Crime is a concern in Kyrgyzstan. Organized crime and narco-trafficking are widespread in the south, in particular in Batken and Osh provinces. There is a high incidence of petty theft and pickpocketing in local open-air markets and bazaars. Much of the crime is fueled by drugs, alcoholism and poverty. Public intoxication is prevalent among the local populace, especially during the winter. Contract killings are not uncommon. Kidnapping foreigners is rare; however, they occur mostly in the southern areas.

In the early 2000s, Kyrgyzstan’s location between Tajikistan (a major transit country for narcotics from Afghanistan) and Russia has made the western part of Kyrgyzstan (particularly Osh) a major transit region for narcotics and human trafficking, with related increases in overall crime and in the incidence of human immunodeficiency virus. During that period, domestic narcotics production and abuse have grown sharply. In 2005 Kyrgyzstan had the third-highest rate of opium addiction in the world. Domestic crime groups also have become linked increasingly with transnational groups. In the Fergana Valley, tension exists between citizens of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan over land and housing rights. The political ferment of 2005 included public demonstrations that raised fears of long-term instability. Reportedly, in 2004 and 2005 the activity of Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Party of Liberation), a nominally nonviolent Islamic group advocating the overthrow of secular governments in Central Asia, increased substantially, although the group was outlawed in 2003. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

According to the OSAC: “Although uncommon, there have been reports of violent muggings of foreigners in downtown Bishkek at night. Other non-violent crimes (pickpocketing in crowded places such as markets, Internet cafes, and on public transportation) occur regularly. Foreigners, including Americans, have been targeted, as they are perceived to have more money than locals. [Source: “Kyrgyzstan 2015 Crime and Safety Report,” Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State ]

All five republics of Central Asia have suffered increasing rates of crime in the liberalized atmosphere of the postindependence years. Drug trafficking, official corruption, and white-collar crime have increased most noticeably. All republics lack the resources to equip and train qualified police and specialized forces, and their judicial systems are not sufficiently removed from their Soviet antecedents to deal equitably with new generations of criminals. Evaluation and quantification of crime in post-Soviet Central Asia have been hampered by changes in responsible agencies, by irregularities in reporting procedures, and by lack of control and responsiveness in law enforcement agencies, particularly in Tajikistan. Statistics for the years 1990 and 1994 from Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan show dramatic increases in every type of crime, although those from the other three republics, where record keeping is known to be substantially less comprehensive, show considerable drops in many categories. In 1995 and 1996, Kazakstan and Uzbekistan set up new, specialized police units to deal with economic and organized crime. [Source: Glenn E. Curtis, Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Crime Threats in Kyrgyzstan

The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens to exercise caution in urban areas of the Kyrgyz Republic due to the high rate of violent crime against foreigners. After dark, travelers should exercise caution when taking public transportation. The U.S. Embassy advises its employees to avoid the use of unmarked or “gypsy” cabs; use radio-dispatched taxis and sit in the back seat. Visitors are advised to arrange for the use of a reputable, registered taxi service through their hotel. Travelers arriving at Manas International Airport should arrange transportation in advance. Foreign travelers have been the victims of extortion by some airport taxi drivers, who appeared to be colluding with airport personnel to identify victims.[Source: “Kyrgyzstan 2015 Crime and Safety Report,” Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State ]

“In 2014, there were dozens of violent street fights (including with guns/knives) as a result of aggressive driving. Drivers targeted other drivers and even the local police. A targeted aggressive driving attack against a U.S. Embassy employee occurred when a car with approximately four local males drove recklessly on a residential road and then followed the employee’s vehicle to a store. The employee did not escalate the situation but went into a store and called the Embassy for support while the locals waited outside. In general, most aggressive driving can be minimized by not escalating the situation (do not yell, curse, or give rude hand signals) and avoiding vehicles that are driving recklessly by moving out of the way.

Visitors should exercise caution near the southern borders. The U.S. Embassy restricts travel of Embassy employees to Batken Oblast because of concerns that terrorist groups are able to travel through the region from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Rugged terrain and lack of resources prevent the authorities from controlling the borders in this region. Kyrgyz law restricts movements by foreigners in some border areas that are seen as vital to national security or are otherwise sensitive. For example, mineral mines owned or operated by foreigners are required to submit names of foreign visitors to the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) if they visit their location. There have also been minor detentions/harassment by local law enforcement/security forces of U.S. citizens who are hunting or trekking in certain areas, even if they are on guided tours, have permission, and possess the proper documentation.

Crime in Kyrgyzstan in the 1990s

In the early and mid-1990s, preservation of internal security against a variety of crimes, and especially against growing commerce in narcotics, became an extremely difficult task. White-collar crime and government corruption have added to the atmosphere of social disorder. Some described the crime problem in Kyrgyzstan as out of control. In 1994 more than 40,000 crimes were reported, or more than one crime per 100 citizens, and a high percentage of those crimes were classified as serious. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Petty crime touched every sector of the economy. For example, although cellular telephone networks and satellite linkups had been established in Bishkek, telecommunications elsewhere had grown much worse because the theft and resale of cable has become common. Power outages were frequent for the same reason, and any sort of equipment with salvageable metal was said to be quickly stripped if left unattended.

Foreigners were not exempt from crime, as they were in the Soviet era. In 1994 some 185 crimes against foreigners were registered in Bishkek. Most of these crimes were apartment burglaries, although beatings and armed robberies also had been reported. In April 1995, a small bomb was left in front of a Belgian relief mission's door, and "Foreigners Out of Bishkek" was painted on the wall opposite.

Drug Related Crime in Kyrgyzstan

While the use of narcotics and illegal drugs is relatively low, it is a problem. Because of porous borders and close proximity to Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan is a transit country for illegal drugs, which are smuggled to Russia, Europe, and occasionally North America. Corruption and lack of training/equipment for law enforcement agencies hamper efforts to control the flow of drugs. [Source: “Kyrgyzstan 2015 Crime and Safety Report,” Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State]

According to the United Nations: “In 2006, 31,392 drug related crimes were recorded in Kyrgyzstan. All subcategories of drug related crime declined between 2005 and 2006, with the exception of smuggling. Drug related crime in Kyrgyzstan reflects the same inverted-U trend seen in other countries in Central Asia. In 2006, the recorded number of drug related crimes was 38 percent lower than its peak in 2000. However, the number of offences for the sale of drugs has steadily increased: 46 percent from 2001 to 2005. [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

Drug Related Crimes in Kyrgyzstan: 1,901 in 1992; 2,146 in 1993; 2,544 in 1994; 2,623 in 1995; 2,922 in 1996; 3,103 in 1997; 3,227 in 1998; 3,459 in 1999; 3,538 in 2000; 3,205 in 2001; 3,018 in 2002; 3,106 in 2003; 3,090 in 2004; 2,565 in 2005; 2,437 in 2006.

Drug Related Crime Offenders in Kyrgyzstan: 1,293 in 1992; 1,371 in 1993; 1,751 in 1994; 2,065 in 1995; 2,212 in 1996; 2,519 in 1997; 2,633 in 1998; 2,650 in 1999; 2,951 in 2000; 2,537 in 2001; 2,339 in 2002; 2,403 in 2003; 2,056 in 2004; 1,783 in 2005; 1882 in 2006.

“Sub-nationally, in 2005 there was a significantly greater prevalence of drug related crimes in Issyk-kul (115 per 100,000 or 506 crimes), Chui (87 per 100,000 675), Osh city (78 per 100,000 202), Bishkek city (74 per 100,000 or 605) than anywhere else in Kyrgyzstan. Issy-kul also has the highest drug related crime prevalence in Central Asia. This pattern conforms to the trend seen in Kyrgyzstan with crime, opiate seizures, and registered drug users concentrated in a few select locations. |~|

Main Drug Related Crimes Registered in Kyrgyzstan: A) Smuggling: 75 in 2005; 96 in 2006; B) Storage: 1685 in 2005; 1642 in 2006; C) Distribution: 578 in 2005; 464 in 2006; D) Cultivation: 99 in 2005; 94 in 2006; E) Brothel Maintenance: 64 in 2005; 66 in 2006.


Rape and Domestic Violence in Kyrgyzstan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, but as in previous years, the government failed to enforce the law effectively. Activists continued to note a growing number of reports of rape. NGOs claimed rape cases continued to be dramatically underreported, and prosecutors rarely brought rape cases to court. No statistics on the number of cases or convictions during the year were available. NGOs estimated that 90 percent of rapes were committed by the victim’s partner or former partner. Police generally regarded spousal rape as an administrative offense, which carries a fine of 1,000 soms ($17.50). [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

“While the law specifically prohibits domestic violence and spousal abuse, violence against women remained a problem. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported registering 1,819 cases of domestic violence during the first six months of the year. According to the ministry, it issued 1,578 temporary protection orders on the basis of these complaints. The Ministry of Internal Affairs opened 118 criminal cases and brought administrative charges against 1,004 individuals based of these complaints. *\

“According to the UN Women’s Development Fund, between 40 and 50 women and girls were hospitalized in the Bishkek city hospital every month because of domestic violence. Many crimes against women went unreported due to psychological pressure, cultural traditions, and apathy among law enforcement officials. There were also reports of spouses retaliating against women who reported abuse. Penalties for domestic violence ranged from fines to 15 years’ imprisonment, the latter if abuse resulted in death. Penalties for sexual assault range from three to eight years’ imprisonment. *\

“Several local NGOs provided services for victims of domestic violence, including legal, medical, and psychological assistance, a crisis hotline, shelters, and prevention programs. Organizations assisting battered women also lobbied to streamline the legal process for obtaining protection orders. The government provided offices for the Sezim Shelter for victims of domestic abuse and paid its bills. According to the shelter, its hotline received 546 telephone calls during the first six months of the year. Women made 96 percent of the calls, 32 percent of which involved domestic violence. The shelter provided consultations, advocacy, and shelter services to 1,100 individuals. *\

See Bride Kidnapping

Political Violence in Kyrgyzstan

Political violence has occurred in Kyrgyzstan. According to the United Nations: “Following the 2005 Tulip revolution and lasting until 2009, a number of criminal bosses were assassinated in Kyrgyzstan. This violence -of the kind generally associated with Latin American drug markets- was not a classic turf war between rival gangs. It appears rather to have been a takeover orchestrated at the highest political levels whereby criminal networks gradually came under the control of high-ranking officials. See Drugs. [Source: “Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, May 2012]

In 2005, the BBC reported: “Gunmen in Kyrgyzstan have killed an MP who was a driving force behind the protests in March which led to the overthrow of President Askar Akayev. Bayaman Erkinbayev was shot in the neck and chest as he arrived by car at his home in the capital, Bishkek. Mr Erkinbayev, 38, was a wealthy businessman in southern Kyrgyzstan, where the anti-Akayev protests began. He is the second parliamentary deputy to be killed since the popular uprising earlier this year. [Source: BBC, September 22, 2005 ]

“The country has seen continuing political instability since then. According to a BBC correspondent in the region, Mr Erkinbayev was a former wrestler who owned a number of shops and hotels around the southern town of Osh. He was widely rumoured to be associated with the criminal world, our correspondent says. In recent months, Mr Erkinbayev had been involved in a murky and sometimes violent dispute over control of a lucrative regional market, one of the largest in the unstable Ferghana Valley region around Osh.

“In April, he escaped what he termed an attempt on his life, when he was shot and wounded in the face in Bishkek. It is unclear whether the motivation for that attack was political - at the time, he had announced plans to run for president - or linked to his business interests. In June, security guards in Osh opened fire on hundreds of protesters demonstrating against Mr Erkinbayev, whom they said has a heavy influence on small businesses in the region.

Human Trafficking in Kyrgyzstan

According to the U.S. Department of State: Kyrgyzstan “is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor, and for women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Kyrgyzstani men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor primarily in Russia and Kazakhstan, and to a lesser extent in Turkey and other Eastern European countries. They are also subjected to forced labor primarily within the country’s agricultural, forestry, construction, and textile industries, as well as in domestic service and child care. In 2012, 26 Kyrgyzstani forced laborers were identified in Finland.[Source: “2015 Trafficking in Persons Report: Kyrgyzstan”, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State ||||]

Kyrgyzstani women are subjected to forced prostitution abroad, reportedly in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Russia, Kazakhstan, and within the country. Small numbers of women and children from Uzbekistan are subjected to sex trafficking in Kyrgyzstan. Some men and women from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan transit the Kyrgyz Republic as they migrate to Russia, the UAE, and Turkey, where they subsequently become victims of sex and labor trafficking. ||||

Kyrgyzstani boys and girls are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, including the forced selling and distribution of drugs, within the country. NGOs continue to report that some schools in the south of the country cancel classes in the fall to send children to pick cotton, and other schools require children to harvest tobacco on school grounds. Street children who engage in begging and children engaged in domestic work (often in the homes of extended family members) are vulnerable to human trafficking. ||||

The Government of the Kyrgyz Republic does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government provided in-kind contributions to assist NGOs and international organizations in training law enforcement officials, provided the premises used for protection of identified trafficking victims, and worked to raise awareness of the crime. However, the government’s investigation of trafficking crimes decreased and it did not report convicting any traffickers for the second consecutive year. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography alleged the serious and endemic corruption of police officers, who allegedly participated themselves in the detention and rape of child sex trafficking victims. The Kyrgyzstani government took no action to investigate allegations of officials’ complicity in trafficking crimes. It identified few victims and did not adequately protect child victims during the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. ||||

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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