A court in Kyrgyzstan has doubled the prison sentence handed down to a popular imam who was earlier this year found guilty of inciting religious hatred and distributing extremist material.
Rights advocacy group Bir Duino said Osh provincial court on November 24 increased Rashot Kamalov’s punishment to 10 years in a high-security facility. A local court in the southern town of Kara-Suu, where Kamalov served as imam of As-Sarakhsi mosque, passed a five-year sentence in October.
The harsher sentence appears to have been by motivated the Osh court’s decision to restore a charge of abuse of office dropped in earlier proceedings.
Lawyers for Kamalov have said they will pursue a further appeal in the Supreme Court.
The severity of the punishment is bound to fan discontent among Kamalov’s numerous supporters in Kara-Suu. The imam’s trial, which lawyers complained was marred by numerous irregularities, was loyally attended by Kamalov’s most devoted parishioners.
The imam was arrested on February 9 following a raid on his home by armed special operations forces. Police found a disk during their search that contained a video recording of a sermon delivered by Kamalov at the As-Sarakhsi Mosque during Friday prayers on July 4, 2014.
Prosecutors have argued that Kamalov’s references to the caliphate in his sermons constituted support for the activities of radical and violent Islamists in the Middle East.
An unknown number of people from Kyrgyzstan, including from Kara-Suu, are said to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of radical Islamist groups fighting there.
Despite an absence of transparent and convincing evidence that the Islamic State group is actively establishing a presence in Kyrgyzstan, authorities have been eager to claim that the terrorist organization has made inroads.
In a grisly epilogue to the major Kyrgyzstan prison break earlier this year, the former director of the jail was found hanged on November 20.
Imankul Teltayev’s body was discovered in the medical ward of the detention facility where he was awaiting trial for dereliction of duty, the prison service said in a statement.
According to the government account, on the night of October 11, nine inmates at the prison run by Teltayev overpowered guards and made their escape. Three guards were said to been killed during the breakout, and another to have died of his injuries some days later.
Five of the men were captured almost immediately and again incarcerated. Within ten days, three of them had died in strange circumstances. Of the four that got away, three were eventually tracked down and killed. Only one from that group remains alive.
Teltayev was taken into custody on November 11 as investigations proceeded into his role in the breakout.
The prison service said he complained of ill-health shortly thereafter.
“After arrival at the detention facility, he complained about the state of his health and he was placed in a medical ward. He was kept there alone,” the prison service said in its brief statement.
24.kg news website cited a prisons official as saying that they believed Teltayev had succumbed to a nervous breakdown and hanged himself with a sheet.
“There is information that he attempted suicide four years ago, when they fired him the first time,” the unnamed official told 24.kg.
Prime Minister Temir Sariyev met with the head of the prison service to discuss the alleged suicide and to demand a thorough and swift investigation.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev has said he believes the country should switch from its current mixed political system to a fully parliamentary one. The move would have clear benefits for his Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) as he prepares to leave office.
Atambayev made his remarks on November 6 during his first appearance at the new-look parliament, where SDPK are now the dominant partner in a four-party coalition government following the October 4 elections.
Proposals to amend the constitution during the last term of parliament were dashed, but Atambayev argues another attempt is in order.
“I agreed with [the idea] to introduce changes to the constitution. But I asked that the next parliament consider that question without hurrying,” he said. “Five years ago we chose a parliamentary form of government, but really we do not have this. We have one foot in parliamentary government, another in presidential. We should completely switch to a parliamentary system.”
Atambayev’s preference for a parliamentary system can be seen as a virtual confirmation that he wishes to step down in two years time and ensure the dominant position enjoyed by his party is not compromised by a new president eager to get their own way.
That much became evident as he openly mused on hypothetical discussions within the country’s business class should Kyrgyzstan once more become an investor’s nightmare under a president with unchecked powers.
With a few exceptions, the new Cabinet led by Kyrgyz Prime Minister Temir Sariyev is the same that hobbled over the line before the parliamentary elections.
Eleven of the 16 people proposed for positions in the Cabinet and confirmed by parliament November 5 have returned to their old offices.
Testifying to the death of multi-party government in the traditional sense, most of the ministers are technocrats brought in from the outside with few firm affiliations to the factions in the parliament.
Presenting his 11-point plan for government before parliament on November 4, Sariyev said he was “mobilizing an executive government” to ensure it worked as “a united team” — a declaration of intent to stem the political infighting that has hobbled earlier administrations.
That might be a good thing for Kyrgyzstan as it forges ahead in a difficult economic environment. The multiple Cabinets operating under the previous parliament — in particular the first two — were riven by internecine rivalries that often reflected the interests of the parties to which ministers belonged.
But the technocratic nature of the government means that the parliament has transferred much of its clout to an executive branch effectively controlled by President Almazbek Atambayev. That shift in emphasis carries risks for tensions further down the line as the 2017 presidential election approaches. Atambayev is constitutionally barred from running again and has made no indications he plans to flout that rule.
So it looks like the Zhogorku Kenesh is to get its new chairs after all.
AKIPress reported that newly appointed speaker Asylbek Jeenbekov lamented the woeful state of the legislature’s seating in remarks before deputies on November 4.
“The old chairs have remained in place, but in the summer we will change to a new system. We will buy simpler chairs, so that they are more durable, so deputies don’t spin and twirl on them, so they work,” Jeenbekov said in comments quoted by AKIPress. “But in any case, replacements are needed, you will be convinced of that yourselves soon. Some chairs have broken five or six times.”
One chair failed to withstand the exertions of Ziyadin Zhamaldinov, a deputy with the Onuguu-Progress party. Zhamaldinov has some extensive experience of parliamentary upholstery, having served in three successive convocations, and each time with a different party. From 2005 to 2010, he was a deputy with the then-ruling Ak Zhol party. In 2010, he won a seat with the southern-based Respublika party. He switched to Onuguu-Progress for his latest run at parliament.
Jeenbekov said the decision not to buy new chairs marked a defeat in what he described as an “information war” waged by the media.
Four out of the six parties elected to Kyrgyzstan’s 120-seat parliament in the October 4 vote have agreed to form a broad ruling coalition. The size of the majority is likely to be enough to avoid a repeat of the frequent coalition collapses that blighted the last parliament.
Formation of the coalition on October 29 was spearheaded by election winner Social Democratic Party (SPDK), which won 38 seats, in part because of the tacit support of its historic leader, President Almazbek Atambayev. SDPK fell far short of an outright majority, however, so it has had to join forces with the Kyrgyzstan party (18 seats), Onuguu-Progress (13) and Ata-Meken (11).
Barring major schism, that block of 80 deputies could provide a strong mandate to pass much-needed legislation.
Respublika-Ata Jurt, headed by a wealthy businessman and former prime minister, Omurbek Babanov, and Bir Bol, whose parliamentary faction will be led by southerner Altynbek Suleimanov, will sit in opposition.
Incumbent Prime Minister Temir Sariyev, who became the country’s fifth head of government in five years in late April and who is not affiliated to any of the parties in parliament, is to continue in his role.
The coalition is larger than any in the last term of parliament. No single party can collapse the government by unilaterally exiting the coalition, which was a regular threat last time round.
The most likely dissident party will be Ata-Meken. Atambayev in summer accused Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev of having “one foot in government, one in opposition” — a reference to the party’s recurrent criticism of a government of which it ostensibly formed a part.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan may be close to striking a border delimitation deal that could mitigate the occasional flare-ups of unrest among communities in disputed areas.
Speaking on October 27, Kyrgyz deputy prime minister Abdyrahman Mamataliyev hailed the proposed land swap as a historic turning point, CA-News reported.
“This will be a mutually advantageous exchange — 12 hectares apiece. We will receive plots in the village of Kok-Tash, where a cemetery is located. They will get plots lower down from this village,” said Mamataliyev, whose ministerial brief includes border issues.
Negotiations on settling land disputes have long been hindered by each side’s insistence on sticking to delimitations dating back to the Soviet era, when the location of any particular border was of little real significance.
Tajikistan has suggested agreeing to a delimitation established in documents dating back to 1924-27, while Kyrgyzstan insists on a 1958 border. The latter arrangement was at the time approved by the Kyrgyz government, but not Tajikistan’s Supreme Soviet.
But Mamataliyev said the proposed solution has been hammered out without recourse to any historic maps.
A manhunt in Kyrgyzstan for a group of prison fugitives culminated in a bloody showdown on October 22 with police and special forces killing the last escapee at large.
Authorities sought to cast the fugitives as dangerous Islamist militants, but a spate of mysterious deaths and implausible details in the official narrative suggest the focus may fall elsewhere.
According to the government account, the drama began on the night of October 11, when nine inmates at a detention facility outside the capital, Bishkek, overpowered guards and made their escape. Three guards are said to been killed during the breakout, and another to have died of his injuries some days later.
Five of the men were captured almost immediately and again incarcerated. Within ten days, three of them had died in strange circumstances.
But the focus of attention over the past week has been on the four that got away.
Progress was slow to begin with, but all but one from that group has now been killed.
The first to be tracked down was Daniyar Kadyraliev, who was surrounded by police as he holed up in the Dordoi residential complex in the capital, Bishkek.
The Interior Ministry said Kadyraliev was shot dead after tried to attack a police officer with a knife. In a confusing detail, it was initially reported that it was not Kadyraliev that had been killed but another person in the group of escapees, Azamat Masuraliev.
In fact, Masuraliev would end up being killed by police four days later in the a village in the Sokoluk district of the northern Chui province.
An Interior Ministry source told AKIpress that Masuraliev was killed resisting arrest while hiding in a barn.
Kyrgyzstan’s election commission has published definitive results from the October 4 vote, which has handed the leading Social Democratic Party (SDPK) 38 out of the 120 seats on offer.
The figures released on October 15 show that runner-up Respublika-Ata Jurt has won 28 seats. Other parties with deputies in parliament are Kyrgyzstan, on 18, Onuugu-Progress, on 13, Bir Bol, on 12, and in final place Ata-Meken with 11 seats.
Hard negotiating now lies ahead before parties can form a majority coalition, but with the economy in the state that it’s in, there may be strong competition for staying out of the fray.
Even as back-room talks are going on, some surprising personalities have either left or been booted out of their party lists, meaning they will miss out on a place in parliament.
One such prominent figure was Djoomart Otorbayev, who resigned as prime minister in April and ran in fifth place on the Ata-Meken party list. The speculation is that Otorbayev may have fallen on his sword after failing to boost the party’s performance in the Kemin district in northern Kyrgyzstan, where he had been expected to rally support.
Otorbayev had been thought to be a potential shot for the presidential election in 2017, but his prospects look to have been weakened.
Every elected party lost people from its list for one reason or another, but nobody came even close to Respublika-Ata Jurt for its enthusiasm on that front. A staggering 70 candidates from the party’s list have been excluded, making way for more obscure members.
Kyrgyzstan has been gripped by a fresh wave of security anxieties after nine men belonging to a banned radical Islamist group broke out of a prison near the capital, killing three guards during their escape.
Authorities said five of the fugitives, who were members of the group, were captured in a nearby village after the escape, which occurred on the night of October 11.
All had been convicted on terrorism and extremism charges.
In an alarming indicator of security provisions at the detention facility in the village of Nizhny Norus, the escape appears to have been made possible by a power failure. Brownouts are a commonplace occurrence in Kyrgyzstan and their frequency tends to increase in the winter months.
The head of the prison service, Salamat Abdiyev, told reporters that the power was down for half an hour and that the electricity is frequently turned off due to weather conditions.
“We have a diesel generator, but that is to supply power to the [prison] perimeter,” he said in comments reported by AKIpress.
Adding confusion to the account, however, power company Severelectro later denied electricity supplies to the prison had gone down.
Abdiyev said the surveillance cameras had not been working for two weeks.
The fugitives, seven of whom were serving life sentences, escaped in the vehicle of one of the guards killed during the breakout. Abdiyev said the fleeing prisoners had not managed to seize any weapons or ammunition.