Kyrgyz Ombudsman Dzhamilya Dzhamanbaeva met with USAID's Senior Global Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment, Jamille Bigio in Bishkek. According to the ombudsman's office, the parties discussed important issues in the protection of freedoms and human rights. The key topics of conversation were reportedly the problem of early marriage among women in Kyrgyzstan, and the protection of children's rights. The ombudsman's office cited an example of a 15-year-old girl being married against her will to a much older man. "There is an urgent need to support victims of early marriages, because they are exposed to domestic violence... For example, a 23-year-old mother of three approached the Ombudsman Institute complaining of domestic violence. As it transpired, she had been forcibly married at age 15 to a man three times her age," Dzhamanbaeva said. The ombudsman stated that her office receives many appeals from girls complaining about domestic violence, and its review has revealed facts about forced early marriages. According to the Institute, such egregious facts are not isolated in Kyrgyzstan, and there is a need for the government to take measures to prevent them. In the past, human rights activists have repeatedly stated that the police are reluctant to consider cases of domestic violence, because the spouses very often reconcile, and the victim withdraws her statement. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has recognized that police systematically fail to prosecute domestic violence cases, "because of widespread misconceptions and gender stereotypes present at all levels of law enforcement and judicial systems." "The police often see no need to intervene in what they consider to be 'private matters,' and do not recognize domestic violence as acts requiring preventive measures or investigation," noted a Kyrgyz Supreme Court report. As a result, law enforcement officials often try to dissuade victims from filing a formal complaint. The situation is similar regarding the practice of bride kidnapping. However, under public pressure, in 2019 the Kyrgyz authorities toughened the punishment for kidnapping girls in order to marry them. According to the criminal code, this offense now carries a prison sentence of 5 to 10 years. Additionally, the fine for forcing girls under the age of 17 into marriage can be up to 200,000 som ($2,200). The ombudsman also said a new bill is being drafted to strengthen the mandate of the ombudsman's office and allow representatives to participate in closed-court sessions involving children. "Currently, the institute's employees are not allowed to attend such sessions, [as per] the criminal code. In this regard, we have no opportunity to ensure the protection in court of the rights of children who have been abused. With the adoption of the new law, we will be able to monitor closed trials," the ombudsman emphasized. USAID's representative, Bigio noted the importance of strengthening cooperation on the protection of children's rights and the development of mechanisms to protect against early marriage, saying that USAID is ready to continue to cooperate with the government of Kyrgyzstan, authorized bodies and human rights defenders and to provide all of...
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Bishkek's Oktyabrsky District Court has ruled in favor of liquidating a public foundation named Kloop Media. The official reason, as stated in a social network post by Kloop Media, is discrediting state and municipal bodies. According to the publication's staff, Bishkek prosecutor Emilbek Abdymannapov filed a lawsuit in court last August seeking to liquidate Kloop Media. The prosecutor had argued that most of the publication's stories were negative and aimed at discrediting certain representatives of state and municipal bodies. On August 22nd 2023, Kloop Media published a journalistic investigation focusing on corruption schemes undertaken by top officials in Kyrgyzstan - and later published more material criticizing the president of the republic and his relatives. Consequently, in September 2023, access to the Kloop Media website was blocked, and now the foundation itself has been closed by the authorities following the court's decision, which states that Kloop Media is not listed in the state register of Kyrgyz media and that the organization's charter doesn't specify its main activity, which is the dissemination of information. The Civil Code of the Kyrgyz Republic allows for the liquidation of legal entities if they systematically carry out activities which don't correspond to the objectives set out in their charters. Lawyers for the public fund in turn stated that the court session contained multiple violations, and they will appeal the decision to a higher authority. The public foundation, Kloop Media was established in 2007 and positioned itself as a human rights media outlet. Kloop primarily hired young writers and trained them in investigative journalism. On the day the court's decision was announced, the international organization, Reporters without Borders called on the Media Freedom Coalition to take action against what they called an "arbitrary and unjustified decision." In April 2023, the Lenin Court of Bishkek ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought by the Ministry of Culture, Information, Sports and Youth Policy of Kyrgyzstan that called for the shutdown of Azattyk Media, which was the Kyrgyz service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, financed by the U.S. State Department. The Ministry objected to material published about fighting on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The authorities claimed that the content contained "elements of hostility and unconfirmed information about an alleged attack by the Kyrgyz side on Tajikistan, inflaming the situation in society and causing hatred, discrimination and division among citizens when covering the events in Batken Oblast."
Kyrgyz Authorities Confiscate $35 Million of Oligarch Matraimov’s Assets – Plan to Nationalize Another $50 million of Property
Kyrgyzstan's State Committee of National Security (GKNB) has stated that following an investigation aimed at returning embezzled property into state ownership as part of a criminal case against former deputy chairman of the Customs Service, Raimbek Matraimov, the government has seized real estate worth $34,810,000. At the end of January 2024, the authorities placed the infamous oligarch Matraimov, who has bounced in and out of custody since 2020, on a wanted list. Matraimov, who is popularly known as "Raimbek-million" for his multi-million dollar fortune has already pleaded guilty to embezzlement, and is now charged under the article "illegal deprivation of liberty" on suspicion of abducting and illegally incarcerating unnamed individuals. The former deputy head of the Customs Service previously had extensive connections in the Kyrgyz parliament and government, and went unpunished for years. In 2021, the U.S. authorities banned Matraimov and his family members from entering the country. Head of the GKNB, Kamchibek Tashiev, accused Matraimov of creating a mafia clan. "Raimbek Matraimov has been put on a wanted list. All of his property... throughout Kyrgyzstan will go into the ownership of the state. We will not leave even a [plot] of land. He will no longer be Raimbek-million as he used to be. There will be no such thing as a clan. To destroy this clan, in the Osh region [alone] we fired about fifty people from state bodies," Tashiev stated. In 2019, the State Service for Combating Economic Crimes launched an investigation into corruption in the Kyrgyz Customs bodies. Earlier, documents had found their way into the hands of journalists showing that Matraimov had withdrawn about $700 million from the country through various banks over a period of seven years. However, investigators didn't find Matraimov's property abroad. In 2021, Matraimov was found guilty of corruption and convicted, but after paying a $22.5 million fine to the state, he was released. Law enforcement has since uncovered more of the oligarch's assets worth another $50 million. The GKNB is continuing to search for more assets obtained by criminal means in order to later transfer them to the state, according to the agency's press service. Matraimov's whereabouts are currently unknown.
Officials at the International Chamber of Commerce's (ICC) International Court of Arbitrations in Paris, France, have ruled unanimously ruled in favor of the Kyrgyz Republic in a case brought by Kazakhstan's state natural gas company QazaqGaz that sought $35 million, according to the Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic. The Kazakh company's claim was filed in 2020. QazaqGaz had originally sought $35 million during the arbitration proceedings, but later reduced its claims to $15 million by waiving its claim to lost profit. The claims against the Kyrgyz government were based on "expropriation and other violations of the claimant's rights." In 2004, QazaqGaz, together with the Kyrgyz national gas operator, JSC Kyrgyzgaz, established a joint venture (JV) for the purpose of modernizing and operating the Kyrgyz section of the Bukhara-Tashkent-Bishkek-Almaty gas trunk-line. Under the agreement, the Kyrgyz gas operator transferred its share of the gas pipeline to the new JV. The investment agreement called for pipeline modernization, but later the contract was terminated by mutual consent. The Kazakh company then made claims based on three legal instruments: the Kyrgyz-Kazakh intergovernmental agreement on the promotion and protection of investments; the International Energy Charter, which includes substantive guarantees for the protection of foreign investments; and the Kyrgyz Republic's law on investments, which protects investors coming into the country. "The arbitration tribunal agreed with the Kyrgyz Republic's argument on the expiration of the statute of limitations on the plaintiff's claims arising from the Law on Investments in the Kyrgyz Republic and considered them inadmissible," the Kyrgyz Ministry of Justice said in a statement. It's worth noting that according to Kyrgyz law, the statute of limitations is three years from the moment the claimant discovered the violation of their rights. The International Arbitration Court rejected the claim on two other legal instruments. According to the Kyrgyz Ministry of Justice, the arbitration panel agreed with the defendant's argument that the actions of Kyrgyzgaz - which allegedly violated the rights of the plaintiff - cannot be attributed to the Kyrgyz Republic under the rules of international law on state responsibility. Therefore, the Kyrgyz Government cannot be held liable for the actions of Kyrgyzgaz in allegedly wrongfully terminating the contract. The International Arbitration Court ordered the Kazakh company to reimburse the Kyrgyz side for 60% of its arbitration costs. The decision can be appealed within one month. KyrgyzGaz is now called Gazprom Kyrgyzstan, and is owned by the Russian state gas company.
On December 22nd, the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Sadyr Japarov, signed a bill modifying the national flag, following its final approval by lawmakers two days prior. The legislators had noted that the depiction of yellow rays on a red field in the old flag resembled a sunflower. They proposed amendments to "straighten" the sunrays to create an image more closely resembling the sun. Several rallies protesting the change have been held since the proposal in October. Also on December 22nd, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Kyrgyz authorities to drop all charges against activist Aftandil Jorobekov, and to release him after he was arrested for openly protesting changes to Kyrgyzstan's national flag and charged with calls for mass disorder and civil disobedience. In a statement, HRW said that the charges brought against Jorobekov "violate his freedom of expression and right to peaceful assembly." "Jorobekov should not be facing criminal prosecution for opposing a government initiative or calling for peaceful protests, which are protected forms of expression,” HRW's Central Asia researcher, Syinat Sultanalieva, said. “The Kyrgyz authorities should drop the charges and release Jorobekov immediately.” The 39-year-old activist was detained on December 7th, a day after he voiced his disapproval of the bill and announced his plan to hold a peaceful protest in Bishkek's Gorky Park on December 9th. "Criticizing the government and calling for peaceful protest is not the equivalent of stoking mass unrest, and it is certainly not criminal," Sultanalieva said. "The Kyrgyz authorities should drop this absurd case against Jorobekov, and uphold his right to free speech and peaceful assembly." Meanwhile, many politicians, activists, and public figures in Kyrgyzstan continue to question the idea to change the national flag. Prominent Kyrgyz athlete and two-time world wrestling champion Jolaman Sharshenbekov wrote on Twitter on December 21st that he will continue raising the country’s old national flag at international tournaments and competitions. The head of the country's State Committee of National Security, Kamchybek Tashiev, immediately commented on Sharshenbekov's post, threatening unspecified repercussions for athletes who "even try" to raise anything other than the amended national flag at sports events. "The law is adopted, and we, the citizens, must obey," Tashiev wrote.
On December 15th, President Sadyr Japarov addressed the second People’s Kurultai, a national assembly of representatives of the public, to discuss current issues of national importance and develop joint proposals to promote reforms. In his speech, the President laid particular emphasis on the fight against corruption. “Corruption is a social evil not only of our people, but of all countries of the world. Because of corruption, our country did not develop for almost 30 years, only a few people became rich, and the common people lived in poverty. Currently, anti-corruption measures are in full swing. Billions of dollars are being returned to state coffers,” Japarov said, adding that a war is also being waged against organized criminal groups. “No investor will invest money in a country with criminal elements. In addition, some officials continue to obstruct investors and engage in bribery and lobbying. All these phenomena harm the image of the country. In this regard, the merciless fight against corruption will continue and intensify,” the President promised. President Japarov also touched upon the topic of new trade routes for Kyrgyzstan. “Kyrgyzstan is located on a unique trade route — the Great Silk Road between Europe and Asia. Occupying a convenient geographical location on trade routes, our country can become a bridge between East and West. For this purpose, a new multimodal transport route, the ‘Southern Corridor’ is being developed. In addition, work is underway to open a southern air corridor, which will strengthen air traffic between Kyrgyzstan and China, and connect the airports of Osh and Kashgar. “At the same time, construction of the China–Kyrgyzstan–Uzbekistan railway will begin in the near future. The pilot project for transporting cargo containers in transit by rail from China to Afghanistan via Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will continue. The issue of launching a pilot container train linking Iran–Turkmenistan–Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan is also being considered. I am confident that these initiatives and ongoing projects will allow Kyrgyzstan to reach a new level of transport and logistics communication with the outside world,” President Japarov concluded.