Kyrgyzstan | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017



Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

After two revolutions that ousted authoritarian presidents in 2005 and 2010, Kyrgyzstan adopted a parliamentary form of government, and multiparty coalitions have since been the norm. However, power remains in the hands of an entrenched political elite, and corruption is pervasive. Authorities have harshly suppressed dissent from human rights activists, particularly those linked to the Uzbek minority, which bore the brunt of ethnic violence in 2010. In recent years, President Almazbek Atambayev and his party have sought to consolidate executive power, threatening political pluralism.

Key Developments: 
  • The coalition government, led by the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), collapsed in October amid disagreement over a proposed referendum to amend the constitution. The SDPK organized a new coalition in November.
  • The referendum passed in December despite low turnout, and the resulting constitutional changes were expected to strengthen the positions of president and prime minister ahead of a presidential election in 2017.
Executive Summary: 

In July 2016, after years of pressure from the international community, Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court set aside the life sentence of jailed ethnic Uzbek activist Azimjon Askarov, but ordered him to be retried on allegations that he fomented interethnic violence in 2010. The court decision followed an April ruling by the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), which found that Askarov had not received a fair trial and had been tortured and otherwise mistreated. The committee called for him to be immediately freed.

In September, the parliament began to consider a proposed referendum on constitutional amendments despite a previous consensus that the 2010 document should not be fundamentally altered for 10 years. Two junior partners in the ruling coalition refused to back the proposal, prompting President Atambayev’s SDPK to withdraw from the coalition and bring down the government. The amendments would apparently strengthen the executive, weaken judicial independence, and allow the government to rebuff rulings by international human rights bodies—a direct response to the UNHRC decision. Critics said the changes were likely to reinforce the position of the SDPK as Kyrgyzstan’s dominant party, though the full implications of some of the 26 amendments were unclear even to legal experts.

The proposal nevertheless won passage in the parliament in early November, and the SDPK formed a new governing coalition. The final referendum language was not released to the public until mid-November, roughly a month before the scheduled vote. Multiple reports indicated that the government used administrative resources to mobilize support for the referendum, and the proposal ultimately passed amid low turnout. The amendments were due to be signed into law in early 2017.

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