Kyrgyzstan has barred entry to a researcher with advocacy group Human Rights Watch in a signal of intensifying wariness about criticism of the country’s rights record.
HRW said in a statement that Mihra Rittmann, a U.S. national and director of the group’s Bishkek office, was informed that she had been banned from entering the country by immigration officials on December 2.
The group said the refusal-of-entry order provided no specific motivation for the decision to bar Rittman from the country, which it termed “a direct interference in the organization’s ability to carry out normal human rights monitoring in Kyrgyzstan.”
“Banning a Human Rights Watch researcher from Kyrgyzstan is unprecedented, unexpected, and a deeply disturbing sign,” Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
The move against HRW comes against the backdrop of an increasingly ominous operating environment for nongovernmental organizations. Raids on rights organizations — a hallmark of the rule of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev — have become routine and deputies have thrown their support behind proposed legislation to designate NGOs as “foreign agents.”
The flames of suspicion toward NGOs have also been fanned by incumbent President Almazbek Atambayev.”
“There are NGOs that are just carrying out somebody’s political orders. Anything could happen. We have already been through two revolutions. Every large country, especially the geopolitical heavyweights, have interests in Kyrgyzstan. And we need to monitor those interests for the sake of national security,” Atambayev said in a televised interview last December.
Elsewhere, Atambayev has specifically accused foreign special services of infiltrating Kyrgyzstan to destabilize the political situation by using NGOs as fronts.
HRW said broader moves to stymie rights monitoring served as an inauspicious harbinger.
“Kyrgyzstan’s quest to prevent human rights scrutiny sends a dangerous signal about its intentions,” Roth said. “We hope that wiser heads prevail and that Human Rights Watch is soon allowed to resume its normal work in the country.”
In October, Kyrgyzstan was among the 18 countries elected to serve a three-year term on the UN Human Rights Council, starting from January 1.
HRW’s most recent report focused on Kyrgyzstan concerned domestic violence and what the group said was the authorities failure to tackle the problem.
The group said its failure to secure proper documentation in Kyrgyzstan has dated back to the opening of its Bishkek office in 2012.
“The organization has faced serious difficulties getting work permits for Bishkek-based international staff, including for Rittmann,” HRW said.