Kyrgyzstan

Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
16
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 16.07 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 1.96 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
17 100 Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2020

  • Corruption rating declined from 1.75 to 1.50 to reflect the scale of corruption within the country, made more evident by the investigation into the money laundering scandal involving the former deputy head of the customs service Raimbek Matraimov.
  • As a result, Kyrgyzstan’s Democracy Score declined from 2.00 to 1.96.

header2 Executive Summary

Despite early encouraging signs from the new government, the quality of democracy in Kyrgyzstan did not improve in 2019. The cautious optimism of 2018, ushered in by newly elected President Sooronbay Jeenbekov and his reversal of the heavy-handed treatment of the opposition and independent media under his predecessor, largely subsided in 2019. The new leadership’s pledges to strengthen parliamentary democracy and reform the justice system produced little impact on the ground, while recent political developments exposed the continuing dependence of the legislature and judiciary on the ruling regime of the day. Meanwhile, investigative reporting on a years-long money-laundering and smuggling scheme laid bare the extent to which corruption had spread within the government and customs service.

Confrontations between President Jeenbekov and former president Almazbek Atambayev dominated the country’s politics during the year. Emerging tension between the two former allies in the aftermath of the 2017 elections dispelled concerns that the new president would be a mere puppet figure. However, their conflict took a more extreme form in 2019 as Atambayev was stripped of his legal immunity by Parliament and arrested on corruption charges. While the former president drew little sympathy in the country, the synchronized way in which Parliament, law enforcement agencies, and the courts moved to arrest Atambayev revealed not strength but weaknesses in Kyrgyzstan’s rule of law.

The intra-elite political conflict also underscored the continued centrality of the presidency in the country’s system of governance. Much of the political rhetoric by officials as well as international donors revolves around building and supporting a parliamentary democracy in Kyrgyzstan. However, the political dynamics on the ground suggest little progress towards such a system. First, the constitution establishes a mixed, rather than a parliamentary, system. Both Parliament and the president are elected by popular vote. Second, the Kyrgyz legislature has de facto surrendered its constitutionally granted power to form and control the executive branch. Instead, it rubber-stamps the president’s choices, merely paying lip service to the declared goal of building a parliamentary democracy.

Several amendments to the electoral law were adopted in 2019 that should improve representation for national and local assemblies, including the introduction of a 30-percent quota for women in local council elections. A proposal to lower the electoral threshold from 9 to 5 percent for parliamentary races was pushed by party leaders and civil society activists, who argued that the excessively high threshold leaves significant portions of the electorate without representation. This proposed change also called for lowering the electoral deposit required for parties to compete from 5 million soms ($72,000) to 1 million soms ($15,000).

Reforming the judiciary was a high priority of President Jeenbekov, who called repeatedly for the reform process to be sped up. However, genuinely beneficial reforms were scarce; in fact, developments in 2019 demonstrated that the justice system remained heavily politicized. Courts continued to freely apply harsh preventive measures in criminal cases involving political opponents. Several politicians jailed in past years on ostensibly political grounds were released in 2019. None of these proceedings, however, publicly acknowledged the political nature of the cases. Instead, the high-level rhetoric calling for judicial reform focused more on technical aspects, such as improving access to court premises or installing video recording, and much less on the critical issue of judicial independence.

Freedom of expression remained precarious in Kyrgyzstan during the year. While top political leaders ceased to file lawsuits against critical media outlets, many other politicians took up the tactic and continued to silence the media with defamation charges. Media agencies affiliated with the opposition faced pressure, as in the court-ordered seizure of the assets of Aprel TV, a company owned by former president Atambayev. Furthermore, media organizations investigating corruption faced growing pressure, including physical assaults and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks online.

Civil society continues to be Kyrgyzstan’s healthiest democratic institution. However, the government has struggled thus far to ensure and protect a diverse civic sector. Illiberal groups, supported by nationalist-minded political actors, have actively targeted foreign workers, human rights defenders, and LGBT+ activists. Proposals continually arise to expand official controls over not-for-profit organizations, including calls from high-ranking national security officers. Thus, while the practice of demonizing civic activists by top leaders may have subsided, a government-wide commitment to foster and safeguard a pluralist civil society has yet to be established.

Tackling corruption remains a prominent political slogan in Kyrgyzstan, reflecting the popular demand for tangible progress. The results on the ground, however, are not promising. Bombshell investigative reporting in 2019 revealed the deep-rooted nature of corruption within the government and society at large. The shady business dealings of Raimbek Matraimov, a former customs official, showed the monetary impact of corruption in Kyrgyzstan. In addition, numerous high-level cases were brought against former president Atambayev and his allies, demonstrating the political tension within the fight against corruption, which remains selective and punitive.

The parliamentary elections, scheduled for October 2020, will dominate the country’s politics in the coming months. Thus far, President Jeenbekov has distanced himself from political parties, and whether his team will pick up a party, or parties, to ride into Parliament remains a pertinent question. Combatting corruption and reforming the judiciary will certainly remain high on the agenda, though tangible progress is less likely.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 1.502 7.007
  • The quality of national democratic governance in Kyrgyzstan saw no significant changes in 2019, and the country’s political system remains dominated by the president. The release of jailed opposition figures and the lifting of absolute immunity for former presidents were promising events. Yet, rather than reflecting meaningful improvements in the rule of law, these seemingly positive developments were tempered by the continued dominance of politics over lawmaking and the judiciary. The hastened launch of a criminal case against former president Atambayev, and his subsequent violent arrest, underscored the undemocratic nature of Kyrgyzstan’s political institutions.
  • Conflicts between President Sooronbay Jeenbekov and his predecessor, Almazbek Atambayev (2011–17), dominated the political headlines in 2019. Previously, the two were political allies, with then president Atambayev throwing his full weight behind the former prime minister Jeenbekov in the 2017 presidential elections. In the election aftermath, however, their relationship quickly and publicly soured. While specific reasons for the fallout remain unknown, observers note that the newly elected president proved unwilling to serve as an “obedient figurehead” to his predecessor.1
  • In March, former president Atambayev declared that his Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) was moving into opposition.2 Speaking at a rally, Atambayev accused his successor of dividing the people and apologized for bringing Jeenbekov to power.3 The parliamentary faction of SDPK, however, defied its leader and stayed within the ruling coalition. This split within SDPK reached a crescendo when a group of anti-Atambayev members held their own party congress and announced Atambayev was no longer party leader.4 The justice ministry duly removed Atambayev’s name as party leader, although the former president retained control over the party’s stamp and foundational legal documents.5
  • This intra-elite political confrontation had an important legislative implication. In April, Parliament approved changes to the law on “Guarantees of the activities of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic,” providing methods by which to abolish absolute immunity of former presidents.6 The new law stipulated that Parliament could strip a former president of immunity by a two-thirds majority if subject to indictment by the prosecutor general. President Jeenbekov signed the bill on May 19, 2019. Less than a month later, Parliament voted to strip Atambayev of his legal immunity in light of the criminal investigation launched by the prosecutor general.7
  • On August 8, Atambayev was arrested. A first attempt to apprehend the former president failed the day before when Atambayev’s supporters drove UKMK troops from the premises of his estate. In the violent raid, one officer was shot and killed. Atambayev surrendered the next day after about three thousand security forces surrounded his house.8
  • Several high-profile political figures arrested on various charges during the Atambayev presidency were released in 2019. Arguably the most prominent is Omurbek Tekebayev, one of Kyrgyzstan’s political heavyweights, jailed for eight years on an opaque corruption case.9 In a separate instance, former PM Omurbek Babanov, President Jeenbekov’s primary opponent in the 2017 election, returned to Kyrgyzstan on August 9.10 Babanov had left the country in October 2017 as authorities launched two criminal cases against him shortly after the election.11 However, the rhetoric surrounding the release of these figures suggested no fundamental change in the way rule of law is exercised in the country. Authorities refrained from calling the released politicians “political prisoners.” Indeed, Tekebayev was released but placed under house arrest while the court reconsiders his case.12 Two other opposition politicians, Bektur Asanov and Kubanychbek Kadyrov, were released not because of dropped charges but due to the court reducing their sentences.13 By the same token, Babanov’s return to Kyrgyzstan did not lead to the clearing of criminal charges. Once in Kyrgyzstan, he was interrogated in relation to multiple criminal cases.14 Having failed to secure guarantees against legal prosecution, Babanov again fled the country on September 26.15
  • The state’s capacity to fulfill legal commitments remains problematic, particularly in regard to foreign investors. Two cases in the mining sector exposed these concerns in 2019. In April, large-scale protests flared up in Issyk-Kul oblast and the capital Bishkek against the exploration of uranium deposits at Kyzyl Ompol.16 Further, in August, a group of local residents stormed the operations of the China-based Zhong Ji Mining Company at a gold mine in Naryn oblast.17 In the latter case, skirmishes ensued leading to the injury of a dozen company workers and local residents. In both cases, protesters demanded the closure of the mines due to adverse environmental and health impacts. The government succumbed to the demands and suspended the companies’ licenses to operate.18 President Jeenbekov said that the scandal was politicized but acknowledged that permits in the mining sector had been “on sale as in the market.”19 In October, Parliament passed a law, signed by the president in December, banning uranium and thorium mining in Kyrgyzstan.20
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 2.252 7.007
  • Elections in Kyrgyzstan are held regularly and contested by opposition candidates and parties. However, vote buying and abuse of administrative resources by candidates continue to compromise the legitimacy and fairness of elections. Amendments to the electoral law were introduced in 2019 that stipulate, among other things, a prohibition on the use of public resources in elections. Still, tangible changes that provide for an equitable and fair electoral process have yet to be seen.
  • In August, President Jeenbekov signed a series of amendments to the electoral law that Parliament had adopted on June 27.1 These changes include the introduction of gender quotas in local council elections, the definition of abuse of administrative resources, and clauses to ensure better access to polling sites for voters with disabilities.
  • The newly introduced clause 59-1 to the law on local council elections rules that no less than 30 percent of village council positions are to be reserved for women, who, in the past three years, have held no more than 11 percent of local council seats.2 The new measure on gender quotas was met with backlash in Saruu, the village municipality slated to hold the first local council elections under the new law. A petition, signed predominantly by men, claimed the gender quota presented a “violation of civic and men’s rights” and would cause conflicts between men and women.3 The latter warning did not materialize in the aftermath of the elections in which women candidates won eight of twenty-one seats on the village council.4
  • The electoral law amendments also included a new clause titled “inadmissibility of abuse of administrative resources.”5 It listed the different forms that such abuse could take, including the use of state and municipal premises by candidates for campaign purposes and preferential access to media. The 2020 parliamentary elections will test how and to what extent these new electoral reforms will be enforced by authorities.
  • In October, a group of parliamentarians proposed a bill to lower the electoral threshold for parties competing in parliamentary elections.6 Whereas the threshold was 7 percent in 2015 and then raised to 9 percent in 2017,7 the 2019 bill proposed lowering the threshold to 5 percent. The issue was taken up by influential public figures in several articles.8 Likewise, political heavyweights, including Omurbek Tekebayev, Temir Sariyev, and Adakhan Madumarov, supported lowering the electoral threshold, suggesting that the excessively high bar leaves political groups outside of Parliament, hence depriving significant portions of the electorate of representation—which, according to them, could lead to another revolution.9 The same bill proposed lowering the electoral deposit required for parties to compete from 5 million soms ($72,000) to 1 million soms ($15,000). The prospects for lowering the electoral threshold are bleak, however. In December, President Jeenbekov expressed surprise about the changed minds of “those in the parliament who [earlier] approved raising the threshold to 9 percent.”10
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 3.253 7.007
  • Kyrgyzstan stands out in the region for its relatively vocal civil society. There are about 30,000 not-for-profit organizations, otherwise known as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), registered in the country.1 While not all are active, these civil society organizations (CSOs) make their presence seen and heard in a range of policy areas. However, the civic sector’s dependence on grants from international organizations or foreign governments continues to make it vulnerable domestically. The growing influence of nationalist-minded illiberal groups further compounds the challenges within the country’s civil society.
  • The government’s commitment to respect and safeguard diversity in society faced a serious test in March. Several organizations fighting for gender equality and women’s rights organized a rally in the capital Bishkek on March 8, International Women’s Day.2 The groups involved were eclectic, drawing together human rights defenders and politicians as well as LGBT+ activists.3 The latter’s presence spurred heated debate on social media as well as in Parliament. Member Jyldyz Musabekova claimed the rally was really a “gay parade” that, according to her, compromised “national values.”4 Both during and following the rally, feminist activists faced harassment from the Kyrk Choro nationalist group.5
  • The government’s response to the rally and the nationalist reaction was generally apathetic though sometimes antagonistic towards civic activists. Speaking at Parliament just days after the rally, on March 13, the deputy chairman of the State Committee for National Security (UKMK), Orozbek Opumbaev, proposed developing a law to give state agencies more direct control over NGOs. Opumbaev said such a law would help with the problem of “uncontrolled financing [of NGOs], particularly of LGBT.”6 The proposal had made no further progress in Parliament by year’s end. However, Opumbaev was promoted to chairman of the UKMK, and his suggestion for a law “similar to one in Russia” found supporters among other parliamentarians.7
  • In August, the economy ministry published draft changes to the law on inspections of business entities. The initiative proposed that not-for-profit organizations (officially registered CSOs) should be subject to the same checks by government agencies as business entities.8 In September, Adilet, a prominent legal advice organization, published its assessment of the draft law and claimed that the proposal amounted to “another attempt of authorities to establish tight control over the nongovernmental sector.”9 In October, the draft law was withdrawn.10
  • Illiberal nationalist groups maintained a high profile in 2019, demonstrating a threat to diversity and inclusion in the country. Kyrk Choro, in addition to harassing feminist and LGBT+ activists, staged several public protests against “illegal” Chinese workers in Kyrgyzstan.11 In a move seemingly aimed at appeasing the group, the state migration agency invited Kyrk Choro leaders to join them in inspecting the legal status of Chinese citizens working at the Dzhunda oil refinery in the town of Kara-Balta.12 In another instance, a group of young men claiming to represent an unknown “youth patriotic movement of Kyrgyzstan” stormed a conference room to disrupt the meeting of the Coalition Against Torture in May. The men claimed that Western countries threatened peace in Kyrgyzstan.13 The growing political influence of illiberal nationalist groups was also demonstrated in December when the director of the National Museum of Fine Arts, Mira Zhangaracheva, was forced to resign following conservative activist attacks against the Feminnale exhibition.14
  • In November and December, various civil society activists organized rallies in central Bishkek protesting against the lack of government reaction to journalistic investigations on corruption (see “Independent Media” and “Corruption”). The protests were initiated and organized mainly through social media.15 The November 25 rally called for the government to investigate corruption in the Customs Service, while activists gathered again on December 18 to demand that authorities stop pressuring the media outlets that had brought the corruption to light.16
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 2.002 7.007
  • Freedom of the press and other media remains precarious in Kyrgyzstan. In this environment, print newspapers, online news agencies, and social media are the key sources that offer pluralism of views and opinions on matters of public interest. However, in 2019, journalists continued to face defamation lawsuits and physical threats, and several independent media came under distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks online following their publication of corruption-related reporting. Furthermore, some higher-profile nonstate media belong to politicians, making them likely targets for political attacks and interference.
  • On August 9, law enforcement officers blocked access to Aprel TV, owned by former president Almazbek Atambayev, subsequently halting its broadcasts.1 Authorities claimed that the property was sealed off as part of the pretrial proceedings against Atambayev, who had been arrested the previous day.2 Local media leaders, journalists, and NGOs responded by calling on authorities to respect the law and freedom of expression.3 The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, also expressed concern over the seizure of Aprel TV assets, urging the Kyrgyz authorities to preserve media freedom and diversity.4 Although Aprel TV received authorization to air President Jeenbekov’s annual press conference in December,5 the company had not been allowed to restart its broadcasting by year’s end.
  • While defamation lawsuits against media on behalf of national leaders have largely stopped, Kyrgyzstan’s libel law continues to be used against independent media. In January, three former high-ranking politicians, Azimbek Beknazarov, Akhmatbek Keldibekov, and Nariman Tyuleev, filed a lawsuit against former president Atambayev and Aprel TV demanding 9 million soms ($130,000) from each defendant. The lawsuit was related to Atambayev’s mention of the three politicians as examples of corrupt officials.6 On February 28, a court ruled against Atambayev, ordering him to pay 100,000 soms ($1,400) to each plaintiff, while the claims against Aprel TV were dropped.7 In another case, parliamentarian Kozhobek Ryspaev won a lawsuit against the newspaper Achyk Sayasat Plyus, which had compared him to “a chameleon,” referring to his frequent change of political party affiliation. In May, a court ordered the paper to pay Ryspaev 300,000 soms ($4,300), a decision the Supreme Court upheld in December.8
  • Corruption-related investigations carried high risks for media and reporters in 2019. The Azattyk Kyrgyz service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), together with the local media agency Kloop and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), released its report on corruption in the Kyrgyz State Customs Service (see “Corruption”).9 Raimbek Matraimov, the former deputy chairman of the customs service, filed a lawsuit against Azattyk, Kloop, and the media outlet 24.kg, demanding 60 million soms ($857,000), including 10 million soms from Ali Toktakunov, an Azattyk journalist. In December, the Bishkek district court froze the accounts of media organizations that produced the investigative reports, only to reverse the decision following large-scale protests by media and civil society organizations.10
  • In April, a businessman and retired police officer, Zhalil Atambayev (no relation to the former president), filed a lawsuit against an Azattyk journalist demanding 50 million soms ($715,000) for a report exposing Atambayev’s shady businesses and tax evasion.11 After a large-scale campaign in defense of the journalist, Atambayev withdrew his lawsuit, claiming that he “forgave” the journalist.12
  • In November, the national security service (UKMK) briefly detained Avtandil Zhorobekov, a moderator of the Facebook group “Bespredel.kg,” charging him with “incitement to ethnic, national and inter-regional strife.” The UKMK claimed that the arrest was based on posts and discussions related to Janybek Bakiyev, the fugitive brother of the country’s second president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev (2005–10).13 Zhorobekov’s sister, however, pointed to her brother’s more recent Facebook posts, which accused President Jeenbekov of being linked to the corrupt schemes of Matraimov and Khabibula Abdukadyr (see “Corruption”).14 Local media emphasized that an “incitement to ethnic, national and inter-regional strife” did not match the UKMK’s claim that Zhorobekov had shared information that “discredited the authorities.”15
  • Abuse of the justice system aside, physical threats against journalists and DDoS attacks on independent media websites pose additional risks for investigative journalism. In September, Azattyk cameraman Aibek Kulchumanov was assaulted by several unidentified men while he filmed an area close to the house of Raimbek Matraimov.16 The attackers stole Kulchumanov’s remote control for his drone equipment, a video camera, and a mobile telephone. In December, eight news agencies experienced DDoS attacks on their online platforms immediately after posting information on luxury items owned by Matraimov’s wife.17
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 1.752 7.007
  • Despite the president’s calls for reform, democratic governance in Kyrgyzstan saw neither serious improvements nor deterioration in 2019. Local council elections were actively contested by different political parties. Yet, the degree of independence and capacity of local governments remains limited. The national executive branch and its district governors retain the upper hand in local policy decisions, and local governments, particularly village municipalities, remain underfunded.1
  • Local self-governance entities in Kyrgyzstan include 453 village municipalities and 31 towns.2 As of 2012, city council members are elected via closed party lists, while village councils are filled through plurality elections in multimember districts. Heads of village municipalities and city mayors are elected by the respective assemblies, while the power to propose candidates belongs to the prime minister and party factions (for mayors) and district governors and members of local councils (for heads of village municipalities).3
  • In 2019, the administrative and territorial reform, announced by President Jeenbekov in 2018, was stalled in the working-group phase. The reform’s stated purposes were to increase decentralization of local governance, improve its institutions and financing, and consolidate administrative-territorial units.4 In January 2019, Deputy Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov indicated that the ultimate reform plan would propose removing either the level of oblasts (provinces) or rayons (districts) and consolidate village municipalities.5 In September, the working group met once more but had no timetable for publishing the results of their work.6
  • The switch to direct election of local-government heads has been one of the issues raised by civil society and parliamentarians alike. Currently, mayors are elected by the city council. The current mayors of Kyrgyzstan’s two largest cities, Bishkek and Osh, were elected unopposed.7 In October, the MoveGreen environmental youth movement began a campaign calling for the direct popular election of the capital city’s mayor. Maria Kolesnikova, head of MoveGreen, argued that mayors are de facto appointed “from above,” with city council votes acting as a mere formality in the approval process.8 Prime Minister Kenzhebek Bokoyev expressed support for the idea and said he had drafted a bill to make the relevant changes in the laws.9
  • In August, President Jeenbekov signed into effect changes to the legal acts on local self-governance. The amendments reduced the minimum number of signatures required to initiate local legal/normative proposals from one-third of the population to a fixed number.10 Thus, 5,000 signatures would be required for a legal initiative in Bishkek and Osh, while municipalities with population over 20,000 would require 1,000 signatures. The changes also clarified the power of local-government heads to undo their own legal acts, something that had caused confusion in the past, according to the Union of Local Governments of the Kyrgyz Republic.11
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 1.502 7.007
  • Notwithstanding the ongoing political rhetoric around judicial reform in Kyrgyzstan, there was little progress in the development of an independent judicial system in 2019.1 The politicization of justice is the biggest challenge, as judges and prosecutors remain at the disposal of the current ruling regime. The judiciary is also highly corrupt, with no policy decisions forthcoming to address the problem.
  • During the year, President Jeenbekov repeatedly expressed frustration over the pace of judicial reform. In December, speaking on the 95th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan’s court system, he noted that “neither actions nor initiatives to promote reforms are particularly noticeable” despite the increase in state financing.2 Similar remarks were made earlier in March.3
  • Lawyers and civic activists are more explicit in their assessment of the judicial reform. In June, the former PM and outspoken lawyer Cholpon Djakupova argued that the independence of the judiciary remained its biggest problem.4 Two-thirds of both the Council for the Selection of Judges and the Disciplinary Commission of the Council of Judges are appointed by the president and Parliament.5 Moreover, the president retains the right to appoint local judges.
  • Yet, even those within the system recognize the need for reforms, if only to improve efficiency within and access to the court system. In an interview on judicial reform, the chairperson of the Supreme Court emphasized the importance of improving public access to court premises and introducing video recording of hearings, but she failed to mention increasing judicial independence as part of the reform agenda.6
  • In May, the UKMK arrested Manas Arabaev, former head of the judicial reform and legal department of the presidential administration.7 Politicians and civil society activists had long argued that Arabaev was the “curator,” or éminence grise, of the judiciary during the Atambayev presidency.8 His arrest, however, was related only to his alleged abuse of office in support of a criminal group that had raided the business of foreign investors. In July, Arabaev was released to house arrest shortly after providing information about “requests” from Raisa Atambayeva, the former president’s wife, relating to the court case of a foreign construction firm.9
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 1.502 7.007
  • Corruption is a well-known problem in Kyrgyzstan. Investigative reporting in 2019 shed light on the entrenched nature of corruption within the government, yet the fight against corruption remains selective and punitive. Similar to his predecessors, President Jeenbekov has repeatedly singled out the fight against corruption as his top priority.1 However, there was little tangible change to report by year’s end. As in the past, the most prominent corruption cases revolved around high-profile political opponents of the ruling group. Observers noted the lack of a systematic approach to battling corruption, with any anticorruption campaign being characterized by nontransparent, punitive, and selective efforts.2
  • In February, speaking at a conference on regional development, President Jeenbekov stated that corruption penetrated “the system deeper than we expected,” and he warned that new corruption cases would soon be revealed.3 The speech came one year after his landmark address at the nation’s Security Council in which he declared that law enforcement agencies themselves had to be freed of corruption.4
  • Some of the country’s high-level former officials found themselves subjects of corruption investigations. In December, the Bishkek district court gave prison sentences to former PMs Sapar Isakov and Jantoro Satybaldiev of 15 and 7.5 years, respectively, upholding corruption charges in a case related to the overhaul of the capital city’s power plant.5 In August, former president Atambayev was charged with corruption for his alleged role in the release of Aziz Batukaev, a notorious crime boss, in 2013.6 Two former prosecutors general, Aida Salyanova and Indira Dzholdubaeva, former vice PM Shamil Atakhanov, and former healthcare minister Dinara Sagynbaeva are among a dozen other figures facing corruption charges in the same case.7 In August, the military prosecutor opened four more corruption cases against Atambayev, three related to his properties and one regarding the Bishkek thermoelectric plant repair.8
  • In May, Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of RFE/RL, released the results of an investigation into money-laundering and smuggling schemes. The report claimed that nearly $700 million had potentially been moved out of the country between 2011 and 2017 by firms affiliated with Raimbek Matraimov, a former deputy chairman of the Customs Service.9 In November and December, Azattyk, together with the local media agency Kloop and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) released the second and third parts of the investigation.10 This supplementary reporting revealed details of large-scale smuggling of Chinese goods and money laundering run by a Chinese-born Uyghur businessman Khabibula Abdukadyr. In addition to highlighting Matraimov’s role in providing cover for Abdukadyr’s operations, the investigation alleged that Matraimov’s family foundation had received $2.4 million via bank transfers.11 The investigative report was built in large part on the confessions of Chinese-born businessman Aierken Saimaiti, formerly part of Abdukadyr’s network. Saimaiti was assassinated in Istanbul on November 10.12
  • Despite the bombshell nature of the Matraimov investigations, Kyrgyz authorities remained largely disinterested in the allegations. Following the first installment of the investigative report, published in May, the State Service for Combatting Economic Crimes announced that it had audited the Matraimov-affiliated firms and charged another 24 million soms ($347,000) in additional taxes.13 On November 25, nearly a thousand people rallied in Bishkek, protesting against the government’s lack of response to the journalistic investigations.14 President Jeenbekov maintained that while there were “hundreds of corrupt officials such as Matraimov within the Customs Service,” the “reporters’ claims were not sufficient to jail a person.”15
  • Corruption within the judicial system remains a widely acknowledged problem, although corruption cases against judges or prosecutors are rare in Kyrgyzstan. One such instance occurred in February, when the UKMK launched a criminal investigation into seven judges, including three on the Supreme Court.16 According to the investigation report, the judges were involved in making “knowingly unlawful” verdicts in the interest of groups associated with the seizure of foreign-investor properties.17 Yet, the occasional arrests of judges and prosecutors for abuse of power, however, have not been followed up by systemic reforms to combat corruption in the judiciary.

Note

The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0–100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

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    38 100 partly free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    61 100 partly free