The Kyrgyz Republic adopted a presidential system of government by referendum on January 10, replacing the prior parliamentary form of government. President Sadyr Japarov, who had been serving as interim president since October 2020 following political upheaval that resulted in the annulment of parliamentary elections and the forced resignation of his predecessor, was elected on January 10 in elections considered generally free and well organized.
The investigation of general and local crimes falls under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, while certain crimes such as terrorism and corruption fall under the authority of the State Committee for National Security, which also controls the presidential security service. The Prosecutor General’s Office prosecutes both local and national crimes. Law enforcement is under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which falls under presidential jurisdiction. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: an arbitrary killing by police; a high-profile disappearance; use of torture by law enforcement and security services; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence and threats of violence against journalists and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; interference with freedom of association including overly restrictive laws on the funding and operation of NGOs and civil society organizations; serious acts of government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of minority groups and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.
While the government took steps to investigate and prosecute or punish officials known to have committed human rights abuses or those involved in corrupt activities, official impunity remained a problem.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The rape of both women and men, including spousal rape, is illegal. The government failed to enforce the law effectively, and many rape victims did not report their rape or sexual assault to police or NGOs. Penalties for conviction of sexual assault range from three to eight years’ imprisonment. Prosecutors rarely brought rape cases to court. Police generally regarded spousal rape as an administrative rather than criminal offense.
While the law specifically prohibits domestic violence and spousal abuse, violence against women and girls remained a significant yet underreported problem. Penalties for domestic violence convictions range from fines to 15 years’ imprisonment, the latter if abuse resulted in death. In 2020 police recorded 9,025 cases of domestic violence, a 65 percent rise compared to previous years, but only about 940 of the cases were sent to courts. In the first eight months of the year, the police registered 7,665 cases of domestic violence against women, 30 percent higher than the same period in 2020. Domestic violence experts explained that increased unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, alcoholism, and strain on families who care for children left behind by migrant workers are causes of the increased rate of domestic violence. Experts also explained that increased rates of domestic violence could be due to an increase in women’s willingness to file reports with police.
From the end of December 2020 until January, three women died by suicide in the northeastern Issyk-Kul region in separate cases linked to domestic violence. One of the women previously had said if she ran away, her husband would find her and torture her. Police refused to open a criminal probe into the domestic violence of one of the other women because they claimed there were no witnesses, no reports of a crime, and no complaints.
Among the domestic violence cases brought to court, prosecutors classified a significant number as administrative offenses or misdemeanors, which carry a lighter sentence. A 2019 revision to the Code of Misdemeanors, however, includes a provision that criminalizes domestic violence.
Many women did not report crimes against them due to psychological pressure, economic dependence, cultural traditions, fear of stigma, and apathy among law enforcement officers. NGOs noted some women are reluctant to report cases of violence to police because they do not trust the police to handle the cases appropriately. Civil society and media reported instances of spouses retaliating against women who reported abuse.
The government provided offices to the Sezim Shelter (Sezim is the Kyrgyz word for crisis) in Bishkek for victims of domestic abuse and paid some of its expenses. International NGOs and organizations contributed funding to other shelters throughout the country. Despite this funding, NGOs such as Human Rights Watch questioned the government’s commitment to address the problem. According to an Amnesty International report, there are 14 crisis centers in the country. All but one are based in the towns of Bishkek and Osh. Experts note that the centers are underresourced. In February the Bishkek municipality opened a new crisis shelter called Ayalzat with funding from the Ministry of Health and Social Development to counter domestic violence. There was space for 60 women and children.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Although prohibited by law, the practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued. In 2018 the United Nations estimated kidnappers forced approximately 14 percent of girls younger than age 24 into marriage. Men married to kidnapped brides were more likely to abuse their wives and limit their pursuit of education and employment. The negative effect of the practice extended to children of kidnapped brides. Observers reported there was a greater frequency of early marriage, polygamy, and bride kidnapping in connection with unregistered religious marriages. This also affected data availability on such marriages. In 2018 the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that over the previous five years, 895 individuals registered complaints with law enforcement authorities regarding bride kidnapping. Victims did not file criminal cases against the perpetrators in almost 80 percent of the cases, while police and prosecutors criminally investigated the remaining cases. Some victims of bride kidnapping went to the local police to obtain protective orders, but authorities often poorly enforced such orders. NGOs continued to report that prosecutors rarely pursue kidnappers for bride kidnapping. The law establishes penalties for bride kidnapping of 10 years in prison and a fine.
On April 5, four men abducted and killed 27-year-old Aizada Kanatbekova in a case of bride kidnapping. Although the kidnapping was captured by security cameras and Kanatbekova’s relatives reported it to police immediately, the perception that police delayed the launch of an investigation caused significant public outrage. On April 15 in response to Kanatbekova’s kidnapping and murder, civil society groups organized demonstrations in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. More than 40 police officers, including the Bishkek city police chief, were subsequently dismissed.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits physical sexual assault but not verbal sexual harassment. Police did not actively enforce these laws. Media reported on widespread sexual harassment in the workplace and on public transportation.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Societal attitudes discouraged the use of contraception, especially outside of marriage, and local NGOs and the UN Population Fund reported that women were often denied access to reproductive healthcare due to societal barriers.
The government did provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception. Reproductive health advocates said that although clinical guidelines mandate the provision of a sexual and reproductive health services to sexual violence survivors, many clinics lack the resources to provide a full range of services. The government provided contraceptives for certain groups of women, including those with disabilities and HIV-positive women.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women and men, but enforcement of the law was poor, and discrimination against women persisted.
Data from NGOs working on women’s issues indicated women were less healthy, more abused, less able to work outside the home, and less able than men to determine independently the disposition of their earnings.