Prosecutors in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital, have dropped a criminal case against a local non-governmental organization accused of inciting inter-ethnic conflict. The decision is being cheered by civil society activists, who had earlier expressed concern that the case was a possible harbinger of a crackdown on the non-governmental sector.
In a resolution dated November 28, the Osh prosecutor’s office halted the investigation of the Advocacy Center for Human Rights for lack of evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The criminal case was opened in late September at the instigation of the local branch of the GKNB, or Kyrgyz state security service, which alleged that a research project conducted by the NGO posed a threat to national security. The Advocacy Center, in conjunction with the US-based watchdog organization Freedom House, had been carrying out a pilot research project on the civil rights of ethnic minorities in two regions of southern Kyrgyzstan – Batken and Jalal-Abad.
“We are pleased that the prosecutor rejected the charges of inciting inter-ethnic hatred against the staff of the Human Rights Advocacy Center,” Robert Herman, Freedom House’s vice president for regional programs, said in a written statement distributed by the watchdog organization. “The allegations were baseless and the prosecutor’s decision represents a triumph of the rule of law.”
While the decision may mark a limited victory for due process in Kyrgyzstan, a convoluted provision in the prosecutor’s November 28 resolution indicates that the rule of law was probably not the sole factor in the decision to drop the case. Instead, it hints that behind-the-scenes maneuvering among various state agencies played a significant role in the outcome.
The provision states that the local GKNB office in Osh would be subject to a “prosecutor’s reaction,” a process that is not clearly defined, but which hints that there could be legal repercussions for the local state security office. The provision also states that those responsible for instigating the case could face disciplinary action. Some observers believe the wording of the provision indicates that elements within the executive and judicial branches feel that the state security service was overreaching, and are intent on clipping the secret police’s wings.
When the case was opened in September, civil society activists expressed concern that a conviction could pave the way for passage of a “foreign agents” law in Kyrgyzstan similar to that which went into effect in Russia in 2012. The Russian law requires any non-governmental organization receiving foreign funding to register as a foreign agent, a term widely associated in Russia with spying. A “foreign agents” bill was introduced in the Kyrgyz parliament in September 2013, but amid a strong public outcry from activists and Western officials, MPs did not take action on the measure. However, the bill has not been formally withdrawn.