Both Kazakhstan and its neighbor Kyrgyzstan tend to not be in the focus of general media coverage. Although it has adopted international standards to engage in international trade as equal players, Kazakhstan only makes headlines when there has been an abuse of civil rights, limitations of freedom of the press and harassment of opposition media. As its neighboring country Kyrgyzstan upheld a decision to extradite the Kazakh opposition activist Muratbek Tunghyshbaev on June 25, human rights activists now turn to Kyrgyzstan, which is commonly known to be the most peaceful and democratic country of Central Asia. The treatment of Tunghyshbaev is seen as a gross violation of human rights, but protests against his extradition are being suppressed, joining the long list of desperate efforts by civil society in both countries to voice criticism.
Muratbek Tunghyshbaev, aged 40, in 2011 co-founded the Kazakh human rights group Liberty, and through it worked to push for freedom of assembly and eliminate discrimination. After an outbreak of violence in his hometown, he fled Kazakhstan a year later, working from Kyrgyzstan for the opposition online television channel 16/12. However, Kazakh authorities later accused Tunghyshbaev of participating in the activities of the unregistered and banned opposition movement Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), and issued an international arrest warrant. Following this request for extradition, Bishkek authorities on May 24 2018 arrested Tunghyshbaev. However, the extradition process was delayed by Kyrgyzstan’s Migration Service, who claimed that Tunghyshbaev on May 15 had officially asked for political asylum in Kyrgyzstan. Under Kyrgyz law, such claims must be treated with full consideration, but officials at the temporary detention facility where Tunghyshbaev was being held allegedly denied requests by the State Migration Service to meet and interview Tunghyshbaev. Without such an interview, Kyrgyz law cannot proceed on handling an asylum case. With no progress, Tunghyshbaev and his lawyer on May 31 contested the extradition order, and the rights groups Human Rights Watch and Kubat Otorbaev warned that he would face torture and ill-treatment if the extradition order was upheld. “Kazakhstan has a long record of trying to silence people who have critical, dissenting views,” Mihra Rittmann, Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. On June 25, after examination of the extradition order, the court in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek ruled that the Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General’s Office’s decision to extradite Muratbek Tunghyshbaev was in conformity with law, and he was handed over to Kazakh officials on June 27 only two days later without any time to appeal.
Extradition into Human Rights Abuse
The treatment of Tunghyshbaev violated international human rights law and Kyrgyz treaty obligations in at least two ways. First, his case was not dealt with in accordance with internal Kyrgyz law itself, which violates the right to fair trial as codified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations, which entered into force for Kyrgyzstan in 1995. Second, the Bishkek Court ignored the argument of Tunghyshbaev’s lawyer that Kyrgyzstan in 1993 obliged itself through ratification of the Convention Against Torture to not extradite individuals into situations in which they could face torture. The human rights situation in Kazakhstan has been said to be tense, if not dangerous. Kazakhstan’s Coalition Against Torture, composed of 47 anti-torture human rights organizations, emphasized in regards to the case that “degrading, inhuman, cruel treatment, as well as torture are widespread in the Republic of Kazakhstan” and that “annually, the Coalition registers more than 200 complaints of torture or other types of rights-violating treatment”: On June 23, the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement Tunghyshbaev is alleged to belong to, was hindered from organizing protests in Almaty and Astana to demand free education for all Kazakhs. At least ten people were taken away before the protest even started, and foreign journalists reporting on the situation were detained for several hours. An article by Human Rights Watch points out that the Kazakh government is proven to have allowed physical attacks on journalists, and to have forcibly restricted people´s capacity to participate in public debate. According to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a coalition of governments and companies fostering debate about the use of resource revenues and restrictions on civil society, Kazakhstan’s treatment of human rights activists originates from the regime’s focus on economic profit and trade.
Human Rights Progress in Kyrgyzstan?
Kyrgyzstan is known as the most peaceful and democratic country of Central Asia, and boasts with a regime that respects human rights. Without digging deep, it becomes clear that the façade is deceptive: Not only Tunghyshbaev’s extradition and the denial of a right to fair trial are proof that Kyrgyzstan still has a long way to go, but also the fact that Kyrgyz authorities have expelled and imprisoned other human rights defenders for life, themselves restricted media freedom, and looked away in cases of bride kidnapping and domestic violence. In 2017, Kygryz opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev was sentenced to eight years in prison on corruption charges, and was denied a retrial that he had requested in accordance with Kyrgyz law regardless of whether he is guilty or not. In another instance on June 2018, fifty-nine prison inmates in Modovanovka in Kyrgyzstan’s North launched a hunger strike to protest beating by prison guards, sewing up their mouths. Overall, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have regained international attention, but it can be presumed that it is not for the reasons they had hoped for.