ISSN 2330-717X

Kyrgyzstan: Release Wrongfully Detained Lawyer – OpEd

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IPHR is seriously concerned about the detention of well-known lawyer Nurbek Toktakunov in Kyrgyzstan following critical remarks he made about the judicial system in connection with a peaceful protest against the war in Ukraine, which was dispersed by police. We call on the Kyrgyzstani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the lawyer, to safeguard the rights to freedom of expression and assembly in accordance with their international obligations, and to allow lawyers, activists and other citizens to peacefully speak up on issues of concern to them without fear of repercussions.

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On 24 March 2022 Pervomaisky District Court of Bishkek found Nurbek Toktakunov guilty of petty hooliganism (under article 126 of the Code of Offenses) and ruled to detain him for five days because of his allegedly insulting remarks about judges in Kyrgyzstan. The following morning, police detained Toktakunov outside his home, reportedly using disproportionate force, although the lawyer did not put up any resistance. He is currently serving his sentence in a police detention facility in the capital, where he has reported being held in substandard conditions with his cell lacking light, toilet and a place for sleeping. He has appealed against the ruling in his case.

The charges levelled against Toktakunov concern remarks he made in connection with a peaceful picket against the war in Ukraine held outside the Russian embassy in Bishkek on 17 March, when he criticised as unconstitutional a controversial court-sanctioned blanket ban on holding assemblies outside the embassy and in other central areas of the capital from 11 March to 11 April 2022. With reference to this decision, police claimed that the peaceful protest was not allowed and detained three participants, namely human rights defenders Aziza Abdirasulova, Dinara Oshurakhunova and Ondurush Toktonasyrov. They were subsequently fined 3000 Kyrgyz soms each (approx. EUR 30) by court for allegedly disobeying police orders (under article 128 of the Code of Offenses). In his criticism of the court-blanket ban on protests in the centre of the capital, which the Ombudsperson has also deemed unconstitutional, Toktakunov reportedly said that judges are ‘’no one’’. The lawyer’s colleagues believe that the charges initiated against him may in fact be retaliation for his work on high-profile cases, including that of journalist Bolot Temirov, who is facing drug possession charges believed to have been fabricated because of his investigations into high-level corruption.

The conviction of Toktakunov is the latest in a series of recent developments that have reinforced concerns about a worsening climate for free speech and civic engagement in the country.

IPHR

International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) is an independent, non-governmental organization founded in 2008. Based in Brussels, IPHR works closely together with civil society groups from different countries to raise human rights concerns at the international level and promote respect for the rights of vulnerable communities.

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