Less than a week after Kyrgyzstan’s much lauded democratic elections, new waves of violence are destroying any semblance of due process in the country’s tortured south.
More than 150 lawyers defending ethnic Uzbeks in cases linked to June’s deadly interethnic clashes said Friday that they can no longer represent their clients due to numerous physical attacks against them and threats against their loved ones, according to Ferghana.ru. One of them, Kubanychbek Zhoroyev, said that over the past three days alone, six lawyers have been beaten at trials in Osh, while judges and prosecutors did not intervene.
The unruly mobs responsible for the attacks have typically been identified as relatives of ethnic Kyrgyz victims of the crimes being prosecuted, but some observers are skeptical:
Trial lawyer Dinara Turdumatova, who was also beaten in court, expressed some doubt that the assailants really were relatives of the dead and aggrieved. According to her, the same group of aggressively inclined women (40-50 people) appears at various trials and attacks lawyers.
The same week, three brutal attacks against ethnic Uzbek defendants and their relatives left several people in need of medical attention, with bloodied faces and broken bones.
As Kyrgyzstan’s newly elected parliament prepares to do battle over government posts, some of the country’s big men in uniform – namely, the recently appointed prosecutor general and his former colleagues from the National Security Service (SNB) – have fired nasty verbal shots across each other’s bows, raising yet more thorny questions about post-election stability.
The first salvo came on Friday, October 8, when Prosecutor General Kubatbek Baibolov spoke at the unveiling of a monument to opposition journalist Gennady Pavlyuk, who died last year after falling – with his arms and legs tied – from a sixth-story window. Less than two weeks earlier, authorities in neighboring Kazakhstan, where the murder took place, had arrested two suspects in the case and Kazakh media circulated rumors that Kyrgyzstan’s secret services had had a hand in the killing. Speaking at the ceremony, Baibolov promised he would do everything possible to bring the killers to justice and made some unflattering references to the SNB, noting it had long “persecuted freedom of speech and human rights and liberties.” According to some local press reports, Baibolov – himself a former KGB colonel-turned-businessman before entering politics – went as far as to liken the intelligence service to a criminal group and said its members would be punished for any involvement they may have had in the murder.
Three days later, the SNB issued a scathing response.
The contentious redevelopment plan for the city of Osh has once again reared its head.
Yesterday, Kadanbay Baktygulov, second-in-command of the national agency in charge of rebuilding the southern regions of Kyrgyzstan after June’s deadly clashes, said that Osh’s so-called Master Plan has already been “approved by the city authorities and discussed by the public, [and] now it will be considered by the government.”
Rights advocates have been worried about the plan -- which envisions building high-rises in downtown Osh -- since summer, saying it could lead to forced evictions from a few of the neighborhoods burned down in June. The now-homeless people in these areas, mostly ethnic Uzbeks, have begun rebuilding on the sites of their old homes with the help of international aid groups, but city authorities haven’t always been supportive. The mayor’s office, for example, didn’t give full permission for construction until August 28, contributing to delays in the shelter project. The city also balked at its obligation to clear away rubble, so building supplies had trouble reaching construction sites.
In mid-September, First Deputy Mayor Taalai Sabirov told EurasiaNet that the plan “exists” and would eventually become reality.
“If we don’t do it, maybe our children will,” he said. “The plan will go ahead anyway, though maybe not on the exact same blocks that were hurt.”
A court in southern Kyrgyzstan has sentenced two ethnic Uzbeks to three years in prison for writing “SOS” on the gate of a private home during June’s deadly clashes between the region’s Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, AKIpress reported Friday. The Kara-Suu District Court ruled that Uktomjan Ahmatjanov and Islamjan Husanov had incited interethnic conflict by spreading rumors that troops from neighboring Uzbekistan would come to the aid of local Uzbeks and by painting the SOS sign to help these forces – actions the court deemed to have turned Uzbeks against Kyrgyz. The men were accused of committing their crime on June 12, when many Uzbek neighborhoods had already barricaded themselves against armed mobs.
The conviction adds to a growing list of guilty verdicts against ethnic Uzbeks, who, rights advocates fear, may be getting a disproportionate share of the punishment for June’s clashes, which killed hundreds and displaced thousands. While both ethnic groups unquestionably took part in and suffered from the violence, a recent report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty noted that all 24 defendants in three major June-related trials (not including the SOS case) were ethnic Uzbeks, and many of them received exceptionally harsh sentences.
This, from a leader who stubbornly resisted any investigation into the massacre in his own country by Uzbek troops of hundreds of people in Andijan in 2005, and who in fact was still persecuting the relatives of the victims five years later. Various bodies of the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as Western governments and international human rights groups have repeatedly called for an impartial and credible international investigation of the Andijan events, and have been repeatedly rebuffed and told the matter was an internal affair and the police response appropriate to the security threat.
Calls for the independent investigation of Andijan was a staple of U.S. foreign policy in Uzbekistan, but in the last year, as relations have warmed due to strategic energy and security interests, the explicit call has been retired, replaced with occasional expressions of concern.
A Kyrgyz woman compares the photo of a corpse with that of a missing loved one displayed outside the Osh mayor's office. Portraits of missing Uzbeks are hidden away in an office in an Uzbek neighborhood.
The summer camp looked deserted. Just inside the high metal fence, a plump woman in slippers and a purple kerchief squatted outside a two-room shack, washing dishes with a plastic tub and two dented kettles.
Commenting on the microblog site Twitter about Askarov's life sentence, Sardar Bagishbekov, a human rights activist and head of the Voice of Freedom website in Kyrgyzstan said, "the judge in the case of Askarov and 7 others was simply morally unprepared to objectively review the case, I saw this in everything about the trial in Nooken."
Judge Nurgazy Alimbayev pronounced Askarov guilty on charges of complicity to commit homicide and murder of a police officer (two separate counts related to the same incident), possession of ammunition and extremist literature, and attempted kidnapping, reported ferghana.ru. Local and international human rights activists denied the charges, saying Askarov had been singled out for retaliation.
Research by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) indicates the charges are unfounded and that Askarov may have been targeted for revenge by Jalal-Abad law enforcement because of his documentation of human rights violations, including by local police, in southern Kyrgyzstan . Authorities incriminated him for incidents in the region during unrest in May, when in fact he had documented proof he was in Bishkek, notes CPJ. Prosecutors also failed to prove Askarov was on the scene in Bazar-Korgon at the time the police office was killed.
“We are outraged by the sentence delivered today in Jalal-Abad to Azimjon Askarov, and call on Kyrgyzstan’s higher courts to overturn his verdict,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator Nina Ognianova in a press release today.
A nail-packed explosive device blew up on the grounds of a synagogue in central Bishkek about an hour before the start of Rosh Hashanah services Thursday evening, according to local press reports. No one was hurt and physical damage was minimal as the bomb, lobbed over a fence into the synagogue’s courtyard on the first night of the Jewish New Year, landed in a small pool of water, news agency Regnum.ru reported. Police and security services kept onlookers at bay after the incident and have opened an investigation. Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency said that someone working at the synagogue, reached by telephone, said, “We will not comment. […] There was no explosion.”
Though the sequence of events is unclear, a recent border scandal has opened a new chapter in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan’s fraught relations. In late August, border and customs officials from both countries took a few of their counterparts hostage. The standoff ended peacefully, for now, in a prisoner exchange late on September 5.
The press-uz.info news agency is the only major outlet in Uzbekistan’s tightly controlled online media bubble that has dared to cover the recent border disputes in detail. But their take is predictable.
The news agency, believed by Tashkent insiders to be controlled by President Islam Karimov’s Security Council, has made the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border a priority since it first reported on a plundering raid by Kyrgyz border guards on the night of August 28, and the valiant efforts of Uzbek officials to defend their countrymen.
“Having seized 22 head of sheep belonging to Uzbek farmer Abdumalik Khoshimov, Kyrgyz border guards retreated to their territory. After holding talks, Ferghana District law-enforcement bodies managed to retrieve the stolen livestock,” press-uz.info reported.
But with each new development, the news agency hardened its tone. In an August 30 report, the news agency said Kyrgyz border guards were extorting money from Uzbek citizens in border villages and suggested that “brazen, unscrupulous, and predatory” abuses by the Kyrgyz military in border areas might cause a “new outburst of resentment” among Uzbeks.
Since their home was torched in June during the ethnic clashes in southwestern Kyrgyzstan, 30-year-old Dilbar Kasimova and her four children live in an UNHCR-provided tent on a street in Cheremushki District, Osh. At least 390 people died and thousands more were injured during the violence. Most of the victims, like Kasimova, were Uzbeks.
A mob killed the children's father, aunt and grandmother. The family keeps fragments of the grandmother's bones in a plastic shopping bag beneath a pile of scrap metal in the back yard, unsure where her final resting place shall be.
David Trilling is the Central Asia news editor for EurasiaNet.