The man convicted of ordering the murder of an opposition leader eight years ago is to be released on parole, a court in Astana has ruled. The decision raises, yet again, questions about the judiciary’s independence.
Yerzhan Utembayev will be released after serving eight years of his sentence over the brutal killing of Altynbek Sarsenbayev, an opposition leader and former government minister, in 2006, Tengri News reports.
Sarsenbayev’s brother, Rysbek Sarsenbay, had asked the court not to release Utembayev, claiming that he is concealing the names of those really responsible for the murder. “We want those who are really guilty to be exposed and convicted,” Sarsenbay said. But his arguments fell on deaf ears.
At his trial in 2006, Utembayev – who originally confessed to contracting the murder, but later recanted – was jailed for 20 years after being found guilty of hiring a hitman to kill Sarsenbayev for $60,000 in revenge for a newspaper article making unflattering revelations about him.
The trial found that Utembayev (who was at the time was head of the Senate secretariat) contracted Rustam Ibragimov, a former Interior Ministry officer, who set up a death squad comprising rogue members of elite Kazakhstani anti-terrorism units, which kidnapped Sarsenbayev and two aides and delivered them to Ibragimov, who killed the three men.
A band of treacherous radicals will swoop into Tajikistan’s capital and seize power tomorrow at 3 p.m.—at least that’s what senior government officials seem to fear. To thwart their nefarious plans, prosecutors are visiting schools, telling children to avoid provocations; someone in government has shut down a bunch of Internet sites; and with a straight face the nation’s highest court has branded the hazy, little-known Facebook group terrorists.
Last weekend, Group 24, as the proto-opposition movement is known, called on Facebook for supporters to gather in one of Dushanbe’s main squares on October 10 and demand free elections and an end to the rule of long-serving strongman Emomali Rakhmon. Within hours, dozens or possibly hundreds of websites including Facebook and YouTube became inaccessible. Authorities would not say why. Instead, riot police closed off a large patch of Dushanbe, the capital, and, in a rare show of police strength, dispersed a mob – actors they’d brought in for the occasion, as it later turned out.
On October 8, the Interior Ministry deployed armored personnel carriers at entrances to the city. Ministry officials say the troop movements – which are anything but routine – are related to the president’s trip to a CIS Summit in Belarus.
A court in Tajikistan has sentenced a former minister and fledgling opposition leader to 26 years in prison on charges his supporters say are politically motivated.
The Supreme Court found Zaid Saidov, 55, guilty of fraud, corruption, statutory rape and polygamy, local media reported. In a closed session on December 25, the court ruled that Saidov’s property should be confiscated.
Many saw in the ordeal a blatant attempt to silence a charming reformist, while seizing the assets – involving construction, textiles and real estate – of one of Tajikistan’s wealthiest businessmen. For certain, the case gaged Saidov before the carefully stage-managed presidential election in November, which President Emomali Rakhmon went on to contest without rivals. The OSCE monitoring mission described “a lack of pluralism and genuine choice,” noting "serious problems" with ballot box stuffing, interfering authorities, and a count that "often lacked transparency."
Similar charges are often leveled against Tajikistan’s courts.
One of Kazakhstan’s few remaining opposition leaders has announced that he is quitting politics, a move that comes amid Astana’s ongoing crackdown on dissent and leaves a dearth of dissenting voices in the country.
Bolat Abilov said in a statement quoted by Tengri News on September 19 that he had taken the “difficult decision” to leave politics (at least for a few years) and concentrate on media, movie and book projects around Kazakhstan.
Abilov, one of the country’s most prominent opposition leaders, had been head of the Azat (Freedom) party, which was in a prickly alliance with the OSDP social democrats. That union collapsed earlier this year amid much acrimony, with OSDP leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbay falling out publicly with his deputy, Amirzhan Kosanov, leaving the party in tatters.
Abilov’s departure from politics and the collapse of the OSDP Azat alliance mean that Kazakhstan now has no genuine, functioning opposition parties to take on the difficult job of holding President Nursultan Nazarbayev to account.
The opposition has always struggled to operate in Kazakhstan’s restrictive environment, where it is shut out of the rubber-stamp parliament and has little access to mainstream media, but until a couple of years ago it was given limited room for maneuver.
All that changed after a bout of fatal unrest in December 2011, when an oil strike in the western town of Zhanaozen turned violent and 15 people died in clashes with the security forces.
In Uzbekistan, where courts are widely believed to bend to the will of prosecutors, sexual assault charges seem like a convenient way to target critics. The charges are difficult to disprove, believable in principle, and have the added benefit of tarnishing the accused's character.
A member of the opposition Erk party, Fakhriddin Tillayev, says a naked female neighbor turned up at his doorstep last week and started screaming that he was raping her, the independent Uznews.net website reported on August 28. The woman said she would seek a medical examination to back up her allegations.
But adding to the impression that Tillayev had been set-up, during the mayhem several unidentified men rushed into Tillayev's apartment where they destroyed his computer and two mobile phones, he said. Tillayev went to his neighborhood committee and police to report the incident: The neighborhood committee did not take it seriously because of the naked neighbor's well-established drinking habits, says Uznews.net, and Tillayev was unable to find a police officer to investigate.
"I am certain that this is a provocation staged by authorities and is linked to Tillayev's public activities," Uznews.net quoted human rights activist Abdullo Tojiboy-ugli as saying.
This isn’t the first time in recent weeks that allegations of sexual assault have come close to an opposition figure.
Hasan Choriyev tried in secret: Human rights activists say Uzbek authorities have set him up on rape charges to punish his son, an exiled opposition leader with designs on the presidency.
The elderly father of an exiled opposition leader is reportedly being tried behind closed doors in Uzbekistan on rape charges that his supporters say are intended to punish his son.
Hasan Choriyev, 71, was arrested on June 17 and later charged with raping a 19-year-old woman. He has been held incommunicado since his arrest over seven weeks ago, the independent Uznews.net website says.
Hasan is accustomed to harassment from officials. He is the father of Bahodyr Choriyev, the leader of the opposition Birdamlik (“Solidarity”) movement, who has lived in American exile since 2004. In November 2012, a local court fined him $11,000 for slander. When he failed to pay the extraordinary sum, his farmland, livestock and house were seized. Earlier, in 2011, authorities fined him $8,500 for “stealing” electricity – that is, using it without meter – after the meter was stolen.
Uznews.net reported on August 5 that the hearings into Choriyev senior’s case started on July 26 behind closed doors but were postponed indefinitely because of the alleged victim’s failure to appear in court.
The defendant’s family has struggled to glean details about the case. Choriyev's lawyer – whom family members fear is colluding with authorities – has cited “investigative secrecy.”
Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court has denied jailed opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov a review of his controversial trial and imprisonment, a case widely condemned as legally flawed and politically motivated.
Kozlov was jailed in October 2012 for seven and a half years on charges of seeking to overthrow the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev and stoking fatal unrest in the town of Zhanaozen in December 2011, which left 15 dead when security forces fired on unarmed protestors.
“The circus is over, the judges have pronounced their decision – there are no grounds for opening a supervisory review,” Kozlov’s wife Aliya Turusbekova wrote on her Facebook page after the Supreme Court ruling on August 5, which effectively put an end to Kozlov’s legal battle. Kozlov has argued that he only engaged in legitimate political opposition and is a scapegoat for the Zhanaozen violence, while Astana rejects claims of political motivation in his case.
A Bishkek court has acquitted and released three opposition leaders previously convicted for attempting to seize power violently. In March, Kamchybek Tashiev and two other lawmakers from the nationalist Ata-Jurt party received sentences of between six months and one year for leading unrest outside parliament last autumn.
But the end to this saga did not come without more violence. Tashiev, Sadyr Japarov and Talant Mamytov were released on June 17 after their supporters threw shoes and bottles at the judge and a prosecutor who was demanding an even longer sentence, AKIpress reports.
The Prosecutor General’s office told 24.kg that the court caved to public pressure and said it intends to pursue charges at the Supreme Court.
The case of Tashiev et al. is linked to regular protests over the fate of the lucrative Kumtor gold mine in Issyk-Kul Province. At the October rally, where Tashiev led protestors over the fence surrounding parliament and vowed to “replace this government,” the three Ata-Jurt deputies demanded the nationalization of Kumtor, the largest foreign-run gold mine in Central Asia, which accounts for over 50 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s exports.
It’s never a good time to be an opposition figure in Tajikistan. But this election year looks particularly dangerous.
Unknown assailants attacked the deputy head of the country’s main opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), outside his home on Friday night, said a colleague.
“Some people attacked him, cruelly beat him and ran away. Relatives saw Mahmadali Hayit, who had lost a lot of blood, and called an ambulance. Now he’s hospitalized at the National Medical Center,” IRPT press secretary Hikmatulloh Saifullohzoda – himself brutally beaten two years ago by unidentified men outside his home – told Dushanbe's Asia-Plus news agency. Saifullohzoda believes the attack is related to Hayit’s political work.
The IRPT has not said whether it will field a candidate in presidential elections scheduled for November. Though incumbent President Emomali Rakhmon has not said he will run, and some challenge the legality of a run, few expect the strongman, who has served as head of state since 1992, to step aside.
The IRPT, with two seats, is the only opposition party in the country’s 63-seat legislature. With power so jealously guarded by Rakhmon and his loyalists, the party faces all sorts of trouble – from the mundane to the violent.
Caption: Kamchybek Tashiev stumping during his failed run for the presidency, October 28, 2011.
A court in Bishkek found three members of Kyrgyzstan’s nationalist opposition party guilty of trying to overthrow the government and handed them short prison sentences on March 29. The verdict, though less severe than their supporters had feared, did little to temper passions outside the courtroom, where riot police held back several hundred protestors, local news agencies reported.
Under the terms of Kyrgyzstan’s constitution, the three must be stripped of their parliamentary seats, which should be passed to other members of their party.
Kamchybek Tashiev and two other Ata-Jurt ("Fatherland") lawmakers were arrested after a protest outside parliament on October 3 grew violent. Tashiev, Sadyr Japarov and Talant Mamytov organized the rally, which drew approximately 1,000 demonstrators, to demand nationalization of the country’s most-lucrative asset, the Kumtor gold mine. After vowing to “replace this government,” and “occupy” the White House, Tashiev led dozens of protestors over a fence surrounding the building and chased away armed guards. Tashiev later said he was just trying to get to work.
The three pled not guilty. Their lawyers vowed to appeal.