KYRGYZ ACTIVISTS CALL FOR SENTENCING REFORM  Decision to replace death penalty 
with life-imprisonment prompts activists to call for more far-reaching reform.  
By Aziza Turdueva in Bishkek

Tajikistan’s religious minorities are worried that proposed legislation could 
be used to restrict their activities.  By Nafisa Pisarejeva in Tajikistan


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Decision to replace death penalty with life-imprisonment prompts activists to 
call for more far-reaching reform.

By Aziza Turdueva in Bishkek

Activists say Kyrgyzstan’s abolition of the death penalty should be just a 
first step in a full overhaul of the country’s justice system, which is still 
plagued by torture, overcrowding and corruption.

Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed the law abolishing the death penalty 
and making life imprisonment the maximum punishment on June 29. Officials said 
the step would make the justice system more humane.

But activists, while welcoming an end to the possibility of executions, said 
life imprisonment - with a minimum term of 30 years in disease-ridden and 
crowded detention centres - would often mean death if current conditions were 
allowed to continue.

“We will continue to lobby for making criminal legislation more humane. 
Undoubtedly, we will strive to improve the conditions in detention centres for 
prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment,” said Tolekan Ismailova, head of the 
human rights organisation Citizens Against Corruption.

Kyrgyzstan has had a moratorium on the death penalty since 1998, but people 
continued to receive the sentence, which was imposed for murder and rape. 

Activists say the new minimum term of 30 years before prisoners can appeal for 
a pardon was still too harsh. Many believe the authorities should consider 
fixed-term punishments for specific crimes, the length of sentence determined 
by the severity of the crime.

Aziza Abdrasulova, leader of human rights organisation Kylym Shamy, said that a 
sentence of life imprisonment was never justified, “As a humane society, we 
must give the criminal a chance for rehabilitation before society, to recognise 
his guilt for what he has done. This is the main task of a humane society.”

She said that the time convicts must wait before appealing for amnesty should 
be reduced in order to allow prisoners early release and the possibility for 

“This new system essentially means that the prisoner will not have any chance 
for rehabilitation. So the term should be reduced at least to 20 years,” she 
told IWPR.

Since the 1998 moratorium on the death penalty, 78 prisoners sentenced to death 
have died from tuberculosis and other diseases.

There are currently 174 people on death row in Kyrgyzstan, 21 of which were 
sentenced this year alone. All the sentences will now be commuted to life 

Abdrasulova said short-comings in police practices, particularly a common use 
of torture to extract confessions, meant that many convictions were doubtful.

“The charges against many prisoners sentenced to death were only based on 
statements of confession,” she said.

“With the present system of investigation and trial, there is a high 
probability of an innocent person being sentenced to the most severe 

At present, the holding conditions in prisons - especially on death row - do 
not meet international standards, say activists.

“Each cell is crammed with 20 people, the conditions are intolerable, there is 
practically no medical treatment, and the food is very sparse,” she said.

But Justice Minister Marat Kayypov said the mere fact that the death penalty 
had been abolished was already a major step for Kyrgyzstan.

“We have had great success in making criminal legislation more humane. But it 
is still too early to talk about introducing fixed terms of imprisonment. Our 
society is not ready for this yet,” he said. 

He dismissed calls to reduce the time before prisoners can apply for amnesty, 
and said a delay of 30 years before a prisoner could apply was reasonable.

Other officials acknowledged, however, that applying fixed tariffs for specific 
crimes should be the long-term goal.

“We must eventually apply fixed terms of imprisonment for serious crimes. This 
will be a natural process, when neither legislators nor society as a whole are 
opposed,” said Tursunbek Akun, head of the Presidential Commission for Human 

Political analyst Marat Kazakbayev pointed out that Kyrgyzstan was the first 
country in the Commonwealth of Independent States, a group of ex-Soviet states, 
to abolish the death penalty and that it was unrealistic to expect too much too 

“This is the first time this step has been taken not only in the Central Asian 
region, but in the CIS. It is possible that Kyrgyzstan will be the first 
country where the process of making criminal sanctions more humane will 
continue,” he said.

In the meantime, however, analysts suggested the criminal justice system was 
not robust enough to impose fixed-term punishments and that the current system 
of pardoning after a certain period of time was preferable. 

Mars Sariev, a political commentator, thought corruption throughout the 
judicial system could allow criminals to exploit fixed tariffs by securing 
early release. 

“Fixed terms may serve as a loophole to get big-time criminals out of jail 
after a certain time by various means - criminals who have the support of 
criminal groups and sometimes the top echelons of power,” Sariev told IWPR.

Aziza Turdueva is an IWPR correspondent in Bishkek.


Representatives of Tajikistan’s religious minorities are worried that proposed 
legislation could be used to restrict their activities.

By Nafisa Pisarejeva in Tajikistan

Religious minorities in Tajikistan fear proposed new rules will restrict their 
practices, despite their constitutional right to freedom of belief.

The Tajik government is currently examining a draft law put forward by the 
culture ministry’s religious department which sets tough new conditions a 
religious group must pass before gaining registration.

The proposals state that in order to register, a group must have a minimum 
number of members - no less than 1,200 in the capital and 400 in the regions. 
They would also outlaw missionary activities.

Religious minorities in the predominantly Muslim country fear the proposals, 
which could mark a return to the bad old days of the Soviet Union, when 
Protestants and other minority groups were persecuted by the authorities for 
holding unauthorised services.

Some 20 Protestant groups and the Baha’i Society wrote to President Emomali 
Rakhmonov earlier this month to appeal the proposed legislation, which has also 
reportedly alarmed the Catholic Church.

“The law creates completely impractical conditions for registering 
organisations of religious minorities, whether they already exist or are newly 
created. Thus, they make it illegal for believers to practice their religion, 
which suggests that in future the state will persecute them for their beliefs,” 
said their statement.

Without registration, a church could be closed down.
Around 85 non-Islamic religious organisations are registered in Tajikistan, 
predominantly minority Christian groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their 
proselytising has annoyed some locals.

“They stop you on the street, come to your house and practically not listen to 
what you tell them, and take up a lot of your time,” Dushanbe resident Munira 
Rajabova told IWPR.

“Sometimes a lot of them come to your house in a day, and they are mainly 
women. They come up to you in the street at every step and give you their 
literature, sometimes the children even come home with their books.”

According to Iddibek Zieev, head of the culture ministry’s religious 
department, many of the groups that have complained are not even complying with 
existing regulations, which are laid out in a liberal 1994 law.

He said that recently over 20 tonnes of literature despatched by the Jehovah’s 
Witnesses arrived in Tajikistan. The cargo is currently awaiting customs 

“According to legislation, they should warn us beforehand about the arrival of 
any literature, and its quantity. But we did not find out about it until it 
happened,” he said.

But representatives of the Orthodox community, which is also a major faith in 
the country, had not signed the letter, said a representative of the Bible 
League, a missionary organisation which provides bibles for Christian churches 

“No one will touch the Orthodox Church, to avoid spoiling relations with 
Russia,” he said.

“We will carry on with our activities and assemble, but on an illegal basis. 
And the government will take repressive measures.”

Analysts said the proposals contradict the constitution, which guarantees 
freedom for all faiths, since it imposes unfair restrictions on small religious 

“It really does restrict the rights of religious minorities. According to the 
constitution, everyone has the right to freedom of conscience and belief,” Said 
Akhmedov, former head of the Government Committee on Religious Affairs, told 

He thinks the proposals will be vetoed by the president, as have previous 
attempts to limit worshippers’ rights.

“Tajikistan is following a democratic path, and this law must correspond to the 
democratic processes taking place in the country,” he said.

Ordinary Tajiks say these small new faiths are expanding quickly because they 
are much more skilled at getting their message across than Muslims, who form an 
overwhelming majority in the country. 

“Unfortunately, not all Islamic organisations and figures know about Islam well 
themselves, and so they cannot inform the people about it. And representatives 
of other religions realise this and exploit it,” said Rajabova.

Complaining when people convert is wrong, said Shokirjon Khakimov, deputy head 
of the Social-Democratic Party. He said people should be allowed to follow 
whatever religion they want.

“In Tajikistan, as in other countries, believers of other religions convert to 
Islam, and this is used by religious organisations for propaganda purposes. But 
when the reverse happens, this is said to be wrong. We have a double standard 
operating here,” he told IWPR.

“This is an excessive and artificial requirement designed to hinder the 
appearance of other alternative religious organisations and groups.”

New and smaller faiths often give out food and gifts to people who come to 
their services, but Tajiks tend to find themselves ostracised if they convert. 

One Dushanbe resident joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses three years ago, and is 
now resented by her family and friends.

“I am now on the verge of a divorce, my husband does not understand me and 
considers me his enemy, and my children say that I have gone mad. My husband’s 
relatives have already turned their backs on me, although I have stayed the 
same. Some of my neighbours call me ‘kafir’ [a non-believer] and look at me 
condemningly. But all paths lead to God, and this religion advocates human 
values,” she told IWPR.

The Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, which monitors 
human rights and democracy across the continent, said it was keeping an eye on 
the new regulations.

“At present the OSCE centre in Dushanbe is waiting for an analysis of this 
law,” a spokesman told IWPR. 

“We hope that the government of Tajikistan will not interfere or hinder the 
methods and types of belief and thought of the followers of any religious 

The culture ministry’s Zieev said the regulations had not become law yet and 
that it was premature to discuss them.

“The law will be studied comprehensively, and then be submitted to parliament 
for examination. If there are shortcomings in the law, or any contradictions, 
then it will be sent back for modifications,” he told IWPR. 

And, judging by the words of another Tajik woman, who converted to Christianity 
after hearing sermons in church, the new law will not dissuade followers of the 
new faiths who have already gone through severe difficulties.

“I liked the atmosphere of friendship I found, and made a decision, without any 
pressure from anyone. As soon as I decided to become a Christian, scandals 
began in the family. My relatives denounced me. My husband left me, taking the 
children with him. I went to enormous lengths to get the children back from him 
and christen them. I don’t live with my husband any more,” she said.

Nafisa Pisarejeva is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan.

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