Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 26, 1999.
The Kyrgyz Republic became an independent state in 1991. Although the 1993 Constitution defines the form of government as a democratic republic with substantial civil rights for its citizens, the President, Askar Akayev, dominates the Government. Akayev was reelected in December 1995 in an open, multicandidate presidential election, which was marred, however, by deregistration of three rival candidates immediately prior to the vote. Also in 1995, a two-chamber Parliament was elected for a 5-year term. The Constitution was amended by referendum in February 1996 to strengthen substantially the Presidency and define the role of Parliament. However, the February referendum was marred by serious irregularities. On October 17, the Government held a constitutional referendum that, among other things, reformed the structure of the Parliament and the national budget process. The referendum passed by over 90 percent, but there were again a number of serious irregularities. Although Parliament has become increasingly active, it still does not check the power of the President effectively. The judiciary is dominated by the executive branch.
Law enforcement responsibilities are divided among the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) for general crime, the Ministry of National Security (MNB) for state-level crime, and the procuratorās office for both types of crime. Both the MVD and MNB deal with corruption and organized crime. These ministries inherited their personnel and infrastructure from their Soviet predecessors. Both appear to be under the general control of the Government and generally conform their actions to the law. Kyrgyz Republicās border with China and one of its two international airports are manned by Russian border troops under an agreement with the Russian Federation. Border guards are under the full control of the Government. As of January 1, 1999, responsibility for border control lies with the Government, except for the Sino-Kyrgyz border where Russian guards operate under joint Kyrgyz-Russian agreement. Final withdrawal of Russian border guards is scheduled for 2003. Some members of the police committed human rights abuses. Police patrols are poorly supervised, not always paid promptly, and sometimes commit crimes. Supervision of conditions for pretrial detainees is also poor, and abuses sometimes occur.
The Kyrgyz Republic is a poor, mountainous country with a rough balance of agricultural and industrial production. Cotton, tobacco, and sugar are its primary agricultural exports. The country also exports hydroelectric power, antimony, mercury, and uranium. The Government has carried out progressive market reforms. The moderate growth apparent in most sectors has increased, and the public generally supports economic reform. Gross domestic product for the first half of 1998 increased by 5 percent compared with the same period of 1997; however, the level of hardship for pensioners, unemployed workers, and government workers with salary arrearages continues to be very high. The average annual salary is $152 (4,641 som). Foreign assistance plays a significant role in the countryās budget.
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in many areas, but serious problems remained. The Government limited citizensā ability to change their government, and there were serious irregularities in the October constitutional referendum. There were credible reports of police abuse and brutality. Prison conditions are very poor, and there were some cases of arbitrary arrest and detention. Executive domination of the judiciary limited citizensā right to due process, although the judiciary is undergoing reform. Although government supervision of "village eldersā courts" remains uneven, abuses such as stoning and death sentences have abated. Although sanctioned by the Government, eldersā courts are not part of the regular judicial structure, and the Government has made efforts to curtail their activities. The Government at times infringed on freedom of speech and of the press. Authorities at times pressured journalists who criticized individual members of the Government. Unlike the previous year, the Government did not use libel laws against the press; however, the Government on occasion apparently used tax laws and registration requirements to intimidate the opposition press or to suspend newspapers. The Government at times inhibited freedom of assembly and association. The Government deregistered the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KHRC) prior to the October referendum. The Government at times infringes on freedom of religion. Violence against women is a problem that authorities often ignore, and trafficking in women also is a growing problem. Child abuse is a problem, and there is a growing number of street children. Discrimination against ethnic minorities persisted.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings.
In January police officers in Tamga beat to death Muratbek Sulaimanov while he was in their custody on suspicion of cattle theft. Officers returned Sulaimanovās body to his relatives hours after he was taken into custody. The officers claimed that they did not kill Sulaimanov and released him in good health, but that he later fell down a flight of stairs. An autopsy determined that the cause of death was the numerous injuries that resulted from a serious beating. At yearās end, the officers involved had not been brought to trial.
In February police officers in the Lenin region severely beat 17-year-old Sergei Skromnov and then buried him alive in ashes at the city heating plant. Skromnov died of suffocation, according to the autopsy. The investigation into Skromnovās death still was ongoing at yearās end, but there has been no resolution of the case.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits such practices; however, there were credible reports of police violence against detained suspects to obtain confessions while the suspects were in pretrial detention. There were also a small number of credible reports of police brutality in criminal cases, according to the KHRC.
Prison conditions (including overcrowding, food shortages, and lack of heat and other necessities) are very poor, due to limited budget resources. Those detained by the MNB rather than the MVD are kept in an MNB facility; after conviction, they go to a regular prison. The Criminal Procedure Code of 1994 is based on the Soviet-era Criminal Procedure Code and established the right for attorney-client visits of unlimited number and duration. In practice, however, an attorney must obtain official permission for every visit. Prison visits by family members are at the discretion of the investigator during the investigation phase. After conviction family members may visit regularly.
In principle nonfamily visitors seldom are permitted. However, some citizens, including local human rights activists, claim that they usually can obtain official permission for a visit through personal connections with the MVD.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The judicial system continues to operate, in many cases, under Soviet laws and procedures, and authorities generally respect these provisions in practice; there were a few cases of arbitrary arrest and detention. The procuratorās office determines who may be detained, arrested, and prosecuted. The MNB, the MVD, and the General Procurator carry out investigations. Since 1990 persons arrested or charged with crimes have the right to a defense counsel, who is required to visit the accused within the first 3 days of incarceration. However, sometimes the accused first sees the defense counsel only at the trial.
The Criminal Code permits the procurator to detain suspects for 72 hours before releasing them or accusing them of a crime. The procurator must issue an arrest warrant before a person can be detained. If a suspect is charged, the procurator must advise defense counsel immediately. The accused usually remains in detention while the procurator investigates and prepares the case for trial. The procurator has discretion to keep the accused in pretrial detention for up to 1 year, but there are conditions for provisional release before trial. After 1 year, the procurator must release the accused or ask Parliament to extend the period of detention. Since independence, there have been no known instances in which Parliament has been asked to extend a detention.
In January authorities arrested opposition political leader Kubanichbek Apas upon his arrival in the country from Russia, where he was living to avoid ongoing government harassment. Police arrested Apas on outstanding libel charges and for insulting the honor and dignity of the President. However, police released Apas not long after his arrest through application of the 1997 amnesty law.
The MNB monitors the Uighur community closely. They sometimes arrested Uighurs on ill-defined charges, including use of falsified identification and on weapons charges (see Section 2.d.).
In October a policeman was tried and convicted for raping a foreigner in Bishkek in November 1997. He was sentenced to 7 yearsā imprisonment.
Topchubek Turgunaliyev, an opposition party leader, was arrested in April 1996 for disseminating anonymous leaflets containing libelous material against President Akayev. In May the Supreme Court upheld the original July 1996 verdict against Turgunaliyev, despite the fact that two opposition newspapers reported that the procurator and local authorities pressured witnesses during the original trial. The Court later modified the sentence and applied a 1997 amnesty to his case, a formality, since Turgunaliyev already had served his sentence. Turgunaliyev also had been arrested for embezzlement in December 1997, while he was participating in a rally in front of the Government Building in Bishkek. In May the Supreme Court upheld the second conviction as well, but reduced the sentence from 4 to 3 years. Turgunaliyev already had served much of his second term and was released due to the amnesty. However, after Turgunaliyev participated in demonstrations to support the Asaba newspaper in August (see Section 2.a.), he was detained again. Authorities sentenced him to prison but released him on parole after approximately 2 weeks. Authorities initially required Turgunaliyev to report to a "halfway house" in the evenings as a condition of his parole, although the law provides no grounds for such a requirement. During his probation of approximately 1 year, Turgunaliyev may not vote or run for office, which prevents him from running in the 1999 parliamentary elections and may effectively prevent him from competing in the 2000 presidential elections, due to insufficient time to campaign after his probation expires.
The Government does not employ forced exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, despite extensive reforms in the court system and a large body of new law, court operations have not yet become independent of the executive branch, which continues to dominate the judiciary.
Cases originate in local courts; they may move to appeals courts on the district or regional level, and finally to the Supreme Court. Separate courts of arbitration handle civil disputes, and traditional eldersā courts handle low-level crime in rural area.
The procurator brings cases to court and tries them before a judge and two peopleās assessors (pensioners or citizens chosen from labor collectives). The accused and the defense counsel have access to all evidence gathered by the procurator. They attend all proceedings, which are generally public, and are allowed to question witnesses and present evidence. All members of the court have equal rights. Anyone in the courtroom may question witnesses. Witnesses do not always recapitulate their evidence in court; instead they affirm or deny their statements in the procuratorās files.
The court compares the facts as presented by the procurator and the defense, and in most cases makes its decision after receiving all available information in each case. The court may render one of three decisions: Innocent; guilty; or indeterminate, that is, the case is returned to the procurator for further investigation. In 1996 the Constitutional Court ruled that only the defense has the right of appeal. The decision of a court to return a case to the procurator for further investigation may not be appealed, and accused persons are returned to the procuratorās custody, where they may remain under detention.
The procurator, not the judge, is in charge of criminal proceedings. Thus the courts are widely perceived as a rubber stamp for the procurator and for high-ranking government officials and not as the protectors of citizensā rights. In addition very low judgesā salaries have led to a well-grounded view among lawyers and citizens that all but a very few scrupulously honest judges are open to bribes.
Local eldersā courts are found in almost every oblast and region. They exercise their authority by trying petty crimes, such as robbery, hooliganism, or theft. In the past, local eldersā courts had exceeded their authority by trying major crimes, using torture to extract confessions or even levying capital punishment. However, abuses such as stoning and death sentences have abated, and there were no reports of such action during the year. Local eldersā courts are under the supervision of the procuratorās office, but they may not receive close oversight due to the fact that many such courts are located in remote regions, which makes monitoring them difficult.
The Government has introduced several judicial reform measures, including a proposal to establish an independent judicial budget, creation of judicial judgment enforcement procedures, and independent judicial training. Generally accepted international practices, including the presumption of the innocence of the accused, have been introduced. Judges do not hold positions for life. As provided in the Constitution, terms for judges range from 15 years for Constitutional Court judges to 3 years for first-term local judges. A new system of court administration is being instituted, and sitting judges are being tested on their knowledge of the law and new civil codes. The first round of testing was completed in the fall of 1996; the next will be carried out in the fall of 1999 when new judicial appointments occur. If judges fail these tests, they may be disqualified from holding office. The process appears to have increased judicial professionalism, and a number of judges have been removed due to poor performance on the exams. Some removals appear to have been subjective, but most lawyers and judges consider the system to be a fair measure of competence. In what may be an indication of growing judicial independence, the Constitutional Court ruled in November 1996 that the speaker of the legislative lower house had been elected unconstitutionally, since mandated parliamentary procedure had not been followed. The legislature accepted the Courtās ruling and elected a new speaker.
The appointment of ethnic Kyrgyz to key positions in the judicial system has led to charges by non-Kyrgyz that the system is arbitrary and unfair and that the courts treat Kyrgyz more leniently than members of other groups. Although systematic discrimination is not clearly evident, it is credible in some cases. There are also complaints by Uzbeks, and even by ethnic Kyrgyz, that the southern portion of the country is underrepresented in the judiciary.
Economic crimes such as tax evasion, embezzlement, and theft of government property, including that of electric power, are common. Prosecution for these crimes is relatively rare and sometimes appears to be directed at opponents of the Government. Recently, however, officials with a close relationship to the Presidency have been fired because of fraud and malfeasance while in office. Legislators in the past have used their parliamentary immunity to avoid being brought to court. The Government recently initiated investigations into allegations of fraud and malfeasance by government officials. In addition, the October referendum included an amendment that limited immunity to official acts only.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution prohibits unlawful entry into a home against the wishes of the occupant and states that a personās private life, privacy of correspondence, and telephonic and telegraphic communications are protected. The law and procedures require the General Procuratorās approval for wiretaps, searches of homes, interception of mail, and similar acts. A change in the law in 1995 weakened these protections by allowing the procurator to give approval for searches over the telephone; thus no written proof exists to verify that the search was approved. Furthermore, in certain cases, law enforcement officers may first carry out a search and then get approval within 24 hours. If approval is not given, any evidence seized is inadmissible in court.
Organizational structures responsible for violations during the Soviet era have remained largely in place; however, there were no reports of violations of citizensā privacy. There were concerns by citizens active in politics or human rights issues that the privacy of their communications was violated, but evidence to that effect is not available.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for certain freedoms of speech and of the press; however, the Government at times infringed on these rights.
The 1992 law on the mass media provides for freedom of speech and the mass media, and outlines registration procedures. It identifies prohibited material: Government and commercial secrets; material advocating war, violence or intolerance toward ethnic or religious groups; desecration of national norms, ethics, and symbols, such as the national seal, flag, or anthem; pornography; and encroachment on the honor and dignity of a person. Two new laws, "On Guarantees and Free Access to Information" and "On the Protection of the Professional Activities of Journalists," were adopted in December 1997. One newspaper was closed by the Government during the year, but no electronic media were closed. No journalists were arrested or imprisoned as a direct result of journalistic activities, although several faced civil "honor and dignity" charges in court cases brought by parliamentarians or other public figures.
Libel is a criminal, not a civil action. The Government attempted at the end of 1997 and early this year to amend the Criminal Code to remove libel; however, its efforts were defeated in Parliament by an overwhelming majority. As a result of the October 17 referendum, the Constitution now includes language that precludes Parliament from passing laws that infringe on free speech. However, it remains unclear whether there will be implementing legislation for this amendment.
There are approximately 40 to 50 independent newspapers and magazines, including some with local, not national, standing. There are also several hours daily of independent television and radio broadcasting. However, state television, radio, and government newspapers receive government subsidies, which permit the Government to influence media coverage. Additionally, the Stateās printing house, Uchlan, is the only newspaper publisher in the country. Thus, the Government could be in a position to control or pressure the independent newspapers, although there were no reports of such pressure during the year.
Yrysbek Omursakov, a journalist for Res Publica, who had been sentenced in 1996 for libeling President Akayev, was sentenced for libel again in May 1997, after writing a series of articles on privatization. He was released on bail in June 1997, but the charges remained in force. He was sentenced in September 1997 to 6 months in a prison colony; he appealed the verdict but was found guilty in November 1997. He was then released under a presidential amnesty. The Supreme Court found him guilty on January 20, according to the Civil Code, not the Criminal Code and sentenced him to pay a fine equal to 100 times the minimum monthly salary (about $600), but the provision of amnesty exempted him from having to pay. Omursakov returned to work at Res Publica during the year.
In March 1997, the newspaper Kriminal was closed as the result of a trial initiated by the then Prime Minister: The newspaper was sued after publishing an article that accused the Prime Minister of constructing a huge house for himself. In May 1997, Zamira Sadykova, Aleksandr Alyanchikov, Bektash Shamshiyev, and Marina Sivasheva of Res Publica were convicted of libel against Dastan Sarygulov, the head of the gold mining concern, Kyrgyzaltyn. Sadykova and Alyanchikov received 18-month sentences; Shamshiev and Sivasheva were fined and barred from working as journalists for 18 months. After an appeal, the court suspended Alyanchikovās sentence, although his 18-month ban on journalistic activity remained in effect and overturned Shamshiyevās and Sivashevaās sentences. The court did not overturn Sadykovaās sentence but had her moved to a more lenient place of detention.
All media must register with the Ministry of Justice and wait for ministry approval before beginning to operate. The media law states that the registration process will take 1 month. During the year, there was one report concerning a media organization that could not register in a timely manner. The owners of Asaba, having filed documents in June to register another newspaper in Russian, were unable to do so until December.
During the first half of the year, all television and radio stations were to be registered (licensed) with the newly established National Agency for Communications (NAC) or reregistered if they had a registration with the NACās predecessor, the Committee on Frequencies under the Prime Minister. The NAC requires extensive paperwork for registration, including copies of documents on education and training received by the staff, and specifications of the equipment used.
Many independent television and radio stations have received licenses. Among them were Pyramid, Independent Bishkek Television (NBT), Vostochnaya Strana (VOSST), Asia Center, Open Channel, and Europa Plus. The registration fee ranges from approximately $500 to $1,000 (10,000 to 20,000 som). Licenses issued are valid for 3 to 7 years (the duration of validity was determined by the NAC based on its evaluation of a companyās viability). Other independent television and radio companies are in the process of reregistration, including Osh Television, Mezon Television, Radio Almaz stations in Bishkek and Osh, and several others.
There are two television stations in Osh that broadcast in Uzbek: Osh Television (some programs) and Mezon Television (all programs). The latter was founded by the Mezon Uzbek Ethnic Center to serve the needs of the large Uzbek population of Osh.
Licensing has been complicated for nongovernment broadcasters. In August the NAC notified licensees of a new government provision. Entitled "Provisions on Licensing Activities in the Area of Communications in the Kyrgyz Republic, Article 33," it provides that those holding licenses pay for all expenses connected with carrying out supervisory functions under the license agreements. Additionally, since mid-August the nongovernment electronic media began receiving standard notices from the NAC, signed by its director Orozaly Kaiykov, stating that the obligation to broadcast in the state language was not being fulfilled and that broadcasters were relying mainly on foreign music and programming. Despite an extended series of meetings since September between the NAC and media officials, these issues, which the media view as a form of censorship, were not resolved by yearās end.
On August 15, with only 1 monthās notice, the independent Kyrgyz language newspaper Asaba was evicted from its offices after renting space there for 32 years. The building now belongs to the MVD. According to reports in other independent newspapers, Res Publica and Vecherniy Bishkek, the primary reason for the eviction was that Asaba (an opposition newspaper) had published articles critical of the Government. The staff and supporters of Asaba organized a peaceful demonstration on August 15 to protest the Governmentās action, but the MVD did not change its decision to evict Asaba. The newspaper continued to publish from the editorās home until moving into new offices at the end of September. Asaba also reported ongoing problems with the tax authorities that were not resolved by yearās end.
On September 21, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Parliament, Ishenbay Kadyrbekov, brought suit in the Laninsky regional court in Bishkek against a journalist, Kalen Sydykova. Sydykova was charged under Article 18 of the Civil Code for her publication of an article entitled "Crime in Parliament or Ventures of Presumptuous Members of Parliament" in the newspaper Kylmysh Jana Jaza (Crime and Punishment) on June 11. She was accused of harming the dignity and honor of a Member of Parliament (M.P.) and the statements in her publication were considered to include "rude insinuations and defamation." The M.P. claimed $50,000 (1 million soms) in compensation. At yearās end, the rayon court found Sydykova not guilty, but the case was being appealed to a higher court.
In September Bermet Bukasheva, the chief editor of the newspaper Litsa, was charged with defaming Minister of Finance, Talaibek Koichumanov. Bukasheva was found guilty in September, fined $500 (10,000 soms), and ordered to print a retraction. She intended to appeal this decision to the city court; however, Koichumanov (who is no longer Finance Minister) agreed not to press for the fine and retraction, if Bukasheva did not appeal the case.
On October 19, the Minister of Justice suspended three newspapers: Kartama-Digest (the successor to Kattama); Limon; and Pajshamba (a supplement to Asaba) for pornography as a result of pressure from an M.P. and from the public. Kartama-Digest had published only one issue and was closed before the case was filed. A recently established Morals Commission accurately charged that these newspapers contained material that was pornographic or offensive to the public taste. However, other equally pornographic publications were left alone, suggesting that the case against Limon (linked to Akipress) and Pajshamba (linked to Asaba) may have been politically motivated. Both Limon and Pajshamba have reached an accommodation with the Ministry of Justice. Limon will continue to publish, although it will eliminate its pornographic content. Pajshamba published one more issue before going out of business at the end of the year. Asaba attempted to revise Pajshamba and intended to establish a new journal (Juuchu) in 1999.
The Morals Commission, a presidentially appointed body of newspaper editors, university rectors, religious leaders, and public figures, was tasked with reviewing the print and broadcast media as well as videos and other activity to determine whether the content is pornographic or violent in nature. Upon finding that an item was pornographic, the Commission was charged with requesting legal action be taken against organizations and individuals violating its "decency precepts." The Morals Commission was closed by presidential decree in January 1999.
In December Parliament passed a new law on advertising which limits the amount of advertising to 20 percent in the print media and to 25 percent in the broadcast media. This legislation will affect the revenue of the independent media; therefore, a lawsuit is being prepared to test its constitutionality.
Academic freedom is respected.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to assemble freely; however, while the Government generally respects this right, officials, including those at local levels, sometimes use regulations that require registration of rallies and demonstrations to inhibit this right.
Permits are required for public marches and gatherings but are routinely available. Rallies and demonstrations are held regularly in front of the Government Building and in other places. In the summer, while adopting changes to the pension law, elderly persons held several demonstrations to protest a proposed increase of the pension eligibility age for both men and women. This proposal was coupled with cuts in payments to working pensioners. In 1997 and 1998, some peaceful protests took place outside the Presidentās office, mostly consisting of pensioners protesting late pension payments and market venders protesting tax enforcement. In August supporters of the Asaba newspaper demonstrated for several hours at the White House (the central facility for the operation of the executive branch) without incident to protest the eviction of the newspaper from its quarters in an MNB-owned building. The newspaper successfully located new facilities and is still in operation. The law requires official written permission for holding assemblies, rallies, and demonstrations. Persons who seek permission to demonstrate against the wrongful actions of authorities always must ask permission from those same authorities.
The Constitution provides for the right of association; however, while the Government generally respects this right, at times local authorities have inhibited it in practice.
The 1991 Law on Public Organizations, which includes labor unions, political parties, and cultural associations, requires registration of these organizations with the Ministry of Justice. Excessive caution by some officials is a contributing element for the delay some organizations are experiencing in registering. Ultimately, all organizations have been able to register, with the exception of a Uighur organization with the stated goal of creating an independent Uighur state in northwest China.
In October the Ministry of Justice revoked the registration of the KHRC on the grounds that its registration application contained falsified documents. The revocation came while the chairman of the KHRC was lobbying against the October referendum. Subsequently, the KHRC was invited to reregister, but its chairman has declined to do so. The group continues to operate despite its unregistered status (see Section 4).
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution and the law provide for freedom of religion and the right of all citizens to choose and practice their own religion; however, the Government at times infringes on these rights. The Government does not support any one religion and expressly forbids the teaching of religion (or atheism) in public schools.
In 1996 the Government created a State Commission on Religious Affairs, officially in order to promote religious tolerance, protect freedom of conscience, and oversee laws on religion. The Commission quickly became active and has overseen the registration of 224 religious institutions of which 188 are Christian denominations. In 1997 the President signed a decree that required all religious organizations to register with the Commission. Under the new regulations, each congregation must register separately. As previously, if a group wishes to own property, open bank accounts, and otherwise engage in contractual activities, it must become a legal entity by registering with the Ministry of Justice. In practice the Ministry has never registered a religious organization without prior registration by the Commission. There were no known instances during the year of the Commission refusing attempts by religious groups to register although registration has been slow on occasion.
The Church of Jesus Christ resubmitted registration papers to the Commission. Previously, registration with the Commission was denied because the Church did not have a street address or a building to carry out its activities. At the beginning of September, it received a letter from the procuratorās office informing it of criminal charges against the Church for "long-term noncompliance with the law on registration of religious organizations." The Commission of Religious Affairs initiated the charge. After church leader Vasily Kuzin explained to the procuratorās office that all the papers for registration had been filed with the Commission at an earlier date, the procurator requested clarification from the Commission. The Church was registered with the Commission in November, and it purchased a building to be used for its office, which is now being renovated.
According to the Commission on Religious Affairs and the main office of the Seventh Day Adventists, the Naryn Baptists and the Kyrgyz Seventh Day Adventists both are now registered with the Commission. The Baptists have been since 1997 and the Seventh Day Adventists in December 1997.
Religious leaders note with concern that the Commission frequently uses the term "national security" in its statements. The MVD often plays a leading role on various religious questions. They also worry that traditional religious groups could use references to "preserving interconfessional accord" to prevent smaller churches from registering. Both Christians and Muslims have expressed concern about the Stateās apparent intention to play a more intrusive role in religion. Ethnic Kyrgyz Christian congregations appear to face special barriers, as do some Muslim congregations with foreign support. A small Jewish congregation meets in Bishkek without a rabbi. The group also organizes informal cultural studies and humanitarian services, chiefly food assistance for its elderly.
A Roman Catholic Church in Bishkek functions unhindered. The Seventh Day Adventist Church operates six churches in Bishkek, as well as several elsewhere in the country, without apparent hindrance.
A Russian Orthodox Church in Chaldovar in the northern Chuy-Tokmok region was closed for failure to register. The state Commission on Religious Affairs claimed to have requested the necessary documents nine times from the Churchās head, Vladimir Klipenshteyn, but he purportedly did not comply with the registration request. Subsequently, Klipenshteyn was dismissed by Russian Orthodox Church authorities, who cited religious differences. Following his dismissal, church authorities sent a letter of apology to the Commission, which then registered the Church.
Muslim leaders complain that the Commission on Religious Affairs makes decisions about religious events without consulting them. The Government considers radical Islam, whose followers it labels "Wahhabis," a threat to the countryās stability. In late 1997 and throughout 1998, the Government intensified its campaign against orthodox Islamic believers. In April and May, approximately three ethnic Uighurs were arrested for possession of illegal weapons and Wahhabi videocassettes; two were acquitted at trial and the third convicted and sentenced to prison. In December 1997, the MNB created special units to control the activities of Wahhabis and other religious sects.
Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
In general Government policy allows free travel within and outside the country; however, certain Soviet-era policies continue to complicate internal migration, resettlement, and travel abroad. Under the Soviet-era law still in force, citizens need official government permission (a "propiska") to work and settle in a particular area of the country. Strictly speaking, the propsiska affords the right to reside in a given city or region. In addition home and apartment owners legally can sell their property only to buyers with such permission. In practice many employers traditionally have refused to provide employment to any applicant residing illegally. However, this law has not been enforced recently. People now move within the country, purchase homes, and sell businesses without hindrance.
There is no law on emigration. Administrative procedures permit movement of people; however, citizens who apply for passports must present a letter of invitation from the country they intend to visit or to which they intend to immigrate. They also need an exit visa. However, there were no reports that citizens, after presenting such a letter, were denied a passport or an exit visa. A Soviet-era law prohibits emigration within 5 years of working with "state secrets." No one is believed to have been barred from emigration under this statute during the year.
Emigrants are not prevented from returning to the country, and there is reportedly a small but steady flow of returnees.
The Government cooperates with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. During 1997 the International Organization for Migration opened a regional headquarters in Bishkek, in part because of the cooperative attitude of government officials. The issue of first asylum did not arise in 1998.
There were no reports of the forced return of persons to countries where they feared persecution or expulsion of those having valid claim to refugee status, except in the 1997 case of Uighur nationalists who fled from China. At that time, 20 or more Uighurs were detained and returned to China (or remanded to the Chinese embassy) for alleged visa or passport irregularities, without being processed as refugees. Clearly, at least some of these Uighurs considered themselves to be refugees since they applied for refugee status. However, the authorities regarded only a few of them to be refugees, and all of those were refused on technicalities. The UNHCR is continuing to study the Uighur situation but has taken no public position. During the year, the MNB sometimes arrested Uighurs on ill-defined charges.
The UNHCR has assisted two groups of Tajik refugees to return to Tajikistan during the year.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, but in practice citizensā ability to do so is limited.
The Constitution mandates presidential elections every 5 years. There is a two-term limit. The President was reelected to a second term in 1995 in a multicandidate election marred by irregularities. Parliamentary elections also are held every 5 years. In 1995 citizens elected a new Parliament in elections marred by irregularities. In 1996 a referendum was held that amended the Constitution to redistribute power within the Government. The referendum violated the Constitution in force at the time and the Law on Referendums. Voter apathy was high, and turnout was low. The results were reminiscent of the Soviet era with a reported turnout of 98 percent. Ballot stuffing was rampant, and family voting apparently was widespread.
The October constitutional referendum on land privatization, the structure of the Parliament, and the budget process also was marred by serious irregularities. The Governmentās claim that 96 percent of voters participated in the referendum was not in accord with participation rates witnessed by local and international observers. Observers also noted the persistent problem of family voting. The Government designed the ballot so voters had to vote either in favor of all five amendments or against all five. This procedure created a dilemma for voters who were opposed to the provision for the privatization of land, which was very unpopular, but favored the other four, less controversial amendments. The referendum further enhanced the power of the executive at the expense of the legislature.
The amendments approved in the 1996 referendum further strengthened the formal power of the President and his advisers, who dominate the Government. The Parliament and the judiciary tend to be subordinate to the executive branch but show increasing signs of independence, such as the Parliament overriding presidential vetoes. In comparison with 1996, when the Parliament passed 66 laws, it passed 158 laws in 1997 (of which the President signed only 143), and in 1998 it passed 159 laws, all of which the President signed. The President signed 131 (some were left over from 1997.) In April 1997, the Parliament overrode a presidential veto on a bill allowing a no-confidence vote on any government minister (not just the Prime Minister). In December 1997, the Parliament delayed passage of the 1998 budget bill until reaching a compromise with the executive branch, but there was no comparable confrontation this year. The overwhelming majority of local government officials are not elected but are appointed by the President.
Political parties remain weak. There were 18 registered political parties; some, such as the Ata Meken and Asaba, were inactive. None of the winners of four parliamentary seats in 1997 by-elections or those in the spring by-elections had a party affiliation. Likewise, parties nominated very few candidates. Of the members of Parliament, fewer than half (46 of 105) claims party affiliation. There are 12 parties represented in Parliament, but voting seldom proceeds along strict party lines.
Women and most ethnic minorities are underrepresented in government and politics. Only 3 of 105 parliamentary deputies are women. In 1997 the Deputy Prime Minister for Social Issues as well as the Ministers for Labor and Justice were women, but following a reorganization in the spring, the position of Deputy Prime Minister was abolished. A man was appointed Minister of Labor, and a woman was appointed Minister of Justice. This woman is the only senior female executive branch official. The Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court is also a woman. A womenās group has been formed to recruit, advise, and campaign for female candidates in the next parliamentary election. Russians and Uzbeks are underrepresented in government positions.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights.
A number of human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, and Government officials sometimes were responsive to their views. However, the KHRC, a vigorous organization that began protest activity during the campaign prior to the October 17 referendum, found itself deregistered immediately before the referendum. The Ministry of Justice reported that it deregistered this group at the General Procuratorās request because of irregularities in the groupās initial registration. The Ministry later invited the group to reregister (see Section 2.b.). At yearās end, the KHRC had not reregistered but continued to operate.
Activists sometimes allege that harassment originates within government circles. The fact that such harassment sometimes is featured prominently in the government press, or announced by the Presidentās press secretary, lends credence to such claims.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides for the rights and freedom of individuals and prohibits discrimination, including on the basis of language. The Government expresses a strong commitment to protecting the rights of members of all ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups, as well as those of women, but in practice has a mixed record.
Research conducted in 1996 on violence against women showed a noticeable increase in such incidents since independence. Activists note that rape is becoming more common, with authorities often ignoring such attacks. Government statistics indicate that annually there are 400 to 450 crimes against women, but many crimes never are reported due to psychological pressures, cultural restrictions, and apathy by law enforcement officials. The Government has not devised a program to deal with this problem, and the number of shelters for battered women is not increasing to meet the need. One shelter of relatively long standing in Tokmok is searching for appropriate funding or a sponsor. The Umut (Hope) Center opened in January 1997 to provide women and children with basic protection as well as with psychological, legal, and medical counseling. In March 1997, at the initiative of the Diamond Association, the Shans crisis center for women opened in Bishkek, providing a crisis hotline and personal psychological, legal, and medical counseling for battered women and girls. In June 1997, the NGO Tendesh opened a crisis center in Naryn with a hotline to support women affected by violence. It provides psychological, legal, and medical assistance. Another center (Sezim) opened in April in Bishkek with a staff of lawyers, psychologists, and doctors, and operates a crisis hotline for the public. Staff members conduct training, debates and seminars on womenās rights, and family planning.
For example, during the 2 years of its activity, the Umut Center has organized biweekly discussions and training for women to advise and counsel them of their rights. It provides 10 days of emergency shelter, clothing, and meals for battered women as well as employment counseling and legal services. The director attributed the rise in numbers of women visiting the shelter to the countryās severe economic crisis that has led to increased violence toward women; 62 percent of women visiting the shelter are unemployed.
Trafficking in women and girls, mostly to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, is a growing problem. Several media articles have raised public awareness. After consultation with tourist companies and security officials, the Government issued a decree to attack the problem. The Ministry of Tourism and Sports is monitoring all reported cases of trafficking in women. However, there are reports that officials may receive bribes in exchange for forged travel documents for the women. Russian border guards operating on the Tajik border also allegedly were complicit in trafficking.
The law gives equal status to women, and they are well represented in the work force, in the professions, and in institutions of higher learning. Women are prominent in law, medicine, accounting, and banking. They also play an active role in the rapidly growing nongovernment sector. Nonetheless, recently deteriorating economic conditions have had a severe effect on women, who are more likely to lose their jobs. It is estimated that women account for 58 percent of the unemployed, and women with children under the age of 16 account for 67 percent of unemployed women. Women make up the majority of pensioners, who are also in worse condition than previously as inflation has eroded pensions, which often are paid late. Womenās groups express general concern about the situation of rural women. There are approximately 100 womenās advocacy NGOās operating in the country with 20 located in rural areas. With the end of Communism, traditional attitudes toward women are reasserting themselves strongly in the countryside, where women are relegated to the role of wife and mother, and educational opportunities are curtailed. The declining status of women is supported by general date from donor organizations working in this sector. Data indicate women are becoming less healthy, more abused, less represented in government, less able to work outside the home, and less able to dispose of their earnings independently.
Family law prohibits divorce during pregnancy and while a child is younger than 1 year. A special expert counsel under the State Commission on Family, Women, and Youth Issues reviewed all legislation for a gender perspective and submitted his recommendations to Parliament. The findings demonstrate that while womenās rights are supported by legislation, the principle of womenās equity is not always observed. Family law legislation was passed in late summer; however, by yearās end, the law had not been implemented.
The socioeconomic situation does not effectively ensure decent living conditions for children. Basic needs for shelter, food and clothing are seldom met. After independence vaccine-preventable diseases such as diphtheria, polio, and measles reemerged. A range of serious nutrition-related problems affects a large number of children, especially in rural areas. Traditional social safety measures are now inadequate to cope with the social pressures affecting families, and in major cities, children regularly are observed begging or selling cigarettes. There are increasing reports of abandonment due to parentsā lack of resources to care for children.
Education is compulsory for the first 9 years, and the country has 97 percent literacy rate. However, the education system has suffered material and financial hardships, and conditions continue to deteriorate due to an acute shortage of budgetary and material resources.
Human rights groups and the Kyrgyz Childrenās Fund (KCF) monitor the condition of children. Human rights groups note the children who are arrested usually are denied lawyers. Police often do not notify parents of the arrest, and neither parents nor lawyers generally are present during questioning, despite laws to the contrary. Children often are intimidated into signing confessions, and sometimes are placed in cells with adult criminals to frighten them.
In practice children have restricted rights to travel abroad until the age of 16. Before that age, they are not entitled to their own passports and usually travel only when accompanying a parent in whose passport the childās data are recorded.
The KCF is concerned about the growing number of street children, many of whom have left home because of abusive or alcoholic parents. Although numbers are hard to estimate, a 1-day sweep in 1997 through Bishkek led to a count of 700 children of school age working during school hours. Similar conditions also occur in other urban centers, as well as in the countryside. The KCF has opened 2 shelters, 1 in Bishkek (for approximately 30 children) and 1 in Osh, to provide food, clothing, and schooling to such children. The "Ak Zhol" (Bon Voyage) center founded by a Dutch organization and UNICEF in 1996 was closed in August, due to a lack of funds. (The Ak Zhol center provided shelter and meals to homeless children in Bishkek, accommodating approximately 40 at any given time.)
The forced marriage of underage girls has become more common, and the authorities often ignore this practice. Cultural traditions and social structures discourage victims from going to the authorities.
Children in rural areas commonly are called upon to pick crops as needed on their family farms.
People with Disabilities
The Government passed the Law on Social Protection of Invalids in 1991 and adopted amendments on October 7. The newly adopted amendments provide for convenient access to public transportation and parking for the disabled; subsidies for mass media sources that make their services available to the hearing or visually impaired; and free plots of land to construct a home.
Social facilities for the mentally disabled are strained severely, as budgets have fallen and workloads remain heavy. In one program facilitated by foreign volunteers, local high school students have begun to visit special institutions, such as those for the mentally disabled.
There are reported complaints of discrimination in the treatment of citizens who are not ethnic Kyrgyz. The most recent statistical data reflect the following ethnic percentages: 61.2 percent are Kyrgyz; 14.9 percent are Russians; 14.4 percent are Uzbeks; 1.1 percent are Tatars; .3 percent are Germans; and others are 8.1 percent. Members of the minorities allege discrimination in hiring, promotion, and housing. They complain that government officials at all levels favor ethnic Kyrgyz.
Russian speakers (those who do not speak Kyrgyz) also allege that a ceiling exists in government employment that precludes their promotion beyond a certain level. The representation of ethnic Kyrgyz at senior and intermediate levels of government is disproportionately high. This fact gives credence to perceptions that career opportunities in government are limited for those who are not ethnic Kyrgyz.
The Constitution designates Kyrgyz as the state language, but it provides for preservation and equal and free development of Russian and other languages used in the country. In 1996 Russian also was declared, by presidential decree, an "official" language for some purposes. However, lawyers and other officials noted that no legislation referred to official languages, so the status of Russian was no clearer than previously. In 1997 a draft law declaring Russian an official language was declared constitutional by the Constitutional Court. To date, however, the law has been stymied in Parliament. Nevertheless, as a result of these efforts to improve the status of Russian, as well as difficult economic conditions in Russia, Russian emigration has declined significantly, with some ethnic Russians returning. University education is carried out largely in Russian (although Kyrgyz instruction is available in some departments in some universities, where textbooks are available), so that Russian-language capability remains an important skill for those who wish to pursue higher learning.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The 1992 Labor Law provides for the right of all workers to form and belong to trade unions, and there is no evidence that the Government has tried to obstruct the formation of independent unions. The Federation of Trade Unions of the Kyrgyz Republic (The Federation), successor to the former official union, remains the only trade union umbrella organization in the country, although unions are not required to belong to it. The Federation forms one part of a bilateral commission, along with the Cabinet. Each year the two parties sign an agreement on "cooperation." The Federation leadership is changing, and some properties are being sold; however, there were no significant changes in membership or property sales during the year. There is one small independent union, the Union of Entrepreneurs and Small Business Workers, whose membership reached approximately 80,000. Precise numbers for the Federationās membership are not available, but it is significantly larger than other unions.
The Federation has been critical of government policies, especially privatization, and their effect on working class living standards. The Federation still regards itself as being in a process of transition, during which it is adjusting its relations with the Government, with other unions in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and with other foreign unions. Growing numbers of smaller unions are not affiliated with the umbrella organization.
The law calls for practices consistent with international standards.
While the right to strike is not codified, strikes are not prohibited. There were no retaliatory actions against strikers, nor were there instances of abuse generally directed at unions or individual workers. There were small strikes of short duration by miners, teachers, doctors, and nurses over unpaid salaries. Each of the strikes was resolved when the Government agreed to pay a portion of the arrears.
The law permits unions to form and join federations and to affiliate with international trade union bodies. Since independent unions are still in their infancy, no meaningful affiliation with international trade union bodies has taken place.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law recognizes the right of unions to negotiate for better wages and conditions. Although overall union structure and practice are changing only slowly from those of the Soviet era, there is growing evidence of active union participation in state-owned and privatized enterprises. The Government sets the minimum wage, and then each employer sets its own wage level.
The law protects union members from antiunion discrimination, and there were no recorded instances of discrimination against anyone because of union activities.
There are Free Economic Zones (FEZās) that can be used as export processing zones. The minimum wage law does not apply to the approximately 3,000 workers in ordinary FEZās.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law forbids forced or compulsory labor, as well as forced or bonded labor by children, and it is not known to occur.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for employment is 18 years. Students are allowed to work up to 6 hours per day in summer or in part-time jobs from the age of 16. The law prohibits the use of child labor (under the age of 16); the Ministry of Education monitors enforcement. However, families frequently call upon their children to work to help support the family (see Section 5). Forced and bonded labor by children is prohibited and is not believed to occur (see Section 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Government mandates a national minimum wage at a level theoretically sufficient to assure a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The legal minimum wage is about $16.50 (365 soms) per month. In practice even the higher median wage is considered insufficient to ensure a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The Federation is responsible for enforcing all labor laws, including the law on minimum wages. Minimum wage regulations largely are observed. However, enforcement of labor laws is nonexistent in the growing underground economy. Market forces help wages in the unofficial sector to keep pace with official wage scales.
The standard workweek is 41 hours, usually within a 5-day week. For state-owned industries, there is a mandated 24-hour rest period in the workweek.
Safety and health conditions in factories are poor. Despite the recent improvement in economic growth, the previous deterioration in enforcement of existing regulations continued to hamper investment to improve health and safety standards. A 1992 law established occupational health and safety standards, as well as enforcement procedures. Besides government inspection teams, trade unions are assigned active roles in assuring compliance with these measures, but the previous economic deterioration in the country has made the compliance record of businesses uneven. Workers have the legal right to remove themselves from unsafe working conditions, and workers who choose not to work in an unsafe environment may find employment elsewhere. In practice, refusal to work in situations with relatively high accident rates or associated chronic health problems could result in loss of employment but only if informal methods of resolution failed.
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