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In Kyrgyz­stan, human rights defend­er Kamil Ruziev is facing for­gery charges that appear to have been brought in retali­ation for his human rights work, in par­tic­u­lar his efforts to hold secur­ity ser­vice offi­cials account­able for tor­ture and threats against his person.

The Kyrgyz­stani author­it­ies should imme­di­ately drop the charges against Ruziev, pro­tect him against per­se­cu­tion and invest­ig­ate the com­plaints he has filed about human rights viol­a­tions, the Asso­ci­ation for Human Rights in Cent­ral Asia (AHRCA), Civil Rights Defend­ers (CRD), Inter­na­tion­al Part­ner­ship for Human Rights (IPHR), the Nor­we­gi­an Hel­sinki Com­mit­tee (NHC) and School of Law (SL) said today.

Fifty-sev­en-year-old Kamil Ruziev heads the pub­lic found­a­tion “Ventus” and is well-known for defend­ing the rights of vic­tims of tor­ture, domest­ic viol­ence, and dis­crim­in­a­tion on the grounds of nation­al­ity. He has repeatedly filed com­plaints against secur­ity ser­vice offi­cials and police officers in cases involving alleg­a­tions of tor­ture and oth­er human rights viol­a­tions. Recently he has also sought to ensure account­ab­il­ity for a high-rank­ing secur­ity ser­vice offi­cial who has repeatedly threatened to kill him because of his work (see more below).

On May 29, officers from Kyrgyzstan’s secur­ity ser­vice detained Ruziev in the city of Karakol in east­ern Kyrgyz­stan. Fol­low­ing his deten­tion, Ruziev was informed that he is being invest­ig­ated on charges of for­gery under art­icle 359, part 2 of the Crim­in­al Code – an art­icle that car­ries a pun­ish­ment of max­im­um sev­en years’ impris­on­ment. To back up these charges, the secur­ity ser­vices’ press ser­vice pub­lished video mater­i­als show­ing three indi­vidu­als, whom Ruziev has pre­vi­ously rep­res­en­ted or assisted, accus­ing him of fraud. How­ever, the human rights groups issu­ing this state­ment have received inform­a­tion indic­at­ing that the indi­vidu­als were coerced into mak­ing these accus­a­tions against Ruziev. On May 31, Karakol City Court sanc­tioned the charges against the defend­er and he was trans­ferred to house arrest pending the tri­al in his case. 

“The cir­cum­stances of this case lead us to con­clude that the crim­in­al charges against Ruziev are aimed at pun­ish­ing him for his human rights and anti-tor­ture work. We call on the Kyrgyz­stani author­it­ies to imme­di­ately release him and drop the charges. Ruziyev’s case clearly shows how vul­ner­able a human rights defend­er is in Kyrgyz­stan and how the GKNB, in viol­a­tion of con­sti­tu­tion­al prin­ciples, coordin­ates attacks on crit­ics of the regime”, said Leila Nazgul Seiit­bek, Kyrgyz­stan Rep­res­ent­at­ive at AHRCA. 

Dur­ing the two days Ruziev spent in the secur­ity ser­vices’ deten­tion cen­ter in the Issyk-Kul region, inter­rog­at­ors sub­jec­ted him to severe pres­sure, includ­ing threats and intim­id­a­tion, in an attempt to make him incrim­in­ate him­self. Ruziev told the AHRCA that author­it­ies fur­ther­more interfered with his right to leg­al coun­sel and that he was denied access to neces­sary pre­scrip­tion drugs. Fol­low­ing his trans­fer to house arrest, Ruziev was hos­pit­al­ized due to stress, under­ly­ing health prob­lems and a hun­ger strike he launched on the day of his deten­tion. On June 8, three secur­ity ser­vice offi­cials entered the hos­pit­al ward where Ruziev was being treated and attemp­ted to inter­rog­ate him – with no leg­al coun­sel present. 

Seek­ing justice for tor­ture vic­tims, Ruziev has filed a num­ber of com­plaints against secur­ity ser­vice offi­cials and police officers, in par­tic­u­lar a former high-rank­ing officer who allegedly has com­mit­ted tor­ture, ill-treat­ment and oth­er degrad­ing treat­ment on sev­er­al occa­sions. The officer in ques­tion respon­ded with death threats. Last year, on June 10 and 12, and then on Novem­ber 4, this officer leveled a fire­arm at Ruziev’s head and threatened to kill him in a bid to make Ruziev end his efforts to ensure account­ab­il­ity for the repor­ted human rights violations. 

Fol­low­ing the death threats, Ruziev filed a com­plaint against the former high-rank­ing officer to the admin­is­tra­tion of the secur­ity ser­vices. Because of the fail­ure of the secur­ity ser­vices to react to his com­plaint, Ruziev filed a law­suit against the secur­ity ser­vices in Feb­ru­ary 2020. The next month, on March 11, as Ruziev later learned, the secur­ity ser­vices opened a crim­in­al case of for­gery against him, lead­ing to the May 29 deten­tion of the human rights defender. 

The per­se­cu­tion of Ruziev fits into a pat­tern where author­it­ies in Kyrgyz­stan retali­ate against journ­al­ists and human rights defend­ers for seek­ing justice and shed­ding light on human rights viol­a­tions. It is also part of a wor­ry­ing trend, in Kyrgyz­stan and else­where, where human rights defend­ers face increas­ingly lar­ger risks while car­ry­ing out their work. Recog­niz­ing the increased pres­sure on human rights defend­ers around the world, the United Nations Human Rights Com­mit­tee last autumn adop­ted by con­sensus a res­ol­u­tion on strength­en­ing the pro­tec­tion of human rights defend­ers urging states to “invest­ig­ate in a prompt, effect­ive, inde­pend­ent and account­able man­ner, com­plaints and alleg­a­tions regard­ing threats or human rights viol­a­tions per­pet­rated against human rights defenders”.

“Instead of retali­at­ing against our col­league for seek­ing justice, the Kyrgyz­stani author­it­ies  should guar­an­tee his safety and ini­ti­ate cred­ible and swift invest­ig­a­tions into his alleg­a­tions of the intim­id­a­tion and oth­er human rights viol­a­tions per­pet­rated by secur­ity ser­vices and police”, said Gun­nar Ekeløve-Sly­dal, act­ing Sec­ret­ary Gen­er­al and Head of Policy at the NHC. 

  The groups issu­ing this state­ment are also con­cerned that the secur­ity ser­vice is in charge of the pre-tri­al invest­ig­a­tion in Ruziev’s case. Giv­en the com­plaints the defend­er has filed against the ser­vice, there are ser­i­ous doubts about its impar­ti­al­ity in this case. In addi­tion, accord­ing to art­icle 153 part 1 of Kyrgyzstan’s Crim­in­al Pro­ced­ure Code, crimes of for­gery fall under the jur­is­dic­tion of the Min­istry of Intern­al Affairs, not under that of the secur­ity services.