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Case History: Tolekan Ismailova

Status: 
Harassed
About the situation

On 19 May 2016, human rights defenders Ms Tolekan Ismailova and Ms Aziza Abdirasulova brought a case to court against the President of Kyrgyzstan Mr Almazbek Atambayev, accusing him of insulting their honour and dignity. At an awards ceremony a few days earlier, the President mentioned a list of people, which included the two human rights defenders, allegedly working to forcefully overthrow the government of the country with the support of foreign secret services. Moreover, he accused Tolekan Ismailova and Aziza Abdirasulova of conducting their activities in Kyrgyzstan with the sole aim of continuing to receive foreign funding. Following his speech, the human rights defenders issued an official statement requesting an apology from the President, which has yet to be acknowledged.

Download the Urgent Appeal (PDF)

About Tolekan Ismailova

Tolekan IsmailovaTolekan Ismailova is the Director of 'Human Rights Movement: Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan', which is involved in legal advising, advocacy on women's, labour and lands rights, monitoring of elections and budget transparency of government organs, promotion of the freedom of association and the work of human rights defenders through culture and arts. In particular, the movement has been involved in organisation of the International Documentary Film Festival on Human Rights.

25 May 2016
Public insult of human rights defenders Tolekan Ismailova and Aziza Abdirasulova

On 19 May 2016, human rights defenders Ms Tolekan Ismailova and Ms Aziza Abdirasulova brought a case to the Pervomaysk region court of Bishkek against the President of Kyrgyzstan Mr Almazbek Atambayev, accusing him of insulting their honour and dignity.

Download the Urgent Appeal (PDF)

Tolekan Ismailova and Aziza Abdirasulova are prominent human rights defenders from Kyrgyzstan. Tolekan Ismailova is Director of Human Rights Movement: Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan, which provides legal advice, and works on advocacy for women's rights, labour and land rights, the monitoring of elections and budget transparency of government organs and the promotion of the freedom of association. In particular, the movement has been involved in organising the International Documentary Film Festival on Human Rights. Aziza Abdirasulova is Head of the Public Foundation 'Kylym Shamy', which is involved in monitoring detention facilities and providing legal assistance to victims of torture.  

On 19 May 2016, human rights defenders Tolekan Ismailova and Aziza Abdirasulova initiated a lawsuit against the President of Kyrgyzstan at the Pervomaysk region court of Bishkek. They  asked the court for a compensation of approximately €52 000 for the President's comments, insulting their honour and dignity, during a speech he gave on 14 May 2016. The human rights defenders have also filed a complaint with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mr Michel Forst.

At an awards ceremony on 14 May 2016, the President mentioned a list of people, which included the two human rights defenders, allegedly working to forcefully overthrow the government of the country with the support of foreign secret services. Moreover, he accused Tolekan Ismailova and Aziza Abdirasulova of conducting their activities in Kyrgyzstan with the sole aim of continuing to receive foreign funding. Following his speech, the human rights defenders issued an official statement requesting an apology from the President, which has yet to be acknowledged.

Front Line Defenders condemns the public insult of human rights defenders Tolekan Ismailova and Aziza Abdirasulova by the President of Kyrgyzstan, which is directly linked to their peaceful and legitimate human rights work in the country. Front Line Defenders is concerned by the comments of the Head of the Republic which the human rights defenders fear may be interpreted by some as a call to action against them, and which may cast doubt on the legitimate work of Tolekan Ismailova and Aziza Abdirasulova within public opinion.       

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Kyrgyzstan to:

1. Issue an official apology and guarantee appropriate compensation to the human rights defenders for publicly insulting their honour and dignity;

2. Take measures to ensure that government officials or other public figures refrain from making statements or declarations stigmatising the legitimate work of human rights defenders;

3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

20 September 2013
Threats against organisers of human rights film festival over documentary on human rights defender Mr Azimjan Askarov

On the morning of 19 September 2013, a group of unidentified women threatened and harassed the organisers of human rights film festival “Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan” (One World Kyrgyzstan).

The women demanded that the documentary about imprisoned human rights defender Mr Azimjan Askarov should not be screened.

The film festival opened in Manas cinema in Bishkek on 18 September 2013, and the screening of the documentary on Azimjan Askarov – produced by Freedom House –is scheduled for 21 September 2013. The annual film festival is organised by human rights group Bir-Duino Kyrzystan, led by human rights defender Ms Tolekan Ismailova, the director of Human Rights Centre 'Citizens Against Corruption'.

Azimjan Askarov is a human rights defender who spent 25 years documenting human rights abuses in Kyrgyzstan until his arrest in 2010. He is currently serving a life sentence after an unfair trial during which he was beaten in detention and denied access to his lawyer.

On 19 September 2013, a group of women gathered around Manas cinema, shouting abusive slogans and demanding that the planned screening of the documentary on Azimjan Askarov should be taken out of the programme. They demanded to speak with Tolekan Ismailova, however they started making noise and shouting offensive and provocative slogans against the film festival organisers. The women surrounded one of the staff members who was recording the events on her camera, and demanded that she delete their faces from the recordings.

The decision by the film festival organisers to include the documentary in this year's programme has led several politicians to claim that the film could provoke inter-ethnic clashes, an opinion not shared by the film festival organisers.

Front Line Defenders is concerned that the protest may prompt the authorities to ban the documentary screening. On 28 September 2012, at previous festival edition, the organisers were banned from screening a documentary on the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the Islamic world, after a complaint was lodged by the Prosecutor's Office, which considered the film to be “extremist, inciting religious hatred and aimed at dishonouring Muslims”.

Following this decision, Tolekan Ismailova was targeted with a defamation campaign in the media and the Human Rights Centre 'Citizens Against Corruption' received threats.

29 June 2010
Interrogation and intimidation of human rights defenders Ms Tolekan Ismailova and Ms Aziza Abdirasulova

Human rights defenders Ms Tolekan Ismailova and Ms Aziza Abdirasulova have been subjected to interrogation and intimidation in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, following their activities monitoring the human rights situation in southern Kyrgyzstan in the wake of inter-ethnic fighting. Tolekan Ismailova is chairwoman of the Human Rights Centre “Citizens against corruption” and Aziza Abdirasulova is the head of the Public Foundation Kylym Shamy.

On 28 June 2010, Tolekan Ismailova and Aziza Abdirasulova were called to the Osh Regional Prosecutor's office. It is reported that they thought that it would be in relation to a request they had previously presented to the Prosecutor to visit the detention facilities in the city of Osh. However, they were in fact called as witnesses in criminal case number 152-1079, opened on 12 June 2010 under Art. 233 parts 1, 2 and 3 (organisation of mass disorders) and Art. 97 part 2 (killings) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. Interrogation was conducted by investigator Malaev.

Tolekan Ismailova and Aziza Abdirasulova were interrogated separately for about one and a half hours in the presence of their lawyer, Mr Tair Asanov. The interrogation primarily concerned information published on the website www.24.kg, which referred to Ismailova and Abdirasulova as its sources. The information in question, a news piece, claimed that 20 people were killed during a special police operation in Nariman village of Karasuu district, Osh region, on 21 June 2010. The journalist who wrote the piece, however, has reportedly confirmed that he had received the information not from Tolekan Ismailova nor Aziza Abdirasulova, but rather from a mailing list. He also reportedly confirmed that the news piece was corrected on the same day upon request from Ismailova and Abdirasulova.

Tolekan Ismailova has reported to Front Line that the same day, 28 June 2010, a group of unknown men approached their car and told both human rights defenders that they were not welcome in Osh because they were ''defending the rights of Uzbeks''. The human rights defenders have reported a possible attempt to cause their car to crash.

Front Line believes that the interrogation and intimidation of Tolekan Ismailova and Aziza Abdirasulova are a direct result of their legitimate human rights activities, particularly with respect to their crucial work in monitoring and researching the situation in the south of Kyrgyzstan following the ethnic conflict. Front Line is concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of aforementioned human rights defenders. Front Line is also concerned by any interrogation of human rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan, especially in the light of arrest of Mr Azimjan Askarov, a human rights defender who has been charged with organisation of mass disorder and who is currently detained in Bazar Korgon.

4 December 2012
Request for Investigation Filed by Human Rights Defender Ms Tolekan Ismailova

On 3 December 2012, Ms Tolekan Ismailova sent a request to the chairman of the State Committee for National Security (SCNS) of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan to investigate the circumstances around a warning that she had received earlier this year from the Detective Officer of the 5th Department of the SCNS, Mr Soodonbekov. Tolekan Ismailova is a prominent human rights defender in Kyrgyzstan and the Chairperson of the human rights centre 'Citizens Against Corruption'.

On 28 September 2012, Mr Soodonbekov issued an official warning to Tolekan Ismailova due to the scheduled screening of the LGBT documentary 'I Am Gay and Muslim' at a human rights film festival co-organized by Citizens Against Corruption.

The warning stipulated that “according to the decision by the State Commission of Religious Affairs, based on point 6.1 of Article 1 of the Law on Combating Extremist Activity, the film is considered 'extremist' and its diffusion and broadcasting within the territory of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan might encourage religious hatred and set the scene for mass disorder”. As a result of this, the film screening did not take place. Front Line Defenders issued an appeal on these events on 19 October 2012.

Tolekan Ismailova filed a complaint against the SCNS with the inter-district court of the city of Bishkek which ruled on 27 November 2012 that the warning issued by Mr Soodanbekov had not been filed in accordance with the procedural regulations. Therefore, the court could not consider the case against the SCNS. As a result, Tolekan Ismailova has now requested the chairman of the SCNS to conduct an internal investigation of Mr Soodonbekov's activities.

18 March 2009
Arrest of human rights defender, Ms Tolekan Ismailova

Front Line is concerned by reports of the arrest of Ms Tolekan Ismailova following her participation in a peaceful demonstration in Bishkek, on 18 march 2009. Tolekan Ismailova is the Chairperson of the Human Rights Centre “Citizens against corruption”.

On 17 March 2009, a demonstration entitled “Civil hour in memory of Aksy!” was held to commemorate the 7th anniversary of Aksy tragedy when six demonstrators were shot dead, 28 were wounded, and 100 were subjected to torture for participating in a peaceful rally on 17 March 2002. The “Civil hour in memory of Aksy!” demonstration was attended by about 50 persons, including people from Aksy, public activists, leaders of non-governmental organisations, civil society activists and members of political parties. It took place in front of the Government House. Demonstrators wore black ties on their left arms and held red placards with the names of those who were killed by the police.

On 18 March 2009, the demonstrators continued the meeting and gathered on the Chui Avenue and Panfilova Street intersection. They had planned to light candles in memory of the Aksy tragedy victims, but they were dispersed by police officers who arrested human rights defender Tolekan Ismailova; Topchubek Turgunaliev and Anvar Artykov, respectively Chairperson and member of the Revolutionary Committee; and Samat Aliev, member of the Kyrgyzstan’s Greens Party. According to the information received, Tolekan Ismailova was detained in the Department of Internal Affairs of Pervomaysky district. The same day, she was released after the judge of the Tribunal of Pervomaysky district found her not guilty of violation of Article 392 of the Administrative Code (violation of the procedure of organisation of public gatherings) and issued a warning based on Article 371 of the Administrative Code (disobedience to public authorities).

Front Line believes that the arrest of Ms Tolekan Ismailova is directly linked to her peaceful activities in the defence of human rights, in particular her defence of freedom of assembly. Front Line is concerned by the increasing frequency of cases of arrest of peaceful demonstrators in Kyrgyzstan.

21 December 2007
Mass arrests of Tolekan Ismailova and other human rights defenders at peaceful protests

Front Line is deeply concerned following the arrest, on 18 December 2007, of human rights defender Tolekan Ismailova, Director of the human rights centre 'Citizens against Corruption', and 18 other human rights activists, including Mirsuljan Namazaliev and Jibek Ismailova of the Center for Human
Rights “Kylym Shamy”,during a protest in the Erkindik, the Old Square of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Front Line is also worried for the safety of human rights defenders Toktaim Umetalieva, head of the Association of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and non-commercial organisations (NCOs), Nazgul Turdubekova, the Youth Human Rights Group, and Maxim Kuleshov, the leader of the NGO,
'World, Light, Culture' who, along with Tolekan Ismailova, were detained and beaten at another peaceful protest on 20 December, 2007.

On 18 December 2007, Tolekan Ismailova was observing a peaceful demonstration organised by several human rights defenders and youth organisations protesting against unfair electoral practices on the part of the Kyrgyz government in the recent parliamentary elections, which took place on 16 December 2007. The protest, which took place as part of a campaign entitled 'I don't believe', was staged near the Jogorku Kenesh parliamentary building. The protesters were arrested by authorities and taken to Pervomay District Militia Office, where they were denied access to lawyers. The lawyers who were finally allowed to visit those arrested were not eligible to defend them in court; and the lawyers who were legally eligible to defend them were not given access.

The people arrested at the protest were charged under Article 392 of the Code of Administrative Responsibility (violation of established order of organization and holding assemblies, meetings, street processions, demonstrations), released and ordered to appear in court on Friday, 21 December 2007. On Thursday 20 December 2007 another peaceful demonstration was staged by activists from several youth movements in Bishkek's Old Square. On this occasion, 31 activists were arrested by police. Violence was allegedly used by police during the arrests and several people, including Maxim
Kuleshov, were injured after being beaten during their arrest. According to reports, Maxim Kuleshov will be detained for five days and the other participants in the demonstration will be detained in isolation at a temporary detention centre of the Department of
Internal Affairs of the Bishkek Government. The authorities attempted to have the cases of all thosearrested on 18 and 20 December heard in camera at the Department of Internal Affairs. The detainees requested that normal procedure be followed and that the cases be heard in the District
Court, however the trials took place in camera on the evening of 20 December. The defendants were not allowed enough time to organise legal representation and most were each sentenced to between five and seven days in prison for their part in the peaceful demonstration.

Front Line believes that the arrests of all those detained on 18 and 20 December 2007 are directly related to their work in defence of human rights and fears that these recent events may form part of an ongoing campaign against human rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan