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HRW: Kyrgyzstan should prosecute for committing or plotting violence

Kyrgyzstan is convicting hundreds of people for possessing videos, pamphlets, and books that it has banned using a dangerously overbroad definition of extremism. Human Rights Watch said in a report.

Offenders are sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison even if they did not distribute the material or use it to incite violence.

The report of the organization, «We Live in Constant Fear: Possession of Extremist Material in Kyrgyzstan,» finds that in some cases, suspects are charged for possessing material that the authorities classified as extremist only after their arrests. Several suspects told that police and security agents had planted the material during searches, then demanded payoffs to end investigations. Some said law enforcement officials tortured them to extract confessions.

«Kyrgyzstan should prosecute people for committing or plotting violence, but not for the videos they watch or the books they read,» said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch and the report’s author.

Outlawing mere possession of material vaguely defined as extremist makes it all too easy to unjustly target political opponents, activists, journalists, defense lawyers, and ordinary citizens.

Letta Tayler

Prosecutions for possessing extremist material in Kyrgyzstan are carried out under article 299-2 of the Criminal Code, the country’s most widely applied charge against terrorism and extremism suspects. At least 258 people have been convicted under article 299-2 since 2010.

According to human rights defenders, the authorities in Kyrgyzstan should revamp article 299-2 and Kyrgyzstan’s overly broad definition of extremism. The country’s courts should promptly review all convictions for mere possession of extremist material.

«Abusive counterterrorism measures are not only unlawful, they can alienate local communities,» Tayler said. «Instead of keeping the public safer, they risk generating support for extremist armed groups.»