Last Updated 15 October 2021

For 75 years under the Soviet system, the Kyrgyz Republic was officially a secular state. Experiencing ethnic tensions, political and economic woes since independence, Kyrgyzstan is a parliamentary republic. The population of Kyrgyzstan is estimated at 6.6 million as of 2021.1National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic – Statistics of the Kyrgyz Republic These include Kyrgyz 73.5%, Uzbek 14.7%, Russian 5.5%, Dungan 1.1% ethnic groups, which are almost 90% Muslim (mostly Sunni of the Hanafi school), Christian 7-10% (mostly Russian Orthodox), other and non-religious individuals account for 1-3% of the population according to the latest estimates.2;

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

The Constitution3 guarantees separation of the state and religion and explicitly prohibits the establishment of any religion as a state or mandatory religion (Article 9), specifying that the State is “a sovereign, democratic, secular, unitary and social state governed by the rule of law” (Article 1).4 However, on 6 May 2006, a decree recognized Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodoxy as traditional religious groups.5

The Constitution also prohibits the establishment of religiously-based political parties and the pursuit of political goals by religious groups (Article 8). However, state-religion separation has been undermined in certain cases, when politicians use the clergy to get elected and the clergy use politicians to grow parishes.6

The Constitution protects freedom of thought and opinion (Article 32) and freedom of conscience, religion, and “other convictions” (Article 34). In addition to this, Article 4.1 of the 2008 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations explicitly states that:

“In the Kyrgyz Republic everyone is guaranteed the right to freedom of religion and atheistic conviction.”7

However, the existing legal base is underdeveloped and certain laws conflict with others, placing restrictions on rights to freedom of religion or belief, expression, education and association in practise. For example, according to Article 23 of the Constitution rights and freedoms can be restricted for the purposes of national security, public health order and morality.

The resurgence of “morality” rhetoric

Censorship is not permitted under the Constitution, however, Article 10 deems the state as the guardian of information security and grants it the ability to restrict content perceived as violating the values of Kyrgyzstan.8

Article 10.4 states that:

“In order to protect the younger generation, events that contradict moral and ethical values, the public consciousness of the people of the Kyrgyz Republic may be limited by law.”9

A joint opinion issued by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s independent advisory body on constitutional matters, and OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) found that numerous provisions of the Constitution were “not in line with international standards and OSCE commitments”.10

These changes to the Constitution were followed by the passage of the Decree “on spiritual and moral development and physical education of the individual,” which outlines a plan to “improve the quality of spiritual and moral education of citizens, revive folk traditions, create conditions for the formation and development of a spiritually rich and moral personality.”11; Human rights groups have raised concerns around the use of the vague concept of “morality” and the rhetoric of traditional values, which they fear may result in discrimination against religious, ethnic and other minority groups in the country, and a restriction on personal freedoms.12

In April, a conservative group that reportedly attacked women attending a women’s march in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, welcomed the morality legislation.13

Close scrutiny of religion or belief groups

The Republic has implemented state registration of religious organizations, schools, mosques, and churches. Registration requires a multi-stage process, which religious groups have reported to find cumbersome, sometimes taking up to seven years to complete, if successful.14 The 2008 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations deems all unregistered groups illegal.15

Article 8.2 states that:

“The activity and functioning of religious organizations without record registration with the state body for religious affairs in accordance with this Law is prohibited.”16

By law, registered religious groups are designated as NGOs exempt from taxes on their religious activities. They are required to pay tax on any commercial activities.

The State Commission on Religious Affairs (SCRA) – a government organization composed of presidential appointees, which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the law’s provisions on religion – is legally authorized to deny the registration to a religious group if it does not comply with the law or is considered a threat to national security, social stability, interethnic and interdenominational harmony, public order, health, or morality.17 The State has banned 21 “religiously oriented” groups they consider extremist.18 A number of minority belief groups have reported challenges in obtaining registration and discrimination against their adherents. Such groups include Jehovah’s Witnesses, adherents of Tengrism, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, all of which continue to face difficulties registering as official religious groups.19 In 2011, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, were regarded as a “dangerous movement and against traditional Islam” Moreover, in 2016, the then Chief Mufti Zhalilov publicly demanded that people:

“totally boycott Ahmadis and isolate them from society by: not marrying them; not allowing them to be buried in cemeteries; and not employing them”

Ahmadi Muslims remained banned as of 2019,22 and could not be found on the official list of registered religious organizations at the time of this report.

Organizations such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses are reported to often face police harassment. The government also monitors and restricts some Islamic groups, including the non-violent Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir and Yakyn Inkar, which practices strict asceticism.

Some unregistered religious communities have nevertheless been able to practise their faiths without state intervention, and authorities have investigated and punished relatively rare acts of violence against religious figures or minorities.23

Legislative framework

The 2009 Law of the Kyrgyz Republic “On the general military duty of citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic, on military and alternative service”24 permits substitution of military service for alternative service for citizens who are members of a registered religious organization and whose dogma forbids the use of weapons and military service.25 While the upholding of the right to conscientious objection is in accordance with human rights law, the opt-out applies exclusively to members of registered religious organizations.

At the same time, in accordance with the Law “On the Status of Servicemen”26 the State and its bodies are under no obligation to meet the needs of the servicemen arising from their religious beliefs.

The Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations Law27 allows for state controls (including examination of production, acquisition, transport, transfer, storage and distribution) on religious literature deemed “non-traditional”. These controls target mainly religious literature other than Muslim Board and Russian Orthodox as well as any other printed, audio and visual materials concerning freedom of belief, thought and expression in line with the state programs on countering religious extremism, separatism and fundamentalism.

International organizations have criticized Kyrgyzstan several times for excessive use of accusations of extremism. Between 2010 to 2018, at least 258 people were convicted and imprisoned for possession of unauthorized material such as literature or videos vaguely defined as extremist material, under Article 299-2 of the Criminal Code, regardless of whether it contained explicit references to violence.28 However, a revised Penal Code29;
came into effect in January 2019, which reduced the penalties for several crimes related to terrorism. In particular, possession of extremist literature and/or audio and video material can be treated as a crime only if there is intent to distribute it (Article 315).30 As a result, the number of people being arrested for extremism or terror-related offences has reduced.31

The 2011 Amendments to the Law On Freedom Of Conscience And Religious Organization32 prohibits “persistent actions aimed at converting believers of one religion to another” (proselytism) as well as any illegal missionary activity.

Education and children’s rights

According to Silk Road Studies, religious education is flourishing, and despite its small population, Kyrgyzstan counted four times more registered Islamic educational institutions than Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan combined. There is an ongoing political debate on whether the growth of madrasas poses a threat to the quality of education in the country- however, attempts to regulate studies in these schools have been unsuccessful.33

According to the US State Department 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom,34

“The law allows public schools an option to offer religion courses that discuss the history and character of religions, as long as the subject of such teaching is not religious doctrine and does not promote any particular religion. Private religious schools need to register with SCRA to operate as such.”

The Articles 5.4 and 6.7 of the Law On Freedom of Conscience And Religious Organization35 prohibits individual religious education or instruction, such as one-on-one learning, officially in order to prevent individual missionary and proselytist activity.

Child exploitation

Despite the legislation restricting harsh labor conditions for minors, the government does not effectively enforce the law and child labor is an ongoing problem in Kyrgyzstan. Children work in cotton and tobacco cultivation, mining and construction among other sectors. Others are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking; and illicit activities, including trafficking drugs, as a result of human trafficking.36

See also kidnapping of women, girls and early marriages in the Society section.

Family, Community and Society

In terms of protection of rights of non-religious people, there have been no reports of attacks on or discrimination of atheists or non-religious people. Although atheists and agnostics feel safe in Kyrgyzstan, they prefer not to disclose their non-religious identities among religious people, according to the Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting (

Religious tensions

While there was no evidence of widespread societal discrimination or violence against members of different religious groups, there are reports of periodic tensions in rural areas between Muslims and foreign Christian missionaries, as well as individuals from traditionally Muslim ethnic groups who had converted to other religious groups.

Both Muslim and Russian Orthodox spiritual leaders criticized the proselytizing activities of non-traditional Christian groups, and the government seems to turn a blind eye to incidents of hate speech and physical attacks during such tensions.38;; The 2019 case of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Abdraimov village of Bazar-Korgon District showed that members of minority religions experience ostracization and discrimination from society as well as the local authorities.39

Harmful traditional practices limiting women’s rights

Although prohibited by law, the practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage is commonplace. In 2018, the United Nations estimated kidnappers forced 13.8% of girls under the age of 24 into marriage. Many Kyrgyz people, especially the older generation, see these kidnappings as a harmless tradition, but according to The Conversation, since 2018 at least two women, Aizada Kanatbekoya and Burulai Turdaaly Kyzy, were killed by their kidnappers when they attempted to resist the marriage. Both murders spawned protests nationally and in their hometowns, which were reported to be the largest rallies against bride kidnapping since visible public opposition began in the 1990s.40

Men married to kidnapped brides are more likely to abuse their wives and limit their pursuit of education and employment. The negative effect of the practice extended to children of kidnapped brides. Observers reported that there was a greater frequency of early marriage, polygamy, and bride kidnapping in connection with unregistered religious marriages. Although the data on the number of such marriages in unavailable.

In 2018, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that over the previous five years, 895 individuals complained to the law enforcement authorities regarding bride kidnapping. Only 168 of the cases reported in 2018 were criminally investigated by police and prosecutors, and the other 727 victims did not file criminal charges against the perpetrator.41 In 2020, 92 complaints of bride kidnapping were registered in the capital Bishkek alone; of these complaints, 75 were dismissed, 8 were sent to court, and 9 were still being investigated as of early 2021.42 The government in Kyrgyzstan has started to take the matter more seriously at a legislative level. In 2019, it increased the criminal punishment for kidnapping minors for marriage from a maximum of 7 year to maximum of 10 years.43

Domestic violence is reported to be prevalent,44 and according to Human Rights Watch, impunity for domestic violence is still the norm and authorities do not fully enforce protective measures or hold perpetrators accountable, despite changes in legislation in 2020.45

LGBTI+ rights

The country does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults or speech that supports LGBTI+ issues. However, homophobia, is widespread with the state failing to protect LGBTI+ persons from discrimination and abuse and police, in some cases, being involved in harassment and violence to LGBTI+ persons.46

Same-sex marriage has yet to be recognized in law.47

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of opinion and expression

Freedom of opinion and expression is guaranteed under Article 20 (5) of the Constitution. However, observance of the rights to freedom of expression and the press continues to be inconsistent. As reported by Human Rights Watch in 2020, journalists were harassed by law enforcement, and in some cases threatened with criminal sanctions for critical reporting. Aibol Kozhomuratov, a social video producer at Current Time TV, tweeted a clip showing a law enforcement officer shooting a weapon at him while he was reporting.48 An Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative said he was “highly concerned” about the defamation lawsuits, which are still pending court review. Human Rights Watch highlighted cases against local media agencies Kloop and Radio Azattyk upon their exposure of high-level corruption in Kyrgyzstan’s customs agency, an attack on Bolot Temirov, the editor-in-chief of,and incitement charges against blogger Elmirbek Sydymanov.49 Moreover, on 25 July 2020, human rights defender and journalist Azimjon Askarov died in custody while serving a life term for “instigating ethnic hatred, inciting disorder and being complicit in the murder of a police officer” – charges widely denounced as trumped up by international human rights organizations.50;

‘Blasphemy’ laws

Multiple former Soviet Union states’ laws conflate the language of incitement to hatred with blasphemy. The language leans towards the prosecution of blasphemy in Kyrgyzstan.

The Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations (2008),51 criminalizes “intentional offense of the feelings of citizens in relation to their religion”. Article 4 reads as follows:

“The limitation of rights or establishment of any privileges of citizens dependent upon their attitude toward religion, as well as the incitement of enmity and hatred, or the intentional offense of the feelings of citizens in connection with their attitude towards religion, the desecration of sacred or other religious cult objects, entails liabilities in accordance with the legislation of the Kyrgyz Republic.”

No sanction is defined in the written law, however, one man was sentenced to 4 years in prison in 2017.52

Additionally, the State has been known to protect the Muslim majority’s “religious feelings”. For example, in September 2012 the Dutch film “I am Gay and Muslim” was banned.53

Proposals to tighten controls over civil society

According to CIVICUS,54

“[p]olitical decision-makers and activists opposed to liberal principles have long accused civil society activists who advocate for universal human rights, including the rights of women and sexual minorities, of promoting values “alien” to national culture and traditions. Such arguments have also been used by the proponents of a draft law pending in parliament that would increase control over NGOs.”

In mid-2021, the government passed a law imposing onerous financial and programmatic reporting requirements on NGOs.55;

Between January to April 2021, prominent critics of the new Constitution and participants in peaceful rallies against the Constitution and other perceived threats to the rule of law in the country have faced intimidation and harassment.56

Freedom of assembly

Local authorities in Bishkek reportedly sought to restrict freedom of assembly through the court system, with a local court issuing a two-month blanket ban on assemblies in the centre of the capital in February 2021 – the ban was subsequently overturned.57

However, the right to assemble and protest appears to have largely been upheld in recent years.


1 National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic – Statistics of the Kyrgyz Republic
3, 4, 9
8, 13
14, 17, 18, 19, 25, 34
15, 16, 27
36, 41, 44
48, 49
54, 56, 57

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