BISHKEK -- A Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher and office director in Bishkek who was banned this week from reentering the country has described the move as "interference" into the global rights watchdog's activities.
Mihra Rittmann told RFE/RL on December 4 that Kyrgyz migration officers turned her away on arrival at Bishkek Manas International Airport on December 2 after showing her a document describing her as persona non grata in the Central Asian republic.
HRW has issued a statement condemning the action and quoting executive director Kenneth Roth calling it "unprecedented, unexpected, and a deeply disturbing sign."
"Authorities in Kyrgyzstan should immediately lift the ban and allow Rittmann to return to Bishkek and continue working without harassment," Roth said.
Rittman said no more detailed explanation was offered before she was expelled.
"When I was at the airport, I saw what is called the 'act of refusal' to enter the country, in which it indicated that the reason to deny me the entry to the country is that I am persona non grata," Rittmann told RFE/RL, "and there was an additional statement [saying] that there was a violation of the law on migration of the Kyrgyz Republic."
HRW has officially asked the Kyrgyz government to explain its decision, she said.
"We see the refusal to allow me to enter the country as interference into the work of Human Rights Watch and we are keen to see it resolved quickly," Rittmann added.
A Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nurlan Suierkulov, told RFE/RL that Rittmann cannot be officially declared persona non grata in Kyrgyzstan as she is neither a diplomat nor an official representing a foreign country.
However, Suierkulov confirmed that Rittmann was refused entry for "violation of Kyrgyzstan's migration laws." He did not elaborate.
Rittmann said her office has been active in Kyrgyzstan recently with respect to draft legislation that would require domestic NGOs that receive foreign funding and engage in "political activities" to register as "foreign agents."
HRW has urged Kyrgyz officials to reject the bill, saying it would stigmatize NGOs.
Russia passed similar legislation in 2012 that human rights defenders and Western governments say has been used to crack down on independent groups.
HRW has complained in the past of the organization facing serious difficulties getting work permits for Bishkek-based international staff, including for Rittmann.
The decision to ban Rittmann comes ahead of Kyrgyzstan taking a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in January.
Rittmann says she has been living in Central Asia for 10 years.
She is been working as the HRW office chief in Bishkek since 2012.