Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Kyrgyzstan to drop the case against a couple who is facing criminal charges for staging a peaceful protest ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Bishkek last week.
Nurlan Karymshakov, 48, and Gulzana Imaeva, 38, were detained and charged with “inciting national enmity” after holding up anti-Putin posters outside the Russian Embassy on March 27, a day before the Russian leader’s visit to the Kyrgyz capital.
In a statement on March 29, the New York-based human rights watchdog said that “expressing negative comments about a single person, in particular if the person is a public political figure such as the president of a country, does not amount to incitement of national enmity against the country’s people.”
Human rights defender Rita Karasartova told RFE/RL that Karymshakov and Imaeva were detained as they were holding posters reading "Putin is an aggressor, a murderer, an occupant," and "No to Putin's torpedoes in Issyk-Kul! No to bombs!" in reference to Russia’s military presence in Kyrgyzstan.
The protest took place on the eve of Putin’s one-day visit, during which Russian and Kyrgyz officials agreed to expand the territory of Russia’s military base in the Central Asian country by 60 hectares, among other things.
The couple’s lawyer, Zamir Jooshev, told HRW that police executed a search warrant at their home during which some of their belongings were seized including a laptop, posters, and money.
In a pre-trial detention hearing that ended early on March 29, a judge at a Bishkek court ordered that the couple be released.
Karymshakov and Imaeva “should never have been detained for expressing views critical of President Putin, no matter how inconvenient for Kyrgyz authorities on the eve of the Russian president’s visit,” said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at HRW.
The Kyrgyz authorities “should withdraw the criminal charges without delay and close the case,” she added.