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Authorities brought more charges against activists detained over border deal opposition; Russia planned to increase combat readiness of military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Authorities charged imprisoned activists for attempting to seize power. Court in Bishkek 12 April ruled that five activists, detained Oct 2022 for protesting border deal that hands ownership of Kempir-Abad reservoir to Uzbekistan, should be placed under house arrest. Lawyers of activists 26 April said activists faced new charges, namely attempts to seize power.
Russia announced plans to boost combat readiness of military base in Kyrgyzstan. Speaking at Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in India, Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu 28 April announced plans to increase combat readiness of its military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, saying U.S. efforts to strengthen its presence there triggered move.
Calls to release activists detained over border demarcation disagreement continued.
Relatives of over 20 politicians and activists who were detained late Oct for protesting border demarcation agreement with Uzbekistan 17 March held protest in capital Bishkek; protesters demanded detainees’ immediate release among other things, including judicial reforms and clampdown on corruption. Echoing their demands, NGO Human Rights Watch 20 March called for immediate release of activists, raising concerns about conditions in pre-trial detention facilities.
Court extended pre-trial detention for activists protesting border delimitation agreement until April, govt agreed to host CSTO military drills and U.S. sought to deepen engagement in region.
Authorities extended pre-trial detention of imprisoned activists for second time. Court in capital Bishkek 15-17 Feb extended pre-trial detention of 26 activists and politicians, detained late Oct for protesting border delimitation agreement with Uzbekistan, until April; court first extended their pre-trial detention in Dec.
Govt repatriated 59 nationals from north-eastern Syria. Govt 16 Feb repatriated 18 women and 41 children from displaced persons camps in north-eastern Syria. U.S. 20 Feb welcomed Kyrgyz govt’s efforts to “help resolve the ongoing humanitarian and security challenges” in region, where Islamic State remains “a persistent threat”; U.S. added that repatriation remains “the only durable solution” and urged “all governments to follow Kyrgyzstan’s example and repatriate their nationals”.
In other important developments. After Armenian PM Pashinyan mid-Jan announced Armenia would not host annual military exercises for Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) military alliance, CSTO’s Chief of Staff Anatoly Sidorov 14 Feb announced Kyrgyzstan had agreed to host them instead. Meanwhile, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 28 Feb held talks with FMs from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, amid U.S. efforts to deepen engagement in region; Blinken announced $25mn of new funding to support economic growth.
President finalised border delimitation agreement with Uzbek counterpart, and police arrested relatives of detained activists and politicians protesting in capital Bishkek.
Kyrgyz and Uzbek leaders completed border delimitation process. President Japarov and Uzbek President Mirziyoev 27 Jan signed over 20 documents aimed at strengthening bilateral relations during Mirziyoev’s state visit to Bishkek. Most notably, leaders finalised border delimitation agreement, which Japarov hailed as “truly historic event”.
Authorities detained dozens of demonstrators in Bishkek. Police 10 Jan arrested dozens of relatives of 26 politicians and activists detained late Oct for protesting border delimitation agreement with Uzbekistan; relatives demanded release of jailed politicians and activists during rally in Bishkek. Police same day released demonstrators.
Detained activists protesting border delimitation agreement with Uzbekistan went on hunger strike.
Following crackdown late Oct when authorities detained 26 activists and politicians protesting border delimitation agreement with Uzbekistan, court in capital Bishkek 13 Dec extended pre-trial detention for number of detainees until at least 20 Feb. Four detainees next day announced hunger strike to protest “against mass political repression accompanied by fabricated criminal cases, injustice and lawlessness being conducted against a wide number of politicians, activists, journalists and bloggers”; in following days, 15 more detainees joined hunger strike. Court 27-28 Dec extended custody for 20 detainees, whose health reportedly began to deteriorate. Meanwhile, relatives of all detainees 20 Dec rallied in Bishkek, demanding their release and calling for meeting with President Japarov to resolve issue.
Authorities signed agreements with Uzbekistan on border delimitation amid ongoing local opposition.
FM Jeenbek Kulubaev and Uzbek counterpart Vladimir Norov 2 Nov signed agreements on border delimitation in capital Bishkek, including deal on joint management of Kempir-Abad water reservoir, vital water source that lies between Osh region and Uzbekistan’s Andijan region. Kyrgyz lawmakers 17 Nov ratified deal giving Uzbekistan ownership of reservoir in return for 19,000 hectares of land elsewhere along border; Uzbek Senate following day approved agreement. Both countries’ presidents must give final approval before deal is authorised. Govt’s decision to cede control of reservoir to Uzbekistan has however ignited anger among border communities, whose protests in Oct prompted authorities to detain 20 activists and politicians. Detainees 1 Nov made public their letter to Uzbek President Mirziyoev, urging him to suspend signing deal until issue of reservoir is resolved within Kyrgyzstan.
Authorities repressed dissenting views over border delimitation agreement with Uzbekistan; tensions persisted along Tajik-Kyrgyz border as both sides traded accusations of military build-up.
Local tensions flared over final border delimitation agreement with Uzbekistan. Following govt’s breakthrough deal in March 2021 with Uzbekistan to resolve longstanding border disputes, sides drew closer during month toward agreement on definitive delimitation of shared border. However, frustration mounted among border communities over govt’s decision to hand ownership of Kempir-Abad reservoir, vital water source that lies between Osh region and Uzbekistan’s Andijan region, in return for land. Notably, opposition forces 15 Oct organised rally in Uzgen district’s Kyzyl-Oktyabr village near reservoir, where they criticised govt’s handling of border negotiations and demanded reservoir remain in Kyrgyz hands. In response, authorities 23 Oct repressed dissent, notably detaining at least 20 activists and politicians opposed to deal, accusing them of “organising and preparing mass riots”; court in Bishkek 25 Oct sent all detainees to pre-trial detention until at least Dec.
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan accused each other of mustering forces along border. Following deadly violence in Sept along disputed segment of border with Kyrgyzstan, President Sadyr Japarov and Tajik counterpart Rahmon 13 Oct met in Kazakh capital Astana along with Russian President Putin, who offered to help resolve border dispute. Yet tensions persisted, with Tajikistan’s border guard service 19 Oct accusing Kyrgyzstan of “deliberate actions aimed at escalating the situation in the border areas”, including “preparing firing positions, creating trenches, continuing to pull in additional military equipment and regularly violating [its] airspace”. Security services same day rejected “absolutely untrue” accusations, blaming Tajik armed forces for “preparing firing positions, digging trenches and making incursions with unmanned aerial vehicles”.
Authorities called on regional security organisation to station troops along border. Authorities 19 Oct asked Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), of which Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are members, to deploy peacekeeping troops at disputed parts of Kyrgyz-Tajik border to uphold fragile ceasefire, saying “until an arbitrator comes between us, say a small contingent from the CSTO, peace will not be achieved”.
Violence erupted along disputed border with Tajikistan, killing almost 100 people and displacing thousands.Fierce fighting flared along disputed part of Kyrgyz-Tajik border. Clashes 14 Sept erupted between Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards, killing at least two. Sides exchanged blame for flare-up; Kyrgyz guards accused Tajikistan of assuming military positions on part of border not yet demarcated, while Tajikistan said Kyrgyz guards had opened fire without provocation. President Japarov and Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon 16 Sept announced ceasefire agreement on sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, said they had ordered troop withdrawal. However, violence same day erupted again, marking deadliest escalation since conflict in April 2021 claimed 55 lives. Sides accused each other of breaching ceasefire and of using heavy weaponry including tanks, rocket artillery and assault drones to attack outposts and nearby settlements. Notably, Tajikistan accused Kyrgyzstan of firing toward Ovchi-Kalacha and Bobojon settlements in Gafurov district, and Vorukh and Chorkuh settlements near Isfara city. Kyrgyz border services, meanwhile, said Tajik forces “renewed gunfire at Kyrgyz border guards’ positions” in Kulundu and Jany-Jer settlements in Leilek district and attacked positions in Batken district, which lies 10km from border, signalling spread of hostilities deeper into Kyrgyzstan. Countries 16 Sept signed second ceasefire, after which sides 16-17 Sept reported sporadic shelling but no major incidents. Hostilities killed around 100 people, including at least 37 civilians. Authorities 18 Sept said they had evacuated 137,000 people from conflict area, 19 Sept said homes in Ak-Sai village (Leilek district) were deliberately burned and pillaged. Tajik authorities same day said civilian homes in Tajikistan were also burned, although there were no reported evacuation efforts.Moscow urged “peaceful” resolution and offered to help stabilise border. According to Kyrgyz authorities, situation on border 18 Sept remained “tense” but “appeared to be stabilising”. Russian President Putin same day spoke with Tajik and Kyrgyz leaders, urging sides to “prevent further escalation and to take measures to resolve the situation exclusively by peaceful, political and diplomatic means”, highlighting “Russia’s readiness to provide the necessary assistance to ensure stability in the Kyrgyz-Tajik border region”. Both countries 25 Sept reached agreement to demilitarise conflict-affected section of border.
Authorities detained three alleged jihadists, while military participated in U.S.-sponsored exercises in Tajikistan. Authorities 26 Aug detained three alleged jihadists in southern region of Batken, whom they accuse of engaging in activities aimed at raising money to support terrorist organisations operating in Syria and distributing propaganda material. Military participated in U.S.-sponsored military exercise, Regional Cooperation 22, 10-20 Aug in Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. U.S., Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Pakistan were all involved in military exercise designed to “enhance regional security and stability, increase national capabilities and commitment to interdict weapons of mass destruction, terrorist elements, and narcotics, [and] help develop regional defense forces in international peace operations and information sharing”.
Leaders from four other Central Asian states arrived in Kyrgyzstan for summit designed to strengthen regional cooperation; notorious criminal leader killed in custody. Kyrgyzstan 20-21 July hosted leaders of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in Issyk-Kul Lake town of Cholpon-Ata to discuss economic and political cooperation in wake of Ukraine war, COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest and situation in Afghanistan. Summit marked first gathering of regional heads of state since Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 Feb (see Ukraine) and ended with pledge to increase cooperation. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, however, did not sign off on treaty committing countries to “friendship, good neighbourliness and cooperation”, citing domestic procedures. Notorious criminal leader Chyngyz Dzhumagulov, whom authorities 15 July detained on racketeering charges, 30 July was stabbed by his cellmate at detention facility in Bishkek; Dzhumagulov reportedly had links to kingpin Kamchybek Kolbayev, for whom U.S. has offered $1mn reward.
Skirmishes erupted along border with Tajikistan. Border Guard Service 3 June said clashes broke out along border with Tajikistan after Tajik border guards reportedly entered Kyrgyz territory; authorities same day reported unspecified number of wounded on both sides. Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards 14 June exchanged gunfire, reportedly killing one Tajik guard. Authorities from both sides reportedly held talks, while situation along border remained tense.
Uzbek troops killed three people along Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. Authorities 6 May said Uzbekistan’s troops opened fire previous day in western Jalal-Abad region near Ferghana Valley, killing three; Uzbekistan’s border service 6 May confirmed incident, said “border guards observed the smuggling of large quantities of goods” and were “forced to use weapons”. Acting FM Vladimir Vorov same day spoke on phone with Kyrgyz FM Jeenbek Kulubayev and stressed need to “avoid negative consequences in the border area” and “expand Kyrgyz-Uzbek cooperation”. Meanwhile, State Committee for National Security 4 May said authorities three days earlier detained 12 active members, including four leaders, of proscribed Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group in Kerben town in Jalal-Abad region.
Clashes on border with Tajikistan killed one border guard. Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards 12 April exchanged gunfire close to Maksat village in Leilek district, Batken region, in south-western Kyrgyzstan, reportedly wounding one border guard on each side; Tajik border guard next day succumbed to wounds. Head of respective border guard services 12 April reportedly held talks to de-escalate situation. Batken region governor 13 April said Kyrgyz-Tajik talks on border situation ended with agreement to withdraw additional armed forces from both sides and “two sides’ police will take joint control over the border segment crossing the Konibodom-Khujand highway”. Kyrgyz FM Ruslan Kazakbaev and Tajik FM Sirojiddin Muhriddin 14 April held call to discuss border situation; pair “agreed to continue discussions on further steps to resolve border issues”. Mayor of capital Bishkek 14 April announced that Pervomay district court had banned rallies and protests in city centre (allocating three designated areas elsewhere) until 1 Sept 2022, reportedly aimed at preventing “possible mass disorders”.
Clashes on border with Tajikistan killed one. Local officials 10 March held discussions with counterparts from Tajikistan following gunfire exchange between border guards previous day along disputed part of border between Kyrgyzstan’s Batken district and Tajikistan’s Sughd region that killed one person and wounded another; Kyrgyz authorities claimed clashes erupted after Tajik border guards entered disputed area. Hundreds of pro-Russia demonstrators 19 March gathered in southern city Osh; Deputy PM Edil Baysalov 20 March said govt should be “neutral” on Ukraine crisis, saying: “We cannot say that one side is right and the other is wrong”. FM Ruslan Kazakbayev 23 March vocalised commitment to principles of “territorial integrity of states and peaceful settlement of conflicts”, while President Japarov 24 March said “our country is divided into two camps” on issue. Amid Western sanctions on Russia and devaluation of currency, Deputy Minister of Economy and Commerce Eldar Alisherov 23 March vowed to keep prices low, noting rise in food prices and petrol, oil and lubricants. Around 100 protesters 26 March gathered in capital Bishkek to demand suspension of Russia state media outlets. Authorities 4 March detained head of NEXT television channel after it broadcast allegations of deal between govt and Russia to deploy troops to support Russian military operations in Ukraine; Bishkek court 5 March ruled head of channel will be detained until 3 May at earliest.
Deadly clashes erupted along disputed border with Tajikistan. Clashes along disputed border between Tajikistan’s north-western Sughd province and Kyrgyzstan’s south-western Batken province 27-28 Jan killed two civilians and injured ten people – six servicemen and four civilians – on Tajik side, while 11 were injured on Kyrgyz side; clashes reportedly forced some 1,500 local residents to flee before ceasefire was agreed 28 Jan. Commander of Russia’s Central Military District Alexander Lapin 24 Jan announced Russia will reinforce its military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan with new weapons and equipment.
Election authorities announced final results of late-Nov elections while opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev was threatened as his supporters demanded new poll. Following elections held on 28 Nov, Central Election Commission 15 Dec announced that Ata-Jurt Kyrgyzstan party secured 15 seats, Ishenim party 12 seats, and Yntymak party nine seats; Kyrgyz Supreme Court 17 Dec refused to consider claim on electoral fraud, said official deadline for complaints had expired. Unknown assailants 1 Dec attacked Omurbek Tekebaev, leader of opposition party Ata-Meken, in capital Bishkek in what politician later called “the start of political terror”; hundreds of Tekebaev’s supporters and opposition activists had same day gathered at offices of Central Election Commission to demand new poll amid fraud accusations. President Japarov 1 Dec called for investigation into attack and Bishkek city police next day said they had arrested suspect in attack. Authorities 22 Dec said Tajik border guards had opened fire on truck driver near disputed border.
Security authorities claimed to have foiled coup plot ahead of 28 Nov parliamentary elections. In lead-up to polls, State National Security Committee 26 Nov announced it had “exposed a criminal group plotting to violently seize power in the country” and arrested 15 suspects, including members of Supreme Council. Following vote, dozens of opposition protesters 29 Nov gathered in capital Bishkek to demand fresh election after four opposition parties previous day accused authorities of “stealing” votes and called for election to be annulled. Earlier, EU foreign policy chief 22 Nov met FMs of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in Tajik capital Dushanbe for 17th EU-Central Asia Ministerial meeting; parties same day issued joint communiqué that reaffirmed support for “strong, ambitious and forward-looking partnership”, noted “importance of progressing on the rule of law, democracy, governance, gender equality and universal human rights”, and cited concerns over “regional repercussions of developments in Afghanistan”. Ahead of meeting, NGO Human Rights Watch 19 Nov reported constitutional reforms in country “contradict international human rights”. Security Council Deputy Chairman Taalatbek Masadykov 24 Nov said country “will not be able to handle the inflow of refugees just like other countries of the Central Asian region”. Authorities said they had detained alleged leader of proscribed Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir in southern Osh region on 4 Nov; authorities 10 Nov announced detention of other leaders and members of group in northern Chui region. Amid reports of energy shortfall, energy ministry 11 Nov confirmed deal to import electricity from Turkmenistan.
President Japarov signalled willingness to resolve disputed border issue with Tajikistan. President Japarov 12 Oct named Akylbek Japarov as chairman of cabinet; move follows constitutional reforms which created new post and which president adopted previous day. Japarov 23 Oct said border crossings with Tajikistan were still closed to Tajik citizens following violent escalation in April and indicated officials “will be heading to Tajikistan soon” to proceed with border demarcation and delimitation.
Senior officials met Taliban leadership following group’s takeover of Afghanistan. Deputy chairman of Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council, Taalatbek Masadykov, and head of Foreign Policy Department of Kyrgyz presidential administration, Jeenbek Kulubaev, 23 Sept met acting FM of new Taliban govt, Amir Khan Muttaqi, in Afghan capital Kabul; meeting focused on “bilateral relations and continued cooperation”, according to Taliban.
Border tensions continued with Tajikistan. Border force 23 Aug announced officials held talks with Tajik counterparts in Batken region to resolve new flare-up; talks held following incident previous day in which unknown individuals attacked Kyrgyz cars when reports emerged that Tajik authorities had begun construction work at disputed Golovnoi water facility, scene of deadly escalation in April; construction reportedly halted after talks. President Japarov 30 Aug said border talks with Tajikistan have “intensified” and urged both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to “continue negotiations based on principle of mutual respect”. Presidents of five Central Asian states – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – 6 Aug met in Turkmenbashi city, Turkmenistan, to discuss range of issues, including regional cooperation and “earliest possible settlement of the situation in neighboring Afghanistan”. Meanwhile, international NGO Committee to Protect Journalists 10 Aug urged Japarov to reject bill approved late July by parliament, which introduces new state powers for monitoring and overseeing online content, said legislation “threatens to seriously undermine the country’s fragile press freedoms”; Japarov 24 Aug however signed bill into law. Japarov 27 Aug also signed into law series of electoral changes approved in April 2020 referendum, including reducing number of lawmakers. State Committee for National Security 14 Aug detained Islamic State recruiter.
Skirmishes broke out on Kyrgyz-Tajik border amid concerns over border security with Afghanistan. Kyrgyz and Tajik forces 8 July reportedly exchanged gunfire along border in Leilek district, Batken region, killing one Kyrgyz border guard; guards 24 July reportedly exchanged fire on border between Batken oblast and Tajikistan’s Sughd region. Kyrgyz authorities 29 July reportedly confirmed that in recent meetings with Tajik counterparts, sides delimited/demarcated additional 40km of border. Collective Security Treaty Organization Parliamentary Assembly 1 July convened in Tajik capital Dushanbe and expressed concern over intensity of fighting in Afghanistan. State Committee for National Security head Kamchybek Tashiev 8 July said withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan posed risks to country, particularly as “terrorist organizations have moved to an active phase of their activities in the Central Asian countries”.
Amid ongoing tensions with Tajikistan, sides struck new agreement to stabilise border. Following deadliest fighting on Kyrgyz-Tajik border in years in April, authorities 4 June announced they bolstered border security presence after observing that Tajikistan had violated past agreements by installing container and deploying military personnel and equipment on unmarked border segment in Kyrgyz’s Chon-Alai district in southern Osh region; Tajik officials same day dismissed concerns. Kyrgyz and Tajik officials 5 June struck new nine-point agreement, including provisions to withdraw troops and military equipment and relocate respective border posts 3km from border; Kyrgyz authorities next day withdrew reinforcements after reporting that Tajik side had removed container. Heads of Tajikistan’s northern Sughd region and Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken region 16 June held meeting to discuss border issues, reportedly forging agreement on water distribution. Meanwhile, group of Kyrgyz lawyers and activists 6 June requested International Criminal Court initiate investigation into Tajikistan’s military conduct during recent escalation; Kyrgyz govt 15 June criticised application, stating that “such initiatives can harm the political and diplomatic solution of the issue”. During 28-29 June official visit to Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, President Japarov described late-April military escalation as “heavy test” for both countries. Meanwhile, around 50 protesters 30 June gathered in capital Bishkek in opposition to controversial bill that could establish govt watchdog to monitor posting of online content; activists complained bill violates freedom of speech.
Tentative calm returned to Kyrgyz-Tajik border following last month’s deadly fighting; President Japarov signed into law constitutional amendments which strengthen presidential powers. Following deadliest fighting in years on Kyrgyz-Tajik border last month that killed dozens, officials in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region 18 May said security forces established joint checkpoint between Kyrgyz village of Ak-Sai and Tajikistan's Vorukh district. Announcement followed previous day’s incident in which Kyrgyz authorities claimed three of their citizens beaten in Tajik custody along border; Tajik officials reportedly agreed to hold perpetrators accountable. Authorities 24 May announced “temporary” restrictions from 21 May on entry and exit of individuals and goods from Tajikistan. Batken region officials 14 May said minor skirmishes broke out along border between residents of Kyrgyz village of Sai and Uzbek village of Chashma. Meanwhile, President Japarov 5 May signed into law constitutional amendments which were endorsed in April referendum; new amendments provide for greater powers for president and reducing number of lawmakers from 120 to 90.
Deadliest fighting in years erupted on Kyrgyz-Tajik border, killing dozens and displacing thousands, while voters endorsed constitutional amendments to strengthen presidential powers. Local residents in Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken region and Tajikistan’s northern Sughd region 28 April clashed and pelted stones at each other, injuring many on both sides; incident reportedly related to ongoing dispute over water facility both sides claim. Kyrgyz police in Batken next day reported that gunfire from Tajik side of border targeted military unit in Kok-Tash village, while Tajikistan’s border guards same day claimed Kyrgyz military personnel opened fire on border units; sides 29 April agreed to ceasefire. Kyrgyz authorities reported 34 people dead, including three civilians, while Tajikistan reported 15 dead, including six border guards; fighting reportedly injured scores more and displaced thousands. Prior to fighting, foreign ministry 26 April summoned Tajik ambassador to protest Tajik authorities’ decision previous day to briefly detain two Kyrgyz men near disputed border in southern Batken region. Earlier in month, following last month’s breakthrough deal with Uzbekistan to resolve longstanding border disputes, local villagers in Kara-Suu district, Osh oblast, mid-month began protests over subsequent days in opposition to transferring land to Uzbekistan as part of deal. Earlier in month, voters 11 April participated in referendum on constitutional amendments that include greater powers for president and reducing number of lawmakers from 120 to 90; of 36.7% of eligible voters who cast votes, 79% approved new amendments. Country 11 April also held local elections; around 50 supporters of several parties same day gathered near Central Election Commission building in capital Bishkek to express dissatisfaction with results.
Govt and Uzbekistan struck deal to resolve longstanding border disputes while lawmakers approved April referendum on constitutional reforms. Following state visit to Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent, President Japarov and Uzbek President Mirziyoyev 12 March agreed to complete demarcation of sections of border within three months and improve access between Uzbekistan and its exclave of Sokh inside Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz and Uzbek PMs 25 March approved deal that includes land swaps and opening multiple checkpoints to improve access in and out of Sokh exclave; head of Kyrgyz security services next day said “issues around the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border have been resolved 100 percent” and “there is not a single patch of disputed territory left”. Separately, Tajik and Kyrgyz officials 15-18 March held talks on demarcation of Kyrgyz-Tajik border and agreed to hold further talks, which took place on 26 March. Meanwhile, lawmakers 11 March approved referendum, scheduled for 11 April, on constitutional amendments that include greater powers for president and reducing number of lawmakers from 120 to 90; President Japarov 15 March said “I believe this constitution will establish order in the country”. NGO Human Rights Watch 5 March criticised draft constitution, said it “undermines human rights norms and weakens checks and balances”. Dozens of protesters 9 March held rally in capital Bishkek against proposed amendments; police 15 March detained protest organiser Tilekmat Kudaibergenov. Govt 16 March repatriated 79 children born to Kyrgyz parents who in recent years travelled to Iraq to join Islamic State or other extremist groups; UN children agency UNICEF same day commended govt’s decision while U.S. said “Kyrgyz government deserves praise for its commitment to help the returned children”.
Parliament approved new streamlined govt and unveiled draft constitution, while border incidents triggered small-scale rallies in capital Bishkek and south. Following President Japarov’s election victory in Jan, parliament 3 Feb approved new govt with Ulugbek Maripov serving as PM; Japarov previous day explained “we have shed everything that was excess to requirement. All that is left are 12 ministries.” Govt 9 Feb published draft of new constitution, which reduces members of parliament from 120 to 90, among other provisions; Japarov indicated constitutional referendum could be held in April. Japarov 24 Feb visited Russia’s capital Moscow on first foreign tour as president. Around 30 residents from southern Batken and Jalal-Abad regions 15 Feb rallied in Bishkek to call on govt to resolve border issues with neighbouring countries; previously, around 50 villagers 12 Feb rallied in village in Batken region, claiming Tajik border guards had taken control of pasture earlier in month; separately, locals in Jalal-Abad region 12 Feb met border guard representative amid accusations that Uzbekistan had installed border fence that cut off access to grazing lands. National security chief Kamchybek Tashiev 18 Feb visited Batken region; Tashiev said border talks with Tajik officials would take place in first half of March and with Uzbek officials in second half, and govt intends to demarcate 150km of state border this year. Meanwhile, hundreds of anti-corruption protesters 14 Feb rallied in Bishkek to demand that authorities take measures against widespread corruption. State Committee for National Security 10 Feb announced detention of top Muslim cleric, Grand Mufti Maksatbek Hajji Toktomushev, for alleged misuse of funds; dozens of Toktomushev’s supporters 11 Feb rallied in Bishkek to demand his release. Transport minister 18 Feb met Russian counterpart to discuss resumption of regular flights between countries that were largely halted due to COVID-19.
Former acting President and PM Sadyr Japarov won presidential election and voters approved constitutional reformon strengthening presidential powers. After country 10 Jan held presidential election, preliminary election results showed victory for former acting President and PM Japarov, who was freed from prison by protesters in Oct 2020 after contested parliamentary election results sparked violent protests; Japarov same day vowed not to “repeat the mistakes of previous governments”. Opposition presidential candidates Adakhan Madumarov and Abdil Segizbayev 11 Jan reportedly rejected preliminary election results showing victory for Japarov; Japarov next day declared: “There will be no dictatorship as some scaremongers say”. EU 11 Jan welcomed “orderly and well-administered Presidential election” but noted low voter turnout and “uneven playing field for the candidates, abuse of administrative resources and violations of campaigning procedures”. Central Election Commission 20 Jan officially declared Japarov winner with over 79% of vote, and announced result of constitutional referendum also held 10 Jan, which offered choice between presidential and parliamentary systems of govt; 80% of voters opted for presidential system which will grant president greater powers, while just over 10% cast ballots for current parliamentary system. Japarov 28 Jan sworn in as president during inauguration ceremony in capital Bishkek. Military Prosecutor’s Office 25 Jan announced former head of State Committee for National Security Abdil Segizbayev was placed in custody on charges of abuse of office.
Parliament confirmed constitutional referendum, which would strengthen presidential powers, to be held on same day as presidential elections in January. Constitutional Chamber of Supreme Court 2 Dec approved ruling by parliament which 22 Oct extended legislature’s term by up to six months without calling for new elections; prolongation of parliament’s term came under criticism due to concerns over authoritarian tendencies. Lawmakers 10 Dec approved law to hold referendum on 10 Jan, same day as presidential elections, despite constitutional amendments seen as controversial as they could give excessive powers to president; dozens previous day rallied in front of parliament to protest amendments. Former acting President and PM Japarov, along with 17 other candidates, 15 Dec launched electoral campaigns for presidency. Meanwhile, Supreme Court 7 Dec overturned 18-year prison sentence of former PM Sapar Isakov who was convicted on corruption charges in June, sent case for retrial to Birinchi Mai District Court in capital Bishkek.
Govt’s proposed constitutional changes to strengthen presidential powers ahead of presidential election in Jan 2021 sparked political backlash. Acting President and PM Japarov 14 Nov resigned to become eligible in upcoming presidential elections scheduled for 10 Jan 2021; parliament chair Talant Mamytov same day took over as acting president, with Artyom Novikom as PM. Shortly after, govt 17 Nov released constitutional draft widening presidential powers, creating new executive body and congress, and reducing parliament size from 120 to 90 lawmakers. Proposal sparked wave of criticism; notably, former PM Feliks Kulov 18 Nov said changes sought to secure “absolute power for the president” while former President Roza Otunbayeva 20 Nov warned that proposal may violate international law. NGO Human Rights Watch 21 Nov said constitutional changes “significantly erode checks and balances on the executive” and that caretaker parliament did not have proper legitimacy to undertake them. Hundreds 22 Nov marched peacefully in capital Bishkek to protest against proposed constitutional changes. Japarov 24 Nov defended draft constitution and called for national referendum on proposed amendments to take place alongside presidential elections. Meanwhile, preparations continued for presidential and parliamentary elections postponed until 2021. Following approval by lawmakers last month, then PM Japarov 11 Nov signed amendments to electoral law, lowering vote threshold for political parties to enter parliament from 7% to 3% and reducing candidate registration fee. Parliament chair Kanatbek Isaev 4 Nov announced resignation to join presidential race; parliament same day voted in Talant Mamytov to replace Isaev. Constitutional Chamber 2 Nov announced it would reconsider appeal challenging amendment adopted last month that postponed parliamentary elections until 2021.
Contested parliamentary elections results sparked violent protests, prompting president to step down. Following parliamentary elections held 4 Oct amid complaints of voter intimidation, opposition parties same day said they would not recognise official results due to suspicious preliminary figures granting large majority to pro-govt parties; opposition supporters immediately gathered in rallies in capital Bishkek and north-western Talas city in protest. Demonstrators next day reportedly attempted to break into govt headquarters in Bishkek, prompting security forces to use teargas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse crowds; clashes killed one protester and injured hundreds. Electoral commission (CEC) 6 Oct annulled parliamentary election results and announced rerun of election; CEC 24 Oct scheduled presidential elections for 10 Jan 2021. Anti-govt protesters 6 Oct stormed Kyrgyz govt buildings, freed imprisoned former President Atambaev and opposition politician Sadyr Japarov; President Jeenbekov same day called for calm and restoration of “law and order” and PM Kubatbek Boronov resigned. Parliament 6 Oct nominated Japarov as PM candidate; popular anger quickly followed announcement with protesters calling for “clean” generation of politicians and mob storming hotel where govt meeting took place, forcing Japarov to flee. Jeenbekov 9 Oct ordered nationwide state of emergency and reportedly deployed army onto Bishkek streets amid clashes between supporters of different parties. Parliament next day officially voted in Japarov as new PM in session attended by 51 MPs, less than majority; Jeenbekov 13 Oct rejected Japarov’s appointment citing lack of parliamentary majority present at voting session, asked parliament to conduct second vote. Following unexpected resignation of Jeenbekov as president 15 Oct, Japarov same day claimed “all power” was in his hands; parliament next day approved transfer of presidential powers to Japarov, making him de facto acting president until Jan 2021 elections. After CEC 24 Oct scheduled presidential elections for 10 Jan 2021, interim President Japarov next day announced plans to step down in Dec to become eligible to run in elections due to law prohibiting acting presidents from seeking office; Supreme Court 29 Oct refused to hear CEC’s appeal to rerun parliamentary elections in Dec, reportedly for procedural reasons.
Political parties launched electoral campaigns ahead of Oct parliamentary poll amid reports of alleged vote buying and clashes between parties’ supporters. In run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for 4 Oct, 15 political parties 4 Sept kickstarted electoral campaigns in contest for 120 seats in Supreme Council; Central Elections Commission (CEC) chairwoman Nurjan Shaildabekova same day called for all parties to ensure “clean and open elections”. After CEC 3 Sept rejected applications by Aktiv and United Kyrgyzstan parties for failure to meet registration requirements, administrative court of capital Bishkek 9 Sept announced reversal of decision for United Kyrgyzstan, allowing party to officially join parliamentary race. Reports of alleged voter buying surfaced mid-month. Parliament speaker and Kyrgyzstan Party parliamentary candidate Dastan Djumabekov 14 Sept accused of giving new mother $600 during pre-election tour in Talas region, reportedly using funds from his speaker’s official activities; move which CEC official next day called possible vote-buying attempt. Local news emerged that head of education dept in Kara-Suu district, Osh region, and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan party parliamentary candidate Gulaym Mashrapova featured in WhatsApp message circulated week 14 Sept where she reportedly threatened to withhold teachers’ salaries if they did not mobilise ten voters for her party; Mashrapova denied allegations while police reportedly launched investigation. Unity party supporters 20 Sept disrupted My Homeland Kyrgyzstan party rally in southern Aravan district, Osh province, reportedly beating participants and leaving 12 injured; police briefly detained ten suspected attackers; Mekenim Kyrgyzstan party members 21 Sept reportedly attacked and injured Republika party campaigners in Alysh village, Naryn province.
Tensions surfaced on Kyrgyz-Tajik border while govt asked Belarusian govt to hand over former PM wanted since 2010. Clashes along Kyrgyz-Tajik border 6 Aug killed one Tajik villager and wounded one Kyrgyz border guard; officials from both countries same day confirmed tensions had been resolved. Foreign ministry 11 Aug asked Belarusian diplomat in capital Bishkek to detain and extradite former PM Daniyar Usenov, citing investigation into Usenov’s alleged involvement in killing of nearly 100 anti-govt protesters in 2010; move comes after Usenov’s 10 Aug public appearance with Belarusian President Lukashenko near Belarusian capital Minsk. After Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security in Bishkek 9 Aug detained Uzbek journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev at Uzbekistan’s request on grounds of unspecified crimes, NGO Human Rights Watch 12 Aug urged Kyrgyz authorities not to extradite Abdullaev, citing “risk of torture”, while U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan 13 Aug expressed deep concern; govt 22 Aug announced extradition of Abdullaev to Uzbekistan, saying Uzbek govt provided assurances that he would not be ill-treated (see also Uzbekistan). Following July decision to begin counting pneumonia cases suspected to be tied to COVID-19, govt 21 Aug reported new cases of pneumonia with COVID-19 symptoms. Authorities 26 Aug announced lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions imposed since March, including allowing Friday prayers to resume in mosques from 28 Aug.
Amid spike in COVID-19 cases following mid-May lifting of lockdown, President Jeenbekov scheduled elections for late 2020. President Jeenbekov 3 July announced parliamentary elections to be held 4 Oct. PM Boronov 6 July said govt would not return to lockdown despite surge in COVID-19 cases, citing high economic costs. Amid rising number of pneumonia cases, Vice PM Ismailova 17 July announced govt will start including pneumonia cases in official coronavirus figure; NGO Human Rights Watch 21 July welcomed decision, said policy change was “vital to stemming the spread of the disease”. Ethnic Uzbek rights defender Azimjon Askarov 25 July died in prison hospital in capital Bishkek; officials claimed Askarov had died from pneumonia; UN 28 July called for investigation into Askarov’s death.
Violence flared in Batken region on Kyrgyz-Tajik border amid stepped-up diplomatic efforts to resolve local tensions. After 8 May clashes on Kyrgyz-Tajik border, violence erupted again in Batken region on border as unknown assailants 2 June shot and wounded Kyrgyz national. Authorities 1 June said ethnic clashes in Sokh exclave inside Batken region late May injured 25 Kyrgyz nationals; Deputy PM Boronov and Uzbek PM Aripov same day met at border checkpoint to resolve tensions while Kyrgyz and Uzbek presidents engaged in talks by phone; Uzbek President Mirziyoyev 5 June visited area affected by violence. Parliament 25 June approved bill giving authorities power to shut down websites containing false information and to request customers’ data from internet service providers; NGO Committee to Protect Journalists same day said bill, which awaits presidential approval, would “mark a serious step toward curtailing press freedom”; hundreds of protesters in capital Bishkek 29 June called on President Jeenbekov to veto new legislation. Lawmakers 18 June absolved govt from allegations of involvement in billion-dollar money-laundering scheme uncovered in joint journalistic investigation in Nov 2019, which had sparked protests in Bishkek. Court 23 June sentenced former president Atambayev to 11 years and two months in prison for illegal release of high profile convicted criminal Aziz Batukaev in 2013.
Violence flared along disputed border with Tajikistan in Batken region, when clashes erupted 8 May between dozens of Kyrgyz and Tajik residents over rival claims to land; Kyrgyz and Tajik armed forces exchanged fire, which reportedly injured three Kyrgyz border guards and two Tajik villagers; countries blamed each other but reportedly engaged in talks as hostilities ceased same day. Amid ongoing border tensions over water usage in south, clashes over water dispute 31 May erupted between Kyrgyz and Uzbek villagers near Uzbekistan's Sokh exclave in Kyrgyzstan's Batken region. District court 6 May again adjourned trial of former President Almazbek Atambayev and thirteen co-defendants citing Atambayev’s poor health; defendants face multiple charges including attempted murder related to deadly clashes with security forces at Atambayev’s compound in Aug 2019. Supreme Court 13 May upheld life sentence of ethnic Uzbek rights defender Azimjon Askarov despite human rights groups’ calls for his release on grounds of ill health; Askarov was convicted for alleged involvement in murder of police officer and stirring ethnic hatred during deadly clashes in south Kyrgyzstan in 2010.
Govt 14 April extended state of emergency imposed in response to COVID-19 in major cities and several districts until 30 April; earlier, President Jeenbekov 1 April dismissed Deputy PM and health minister over COVID-19 response. Amid economic strain, govt 14 April reported President Jeenbekov asked Chinese President Xi Jinping for debt relief.
Police and protesters clashed in capital Bishkek 2 March as hundreds gathered to demand release of jailed politician Sadyr Japarov; 24 police officers reported injured, 166 people detained including former lawmaker and rally organiser Kanybek Osmonaliev. Trial began 23 March of former President Atambayev and thirteen co-defendants for charges including murder, over clashes between security forces and Atambayev and his supporters at his compound in Aug 2019 that resulted in one killed and scores injured; trial adjourned until 30 March due to Atambayev’s poor health. Court 30 March announced postponement of trial after govt 24 March declared state of emergency in Bishkek and several other cities and regions to limit COVID-19 outbreak; not clear when trial will resume. Interior Ministry 30 March said police had detained 1,087 people for violating curfew imposed to contain COVID-19.
Tensions between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan heightened following 12 Feb provocative statement by police chief in Tajikistan’s Sughd region that Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken region “historically had never been a land of Kyrgyz”; prompted outcry among Kyrgyz officials and citizens. FM met with Tajikistan ambassador 14 Feb, while Tajikistan FM 18 Feb said statement not Dushanbe’s official position. Following mid-Jan joint protocol, Kyrgyz and Tajik joint working group 24 Feb reportedly agreed to swap 23 hectares of land along disputed border segment. After ethnic violence erupted in Kazakhstan’s Zhambyl region 7-8 Feb (see Kazakhstan), at least 4,500 people – mostly ethnic Dungans – fled across border to Chui region in north, some reportedly returning in subsequent days. Hundreds of people 17 Feb protested near At-Bashi village in central Naryn region against Chinese investment project; authorities next day announced cancellation of project. U.S. Sec State Pompeo and all five Central Asian FMs met in Uzbekistan 3 Feb (see Uzbekistan). Deputy chief of armed forces 13 Feb confirmed deployment of Russian air-and-missile-defence system to Kant base in north.
On disputed border with Tajikistan, unknown assailants night of 9 to 10 Jan threw stones at cars and a house, reportedly injuring some citizens in Batken region; border guards intervened and gunshots were fired but unclear from which side. Incident led to evacuation of over 200 people from Damkha village near location of clashes, and fuelled accusations on both Kyrgyz and Tajik sides over who started incident; 14 Jan prompted talks between Kyrgyz and Tajik officials on process of land exchange; sides established joint working group to decide on demarcation of 114-km border by 15 Feb. Amid ongoing concerns over press freedom, unidentified men 9 Jan assaulted editor in chief of local investigative and anti-corruption website Factcheck near his office in capital Bishkek, police 14 Jan charged four suspects. Hearing of libel lawsuit against local media outlets which had reported on corruption allegations, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz Service (known as Azattyk) and news site Kloop, started 20 Jan, then postponed to 29 Jan. Court 9 Jan ruled that trial of former president Atambayev, charged for illegal release in 2013 of high-profile convicted criminal, would continue in abstentia; Atambayev denies charges, refuses to attend trial.
Court 6 Dec sentenced former PM Sapar Isakov, close associate of former president Atambayev, to fifteen years imprisonment on corruption charges; Isakov appeared before court again 17 Dec to face new corruption charges. Interior Minister 13 Dec accused Atambayev of shooting dead security officer during 7 Aug raid on his compound by security forces. Court 10 Dec froze bank accounts of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other media following publication of story on alleged billion-dollar fraud scheme in country’s customs service implicating senior officials; court unfroze accounts three days later but media still face lawsuits. Hundreds of protesters rallied in Bishkek 18 Dec demanding more freedom of speech and examination of corruption claims; also demanded resignation of Prosecutor-General Otkurbek Jamshitov for not investigating case. State officials 20 Dec arrested Syrgak Kenzhebayev, partner of well-known anti-corruption activist Shirin Aitmatova on suspicion of fraud; Aitmatova claimed arrest as retaliatory move for her campaign against corruption. Clashes erupted along border with Tajikistan 18 Dec; six Kyrgyz nationals and three Tajik nationals reportedly wounded (see Tajikistan).
Reports emerged of massive corruption scheme in country’s custom services resulting in illegal outflow of hundreds of millions of dollars, prompting public outcry. Ethnic Uighur Chinese businessman who provided secret evidence on scheme to journalists from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other media was shot dead in Istanbul 10 Nov. Office of President Jeenbekov 22 Nov denied involvement with another figure named in investigation. Estimated 2,000 people joined protest in Bishkek 25 Nov calling punishment for those involved, including high-level customs official (who denied involvement). Head of financial police 26 Nov told MPs almost $1 bn believed to have been illegally transferred out of country under scheme, which is now under investigation.