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Kyrgyz authorities launch criminal investigation into survey on rights of ethnic minorities

UPDATE from Freedom House: Criminal charges mark new step in Kyrgyzstan's democratic decline (21 November 2014)

This article was originally published on freedomhouse.org on 4 November 2014.

For more than a decade, Freedom House has worked in the Kyrgyz Republic. We have been with the people of Kyrgyzstan through good times and bad. Alongside other international and local civil society organizations, we have worked closely with the government to establish institutions like the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture that defend the rights of the citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic and contribute to the development of democracy and the rule of law here. It is because of this decades-long commitment and work with thousands of citizens and organizations across the country that the unprecedented legal and physical harassment of our staff and partners in Kyrgyzstan is especially concerning.

On September 26, the State Committee on National Security (GKNB) of Osh city in southern Kyrgyzstan opened a criminal investigation concerning a pilot survey on respect for the rights of ethnic minorities, which was conducted in the Jalal-Abad and Batken oblasts by a local organization that Freedom House supports. The GKNB searched the offices of the local organization; confiscated computers, copy machines, and documents; and questioned its employees and consultants. Freedom House staff were also questioned.

According to the ruling on opening the criminal investigation, the basis for the investigation was an "expert opinion" from the Academy of Sciences and complaints from citizens of Osh city about the survey, which they allege incites interethnic discord.

We completely reject the implicit claim that Freedom House and our partners' work could lead to the incitement of interethnic discord. The facts of the case support our position.

Through appeal to the Osh City Court, Freedom House has obtained the expert opinion and the alleged citizens' complaints concerning the survey:

The expert opinion, responding to the only two questions that investigators posed, states that the survey's content neither incited ethnic hatred nor presented a threat to the Kyrgyz Republic's national security. However, it claims that "in a veiled and unapparent way" some questions of the survey could "under certain circumstances" lead to public disorder on an interethnic basis. The citizens' complaints, meanwhile, claim the survey was distributed in Osh city – where it was in fact never distributed by our partner organization. Moreover, several citizens who allegedly submitted complaints have told our lawyers that they made no such complaints.

Based on these inconsistencies and on other procedural violations in the course of opening and conducting the criminal case and investigation, Freedom House and its local partner appealed the actions of the GKNB and prosecutor in Osh in court. However, on November 3 the Osh City Court rejected our request even as it acknowledged multiple violations in opening the case. We will appeal this ruling.

Meanwhile Freedom House will continue its activities in support of democracy, human rights, and rule of law throughout Kyrgyzstan, including in cooperation with government institutions. Press reports that we have ceased activities or closed offices in Kyrgyzstan are incorrect. We continue to support local civil society and the cause of democracy in Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2014 and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2014.

Kyrgyzstan receives a democracy score of 6.61 on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 as the worst possible score, in Nations in Transit 2014.

Click here to read the press release in Russian.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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