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A new anticorruption body within the state security service began to address one of Kyrgyzstan’s most fundamental problems in 2012, but its choice of cases raised suspicions that it was pursuing President Almazbek Atambayev’s political opponents. Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov’s coalition government collapsed in August, reportedly due to disagreements with the president on the division of executive power. A new government formed in September was led by the president’s party, with an old ally, Jantoro Satybaldiyev, as prime minister. The country continued to suffer from serious flaws in the treatment of national minorities, due process, prevention of and accountability for torture, and judicial independence.
Shortly after Kyrgyzstan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Askar Akayev, a respected physicist, was elected president. He easily won reelection in 1995, and constitutional amendments the following year substantially increased the powers of the presidency. International observers noted serious irregularities in the 2000 parliamentary and presidential elections, which yielded another term for Akayev.
Long-standing frustrations in the economically depressed and politically marginalized south culminated in public protests in 2002. Six protesters were killed when police fired into a crowd in the village of Aksy. Although several prosecutors and police officials were eventually convicted and sentenced to prison, opposition critics continued to argue that senior officials who authorized the use of force were never brought to justice.
After flawed February 2005 parliamentary elections, thousands of demonstrators protested irregularities and ultimately called for Akayev’s resignation. On March 24, protesters and opposition supporters stormed the presidential headquarters in Bishkek. Akayev fled abroad and later resigned.
In the July 2005 presidential poll, former prime minister and opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev captured 89 percent of the vote. His victory was regarded as nearly inevitable after Feliks Kulov, his most serious rival, withdrew his presidential candidacy in exchange for the post of prime minister. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) nevertheless concluded that the election represented an improvement over previous votes.
After violently dispersing opposition protests in April 2007, the government enacted constitutional revisions in an October referendum, expanding the parliament from 75 to 90 seats and introducing party-slate balloting. Parliamentary elections in December resulted in a legislature dominated by the newly formed progovernment party Ak Zhol and devoid of opposition representation.
The president consolidated his power in 2008 and 2009, sidelining the country’s remaining well-known opposition figures. In March 2009, Medet Sadyrkulov, Bakiyev’s former chief of staff, was found dead in a burned-out car near Bishkek. Opposition representatives charged that he had been assassinated because he was planning to join them. Bakiyev won another five-year term in the July 2009 presidential election, taking 75 percent of the vote. OSCE observers concluded that the poll failed to meet international standards, citing evidence of fraud, intimidation of opposition supporters, and the misuse of administrative resources, among other problems.
In April 2010, Bakiyev fled the country amid antigovernment protests in Bishkek, leading to the formation of an interim government. A reported 86 people were killed in the street confrontations, with most victims apparently shot by security forces. In the first half of June, ethnic rioting swept the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad, leaving at least 470 people dead. Ethnic Uzbeks suffered the brunt of the violence, and local security forces were accused of abetting attacks on Uzbek communities. Later the same month, a referendum that international observers deemed generally fair confirmed longtime opposition figure Roza Otunbayeva as interim president through December 2011 and approved a new constitution that shifted power from the presidency to the parliament.
Parliamentary elections held in October 2010 were deemed an improvement over Bakiyev-era balloting. The nationalist Ata-Jurt party led with 28 of 120 seats, followed by Otunbayeva’s Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) with 26, Ar-Namys with 25, Respublika with 23, and Ata-Meken with 18. Ata-Jurt, the SDPK, and Respublika formed a coalition government in December, leaving Ar-Namys and Ata-Meken in opposition. Almazbek Atambayev of the SDPK became prime minister. The coalition remained stable but failed to coordinate on a legislative agenda before the October 2011 presidential election.
The presidential poll was seen by OSCE observers as free and competitive, though marred by significant irregularities on election day. Atambayev defeated 15 other candidates and took 63 percent of the vote. In December, a new coalition composed of the SDPK, Respublika, Ata-Meken, and Ar-Namys was formed, with Omurbek Babanov of Respublika as prime minister.
The coalition lasted eight months, collapsing in August 2012 after Babanov and Atambayev publicly clashed over their respective roles under the new constitution. In September, the SDPK took the lead in a new coalition with Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys, and Jantoro Satybaldiyev, a close ally of the president, became prime minister.
Separately, the party of Melis Myrzakmatov, the Kyrgyz nationalist mayor of Osh since 2009, won city council elections in March amid widespread reports of voter intimidation. However, tensions in the city began to ease as it became clear that Myrzakmatov would not implement the most ambitious versions of his controversial reconstruction and resettlement plans, which were seen as favoring ethnic Kyrgyz.
In October, three lawmakers from the opposition Ata-Jurt party were arrested after a protest in Bishkek to demand the nationalization of a gold mine run by a Canadian company. The men, who remained in pretrial detention at year’s end, were accused of calling for the government’s overthrow and attempting to storm the parliament.
The SDPK won the most votes in a series of local elections in November, followed by Respublika and Ata-Meken. Feliks Kulov of the Ar-Namys party, which fared poorly in the voting, stepped down as head of the ruling coalition to protest alleged electoral fraud.
Kyrgyzstan is not an electoral democracy, though the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2010 and 2011 were considered improvements over the deeply flawed 2007 parliamentary and 2009 presidential votes. OSCE observers praised the 2010 parliamentary campaign’s pluralism and other positive features, but were more critical of the 2011 presidential vote, citing widespread problems with voter lists and numerous faults in the tabulation process.
Constitutional changes adopted in the June 2010 referendum expanded the unicameral parliament from 90 to 120 deputies, with no party allowed to hold more than 65 seats. Parliamentary elections are to be held every five years. The president, who shares executive power with the prime minister, serves a single six-year term with no possibility of reelection and has the power to veto legislation.
The aim of the 2010 reforms was to ensure political pluralism and prevent the reemergence of an authoritarian, superpresidential system. In 2012, however, observers noted signs that President Almazbek Atambayev was beginning to reclaim powers given to the prime minister’s office under the new constitution and to use the executive branch to target political enemies.
Corruption is pervasive in Kyrgyz society. The nepotistic practices of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, whose sons and brothers were prominent in business and government, were a significant source of popular dissatisfaction prior to his ouster. The interim government charged some members of the Bakiyev regime with corruption, but the results in the largely unreformed courts have been inconclusive. In March 2012, the former president’s brother, Akhmat Bakiyev, due to stand trial for corruption, escaped from a clinic where he had supposedly been receiving treatment. Also during the year, a new anticorruption service within the State Committee of National Security (GKNB) arrested an opposition lawmaker and a cabinet minister in June and July, respectively, but some observers described the cases as selective and politicized. Kyrgyzstan was ranked 154 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The media landscape remained bifurcated along ethnic lines in 2012, with significantly improved conditions for Kyrgyz-language media since 2010 and vastly worse conditions for both Uzbek-language outlets and critical Russian-language media. Independent Uzbek-language media virtually ceased to exist in southern Kyrgyzstan after the June 2010 ethnic violence, as several Uzbek television and radio outlets were closed down. In February 2012, the Kyrgyz State Communications Agency instructed internet service providers to block the Russia-based news website Fergananews.com; the parliament had previously condemned the site for its critical coverage of the situation in Osh. In July, Russian-language journalist Vladimir Farafonov was convicted in Bishkek of “inciting ethnic hatred” in his online articles. Though the court imposed only a fine, the state prosecutor had requested eight years’ imprisonment, far beyond the maximum penalty prescribed by law. Prosecutions for inciting hatred have focused exclusively on minority writers despite the prevalence of openly racist and anti-Semitic articles in Kyrgyz-language media. In April, the GKNB disclosed plans to systematically monitor online news outlets for hate speech, raising concerns that it could stifle dissent or punish media for reporting the speech of public figures.
The government has generally permitted a broad range of religious practices, but all religious organizations must register with the authorities, a process that is often cumbersome and arbitrary. Proselytizing, private religious education, and the wearing of headscarves in schools were banned in 2009. The government monitors and restricts Islamist groups that it regards as a threat to national security, particularly Hizb ut-Tahrir, an ostensibly nonviolent international movement calling for the creation of a caliphate.
Tight official restrictions on freedom of assembly have not been altered since the Bakiyev era, but enforcement has been eased considerably in practice. Small protests are held regularly, though they sometimes encounter police violence.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) participate actively in civic and political life, and public advisory councils were established in the parliament and most ministries in 2011, permitting improved monitoring and advocacy by NGOs. However, rising nationalism continues to affect both ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbek NGO activists. Human rights workers who support Uzbek victims of abuse continue to face threats, harassment, and physical attacks.
The law provides for the formation of trade unions, and unions are generally able to operate without obstruction. However, strikes are prohibited in many sectors. Legal enforcement of union rights is weak, and collective bargaining agreements are not always respected by employers.
The judiciary is not independent and remains dominated by the executive branch. Corruption among judges, who are underpaid, is widespread. Defendants’ rights, including the presumption of innocence, are not always respected, and there are credible reports of torture during arrest and interrogation.
The ongoing trials of the Bakiyev family and their accomplices, including a case against 28 former government officials and special forces members for the alleged killing of 86 demonstrators in April 2010, have been marred by numerous procedural violations and threats against lawyers in the courtroom. Human Rights Watch also documented systematic rights violations at trials of ethnic Uzbeks in 2010 and 2011, with defendants attacked in courtrooms, tortured in detention, and convicted on flimsy or fabricated evidence. In June 2012, four Jalalabad police officers charged in the August 2011 beating death of an ethnic Uzbek Russian citizen, Usman Kholimirzayev, were released to house arrest. The legal proceedings in their case have been marked by protests against prosecutors, witness intimidation, and multiple venue changes.
The widespread and extensively documented violence against the Uzbek community in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010 cast a harsh light on the plight of ethnic minorities. Uzbeks, who make up nearly half of the population in Osh, had long demanded more political and cultural rights, including greater representation in government, more Uzbek-language schools, and official status for the Uzbek language.
The government generally respects the right of unrestricted travel to and from Kyrgyzstan. However, barriers to internal migration include a requirement that citizens obtain permits to work and settle in particular areas of the country.
Personal connections, corruption, organized crime, and widespread poverty limit business competition and equality of opportunity. Companies that had belonged to the Bakiyev family were nationalized in 2010 pending a new process of privatization. That year’s ethnic violence affected property rights in the south, as many businesses, mainly owned by ethnic Uzbeks, were destroyed or seized. In 2012, nationalist politicians called for the state to seize assets held by foreign companies, especially in the mining sector. Nationalist thugs frequently attacked foreign mining operations, often with no interference from local authorities.
Despite achieving notable leadership positions, women remain underrepresented in high levels of government. Cultural traditions and apathy among law enforcement officials discourage victims of domestic violence and rape from contacting the authorities. An international inquiry criticized the government response to rape cases from the 2010 ethnic violence as “inadequate if not obstructive.” The trafficking of women and girls into forced prostitution abroad is a serious problem, and some victims report that the authorities are involved in trafficking. The practice of bride abduction persists despite being illegal, and few perpetrators are prosecuted. In December 2012, the parliament voted to increase the maximum penalty from 3 to 10 years in prison, and bride kidnapping is now a “public crime” that prosecutors are legally obligated to pursue regardless of whether the victim presses charges. Previously classified as a private crime, victims and their families often faced social pressure not to press charges, and very few cases were ever prosecuted.
Homosexual activity is not illegal, but LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people reportedly face severe discrimination and the risk of abuse, including by police.