/05/29/zhogorku-kenesh-ubral-punkt-o-politich….
- 3. “О внесении изменений в некоторые законодательные акты Кыргызской Республики (в Уголовный кодекс Кыргызской Республики, Кодекс Кыргызской Республики о проступках, Кодекс Кыргызской Республики о нарушениях)[ On amendments to some legislative acts of the Kyrgyz Republic (to the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic, the Code of the Kyrgyz Republic on misconduct, the Code of the Kyrgyz Republic on violations],” Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic, April 3, 2020, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/112024?cl=ru-ru.
- 4. Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Kyrgyz Republic, “Решение Конституционной палаты [Decision of the Constitutional Chamber],” October 17, 2018, http://constpalata.kg/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/82.-Dzholdoshalieva-B….
- 5. “Kyrgyzstan: Stop legislative harassment of Zanoza.kg and its journalists,” Article 19, August 21, 2017 https://www.article19.org/resources/kyrgyzstan-stop-legislative-harassm….
- 6. “Kyrgyzstan: Stop legislative harassment of Zanoza.kg and its journalists,” Article 19, August 21, 2017 https://www.article19.org/resources/kyrgyzstan-stop-legislative-harassm…, Julia Kostenko, “Zanoza has to pay another 6 million soms,” 24.kg, August 17, 2017, https://24.kg/english/60410_Zanoza_has_to_pay_another_6_million_soms_/.
- 7. “О проекте Закона «О внесении изменений в Гражданский кодекс Кыргызской Республики» [Bill on amendments into Civic Code of Kyrgyz Republic],” Parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic, http://www.kenesh.kg/ru/draftlaw/417220/show.
- 8. Rahat Keneshova, “Клевета - не преступление [Libel is not a crime],” Kyrgyz Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, July 22, 2011, https://rus.azattyk.org/a/24273615.html.
- 9. Scott Griffen, “Defamation and Insult Laws in the OSCE Region: A Comparative Study,” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, March 2017, https://www.osce.org/fom/303181?download=true.
- 10. Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic, “Уголовный кодекс Кыргызской Республики [Criminal Code of Kyrgyz Republic],” http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/111527?cl=ru-ru
- 11. Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic, “Уголовный кодекс Кыргызской Республики [Criminal Code of Kyrgyz Republic],” http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/111527?cl=ru-ru
- 12. Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic, “О внесении изменений в некоторые законодательные акты в сфере противодействия терроризму и экстремизму [On amendments to some legal acts in the sphere of countering terrorism and extremism],” August 2, 2016, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/111441
- 13. Catherine Putz, “Kyrgyzstan’s Problematic Extremist Materials Law,” The Diplomat, September 18, 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/09/kyrgyzstans-problematic-extremist-mater…
- 14. “Депутат ЖК инициировала закон, предусматривающего наказание за заведомо ложные обвинения, содержащихся в публичных выступлениях, публикуемых в СМИ [The deputy of JK initiated the bill, providing punishment for deliberately false accusation in public speeches published in mass-media],” Media Policy Institute, October 22, 2013, http://media.kg/news/deputat-zhk-iniciirovala-zakon-predusmatrivayushhe…; Article 19 and PEN International, “Joint Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review of Kyrgyzstan,” June 14, 2014, https://pen-international.org/app/uploads/PEN-international-Joint-Submi…
- 15. Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic, “Уголовный кодекс Кыргызской Республики [Criminal Code of Kyrgyz Republic],” http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/111527?cl=ru-ru
- 16. Evgeniya Mikhaylidi, “Статья, которой нет. ГКНБ вводит людей в заблуждение, отлавливая их за «заведомо ложные сообщения» [An article that does not exist. GKNB misleads people by catching them for "knowingly false messages"],” Kloop, April 16, 2020, https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/04/16/stati-kotoroj-net-gknb-vvodit-lyudej-v…
|Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||2.002 6.006|
Users continued to face civil or criminal penalties for protected online expression during the coverage period.
In April 2021, doctoral candidate Gulzat Aalieva was detained for a Facebook post that allegedly incited “interreligious enmity.” Aalieva practices Tengrism, a Turko-Mongolic religion, and the authorities claimed she criticized Islam in her posts.1 On April 23, she was released under house arrest but was prohibited from using Facebook and leaving the city for two months.2
In February 2021, the Bishkek city court upheld a decision of the lower court to sentence Kamran Shenvari, an Afghan refugee who had lived in Kyrgyzstan for 15 years, to 5 years imprisonment for violating Article 313 of the criminal code in a Facebook comment, which allegedly incited national hatred. His lawyer and media experts have argued that the account—which posted in Russian, a language Shenvari does not write—does not belong to him, although it uses his name and picture.3 In May 2021, the Supreme Court reduced the sentence from imprisonment to a fine of 300,000 soms ($3,538).4
In March 2021, the public prosecutor withdrew charges against popular blogger Elmir Sydymanov, alias Sydman, who had been arrested in February 2020 for inciting national hatred under Article 313 of the criminal code. In a video on his Instagram page, he had stated that he disliked people from the southern regions of Kyrgyzstan, which he called underdeveloped. Experts from the Media Policy Institute did not consider his words to rise to the level of inciting national hatred,5 but he was nevertheless detained for ten days before being released under house arrest.6 State prosecutors were seeking a six-year prison term in his case. The prosecutor withdrew the video due a lack of corpus delicti, after experts stated the video did not actually constitute “inciting national hatred.”7
In February 2021, SCNS officers searched the house of the blogger Yuliya Barabina and two staffers working for Abdil Segizbayev, a presidential candidate. Barabina had criticized the political establishment on her Facebook page, pravdorub.kg. The SCNS seized personal belongings, digital media, and money, and then interrogated Barabina and the two staff members. The court ordered the search based on complaints about posts and comments published on her page that had allegedly incited national and religious hatred and violence. Following this incident, Barabina fled the country.8
In August 2020, the Kyrgyz authorities extradited Uzbek blogger Bobomurod Abdullayev, who has regularly criticized the Uzbek government to Uzbekistan, even though activists warned he could be tortured.9 After arriving in Uzbekistan, Abdullayev was eventually released at the end of the month.10 During his detention in Kyrgyzstan, Abdullayev alleged he was tortured by the authorities (see C7).11
In July 2020, law enforcement officials detained several people who criticized former president Jeenbekov online and attempted to force them to delete their comments (see B2). First, the SCNS questioned comedian Nazgul Alymkulova after she posted a video with the president’s head superimposed on a famous rapper’s body. 12 Police also detained Argen Baktybek, the administrator of the Facebook group “Memestan,” because they claimed he facilitated “the dissemination of information that demeans the authorities.”13 The SCNS later questioned Eldiyar Zholdosev after he published a video criticizing former president Jeenbekov’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.14
In April and March 2020, the SCNS detained dozens around the country for knowingly spreading false information online about COVID-19.15 In some cases, users were arrested under Article 334 of the criminal code, although local civil society organizations raised doubts about the legal applicability of this provision to COVID-19-related mis- and disinformation.16 However, the NGO Adilet observed that, “as a rule, citizens are warned of criminal liability for disseminating false information” without authorities specifying which article of the criminal code they had violated.17
In March 2020, the SCNS opened a case under Article 344 of the criminal code against internet news agency The Asia Times, which published information about two people who had died of COVID-19—information the SCSNS asserted was untrue.18 In 2015, the Supreme Court had ruled that Article 344 did not apply to mass media.19 How the SNCS can pursue legal action was unclear.
In December 2019, former customs official Raimbek Matraimov (see B5) filed a defamation suit against media outlets 24.kg, Kloop, and Radio Azattyk, as well as Radio Azattyk reporter Ali Toktakunov. Kloop, the OCCRP, and Radio Azattyk had published an investigation alleging that Matraimov was involved in laundering $700 million, which 24.kg republished. Matriamov sought 15 million soms ($176,900) in damages from 24.kg, 12.5 million soms ($147,400) from Kloop, 22 million soms ($259,400) from Radio Azattyk, and 10 million soms ($117,900) from Toktakunov. The defendants’ bank accounts were frozen when he lodged his suit.20 Under pressure from civil society, Matraimovs’ lawyers later asked the court to unfreeze the defendants’ bank accounts while leaving the original suit intact.21 The punitive damages sought by the proceedings attracted controversy on their own, leading the OSCE representative on freedom of the media22 and the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee23 to publicly express concern. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused both the OSCE and the US of meddling in Kyrgyzstan’s domestic sphere.24 In January 2020, 24.kg published an article stating that it could not prove that Matraimov was linked to the alleged money laundering scheme, after which Matraimovs’ lawyers dropped the suit against the outlet.25
- 1. В Бишкеке задержали ученую, критиковавшую муфтият и его руководителей. [The scientist criticized muftiate and its heads was detained in Bishkek], Mediazona.ca, April 22, 2021, https://mediazona.ca/news/2021/04/22/aalieva
- 2. “Гульзат Аалиева отпущена под домашний арест. Ей запретили пользоваться Facebook. [Gulzat Aalieva was released under house arrest.She is prohibited to use Facebook ],” Elgezit, April 24, 2021, https://elgezit.kg/2021/04/24/gulzat-aalieva-otpushhena-pod-domashnij-a….
- 3. Медиаэксперты сомневаются в объективности суда по делу Шенвари. [Media experts have doubts in objectivity of the court In Shenwari case], 24.kg, February 19, 2021, https://24.kg/proisshestvija/184042_mediaekspertyi_somnevayutsya_vobyek….
- 4. Верховный суд изменил наказание Камрану Шенвари. Он получил штраф. [The Supreme court changed the punishment for Kamran Shenvari. He got a fine],” Kaktus.media, May 25, 2021, https://kaktus.media/doc/439056_verhovnyy_syd_izmenil_nakazanie_kamrany….
- 5. Darya Podolskaya, “Эксперты не нашли элементы разжигания розни в словах блогера Элмира Сыдымана [Experts didn’t find elements of incitement to hatred in the words of blogger Elmir Sydyman],” 24.kg, February 18, 2020, https://24.kg/obschestvo/143985_ekspertyi_nenashli_elementyi_razjiganiy….
- 6. Aizirek Imanalieva, “Блогера Sydyman отпустили под домашний арест [Blogger Sydyman was released under house arrest],” Kloop, February 28, 2020, https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/02/28/blogera-sydyman-otpustili-pod-domashni….
- 7. “Нет состава преступления. Гособвинение просит оправдать блогера Элмира Сыдымана. [No corpus delicti. Prosecutor asks to withdraw charges on Elmir Sydyman],” 24.kg, Mar 10, 2021, https://24.kg/obschestvo/185944_net_sostava_prestupleniya_gosobvinenie_….
- 8. "’Меня выдавили из страны.’ Блогер Юлия Барабина, у которой провели обыск, уехала из КР. [‘I was forced out of the country.’ Blogger Yuliya Barabina, who was searched, left the country],” Kaktus.media, Feb 15, 2021, https://kaktus.media/doc/431990_menia_vydavili_iz_strany._bloger_uliia_….
- 9. “Kyrgyzstan extradites journalist to Uzbekistan amid howls of protest,” Eurasianet, August 22, 2020. https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-extradites-journalist-to-uzbekistan-a….
- 10. Catherine Putz, “Abdullaev Extradited to Uzbekistan Then Released, Investigation Pending,” The Diplomat, August 24, 2020. https://thediplomat.com/2020/08/abdullaev-extradited-to-uzbekistan-then….
- 11. “Kyrgyzstan: SCNS officers tortured journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev,” Acca.Media, August 28, 2020, https://acca.media/en/kyrgyzstan-scns-officers-tortured-journalist-bobo….
- 12. “Тот, кого нельзя называть. Как кыргызстанцев преследуют за критику президента. [He who must not be named. How Kyrgyzstanis are persecuted for the president critics ],” August 1, 2020, http://media.kg/news/tot-kogo-nelzya-nazyvat-kak-kyrgyzstanczev-presled….
- 13. “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Kyrgyz Republic”, U.S State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor, March 30, 2021. https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-prac….
- 14. Тот, кого нельзя называть. Как кыргызстанцев преследуют за критику президента. [He who must not be named. How Kyrgyzstanis are persecuted for the criticizing the president],” Aug 1, 2020, http://media.kg/news/tot-kogo-nelzya-nazyvat-kak-kyrgyzstanczev-presled….
- 15. “15 people detained for spreading fake information on social media in Kyrgyzstan,” AKIpress, March 17, 2019, https://akipress.com/news:637354:15_people_detained_for_spreading_fake_….
- 16. “ИМП: Имеют ли право сотрудники правоохранительных органов распространять видео задержанных за «распространение ложной информации», которые раскаиваются и «извиняются перед народом»?[ IMP: Do law enforcement officers have the right to distribute videos of detainees for “disseminating false information” who repent and ‘apologize to the people?’],” Media Policy Institute, April 13, 2020, http://media.kg/news/imp-imeyut-li-pravo-sotrudiniki-pravoohranitelnyh-….
- 17. “Актуальные вопросы привлечения к ответственности за распространение фейков в условиях режима чрезвычайного положения [Topical issues of prosecution for the spread of fakes in a state of emergency],” Legal Clinic Adilet, April 1, 2020, http://www.adilet.kg/ru/news/full/407.
- 18. Gulmira Makanbai kyzy, “На The Asia Times заведено уголовное дело за распространение ложной информации. [Criminal prosecution started against The Asia Times for disseminating false information],” 24.kg, March 28, 2020, https://24.kg/obschestvo/148350_naThe_Asia_Times_zavedeno_ugolovnoe_del….
- 19. “О проверке конституционности Закона «О внесении изменений в некоторые законодательные акты КР» [On verification of the constitutionality of the Law "On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Kyrgyz Republic"],” Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Kyrgyz Republic, http://constpalata.kg/ru/press/russkij-o-proverke-konstitutsionnosti-za….
- 20. “Матраимовы подали в суд на «Азаттык» и другие СМИ иск на 60 млн сомов [Matraimovs filed a lawsuit against Azattyk and other media for 60 million soms],” Kyrgyz Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 12, 2019, https://rus.azattyk.org/a/30321784.html.
- 21. Aigul Kuvatova, “Матраимовы направили ходатайство об отмене ареста счетов СМИ [Matraimovs filed a petition to cancel the seizure of media bank accounts],” 24.kg, December 13, 2019, https://24.kg/obschestvo/137858_matraimovyi_napravili_hodataystvo_obotm….
- 22. “OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media highly concerned by disproportionate defamation claims against three media outlets in Kyrgyzstan,” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, December 13, 2019, https://www.osce.org/representative-on-freedom-of-media/442180.
- 23. “Комитет палаты представителей конгресса США прокомментировал иски братьев Матраимовых [The House of Representatives Committee of the US Congress commented on the claims of the Matraimov brothers],” Kaktus Media, December 13, 2019, https://kaktus.media/doc/402772_komitet_palaty_predstaviteley_kongressa….
- 24. “Комментарий МИД КР в ответ на заявление представителя ОБСЕ по вопросам СМИ А.Дезира [Commentary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic in response to the statement by the OSCE Representative on Mass Media A. Desir],” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic, December 14, 2019, https://mfa.gov.kg/ru/osnovnoe-menyu/press-sluzhba/novosti/kommentariy-…; “Заявление Министерства иностранных дел КР в ответ на комментарий Комитета Палаты представителей США [Statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic in response to the comment of the US House of Representatives Committee],” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic, December 14, 2019, https://mfa.gov.kg/ru/osnovnoe-menyu/press-sluzhba/novosti/zayavlenie-m….
- 25. Kamila Baimuratova, “Семья Матраимовых отозвала иск к 24.kg [Matraimov family withdrew claim against 24.kg news agency],” Kloop, January 27, 2020, https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/01/27/semya-matraimovyh-otozvala-isk-k-24-kg….
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||3.003 4.004|
New measures that came into effect after the coverage period place restrictions on anonymity. The Law On Protection from False Information, which the president signed in August 2021 (see B3), requires all website owners and social media account holders to publicly identify themselves by their names and email addresses. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are also required to record users’ names.1
In 2014, the government issued a new regulation requiring service providers to sell new SIM cards only after they have been registered, making it more difficult for individuals to use mobile devices anonymously. Previously, SIM cards had to be registered within a year of purchase.2
In June 2018, the SCITC submitted a bill that would register the serial numbers of mobile devices used in public discussion.3 The bill did not advance.
- 1. Committee to Project Journalists, “Kyrgyzstan parliament approves ‘false information’ bill,” August 10, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/08/kyrgyzstan-parliament-approves-false-informatio….
- 2. Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic, “Об утверждении Правил оказания услуг подвижной радиотелефонной связи [On approval of regulations of mobile telecommunication services],” http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/96097?cl=ru-ru#p1.
- 3. State Committee for Information Technologies and Communications of the Kyrgyz Republic, “Об утверждении Правил «Идентификации мобильных устройств связи на территории Кыргызской Республики» [On adoption of the rules ‘Mobile communication devices identification on the territory of Kyrgyz Republic’],” http://www.ict.gov.kg/index.php?r=site%2Fdoc&cid=12&did=100.
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||2.002 6.006|
State surveillance of internet activities often infringes on users’ right to privacy. The state’s surveillance apparatus is modeled after Russia’s System for Operational Investigative Activities (SORM). Every ISP and mobile service provider is obliged to install SORM-compliant equipment on their ICT infrastructure to allow the authorities unfettered access to internet traffic and subscribers’ information (see C6). If a provider does not comply, its license can be cancelled.
These requirements could enable mass surveillance without judicial oversight, and there has been evidence of abuse since they were implemented. For example, in 2016, telephone conversations between leaders of the opposition group the People’s Parliament were leaked online—conversations in which they were apparently plotting a coup; the individuals involved were subsequently arrested.1 Also in 2016, telephone conversations between other opposition figures discussing potential political upheaval were leaked. Those involved were accused of attempting to forcibly seize power.2
In September 2021, after the coverage period, the Ministry of Interior admitted to wiretapping a number of individuals in January and February 2021, allegedly for their roles in the October 2020 protests. However, the list of individuals also includes people who were not involved in the protests.3
In April 2020, authorities launched a contact-tracing app for people who tested positive for the coronavirus, though the app was removed from mobile stores after President Jeenbekov resigned in October 2020. The app, called STOP COVID-19 KG, was not mandatory for individuals to download, but Eurasianet reported that “many are being pressured into loading it on their phones.”4 In April 2020, a video appeared on YouTube showing an unidentified person accessing personal data collected by the app, raising serious privacy concerns.5 In August 2020, the government mandated that individuals traveling in cars or by land install the app on mobile phones.6
In early 2019, the SCITC began its “Safe City” project by installing video cameras on roads in Bishkek.7 The tender for this first phase was won by the Russian company Vega, which also supplies equipment to the Russian military and intelligence services. A Chinese company has also reportedly supplied facial recognition technology that can be utilized together with the existing video cameras.8 The data from Safe City cameras is not safe and secure. In December 2019, photos from these cameras that might have shown the former head of State Registry Service and his deputy spread across the internet.9 Two operators of the “Safe City” information system were fired.
In August 2020, the second phase of the “Safe City” project, implemented by Chinese company Shenzhen Sunwin Intelligent Co. Ltd, began, with the goal of setting up an additional 306 cameras in the capital and more rural regions.10 However, the contract expired in June 2021 and implementation at the time was far from complete. Additionally, several criminal cases related to the contract with Shenshen Sunwin, including the arrest of the former minister of digital development, were ongoing at the end of the coverage period (see A4 and A5).11
The parliament passed a personal data law in 2008 that provided for the establishment of an authority for personal data protection. In practice, however, the law has not been effectively implemented; the personal data protection authority has not yet been established. In 2017, new amendments to the 2008 law were passed to more effectively protect personal data.12
- 1. “В сеть слили переговоры якобы членов Народного парламента [Conversations between members of the People’s Parliament leaked online],” Kaktus Media, May 12, 2016, https://kaktus.media/doc/338066_v_set_slili_peregovory_iakoby_chlenov_n….
- 2. Anara Mamytova, “В сети появилась аудиозапись, где якобы оппозиционеры обсуждают формирование правительства в случае захвата власти [An audio record appeared in Internet of opposition leaders discussing seizure of power],” 24.kg, March 27, 2016, http://www.24.kg/obschestvo/29731_v_seti_poyavilas_audiozapis_gde_yakob….
- 3. Catherine Putz, “Kyrgyzstan Wiretapped Activists, Lawyers, MPs,” The Diplomat, September 2, 2021, https://thediplomat.com/2021/09/kyrgyzstan-wiretapped-activists-lawyers….
- 4. Ayzirek Imanaliyeva, “Kyrgyzstan’s coronavirus tracking app alarms privacy advocates,” Euroasianet, May 8, 2020, https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstans-coronavirus-tracking-app-alarms-priv….
- 5. Kamila Baimuratova, “Власти разработали приложение для отслеживания людей на карантине. Рассказываем, почему оно опасно [Authorities have developed an app to track people in quarantine. We tell you why it is dangerous],” Kloop, April 27, 2020, https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/04/27/vlasti-razrabotali-prilozhenie-dlya-ot….
- 6. “В Кыргызстане установили новые правила въезда в страну. [New rules were set to enter Kyrgyzstan],” Azattyk, August 10, 2020, https://rus.azattyk.org/a/30775777.html.
- 7. Julia Kostenko, “Safe City. Cameras installed at 25 points in Bishkek and Chui region,” 24.kg, April 5, 2019, https://24.kg/english/114006_Safe_City_Cameras_installed_at_25_points_i….
- 8. Niva Yau, “China taking Big Brother to Central Asia,” Eurasianet, September 6, 2019, https://eurasianet.org/china-taking-big-brother-to-central-asia.
- 9. “История скандального фото. Следствие по факту утечки данных продолжается [The story of scandalous photo. Investigation of data leak is in progress],” 24.kg, February 27, 2020, https://24.kg/obschestvo/144889_istoriya_skandalnogo_foto_sledstvie_pof….
- 10. “Китайская компания реализует второй этап "Безопасного города" в КР. [Chinese company implements the second phase of the ‘Safe City’],” Sputnik, August 24, 2020, https://ru.sputnik.kg/society/20200824/1049405911/bishkek-bezopasnyj-go….
- 11. Реализация второго этапа «Безопасного города» запаздывает [Implementation of the second phase of the ‘Safe City’ delays],” Azattyk, May 25,2021, https://rus.azattyk.org/a/realizatsiya-vtorogo-etapa-bezopasnogo-goroda….
- 12. Lorenz, “Changes to the Law of the Kyrgyz Republic “On Personal Information” http://www.lorenz-law.com/wp-content/uploads/Article%20on%20amendments%….
|Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy?||2.002 6.006|
By law, service providers are required to aid the government in monitoring users’ communications. In 2014, the government adopted a resolution requiring ISPs and mobile service providers to make their infrastructure compliant with the latest iteration of SORM (see C5).1 The resolution further requires providers to store subscribers’ metadata for up to three years and to allow authorities direct, real-time access to their communications networks without notification and oversight, even from prosecutors. In addition, ISPs must purchase and update equipment at their own expense to ensure compliance with SORM.
The much-criticized August 2021 Law on the Protection from False Information (see B3) would mandate that all ISPs and mobile service providers submit users’ real names to the government’s “single registry system.”2
- 1. Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic, “Инструкция о порядке взаимодействия операторов электросвязи и операторов мобильной сотовой связи с государственными органами Кыргызской Республики, осуществляющими оперативно-розыскную деятельность [Instruction on the procedure for interaction of telecommunication operators and mobile cellular operators with state bodies of the Kyrgyz Republic carrying out operational-search activities],” June 30, 2014, http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/96622?cl=ru-ru.
- 2. Human Rights Watch, “Kyrgyzstan: “False Information” Law Threatens Free Speech,” August 3, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/03/kyrgyzstan-false-information-law-th….
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities?||3.003 5.005|
ICT users, including online journalists, faced physical and digital attacks in the run-up to the October 2020 parliamentary election.
In October 2020, coverage of the parliamentary elections and subsequent protests led to an increase of attacks against journalists. In Osh, an unknown assailant attacked Khamidullo Uzakov, a video journalist who worked for the online media outlet Kloop, attempting to steal Uzakov’s camera and temporarily taking his mobile phone. In Talas, an unknown woman demanded that a Radio Azattyk journalist stop filming at a polling station and punched the camera. In both cases, the police did not intervene when the attacks occurred.1
During the clashes that followed the election, including the storming of the parliament on October 5 and 6, Internews recorded 20 attacks against journalists.2 In one case, security forces in Bishkek shot at Aibol Kozhomuratov, a correspondent with RFE/RL affiliate Current Time.3 In another case, Ruslan Kharizov, a reporter with news site 24.kg, had his phone taken by a police officer, who deleted the most recent recording on the device. A group of protestors also blocked Kharizov, Kloop crews, and other media personnel from entering the Dostuk hotel, where Parliament was convening an emergency session. Kloop’s team was also attacked while recording protests in front of the government house in Bishkek. Later, Eldos Kazybekov, an online journalist from broadcaster Vesti.kg, dodged a stone thrown at him by a police officer, who threw the object upon finding out that Kazybekov was a journalist.4
During the protests, news outlets also were targeted with harassment and intimidation. Kaktus.media, 24.kg, Radio Azattyk, and the Russian government-funded Sputnik Kyrgyzstan all reported receiving threats online and subsequently increased security around their offices. Additionally, protestors raided the office of Sputnik and demanded that they cover a rally in support of president Japarov.5
In August 2020, Bobomurod Abdullayev alleged the SCNS tortured him before extraditing him to Uzbekistan (see C3).6
In January 2020, Bolot Temirov, the editor-in-chief of FactCheck.kg, was attacked near his office and was violently beaten by three assailants, who took away Temirov’s phone. The assault happened just after Temirov had published a story about the lavish lifestyle of the Matraimov family (see C3).7 Five days later, police arrested four suspects.8 The investigation into Raimbek Matraimov overall generated a wave of pressure in Kyrgyzstan; 12 journalists who reported on the investigation (not all of whom live in Kyrgyzstan) faced some form of targeted harassment, including defamatory social media posts and threatening phone calls. Several RFE/RL editors were warned “that their close relatives in Kyrgyzstan should change their addresses.”9
Online hate speech toward feminists as well as LGBT+ people in Kyrgyzstan is commonplace.10
- 1. “Бьют журналистов. В Оше напали на журналиста «Клоопа», в Таласе — на журналистов «Азаттыка» [Journalists are under attack. In Osh ‘Kloop’ journalist was attacked and in Talas – ‘Azattyk’ one],” Kloop.kg, Oct 4, 2020, https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/10/04/byut-zhurnalistov-v-oshe-napali-na-zhu….
- 2. Во время беспорядков в Бишкеке зафиксировано 20 фактов нападения на журналистов. [During commotions in Bishkek 20 cases of journalists being attacked were registered], 24.kg, Oct 21, 2020, https://24.kg/proisshestvija/170137_vovremya_besporyadkov_vbishkeke_zaf….
- 3. “Journalists attacked, obstructed during and after parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan,” Committee to Protect Journalists, October 6, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/10/journalists-attacked-obstructed-during-and-afte….
- 4. Ibid.
- 5. “Journalists and media offices threatened, attacked in Kyrgyzstan as post-election unrest continues,” CPJ, Oct 15, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/10/journalists-and-media-offices-threatened-attack….
- 6. “Kyrgyzstan: SCNS officers tortured journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev,” Acca.Media, August 28, 2020, https://acca.media/en/kyrgyzstan-scns-officers-tortured-journalist-bobo….
- 7. “В центре Бишкека был избит журналист Болот Темиров [The journalist Bolot Temirov was beaten in the center of Bishkek],” Kyrgyz Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, January 9, 2020, https://rus.azattyk.org/a/30368403.html.
- 8. “Нападение на редактора Factcheck.kg. Милиция задержала четверых подозреваемых [Attack on Factcheck.kg editor. Police arrested four suspected],” 24.kg, January 14, 2020, https://24.kg/obschestvo/140399_napadenie_naredaktora_Factcheckkg_milit….
- 9. “RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service investigative reporter receives death threat,” U.S. Agency for Global Media, April 7, 2020, https://www.usagm.gov/2020/04/07/rfe-rl-kyrgyz-service-investigative-re….
- 10. “Анализ Мониторинга Публикаций и Материалов на тему ЛГБТ в СМИ за 2019 год [Analysis of the Monitoring of publications and materials on the topic of LGBT in the media for 2019],” Labrys, January 10, 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/20200227161422/http://www.labrys.kg/ru/news….
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||1.001 3.003|
During the coverage period, the practice of politically motivated cyberattacks continued.
Ahead of the October parliamentary elections, journalists and activists also had their social media accounts hacked. In one case, an unknown attacker changed journalist Makhinur Niyazova’s Twitter password and deleted some of her posts, though she was eventually able to recover the account.1 Activists also complained of attempts of unauthorized access to their Facebook accounts.2
In September 2020, before the parliamentary elections, the Instagram page OMKS_Kg ("One Million Kyrgyz Stories”) was hacked after the page published a video critical of Matraimov and the Mekenim Kyrgyzstan party. One of the founders of OKMS noted that only one page had been hacked successfully, though there was an attempt to hack his Telegram account.3
In July 2020, journalist Raushan Aitkulova had her Facebook account hacked after she sent a letter to the prosecutor general’s office demanding the prosecution of former president Jeenbekov’s cabinet for their mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. In the same month, activists Urmat Dzhanybaev, Nazul Tyumenbaeva, and Syimyk Zhapykeyev also experienced hacking attempts and had content mysteriously removed from their social media accounts.4
In July 2020, the Facebook group “Black list,” which provided its more than 90,000 followers opportunities to share problems in their cities and issues with the quality of government-provided services, was hacked after it’s administrator died.5
In December 2019, after the publication of the investigation into the alleged criminal activities of Matriamov and his family, almost all popular independent news media that had reported on the investigation were disabled by distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. The incident affected Economist.kg, Kaktus.media, Kloop, Knews.kg FactCheck.kg, Politklinika Sokol.media, Today.kg, and VB.kg. Additionally, MediaLaw.kg, a website affiliated with FactCheck.kg, was hacked by actors traced to China.6 The authorities declined to investigate this incident.7
In November and December 2019, a wave of Telegram hacks affected some NGOs and human rights defenders. The hackers attempted to break into Telegram accounts by intercepting two-factor authentication codes.8
- 1. “’Не знаю, кому это было нужно.’ В КР продолжают взламывать аккаунты пользователей соцсетей. [‘I don’t know who needs it.’ Accounts of social media users are kept hacking in KR],” Azattyk, September 11, 2020 https://rus.azattyk.org/a/30833376.html.
- 2. "Взлом аккаунтов и блокировка сайтов. Как в Сети заглушают критику кыргызстанцев. [Accounts hacks and websites blocking. How Kyrgyzstan’s critical voices are suppressed drowned out on the web],” Kaktus.media, July 16, 2020, https://kaktus.media/doc/417212_vzlom_akkayntov_i_blokirovka_saytov._ka….
- 3. “Что произошло с популярным пабликом OMKS в Instagram? [What happened to popular public OMKS in Instagram?],” Internews in KR, October 2, 2020, https://internews.kg/glavnye-novosti/chto-proizoshlo-s-populyarnym-pabl….
- 4. “Тот, кого нельзя называть. Как кыргызстанцев преследуют за критику президента. [He who must not be named. How Kyrgyzstanis are persecuted for the criticizing the president],” August 1, 2020, http://media.kg/news/tot-kogo-nelzya-nazyvat-kak-kyrgyzstanczev-presled….
- 5. Взлом аккаунтов и блокировка сайтов. Как в Сети заглушают критику кыргызстанцев. [Accounts hacks and websites blocking. How Kyrgyzstan’s critical voices are suppressed drowned out on the web],” Kaktus.media, July 16, 2020, https://kaktus.media/doc/417212_vzlom_akkayntov_i_blokirovka_saytov._ka….
- 6. “Траты жены Матраимова. DDoS-атака сайта Factcheck.kg продолжается [Expenses of Matraimov’s wife. DDoS attack on Factcheck.kg keeps going],” 24.kg, December 17, 2019, https://24.kg/obschestvo/138321_tratyi_jenyi_matraimova_DDoS-ataka_sayt…
- 7. “Госорганы не станут расследовать DDoS-атаки на СМИ. В МВД объяснили почему [Government agencies will not investigate DDoS attacks on media outlets. The Ministry of Internal Affairs explained why],” Kaktus Media, January 09, 2020, https://kaktus.media/doc/403904_gosorgany_ne_stanyt_rassledovat_ddos_at…
- 8. Baktygul Osmonallieva, “Бдите, за вами следят. Эксперты предостерегают о массовом сборе личных данных [Be careful, you are being watched. Experts warn about massive collection of personal data],”24.kg, December 12, 2019, https://24.kg/obschestvo/137633_bdite_zavami_sledyat_ekspertyi_predoste…
See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.See More
Global Freedom Score28 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score53 100 partly free
Freedom in the World StatusNot Free