BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan is taking steps to prevent criminals and terrorists from using fraudulent Kyrgyz identification documents with the introduction of biometric passports.
Authorities have registered several cases of foreign citizens using Kyrgyz passports in recent years, said First Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the State Registry Service Tayyrbek Sarpashev.
"Kyrgyzstan is developing modern passports that contain their holders' biometric data," he said, adding that the State Registry Service has nothing to do with the false documents foreigners attempt to use.
"Those documents are produced abroad, and this problem isn't unique to us --other countries have it too," Sarpashev told journalists in Bishkek in July.
Forged Kyrgyz documents found
The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry (MVD) earlier reported that forged passports were discovered on two passengers from Ukraine at Istanbul Atatürk Airport July 3. Police also seized other Kyrgyz documents -- three ID cards and five birth certificates -- from the passengers.
Additionally, 98 Uighur passengers from China using falsified Kyrgyz passports were arrested at the same airport May 17. All of them were trying to depart for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to perform a pilgrimage.
"The first unsavory cases came to light back in 1999," MP from the Fatherland Socialist Party Mirlan Jeenchoroyev told Caravanserai. "During the first 'Batken Campaign', Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militants who invaded our country found Kyrgyz citizens' passports. There were also other recorded cases of similar documents being seized from emigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan."
In 2012, Kazakhstan arrested six Afghan nationals who were trying to fly to Frankfurt, Germany, using passports stolen from Kyrgyz citizens, he said. The Afghans had intended to settle there after obtaining refugee status.
"There are a lot of cases like that, but those are the only ones the public knows about," he said.
New passports to help fight terrorism
"Many countries across the world plan to include biometric data on passports. Such data are one of the ways to combat extremism and terrorism," Parliament Speaker Chynybay Tursunbekov said June 17 at a news conference in Bishkek.
"These changes are necessary to thwart international terrorism and extremism, which has been growing at breakneck speed in recent years," he said.
By the end of September, MPs will review amendments to the Criminal Code that create harsher penalties for forging, designing, selling or using forged documents, state awards, stamps and seals, among other forms, the parliament's press service told Caravanserai, adding that these sorts of crimes significantly damage the country's reputation.
The amendments to the Criminal Code come into effect as soon as Parliament ratifies them.
"The arrest of 98 foreigners with forged Kyrgyzstani passports in Turkey caused us to make those changes," the press service said. "MPs consider it to be an egregious case that requires immediate measures to prevent similar crimes in the future from happening."
Tougher penalties to decrease passport crimes
Jeenchoroyev said tougher penalties are necessary to decrease passport crimes.
"Kyrgyzstan's MVD has on many occasions come out in support of tougher punishments," he said. "We believe that these changes are necessary and timely."
Under existing legislation, using a false passport or other document identifying the holder as a Kyrgyz citizen carries a fine of up to 1,912,500 som (US $27,717), said Gulnara Akmatova, a lawyer from Bishkek.
"If the amendments are passed, MPs are proposing a fine up to 3,825,000 som (US $55,434) or 180-240 hours of community service for knowingly using a false document," she told Caravanserai. "If the accused doesn't want to pay or perform community service, he can face up to two years in prison."
Akmatova added that identity theft carries up to five years in prison. If an official or organised crime ring commits such an offense, prison time increases to seven years.