Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court has “utterly failed” and given into unfettered ethnic hatred in a case that was “blatantly fabricated,” say international observers, after it upheld a life sentence on bogus charges against an ethnic Uzbek human rights defender.
Azimjan Askarov was found guilty in September 2010 of inciting ethnic violence and complicity in murdering a police officer in his native town of Bazar-Kurgan during the ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that June. Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Western governments called the charges against Askarov—a prominent human rights defender and journalist in southern Kyrgyzstan—politically motivated and decried the trial as staged, biased and unfair. During the December 20 appeal hearing, the Supreme Court also upheld sentences against seven other Uzbeks (including five life sentences). Uzbeks, Kyrgyzstan’s largest ethnic minority, have faced widely documented intimidation and abuse by authorities since the ethnic bloodletting.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in a December 16 statement urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Askarov conviction, said that maintaining the verdict would be a “major miscarriage of justice.”
Promotional billboards and banners celebrating Kyrgyzstan’s 20th anniversary of independence have offended Kyrgyz nationalists, sparking the kind of violent reaction that is becoming common in the Central Asian nation.
In the southern city of Osh, representatives of the Ak Kyzmat youth organization burned signs they called “anti-ideological,” including a poster depicting Kyrgyz yurts covered with the flags of China, Russia, and the United States. While the photographer responsible for the banner maintained that his image was intended to represent the three great powers he says “keep watch over” Kyrgyzstan, his detractors interpreted the image as degrading.
The protestors also took issue with a banner depicting a foreign tourist surrounded by Kyrgyz, which they argued placed their compatriots in a subservient position.
“It looks like the Kyrgyz are following after him, but I want to point out that the Kyrgyz have always lived on their own and have never depended on anyone,” complained Ak Kyzmat leader Turgunbai Aldakulov. “If the appropriate agencies do not remove the banners, the youth of the city are ready to burn every poster in Osh.”
Eighty-three. That’s the number of men and women who have declared their candidacy for Kyrgyzstan’s presidency. The skeptic might say Bishkek, scene of near-daily protests since ushering out President Kurmanbek Bakiyev last year, is drowning in democracy. And that would not be far from the truth. But Kyrgyzstan is also possibly holding the first presidential election in Central Asian history where the outcome is uncertain.
Registration for aspirants wishing to compete in the October 30 polls ended August 16. Parties nominated only 16 candidates. The rest -- from the “temporarily unemployed” to former military officers and recycled political hacks -- nominated themselves.
Most of us will never learn half their names. A majority of the 83 is expected to drop out before September 25, when campaigning officially begins and candidates must hand over 100,000 soms ($2,250) and 30,000 supporting signatures. All candidates must also pass a live, televised Kyrgyz-language exam.
Observers doubt fresh leadership will emerge from the contest. The most prominent contestants have all enjoyed various stints in recent governments. But for many in Kyrgyzstan, a larger concern is the country’s salient north-south political divide. Exacerbated by Bakiyev’s bloody ouster, that rift is likely to grow wider during elections. Several of the most prominent candidates enjoy strong regional followings and it is unlikely any one can win broad support across the whole country.
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 parliament has voted unanimously to ban the independent news website fergananews.com (formerly Ferghana.ru).
After weeks of heated debate over the causes of last summer’s ethnic violence, lawmakers cast votes on a resolution including the ban, and blaming Uzbek “separatist” leaders for organizing the clashes. Ninety-five approved; none opposed.
The resolution instructed the Ministry of Culture and Information, the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor General's Office “to take steps to block the site Ferghana.ru in the information space of the republic.”
Moscow-based Ferghana.ru – singled out for offering alternatives to the nationalist narrative that Uzbek separatists are to blame for the tragedy – has been blocked in Kyrgyzstan in the past, just before periods of intense political upheaval, such as immediately preceding the ousters of both Askar Akayev in 2005 and Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010.
Editor Daniil Kislov called on authorities to act based on the law, not “emotional hostility.”
“It would be very sad to see post-revolutionary Kyrgyzstan on a par with other states that are Internet enemies,” Kislov said in a story on the website.
In the same article, the head of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, Dinara Oshurahunova, said the resolution was a violation of the law, as the legislature has no authority to determine guilt, which is the province of the courts. She also pointed out that the blocking of websites helped precipitate the events that led to Bakiyev’s bloody ouster last year.
International researchers and NGO workers in Kyrgyzstan are starting to wonder if their time is running out.
As Kyrgyzstan’s nationalism metastasizes, foreigners who have studied the ethnic bloodletting last summer – and offered recommendations for how to move the country beyond the threshold of more violence – are under increasing attack from local lawmakers and journalists. (Western commentators and other “outsiders” consider these accounts unbiased; many local politicians brand them pro-Uzbek.) Parliament has unanimously declared one prominent investigator persona non grata for reporting that more Uzbeks died than Kyrgyz.
It seems only a matter of time before the new authorities resurrect censorial former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s blacklist, and begin adding names.
Last week, Human Rights Watch released a damning report describing the widespread torture of Uzbeks since the violence. Police – who are overwhelmingly ethnic Kyrgyz – are rounding up Uzbeks and torturing them to extract confessions, HRW found. Almost no Kyrgyz have been prosecuted for the violence or the aftermath.
HRW and Amnesty – which released similar findings the same day – are Kyrgyzstan’s friends: They are warning that the injustices threaten to spark a new round of violence. Their profession is analyzing comparable situations around the world and they know when a spark can turn into a flame. But the local response is disheartening.
Kyrgyzstan’s Committee on National Security is denying a rumor it appears to have started a few weeks ago. It turns out Kyrgyz citizens aren’t traveling abroad en masse for terrorist training after all. But why is the GKNB -- the successor to the Soviet-era KGB -- toying with the tense country’s emotions like this?
GKNB Deputy Chairman Marat Imankulov now says reports that “over 300 Kyrgyz nationals” have joined international terrorist groups, presumably in Afghanistan and Pakistan, do “not square with reality,” the KyrTAG news agency reported.
“There is no need to talk about mass training of our nationals at militant camps," he said on June 9.
Where did that rumor come from? Six weeks ago, Imankulov’s boss, GKNB Chair Keneshbek Dushebayev said that 400 ethnic Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstan (Kyrgyz nationals, that is) were plotting to unleash a wave of terror on the country from foreign training camps. That was an electric claim in Kyrgyzstan where Uzbeks, since last summer’s ethnic violence, are blamed for just about everything. Indeed, Dushebayev has tried repeatedly to link the ethnic violence last summer to Islamic radicals.
Dushebayev is rarely a convincing source, but this latest GKNB disagreement backtracks from a year of dodgy claims – namely, that terrorists are merely a few bullets or bombs from launching a revolutionary assault on the country. Such panic mongering is, though, great for drumming up support.
As the grim anniversary of last year’s tragic ethnic violence approaches, many people in Kyrgyzstan are worried about a renewal of the bloodshed. But members of parliament seem to be contributing to the tensions rather than addressing them.
Take, for example, Jyldyz Joldosheva. While parliament discusses various investigations, Joldosheva is pushing unsupported claims about how members of the Uzbek “diaspora” -- a word suggesting Uzbeks don’t belong in Kyrgyzstan at all -- are responsible for the violence. In Kyrgyzstan’s charged atmosphere, her ethnocentric, hateful invective could be easily misinterpreted as a call to arms.
Islamists, revanchists, and now NGOs: With days to go until the one-year anniversary of devastating interethnic bloodshed in southern Kyrgyzstan, the country’s officials have stepped up their blame game, scoring big points for bogeymen and zero for justice.
The latest burst of finger-pointing comes from President Roza Otunbayeva’s official representative to parliament, veteran politician Azimbek Beknazarov, who said on June 3 that NGOs and human rights groups bear responsibility for the violence, which left more than 400 people dead last June. As quoted by AKIpress, Beknazarov said:
Why did the bloody events occur? The report by the chair of the national commission tasked with studying the causes of the events in the republic’s south, Abdygany Erkebayev, speaks of third forces, but does not say who those are. But I will tell you, as a lawyer, that the third forces are NGOs, rights organizations and rights defenders, which continue to pursue their own agendas.
Two months after passing a deficit-plagued budget, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has amended it, reallocating about $12.9 million to compensate those who lost relatives in last June’s ethnic violence in Osh and Jalal-Abad. While the effort seems commendable on its face, the political pressure surrounding it and the implementation process to come both raise doubts about how fair and transparent the payouts will be.
Under a decree signed by Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, made public May 10, families of Kyrgyzstani citizens killed in the clashes will receive a one-time payment of 1 million soms (about $21,500); families of the missing will also collect a million soms; those who sustained serious bodily injuries -- as determined by experts in forensic medicine -- will get 100,000 soms; and those who received “less grievous bodily harm” -- ditto the official diagnosis -- will get 50,000 soms.
Here are two of the biggest challenges to an equitable compensation process: