It was an exciting moment last month for those wishing to put southern Kyrgyzstan’s poisonous ethnic tensions behind them.
For the first time since the mass interethnic violence that fanned out across the region in June 2010, a judge had acquitted and released an ethnic Uzbek man who had previously been found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment for murder during the riots, the Vechernii Bishkek newspaper reported. But the decision has not sat well with some locals.
At his trial last October, Shamshidin Niyazaliev’s lawyers argued he was not even in Kyrgyzstan at the time and 15 witnesses testified they had seen him in neighboring Uzbekistan on the day he is alleged to have committed the murders. Human Rights Watch called his trial unfair.
Niyazaliev was the 20th defendant in the murders of 16 people near the Sanpa cotton factory in the Suzak District of Jalal-Abad Province. Of the original 19, all had been found guilty; 18 received life sentences, one more got 25 years, according to Vechernii Bishkek.
These trials were among dozens that rights activists say were marred by blatant irregularities. Since the ethnic violence, justice in southern Kyrgyzstan has often looked more like bowing to mob rule than an attempt to find truth and punish the guilty.
Attacks on journalists are common in Kyrgyzstan. Attacks on Uzbeks are also common. Ergo, there is nothing surprising about an attack on an Uzbek journalist.
Shokhrukh Saipov was violently attacked in broad daylight on August 10. Saipov, 26, publishes UZpress.kg, which has reported on simmering ethnic tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan since violence last year left over 400 people, mostly Uzbeks, dead.
Shokhrukh is the younger brother of the late Alisher Saipov, a journalist murdered outside his Osh office in 2007.
“Half his face was missing,” Shokhrukh’s father, Avas, said, in comments carried by Uznews.net. Avas fears his son did not receive adequate medical care because of his ethnicity, the report said. That is a legitimate concern given the rise of aggressive Kyrgyz nationalism since the ethnic violence.
Police in southern Kyrgyzstan continue their systematic persecution of minority ethnic Uzbeks, extorting, torturing and killing with impunity, says a prominent human rights group, citing the latest example of police beating an Uzbek to death.
It’s bad enough Uzbeks are being forbidden from rebuilding in Osh, after suffering the worst of the ethnic clashes last summer that left many of their neighborhoods smoldering ruins. Targeted police violence continues and few, if any, officials have been prosecuted. From Human Rights Watch’s latest news release:
The policemen allegedly tortured Khalmurzaev for several hours, trying to extort money from him in exchange for his release. He told his wife that as soon as he was taken into the station, the police put a gas mask on him and started punching him. When he fell down, one of the operatives, using his knees, jumped on Khalmurzaev’s chest two or three times. Khalmurzaev said he lost consciousness.
When he regained consciousness, he told his wife, the police threatened that if he did not pay, they would frame him on charges of involvement in an attack during the June 2010 violence. They finally agreed to accept $680, which his family brought, and he was released at about 8 p.m., his wife said. Police told him they would harm his family if he told anyone what had happened.
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.
Kyrgyzstan’s leaders just can’t accept the international response to last June’s ethnic violence. Responding to the latest in a series of independent studies that dare say more Kyrgyz killed Uzbeks (though it did clearly point out that Uzbeks killed Kyrgyz, too), on May 26 parliament banned the report’s author, Finnish politician Kimmo Kiljunen, from entering Kyrgyzstan.
Not a single deputy in the 120-seat legislature was brave enough to vote against the proposal, which passed with 95 votes and one abstention.
As Kyrgyzstan approaches presidential elections, the country is becoming a bastion of intolerance. Anyone who challenges the dominant nationalist discourse, which essentially holds that Uzbeks got what they deserved during the ethnic bloodletting -- and, by the way, members of the minority are ungrateful separatist-terrorists -- is accused of conspiring against the nation. The majority, in turn, takes increasingly drastic measures to make sure all they hear is that they are correct.
Kyrgyz news agency 24.kg earlier this week began disclosing portions of an independent international inquiry into the ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan last summer.
On April 29, Russian daily Kommersant followed up with its own story based on a leaked copy of the report. This article repeats much of what came before, but makes a couple of notable departures.
According to the newspaper, the report explains that the interim government that took power after the April 7 unrest only controlled the north of the country. It was thus forced to rely on Uzbeks in the south to squeeze out supporters of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a process that culminated in the overtly political unrest in Jalal-Abad in the middle of May. Summarizing the report, Kommersant comments: "So the political confrontation between the new government and supporters of the ousted president turned into an ethnic conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks."
It is this kind of finding that already has some up in arms, like parliamentarian Ismail Isakov. According to 24.kg's accounts of the leaked report, the international investigation criticizes Isakov, who was the interim government's special representative in southern Kyrgyzstan and took over security operations during the unrest, for failing to dispatch forces "with clear orders and rules of engagement."
Kyrgyz news agency 24.kg has started leaking portions of the long-awaited independent international inquiry on the ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan last summer. Going by the fragments released thus far, the interim government in charge at the time has not received a very glowing appraisal.
The Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission (KIC), headed by Finnish politician Kimmo Kiljunen, reportedly based its findings on interviews with more than 750 witnesses and analysis of around 700 documents and thousands of photos and pieces of video footage. Over 400 people died in the clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities. The majority of the causalities were Uzbeks, who also suffered heavily at the hands of arsonists and looters. The KIC notes that ethnic Kyrgyz also suffered significant losses of life, health and property.
The report charges the interim government, which had been in place for two months prior to the violence, with underestimating the deterioration in interethnic ties. A failure to prepare a contingency plan and properly organize security forces for a surge of unrest comes under particular criticism: "The arguments made by President [Roza] Otunbayeva, that the surge in violence was so extensive that the interim government was unable to contain it, did not exempt the authorities from their primary duty to protect the population."
General Ismail Isakov, who was then the interim government's special representative in southern Kyrgyzstan and took over security operations during the unrest, comes under fire for failing to dispatch forces "with clear orders and rules of engagement."