Kyrgyzstan’s status declined from Partly Free to Not Free because the aftermath of deeply flawed parliamentary elections featured significant political violence and intimidation that culminated in the irregular seizure of power by a nationalist leader and convicted felon who had been freed from prison by supporters.
After two revolutions that ousted authoritarian presidents in 2005 and 2010, Kyrgyzstan adopted a parliamentary form of government. Governing coalitions have proven unstable, however, and corruption remains pervasive. Before it split, the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) consolidated power over several years, using the justice system to suppress political opponents and civil society critics. Unrest surrounding the annulled 2020 parliamentary elections led to significant political upheaval.
- Protesters damaged government offices and forcibly released high-profile prisoners in October amid demonstrations against the conduct of that month’s parliamentary elections. While the results were annulled two days after the polls, violence continued as the month progressed; supporters of nationalist politician Sadyr Japarov, who was among those freed from custody, intimidated and attacked opposition groups seeking to form a transitional government.
- Japarov became acting president and prime minister in mid-October, after the protests prompted the resignation of President Sooronbay Jeenbekov and Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov. Japarov resigned from both posts in November to qualify for a presidential election due in January 2021.
- Kyrgyzstani officials were opaque in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, denying reports that the country’s health-care system was overwhelmed despite evidence of overcrowding. Bloggers, journalists, and medical professionals who criticized the COVID-19 response were forced to apologize for their statements by the authorities in March and April.
- Uzbek human rights activist Azimjan Askarov, who was accused of organizing riots after acts of violence were perpetrated against ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010, died of pneumonia while in custody in July. Askarov, who was tortured in detention, had remained imprisoned despite his deteriorating health and repeated calls for his release.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
The directly elected president, who shares executive power with a prime minister, serves a single six-year term with no possibility of reelection. Prime ministers are appointed by the president after receiving the parliament’s nomination.
The 2017 presidential election was marked by inappropriate use of government resources in support of Sooronbay Jeenbekov of the SDPK, who had served as prime minister under his predecessor, Almazbek Atambayev.
Birimdik (Unity), a political party affiliated with Jeenbekov, was among those implicated in vote buying and the misuse of administrative resources during the October 2020 parliamentary elections. Major protests over the poll’s conduct took place in Bishkek the day after it was held and turned violent; demonstrators had clashed with police, forcibly freed prisoners held by the State Committee for National Security (GKNB), and set fire to the building housing the parliament and the president’s office by the morning of October 6.
On October 14, Jeenbekov accepted the parliament’s nomination of Sadyr Japarov of the Mekenchil (Patriotic) party—who days before had been freed from GKNB custody while serving a prison sentence for kidnapping—as prime minister. Jeenbekov resigned on October 15th, as Japarov supporters threatened to march on his residence.
Parliament speaker Kanat Isayev was next in the line of succession but declined to assume the presidency, after Japarov supporters called for Isayev’s resignation and arrest. The parliament made Japarov acting president on October 16, though he had publicly declared himself acting president the day before. He served until November, when he resigned to qualify for an early presidential election scheduled for January 2021. Talant Mamytov, who had replaced Isayev as speaker, then became interim president.
Earlier, Prime Minister Mukhammedkaliy Abylgaziyev resigned in June 2020 after a corruption probe focusing on the government’s management of radio frequencies implicated him in improper behavior. Successor Kubatbek Boronov resigned in October amid that month’s unrest. Japarov resigned in November to contest the January 2021 presidential election, and was succeeded by First Deputy Prime Minister Artem Novikov.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because Sadyr Japarov assumed the role of acting president before being appointed by the parliament amid threats of violence against his predecessor, and also became acting prime minister through opaque means.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||1.001 4.004|
The unicameral parliament currently consists of 120 deputies elected by party list in a single national constituency to serve five-year terms. No single party is allowed to hold more than 65 seats.
The Central Commission for Elections and Referenda (CEC) originally reported that four parties exceeded the threshold to secure seats in the October 2020 parliamentary elections, three of them affiliated with Jeenbekov. Birimdik topped the poll, reportedly winning 24.5 percent of the vote. Mekenim Kyrgyzstan (My Homeland Kyrgyzstan) won 23.9 percent; it is affiliated with the family of former customs official Raimbek Matraimov, who was implicated in money laundering and tax evasion that siphoned as much as $700 million out of Kyrgyzstan between 2011 and 2016. The progovernment Kyrgyzstan Party and nationalist Butun Kyrgyzstan (Whole Kyrgyzstan) also earned representation. The SDPK, which held most of the previous parliament’s seats, split in 2019, and did not field candidates in the October 2020 poll.
Opposition parties refused to accept the results, accusing the victors of vote buying and intimidation; vote-buying evidence was disseminated on social media. Journalists and civil society also accused the victors of misusing administrative resources. The CEC annulled the results two days after the vote was held, selecting a December date for a rerun. However, parliamentarians in late October decided to delay the poll, which could be held as late as June 2021. When the parliament’s term expired around the same time, parliamentarians voted to extend their own mandates.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because electoral authorities annulled the results of the October 2020 parliamentary elections due to vote buying and other irregularities, and because the parliament subsequently postponed a new poll and extended its own mandate.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||1.001 4.004|
The CEC exhibited political bias during the 2017 presidential election, according to international observers. Electoral-law amendments enacted ahead of that poll made it more difficult for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to field observers and appeal decisions by election officials.
A 2016 referendum on constitutional amendments was conducted hastily, with little transparency or opportunities for public debate on the proposed changes. It ultimately won adoption. Administrative resources were reportedly used to support a “yes” vote, and state employees faced pressure to participate in the effort.
In November 2020, parliamentarians published a draft constitution that would strengthen the presidency and allow the next officeholder to appoint new CEC and Constitutional Chamber members before a new parliament is installed. A constitutional convention formed that month was tasked with formalizing the document, and continued its work at year's end.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||1.001 4.004|
Citizens have the freedom to organize political parties and groupings, especially at the local level. Political parties are primarily vehicles for a handful of strong personalities, rather than mass organizations with clear ideologies and policy platforms. The SDPK split in 2019 as former presidents Jeenbekov and Atambayev competed for influence, with high-ranking members subsequently joining parties including Birimdik and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan.
Parties must pass a threshold to earn parliamentary seats, along with at least 0.7 percent of the vote in each of Kyrgyzstan’s nine regional divisions. Electoral amendments passed in late October 2020 lowered the national threshold from 7 percent to 3 percent, and significantly reduced registration fees for parties.
Political parties were impeded by violence in the aftermath of the October 2020 parliamentary elections. Opposition parties excluded from the parliament attempted to collaborate in the formation of a transitional government but supporters of Japarov, acting with groups believed to maintain criminal connections, engaged in a campaign of street violence to intimidate supporters, with security forces failing to intervene.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because Japarov supporters and groups believed to maintain criminal connections engaged in violence and intimidation to prevent opposition groups from collaborating to form a transitional government after the October 2020 elections.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||1.001 4.004|
The 2010 constitutional reforms aimed to ensure political pluralism and prevent the reemergence of an authoritarian, superpresidential system. Since 2012, however, observers noted the SDPK’s consolidation of power and its use of executive agencies to target political enemies. Opposition members and outside observers also accused the SDPK of attempting to improperly influence electoral and judicial outcomes. In recent years, opposition leaders have faced politically motivated criminal investigations and prosecutions, significantly reducing the public legitimacy of the justice system.
The proposed constitution published in November 2020 would reintroduce a superpresidential system while shrinking the size and role of the parliament.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||0.000 4.004|
While largely free from military domination, Kyrgyzstani politics are subject to the influence of organized crime and economic oligarchies. Political affairs are generally controlled by a small group of elites who head competing patronage networks.
Criminal violence and intimidation marred the aftermath of the October 2020 elections. Japarov supporters attacked an October 9 rally meant to bolster a potential transitional government, injuring its proposed prime minister and forcing several other politicians to flee. Speaker Isayev was also threatened by Japarov supporters before declining to serve as interim president later that month.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because Japarov supporters engaged in a campaign of violence and threats of violence against sitting officials and political opponents to secure their preferred government in October 2020.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||1.001 4.004|
Ethnic minority groups face political marginalization. Politicians from the Kyrgyz majority have used ethnic Uzbeks as scapegoats on various issues in recent years, and minority populations remain underrepresented in elected offices, even in areas where they form a demographic majority.
Women enjoy equal political rights and have attained some notable leadership positions, but they are also underrepresented, having won 19 percent of the seats in the 2015 parliamentary election despite a 30 percent gender quota for party candidate lists. Legislation enacted in August 2019 extended the 30 percent gender quota to local municipal councils.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||0.000 4.004|
Unresolved constitutional ambiguities regarding the division of power among the president, the prime minister, and the parliament—combined with the need to form multiparty coalitions—have contributed to the instability of governments in recent years. The prime minister has been replaced over a dozen times since 2010.
President Jeenbekov worked to steadily consolidate control of the government following his election in 2017, though predecessor Atambayev maintained significant influence until losing a power struggle against Jeenbekov in 2019. After Jeenbekov resigned amid protests in October 2020, neither his presidential successors nor their concurrently serving prime ministers were freely selected. The parliament also continued beyond the expiration of its democratic mandate.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because neither the chief executive nor the legislators serving at the end of the year were freely elected.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||0.000 4.004|
Corruption is pervasive in politics and government. Political elites use government resources to reward clients—including organized crime figures—and punish opponents. An anticorruption office within the GKNB was formed in 2012, but has primarily been used to target the administration’s political enemies in the parliament and municipal governments. Former prime ministers Sapar Isakov and Jantoro Satybaldiyev, who were aligned with former president Atambayev, were arrested on corruption charges in 2018; both were convicted and received prison sentences in December 2019.
A 2019 international investigation led by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) implicated former customs official Raimbek Matraimov and his family in an operation that siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan. Later that year, Chinese Uighur businessperson Aierken Saimaiti, who collaborated in the operation and served as a source for news articles on the subject, was murdered in Istanbul shortly before the OCCRP report was released.
The government was resistant to the investigation’s findings for much of the year. In February 2020, the State Customs Service announced an investigation into a low-ranking official named in the report. In June, the GKNB accused the journalists who reported on the Matraimov case of corruption. Matraimov was eventually detained over his activity in October, after Japarov installed new leaders in the customs office and the GKNB. However, Matraimov was placed under de facto house arrest the next day after agreeing to return only $24.6 million to the state, taking advantage of “economic amnesty” offered to officials who agreed to return ill-gotten gains by Japarov.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because officials ignored and resisted the results of an investigation revealing pervasive corruption, and because Japarov offered “economic amnesty” to officials who benefited from ill-gotten gains after taking power in October 2020.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||0.000 4.004|
Kyrgyzstani access-to-information laws are considered relatively strong, but implementation is poor in practice. Similarly, although public officials are obliged to disclose information on their personal finances, powerful figures are rarely held accountable for noncompliance or investigated for unexplained wealth. Oversight of public contracts is inadequate; corruption scandals in recent years have often centered on procurement deals or sales of state assets. Abylgaziyev, for example, resigned as prime minister in June 2020 when his government was accused of selling radio frequency access at below-market prices.
Kyrgyzstani officials were not transparent in disclosing COVID-19 infections or deaths, and are widely believed to have undercounted the toll of the pandemic. Death certificates of individuals who exhibited COVID-19 symptoms often listed pneumonia as the cause of death. Officials also denied reports that the Kyrgyzstani health-care system was overwhelmed by the pandemic, though evidence of overcrowding in hospitals was disseminated on social media in July.
Government decisions were made, and key posts were claimed, in an opaque fashion in the aftermath of the annulled October 2020 elections. Japarov notably claimed the powers of the presidency immediately after Jeenbekov’s resignation but before the parliament appointed him to the role. Meanwhile, the parliament eschewed a mandatory public comment period when deciding to amend the electoral code that month. The decision to delay the next parliamentary election to 2021 was made after relevant legislation was considered and passed in one day. Parliamentarians were similarly nontransparent when considering the draft constitution in November, with one purported author learning about the draft’s contents via social media.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 0 because government officials and legislators made key decisions in a nontransparent fashion after the October 2020 parliamentary elections were annulled, with Japarov claiming presidential powers before parliamentarians formerly installed him to the post and lawmakers passing key legislation without public comment.
|Is the government or occupying power deliberately changing the ethnic composition of a country or territory so as to destroy a culture or tip the political balance in favor of another group?||-1.00-1|
Southern Kyrgyzstan has yet to fully recover from the ethnic upheaval of 2010, which included numerous documented instances of government involvement or connivance in violence against ethnic Uzbeks in the region, with the aim of tipping the political and economic balance in favor of the Kyrgyz elite. Many Uzbek homes and businesses were destroyed or seized. While intimidation has continued and little has been done to reverse the outcomes of the violence, some steps have been taken to restore Uzbek-language media in the region, and fears of further unrest have eased over time.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
The media landscape is relatively diverse but divided along ethnic lines, and prosecutions for inciting ethnic hatred have tended to focus on minority writers despite the prevalence of openly racist and anti-Semitic articles in Kyrgyz-language media. A 2014 law criminalized the publication of “false information relating to a crime or offense” in the media, which international monitors saw as a contradiction of the country’s 2011 decriminalization of defamation. The law assigns penalties of up to three years in prison, or five years if the claim serves the interests of organized crime or is linked to the fabrication of evidence.
Journalists and bloggers covering major events, including ongoing corruption cases, the COVID-19 response, and the October 2020 elections, faced intimidation, detention, physical attack, and interference as they conducted their work. In January, Bolot Temirov, editor in chief of news site Factcheck, was assaulted in Bishkek several weeks after the site reported on the Matraimov affair. Several bloggers who discussed the pandemic response were forced to apologize for their remarks in March and April, including a doctor who commented on working conditions at his hospital. Several Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalists were physically attacked during the October election period, while one RFE/RL journalist was prevented from entering a police station in the city of Osh before the poll was conducted. Other outlets received intimidating and threatening messages during the October protests, with some of them relying on volunteers to protect their offices.
The draft constitution published in November 2020 would allow the government to censor material that violates “generally recognized moral values,” without defining those values or offering an avenue for appealing such decisions.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||2.002 4.004|
All religious organizations must register with the authorities, a process that is often cumbersome and arbitrary. Groups outside the traditional Muslim and Orthodox Christian mainstream reportedly have difficulty obtaining registration, and the 2009 Law on Religion deems all unregistered groups illegal. Organizations such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses often face police harassment. The government also monitors and restricts some Islamic groups, including the nonviolent Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir and Yakyn Inkar, which practices strict asceticism. Some unregistered religious communities have nevertheless been able to practice their faiths without state intervention, and authorities have investigated and punished relatively rare acts of violence against religious figures or minorities.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
The government does not formally restrict academic freedom, though teachers and students have reportedly faced pressure to participate in political campaigns and voting, including in the 2017 presidential election.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
Private discussion is generally free in the country, and prosecutions of individuals for the expression of personal views on social media are rare. However, state and local authorities regularly raid homes where they believe members of banned groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir or certain religious minorities, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, meet to discuss their beliefs.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||1.001 4.004|
A 2012 law allows peaceful assembly, and small protests and civil disobedience actions, such as blocking roads, take place regularly. Nevertheless, domestic and international watchdogs have voiced concerns over violations of assembly rights, including arrests and other forms of interference. Far-right groups and criminal organizations are also known to intimidate and attack demonstrators.
Demonstrators faced campaigns of violence and detention in 2020. Masked men attacked female activists attending a Bishkek march commemorating International Women’s Day in March, resulting in several injuries. Police then detained over 70 activists as well as 3 journalists, denying them access to legal counsel or explaining why they were detained; few of the assailants were arrested. In June, a Bishkek court ruled that the demonstration was not authorized and fined 11 participants. In November, however, the Supreme Court found the police action unconstitutional.
Protests held after the October 2020 elections were also marred by violence. Over 600 people were injured in clashes within two days of the poll, and one person was reportedly killed. The building housing the parliament and president’s office was damaged after protests on October 6. Then president Jeenbekov declared martial law in Bishkek on October 9, though a state of emergency was rolled back several days later.
Japarov supporters attacked and intimidated protesters and opposition groups after the annulled elections, notably disrupting a rally held to support a potential anti-Japarov transitional government on October 9. Ata-Meken parliamentary candidate Tilek Toktogaziyev was seriously injured during the rally, while a car carrying former president Atambayev, who was freed from GKNB custody earlier that month and attended the rally, was shot at. Protests opposing the draft constitution were held in November.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because peaceful protesters objecting to the conduct of the October 2020 elections faced violence from Japarov supporters, and because then president Jeenbekov declared martial law in an effort to curtail mass gatherings.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||2.002 4.004|
NGOs are active in civic and political life. Public advisory councils were established in the parliament and most ministries in 2011, permitting improved monitoring and advocacy by NGOs. However, human rights workers, including those who support ethnic Uzbek victims, LGBT+ people, and women’s groups, face threats, harassment, and physical attacks. Ultranationalists have harassed US and European NGOs as well as domestic counterparts that are perceived to be favored by foreign governments and donors.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
Kyrgyzstani law provides for the formation of trade unions, which are generally able to operate without obstruction. However, parliamentarians have considered legislative amendments that would limit their ability to organize and would force them to affiliate with the Federation of Trade Unions of Kyrgyzstan (FTUK), which would serve as the country’s only national union. The amendments, which were introduced in 2019, received a second reading in November 2020 and remained under consideration at year’s end.
Strikes are prohibited in many sectors. Legal enforcement of union rights is weak, and employers do not always respect collective-bargaining agreements.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||0.000 4.004|
The judiciary is dominated by the executive branch. Corruption among judges is widespread. In 2019, the GKNB announced corruption charges against seven judges, including three sitting Supreme Court justices; the judges were accused of issuing rulings that favored organized criminal groups.
The judiciary provided little resistance to the opaque and procedurally questionable installation of Sadyr Japarov as prime minister and president. In October 2020, the Supreme Court overturned his 2012 conviction for attempting to overthrow the government. Japarov’s 2013 conviction for kidnapping a regional governor was also overturned.
Also in October, the Supreme Court refused to consider a CEC appeal over the parliament’s decision to delay a rerun election. In December, the Constitutional Chamber ruled the parliament’s decision to extend its own term constitutional.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because the judiciary overturned Japarov’s criminal convictions as he assumed executive power, and because the judiciary allowed the parliament to delay an election and remain in office beyond its electoral mandate.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||0.000 4.004|
Defendants’ rights, including the presumption of innocence, are not always respected, and evidence allegedly obtained through torture is regularly accepted in courts.
Due process was not consistently upheld for high-profile prisoners released from GKNB custody in October 2020. While Japarov’s convictions were overturned after his release, former president Atambayev, who received a corruption-related prison sentence in June and was released along with Japarov, was rearrested on charges of inciting unrest in October. Other politicians who escaped the GKNB during the protests were also sent back into custody.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because individuals—including Japarov—were released from prison without due process during the October 2020 protests, and because Japarov was allowed to remain free and assume executive power while others were taken back into custody.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||1.001 4.004|
There are credible reports of torture during arrest and interrogation, in addition to physical abuse in prisons. Most such reports do not lead to investigations and convictions.
Uzbek human rights activist Azimjan Askarov, who was accused of organizing riots after acts of violence were perpetrated against ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010, died of pneumonia while in custody in July 2020. Askarov, who was tortured in detention, remained imprisoned despite his deteriorating health and repeated calls for his release. Meanwhile, few perpetrators of the 2010 violence have been brought to justice.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1.001 4.004|
Legal bans on gender discrimination in the workplace are not effectively enforced. Traditional biases also put women at a disadvantage regarding education and access to services. Ethnic minorities—particularly Uzbeks, who make up nearly half of the population of the city of Osh—continue to face discrimination on economic, security, and other matters. Uzbeks are often targeted for harassment, arrest, and mistreatment by law enforcement agencies based on dubious terrorism or extremism charges. Same-sex sexual activity is not illegal, but discrimination against and abuse of LGBT+ people at the hands of police are pervasive. Ultranationalist groups have also engaged in intimidation of LGBT+ and feminist activists.
In June 2019, the government announced its intention to repatriate Kyrgyzstanis in Iraqi and Syrian territory previously controlled by the Islamic State militant group. Plans to repatriate those still living in Iraq stalled during 2020.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
The government generally respects the right of unrestricted travel to and from Kyrgyzstan, though journalists and human rights activists sometimes face bans and other obstacles. Barriers to internal migration include a requirement that citizens obtain permits to work and settle in particular areas of the country.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
The misuse of personal connections, corruption, and organized crime impair private business activity. The ethnic violence of 2010 has affected property rights in the south, as many businesses, mainly owned by ethnic Uzbeks, were destroyed or seized.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Cultural constraints and inaction by law enforcement officials discourage victims of domestic violence and rape from contacting the authorities. Legislation enacted in 2017 aimed to broaden the definition of domestic abuse and improve both victim assistance and responses from law enforcement bodies, but the law is weakly enforced.
The practice of bride abduction persists despite the strengthening of legal penalties in 2013, and few perpetrators are prosecuted.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1.001 4.004|
The government does not actively enforce workplace health and safety standards. Child labor is restricted by law but reportedly occurs, particularly in the agricultural sector. The trafficking of women and girls into forced prostitution abroad is a serious problem. Police have been accused of complicity in the trafficking and exploitation of sex trafficking victims, and reportedly accept bribes from traffickers. Kyrgyzstani men are especially vulnerable to trafficking for forced labor abroad.
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Global Freedom Score28 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score53 100 partly free