International human rights organization Human Rights Watch calls on the authorities of Kyrgyzstan to stop criminal prosecution of a couple detained for holding an anti-Putin picket in Bishkek and to ensure freedom of speech. Statement of the organization says.
«Publicly expressing negative views of the Russian president is well within the bounds of exercising free speech, protected under both Kyrgyz and international law,» said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. «Kyrgyz authorities should immediately withdraw these unfounded charges and drop the case.»
Nurlan Karymshakov, 48, and Gulzana Imaeva, 38, were detained as they held up anti-Putin posters outside the Russian Embassy on the morning before President Vladimir Putin’s planned visit to the Kyrgyzstan capital. At around 8:30 a.m. on March 27, Karymshakov and Imaeva displayed posters with the words «Putin!!! Aggressor Killer Occupier,» and «No to Putin’s Torpedoes No bombs in Issyk kul,» presumably in reference to Russia’s military presence in Kyrgyzstan. The police named calls for ethnic hatred on placards as the grounds for the detention. The activist’s house was searched.
According to the organization, expressing negative comments about a single person, in particular if the person is a public political figure such as the president of a country, does not amount to incitement of national enmity against the country’s people.
As human rights defenders stress that «expression of political opinion, including negative opinions, about individual politicians, is a fundamental element of freedom of expression in a democratic society based on human rights and rule of law. In addition, under international law government officials and those involved in public affairs are required to be tolerant of a greater degree of scrutiny and criticism than ordinary citizens. Threatening activists with criminal sanctions, especially on vague «incitement» charges when there is no imminent threat of violence as a result of their actions, is a blatant violation of Kyrgyzstan’s international human rights obligations.»
«Karymshakov and Imaeva should never have been detained for expressing views critical of President Putin, no matter how inconvenient for Kyrgyz authorities on the eve of the Russian president’s visit,» Rittmann said. «Authorities should withdraw the criminal charges without delay and close the case.»