After two revolutions that ousted authoritarian presidents in 2005 and 2010, Kyrgyzstan adopted a parliamentary form of government. Governing coalitions proved unstable, however, and corruption remains pervasive. Unrest surrounding the annulled 2020 parliamentary elections led to significant political upheaval and the violent repression of opponents of nationalist politician Sadyr Japarov. Major constitutional changes adopted in 2021 significantly increased presidential authority, concentrating political power in the presidency and reducing the size and role of parliament. Both the judiciary and vigilante violence are increasingly used to suppress political opponents and civil society critics.
- Japarov was elected president with 79.2 percent of the vote in January’s presidential elections, which were marred by significant irregularities, including the misuse of state resources, and were not considered competitive; a referendum held the same day voted to return Kyrgyzstan to a superpresidential system. Both elections were characterized by historically low voter turnout.
- A new constitution, adopted after an April referendum and ratified in May, significantly curtailed the power of the legislature, removing the office of the prime minister and reducing the number of seats in the parliament from 120 to 90. Parliamentary elections held under the new system in November were marred by a number of procedural irregularities, which resulted in several opposition parties being excluded from the parliament.
- Throughout the year, security services—now dominated by Japarov allies—arrested opposition members and engaged in violent vigilante actions against potential opponents, ranging from politicians to protesters. The newly elected president also enacted a number of laws monitoring both civil society organizations and the media.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
The constitution, ratified in May 2021, returned Kyrgyzstan to a superpresidential system, in which the president is the chief national authority. The president is directly elected, and can serve up to two five-year terms. The head of government, the chairman of the cabinet of ministers, is appointed by the president, and effectively serves as the president’s chief of staff.
Major protests over the administration of the October 2020 parliamentary elections took place in Bishkek the day after the polls were 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.
Within two weeks, then president Sooronbay 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 the following day as Japarov supporters, who had in previous days attacked attendees at other political rallies, 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 formally made Japarov acting president the day after he had publicly declared himself acting in both executive positions. He served until November 2020, when he resigned to qualify for an early presidential election scheduled for January 2021.
Snap presidential elections were held as planned in January 2021; Japarov was elected to the presidency with 79.2 percent of the vote. The election was marked by historically low voter turnout at 39.2 percent and the massive misuse of administrative resources. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) limited observation mission reported that the elections were not competitive, but had been dominated by Japarov, who had benefited from significant advantages, including “disproportionate financial means” and the use of state resources.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||1.001 4.004|
The unicameral parliament consisted of 120 deputies elected by party list in a single national constituency to serve five-year terms before the ratification of the new constitution in May 2021. Constitutional changes and an electoral law signed in August 2021 cut the number of seats to 90, with 54 elected by party list and 36 representing single-member districts.
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 former president Jeenbekov. 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; in late October, parliamentarians decided to delay the poll indefinitely. Although the sixth session of the parliament was elected in 2015 and their mandate expired in 2020, parliamentarians voted to extend their own mandates after the October election results were annulled, and the deputies continued to serve through December 2021 with no electoral mandate.
In November 2021, over a year after the 2020 parliamentary election results had been annulled, new polls were held; voter turnout was recorded at 34 percent. Initial results published by the CEC showed several parties clearing the 5 percent threshold required to enter parliament; these results were later withdrawn, and nearly 10 percent of the ballots cast were discarded as spoiled. CEC officials cited technical errors to explain the changes in the vote count, which resulted in the exclusion of four opposition parties from parliament. The parties entering the new parliament are Ata-Jurt Kyrgyzstan with 15 seats, followed by Ishenim with 12; Yntymak, 9; Alyans, 7; Butun Kyrgyzstan, 6; and Yiman Nuru with 5. New elections were scheduled for early 2022 in two single-mandate districts that failed to elect a qualified winner.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||1.001 4.004|
Though international observers have deemed Kyrgyzstani electoral laws to be “generally adequate,” such laws are often selectively enforced. The November 2021 elections featured a number of administrative irregularities, including discrepancies in vote tallies; the exclusion of independent journalists from monitoring the polls; and the admission of Talant Mamytov, a close ally of Japarov, to the Yntymak party list despite his failure to comply with electoral rules.
|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.
Parties must pass a threshold to earn parliamentary seats, along with at least 0.5 percent of the vote in each of Kyrgyzstan’s nine regional divisions. New legislation approved during the constitutional referendum in 2021 raised the national threshold to 5 percent; electoral amendments passed in 2020 had previously lowered the threshold from 7 percent to 3 percent.
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.
Throughout 2021, opposition candidates and activists were subjected to a mass targeted wiretapping campaign, which the Interior Ministry defended as a legitimate security measure. In September, a member of Butun Kyrgyzstan was arrested for her “excessive and unfair criticism” of the government, which the Interior Ministry claimed was designed to inflame protest that in turn could lead to a “violent seizure of power.”
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||1.001 4.004|
A new constitution ratified in May 2021 reintroduced a superpresidential system while shrinking the size and role of parliament, undoing previous reforms that had been intended to promote political pluralism. The 2021 constitution also introduced the People’s Kurultai, an unelected assembly, and granted it broad powers, including the ability to propose policies and legislation. Although opposition parties or individuals may gain power through elections, the new constitution weakens the role of political parties and of the parliament overall, transferring complete executive power—along with some legislative and judicial powers—back to the presidency.
|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 parliamentary 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.
Similar extrapolitical tactics were employed during the November 2021 parliamentary elections. In December, a large group of men attacked elderly opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev, reportedly telling him that he had been targeted because of his plans to protest the election results.
|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 only 18 of the of 90 seats in the 2021 parliamentary election despite a 30 percent gender quota for party candidate lists. Legislation enacted in 2019 extended the 30 percent gender quota to local municipal councils.
LGBT+ people are not legally excluded from pursuing political opportunities. However, discrimination and violence against pro-LGBT+ civic action groups are common, and typically go unaddressed by law enforcement.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||0.000 4.004|
A new constitution, ratified in May 2021, significantly altered the structure of the government and resolved existing constitutional ambiguities regarding the division of power among the president, the prime minister, and the parliament, which had contributed to the instability of governments in recent years. The 2021 constitution eliminated the office of the prime minister and reduced the powers of the legislature, reintroducing a superpresidential system of government.
After former President Jeenbekov resigned amid protests in October 2020, neither his presidential successors nor their concurrently serving prime ministers were freely selected. A snap presidential election held in January 2021 elected Japarov to the presidency; however, the election was neither free nor fair, featuring significant procedural irregularities and a record low voter turnout. Though the results of the October 2020 parliamentary elections were annulled later that same month, the parliament continued to operate until new elections were held in November 2021—well beyond the expiration of its democratic mandate.
|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 by incumbent presidents to target their political enemies in the parliament and municipal governments.
Throughout 2021, a wide range of former officials, business leaders, and organized crime leaders were detained repeatedly on corruption charges. Critics have described this “catch-and-release” pattern of arrests as both a political tool and a way for the government to generate revenue.
|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.
Kyrgyzstani officials were not transparent in disclosing COVID-19 infections or deaths; in January 2021, a government inquiry found that official data had been manipulated and pandemic-related deaths had been significantly underreported.
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.
|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 antisemitic 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 elections have regularly faced intimidation, detention, physical attack, and interference as they conducted their work. In April 2021, at least four journalists were detained by police, including two who had been attacked while monitoring polling stations.
The parliament passed new legislation on “false information” in July, under the direct guidance of Japarov and in violation of parliamentary procedure. The controversial law grants an unspecified government body the power to order service providers to block information deemed “false” by authorities and to create a database of those associated with online activity—including alleged defamation—that officials have flagged. Human rights activists claim that the legislation provides for legal censorship outside the courts.
|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.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3 / 4
The government does not formally restrict academic freedom, though teachers and students have reportedly faced pressure to participate in political campaigns and voting.
|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.
Protests held after the October 2020 elections were 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.
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. 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.
Throughout 2021, protesters were frequently subjected to violent assaults and arbitrary detention. In April, a group of “national-patriots” violently attacked a demonstration against gender-based violence as police looked on; the group accused the protesters of offending traditional Kyrgyzstani values., A five-year “moral development plan” to promote traditional values was passed by the Japarov government in July; the plan was criticized by human rights activists who fear it will be used to justify violence and discrimination against minority groups.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||1.001 4.004|
NGOs are active in civic and political life. 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.
In June 2021, amid growing anti-Western sentiment within the country, Japarov signed a law imposing onerous financial reporting requirements on any civil society organizations that accept funding from abroad. Proponents of the legislation claim it protects against foreign interference, including the imposition of “Western ideology” and “LGBT+ propaganda.” Human rights groups fear the law will be used to prevent independent NGOs from operating freely.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because the government enacted a new law requiring NGOs to abide by burdensome financial reporting requirements or risk closure.
|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. Japarov vetoed the amendments three times in 2021, returning the legislation to parliament for further review; the draft amendments 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 Japarov as prime minister and president. The Supreme Court refused to consider a CEC appeal over the parliament’s decision to delay a rerun election and the Constitutional Chamber ruled the parliament’s decision to extend its own term constitutional.
|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 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.
In May 2021, the Japarov government seized the Kumtor gold mine from the Canada-based firm Centerra Gold. The mine accounts for around 12.5 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP. Though Kyrgyzstan and Centerra Gold reportedly entered arbitration proceedings in September, no agreement had been announced by year’s end.
|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 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.
In April 2021, at least 34 people were killed during a border skirmish near the Vorukh exclave of Tajikistan grew into the most serious fighting between Kyrgyzstani and Tajikistani troops and border forces in recent years. Destruction of homes and property in both Kyrgyz and Tajik majority villages led to popular mobilization of ad-hoc citizen self-defense groups and intense ethnic tensions. The dispute between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan had not been resolved by the end of the year.
|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. In March 2021, the government returned 79 children born to Kyrgyzstanis in Iraq to their relatives in Kyrgyzstan; several hundred Kyrgyzstani women and children remain in detention camps in Syria.
|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 Score27 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score53 100 partly free