A prominent international think-tank says Kyrgyzstan’s security services are harassing its contacts in the ethnically divided south just for meeting with its researcher.
Over the past week, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB, still referred to colloquially as the KGB) has questioned human rights activists and other sources that had spoken with an analyst from the International Crisis Group, the think-tank said in a November 30 statement. The individuals met with ICG’s Conor Prasad, an Irish national, shortly before he was detained on November 17 in Uzgen and had his research materials, including his laptop computer and notes, seized. It appears that authorities used those materials to determine whom he had met.
Prasad left Kyrgyzstan after the GKNB said he had been trying to incite tensions and provoke public unrest. Observers in Bishkek and abroad dismiss those claims as ridiculous. ICG said the accusations were groundless.
From the ICG’s statement:
These actions represent clear harassment of human rights defenders and others who were doing nothing more than exercising their rights of expression and assembly. If such researchers are not allowed to meet with others and discuss their work, the state is undermining the core freedoms of its citizens.
Our analyst was himself the subject of an illegal search and interrogation by the SCNS [GKNB] in Osh on 17 November. Multiple violations of Kyrgyz law occurred. He was denied access to a lawyer. The SCNS officers refused to identify themselves by either rank or name. He was not shown any documents authorizing his detention and the search of Crisis Group’s vehicle. His laptop, notebook and other items were confiscated. The SCNS refused to provide him with documentation of any kind. Repeated attempts by Crisis Group’s lawyer to obtain these documents from the Office of the Prosecutor General in Osh have also failed.
Osh and southern Kyrgyzstan saw ethnic fighting in June 2010 that left over 400 people, mostly minority Uzbeks, dead. Yet multiple independent studies have found Uzbeks suffering a vastly disproportionate share of the blame.
ICG has repeatedly warned that the ongoing harassment of ethnic Uzbeks, which is carried out with impunity by the mostly ethnic Kyrgyz authorities, is further dividing Kyrgyzstan’s south along explosive ethnic lines. But authorities don’t seem to like that message.
“The actions of the GKNB show that attempts to examine the situation in Osh seem to elicit a knee-jerk reaction from the both the provincial authorities and the government in Bishkek who appear to find the prospect of independent analysis disconcerting,” Deirdre Tynan, ICG’s Central Asia project director, told EurasiaNet.org. [Full disclosure: Until earlier this year, Tynan was a EurasiaNet staff correspondent.] “This bodes badly for democratic values and for freedom of speech in an already shaky environment. If the authorities do not to allow independent experts access to research the tensions in the region, there will be less opportunity to discover paths toward conflict resolution and reconciliation.”