With banners flying and policemen guarding the city’s main avenues, Bishkek is getting ready to inaugurate its first democratically elected president, Almazbek Atambayev, on December 1. But hopes for democratic justice are fading for one of Kyrgyzstan’s most prominent human rights defenders.
On November 29, the Supreme Court appeal of Azimjan Askarov and his co-defendants was delayed until December 20 when several lawyers for the accused failed to appear in court. The lawyers say the court purposefully informed them of the hearing too late.
Askarov, once a brave critic of police brutality, was convicted in September 2010 and sentenced to life imprisonment for organizing other ethnic Uzbeks in attacks that killed a police officer in Bazar-Korgon, just outside Jalal-Abad, during the June 2010 ethnic violence.
The proceedings were punctuated by physical and verbal attacks by family members of the slain police officer on Askarov, the other defendants, and his lawyer. Throughout the extended appeals process the family has kept up the pressure, often with the overt support of local authorities. After one appeal in November 2010, local police officers reportedly joined family members in beating the defendants in a courthouse corridor.
My television in Bishkek is old. The antenna often only provides a weak black and white signal. But these images from public broadcaster ELTR should give those outside the country an idea what Kyrgyzstan’s presidential race looked like from a local living room.
This week, as the campaign wound down and candidates tried to spend the remaining funds in their war chests, television aired their advertisements almost non-stop. Of 83 who originally expressed interest in running, only 16 appeared on the October 30 ballot.
Most of these spots ran in Kyrgyz with Russian subtitles.
Casinos have suddenly become a hot topic in Kyrgyzstan as various factions in parliament wrestle with accusations that they use the gambling houses to launder drug money.
On September 29, parliament approved a bill banning “gambling activity” as of January 1. Outside the building, protestors lamented that thousands of citizens working in the industry will lose their jobs due to the alleged illicit activities of the country’s leaders. One protestor, who called himself Timur, told EurasiaNet.org that the new ban stinks of inequality: “We pay taxes, we contribute to society. And you see these people [lawmakers and other officials] driving around in Lexuses that cost tens of thousands of dollars. Where does the money come from?”
That is a question on a lot of people’s minds in Bishkek these days. For the past several weeks, a heretofore unheard of group has shouted allegations that the leading candidate in the next month's presidential election, Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, uses casinos to launder profits from drug trafficking. Atambayev has not responded to the allegations.
Usually Kyrgyzstan’s politicians kiss up to Moscow. So it’s peculiar when one says something that looks (if anyone is looking) deliberately designed to provoke the Kremlin.
Russia must pay billions for its “Kyrgyz genocide” 95 years ago, says Nurlan Motuyev, one of Kyrgyzstan’s 83 presidential candidates in the upcoming October 30 polls. Motuyev – nicknamed the “coal king” for allegedly seizing a profitable mine during political unrest in 2005 – has reemerged on something of a pro-Islam ticket and seems to be looking for an enemy. While usually China or the United States make easy, anodyne targets, Motuyev is pointing a finger, according to an account in the Kyrgyz press, at Russia.
Back in 1916, as the Russian Empire was losing World War I in Europe, the Tsar attempted to draft non-Slavs into the army. Rebellion, which the Russians brutally suppressed, broke out in the distant provinces of Central Asia. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands were killed or died fleeing over the mountains to China. Hushed up throughout the Soviet era, today the episode is commemorated as Urkun (“exodus”).
Genocide is a strong word, as Kyrgyzstan knows well from the global opprobrium following last year’s bout of ethnic violence in the south. That was not genocide either, but the word – bandied about in press reports – stung many Kyrgyz who still feel the international community has unfairly judged them.
Wherever Kamchybek Tashiev goes, mischief seems to follow.
The prominent deputy from the nationalist Ata-Jurt party is widely considered a contender in presidential elections this fall. Now, a criminal suit that he calls politically motivated may test Tashiev’s presidential mettle. Will his crowds of supporters be deterred? Or does their loyalty have little to do with his public image?
Tashiev is charged with "premeditated infliction of significant damage to a person's health,” after allegedly beating up a deputy from his own party. Bakhadyr Suleimanov says he spent several days in a Bishkek hospital with a concussion after Tashiev attacked him late on March 31.
The head of Kyrgyzstan’s boxing federation, Tashiev denies he ever laid a finger on his party-mate. He also insists the charges, including hooliganism, are part of a government conspiracy "to prevent my participation in the presidential elections" scheduled for the fall, he told RFE/RL. Even so, Tashiev has gallantly waived his parliamentary immunity so the investigation can proceed.
Kyrgyzstan’s politicians don't like hearing their country compared to Africa. When international election consultants proposed dipping each voter’s thumb in temporary, indelible ink last year – to prevent multiple voting and ballot fraud – election officials dismissed the idea as “something they do in Africa.”
So the latest Failed States Index released on June 20 by The Fund for Peace, a Washington-based NGO, is sure to elicit some horror from the country’s criticism-averse leadership. Kyrgyzstan ranked the most unstable state in the former Soviet Union.
High in the “warning” category, Kyrgyzstan ranked 31 worldwide -- where 1 is the worst -- right alongside some of Africa’s most notorious basket cases, such as Sierra Leone. One of the countries that slipped most in this year’s study, Kyrgyzstan even scored worse than Tajikistan (39), a ranking certain to depress analysts who have been writing that country’s obituary for years.
The index ranks 177 countries based on political, economic and social factors that signal the risk of instability. Indicators include 12 broad categories such as Uneven Development, Group Grievances and Human Rights.
In 2009, Kyrgyzstan scored 42; in 2010, it slipped to 45. Back in 2005, the first year of the study, the country ranked 65.
As if Kyrgyzstan hasn’t suffered enough bloodshed, the speaker of parliament is pushing for deputies to be allowed to bring their guns to work.
Akmatbek Keldibekov, a leader of the nationalist Ata-Jurt party, has proposed legislation giving him the right to determine which of the deputies can – and which cannot – come packing, local media report. He will base his decision on a written request from each deputy.
The new parliament has already seen its share of violence this year, mostly thanks to Keldibekov’s own party. Co-leader Kamchybek Tashiev is building a reputation for punching his foes. After one of his altercations, officers from the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) seized at least 11 guns, including a Kalashnikov assault rifle, from deputies and their bodyguards.
(Aside: Yes, Joldosheva is the same deputy terrorizing the population with claims that 400,000 copies of a book intended to rekindle ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan’s volatile south are floating around. She claims to have the only copy in the country, but is ignoring my repeated requests to see it. If you’d like to ask yourself, try calling her publicly listed office number: +996-312-638-576.)
Watching Kyrgyzstan’s tottering coalition government lurch from one crisis to the next, a lot of people are asking, “When is it going to collapse?” Certainly, it often seems deputies are more concerned with a battle for power than legislative efforts. So this is an update on parliament’s latest diversions.
First, we have the burning question of when the presidential elections, slated for fall, will be held. Provisional President Roza Otunbayeva can only stay in office legally until December 31 and she’s repeatedly said she will step down (few people doubt her intention to do so). On April 15, she said elections should take place “no later than November.”
The new constitution (Article 85.5) says parliament cannot consider a vote of no confidence in the government “six months prior to the next presidential elections.” This is uncharted territory for Kyrgyzstan, but most interpretations believe this means that in the half year preceding elections, the parliament must continue functioning no matter what. There is plenty of room for ambiguity, but one analyst close to parliament described this interpretation as the standard “operating assumption” inside.
Working backwards, if the elections are scheduled for November 15, for example, that would mean that after May 15, legislators, no matter how much they hate each other, will have to coexist.
Of course, it is still up to parliament to decide the date for the presidential election.
The ruling coalition is made up of three parties: the Social Democrats (SDPK), Respublika, and Ata-Jurt. Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev is from SDPK; Respublika’s Omurbek Babanov is first deputy prime minister; Akmatbek Keldibekov from Ata-Jurt is speaker.
A leader of Kyrgyzstan’s largest parliamentary faction, and a rumored contender for president, Kamchybek Tashiev, is gaining a reputation for using his fists to conduct official business. In addition to the widely reported smashup with a deputy from an opposing party earlier this month, some confirmation seems to be leaking out about a more physically damaging brawl between Tashiev and one of his fellow party members a day earlier.
Parliamentary deputy Bakhadyr Sulaimanov alleges Tashiev beat him so badly on March 31 that he suffered a concussion, 24.kg reports. The two are members of the same party, Ata-Jurt, and reportedly the altercation came about after Sulaimanov refused to give up his seat in the legislature. Still in hospital, Sulaimanov is pressing charges, the Prosecutor General’s office announced on April 12. (Someone claiming to be Sulaimanov gave a colorful account of the fight on the popular Diesel Forum.)
Tashiev, who holds parliamentary immunity, denies the allegations. If the assault really did take place, the reasons behind it are not clear. But then, little ever is in the struggle for power among Kyrgyzstan's politicians.
Kyrgyzstan’s leaders are saying all the right things, if the Kremlin were voting in this fall’s presidential election.
On the heels of Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev’s recent Moscow visit, First Deputy PM Omurbek Babanov is now there to discuss economic cooperation. To ease his expedition, Atambayev has pushed for Kyrgyzstan to join the Russia-led Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which is often described as Russia's bid to reassert economic dominance in the former Soviet Union and stanch rising Chinese influence.
But Babanov is a divisive figure in Bishkek. The largest party in the legislature, Ata-Jurt, has actively used corruption allegations to seek his resignation. Ata-Jurt leaders also fear the Atambayev-Babanov tandem will employ government resources to make a bid for the presidency.
Though Ata-Jurt is in the ruling coalition with Atambayev’s Social Democrats (SDPK) and Babanov’s Respublika, party leaders have repeatedly threatened (at one point employing fists and maybe packing guns) to withdraw and upset the ruling equilibrium just as the presidential campaign enters full swing.