A photograph posted online purporting to show Turkish security services documentation incriminating Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev. Officials and the Turkish Embassy have called the document a fake. (Source: Facebook)
The jailed leader of Kyrgyzstan’s opposition Ata-Meken party fired back at the man he believes has engineered his predicament — President Almazbek Atambayev — accusing him of seeking to cover up his own corruption.
Omurbek Tekebayev issued a statement through his lawyers on March 1 alleging that Atambayev may have been the owner of cargo on a plane that crashed in January outside the capital, Bishkek, killing 39 people.
Tekebayev was detained by agents of the State Committee for National Security in the early hours of February 26 and later charged on suspicion of committing acts of corruption while he was acting deputy prime minister in 2010. The wave of detentions of leading Ata-Meken members has led observers to suggest the party is being targeted with politically motivated prosecutions.
This most recent arrest sparked off days of relatively low-key protests, although Tekebayev supporters have vaguely committed to holding rallies until he is released. A court earlier this week ordered that the Ata-Meken leader should remain in custody for at least another two months pending further investigations into allegations against him.
Accusations that Atambayev was in some way linked to the contents of the doomed Boeing 747 cargo plane have been floating around as gossip, although Tekebayev is the first public figure to make the claims so boldly.
RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service in February compiled an impressively detailed report highlighting some intriguing and unanswered questions around the plane. One issue that remains unclear is whether when the plane was attempting to make its scheduled landing during intensely stormy weather in Bishkek airport simply to refuel — as officially stated — or to drop off dozens of tons of undeclared imports.
Kyrgyzstan’s government may with one arrest have contrived to revive the phenomenon of street politics — an increasingly rare sight in a nation exhausted by years of turmoil.
Hundreds of people turned out in the capital, Bishkek, on February 26 in rowdy protest at the overnight arrest of Ata-Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev on fraud and corruption charges. Tekebayev has denied the accusations, which his allies have described as politically motivated.
A large crowd concentrated around the headquarters of the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, where Tekebayev was taken after disembarking from an international flight in the early hours of the morning. While there was much shoving between protesters and police, and the crowd reportedly tried to barge its way into the building on two occasions, no violence appears to have ensued. Tekebayev supporters holding a megaphone delivered speeches and were at one stage joined by Roza Otunbayeva, who served as interim president following the April 2010 revolution that culminated in the current president, Almazbek Atambayev, coming to power.
Otunbayeva spoke in defense of Tekebayev, arguing that he had made important contributions to the country’s wellbeing.
“He is a person who always fought for the truth,” she was quoted as saying by Kloop.kg news website.
Tekebayev was a central figure in the anti-government protest movement that led to the 2010 revolution and later played an important part in drafting a revised constitution that on paper was intended to water down the powers of the presidency and usher in a parliamentary system.
Attendance at the protest outside the GKNB gradually dwindled as evening approached.
Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev at a march to commemorate the first anniversary of the April 7, 2010, revolution. (Photo: David Trilling)
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan are threatening to spark a political crisis with their shock arrest of a prominent opposition leader.
Ata-Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev was held by police as soon as he flew into the capital, Bishkek, in the early hours of February 26. Dozens of his supporters demonstrated outside Manas airport and some were later detained.
Large numbers of police with riot gear were deployed to the terminal to contain any possible outbtreaks of protest. As well as Tekebayev supporters, police at one stage also detained a reporter with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz service, Ulanbek Egizbaev, and a member of parliament with Ata-Meken, Kanybek Imanaliyev.
The detention of the Ata-Meken leader followed an announcment by the General Prosecutor’s Office on February 25 that it was initiating a criminal investigation into the politician on suspicion of corruption and fraud.
Prosecutors say the case is based on materials provided by the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, and involve an instance of alleged bribe-taking in 2010 in exchange for granting a Russian businessman preferential access during the sale of a part-nationalized mobile phone company.
Tekebayev was in Vienna, Austria, when prosecutors made their statement, but was due to return to Kyrgyzstan overnight. He vehemently denied the allegations.
A number of Ata-Meken deputies have been target of a sustained barrage of criminal investigations, all initiated by the security services, that political observers have argued are politically motivated.
The sight of large, angry crowds outside government buildings has become relatively rare in Kyrgyzstan of late, so the rally outside the headquarters of the security services on February 24 brought back some unnerving memories.
Dozens of people rowdily mustered outside the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, in protest at the marathon interrogation of a prominent opposition politician Almanbet Shykmamatov. The former justice minister, a leading member of the Ata-Meken party, is ostensibly suspected of corruption, although his supporters have little doubt the investigations are politically motivated.
Fellow Ata-Meken member Aida Salyanova, best known for her stint as the general prosecutor, said the GKNB questioning of Shykmamatov over a nine-hour stretch was tantamount to torture.
At one stage, a group of protesters appeared to crush up against the police cordon protecting the building, eliciting memories of similar standoffs ahead of the bloody 2010 revolution. More police were reportedly brought in as the day wore on, although significant scuffles were avoided and no protesters were detained.
Pro-government media portrayed the demonstrators as lackeys in the pay of pro-Western nongovernmental organizations — a recurrent theme in Central Asian loyalist press. Vecherny Bishkek, which was a lively independent outlet before being expropriated in a murky court case in 2015, unblinkingly relayed the GKNB position.
The leader of Kyrgyzstan’s opposition Ata-Meken party, Omurbek Tekebayev, has raised the stakes in his face-off with the president by announcing that he is laying the groundwork for impeachment proceedings.
News website K-News cited Tekebayev as saying on November 22 that Almazbek Atambayev had left himself open to the move by openly supporting his former party, the Social Democratic Party, or SDPK, in violation of the constitution.
“In February, a new political party council was formed and it included all the president’s entourage — Farid Niyazov, Albek Ibraimov, Ikramzhan Ilmiyanov, Kubanychbek Kulmatov. All of them occupy some kind of position in the presidential apparatus or are somehow dependant on him, and they don’t make a secret of it,” Tekebayev said.
Tekebayev is in effect saying what everybody already knows, since the SDPK, while not de facto led by Atambayev, is indissolubly associated with the president. To point out the emperor has no clothes is a transparent political provocation, however.
“The position of SDPK chairman is still not filled. Why? Maybe it is because he [Atambayev] still leads the party?” he said.
Tekebayev said that the influence of the SPDK extends even further. While the party only holds 38 out of the 120 seats in the Zhogorku Kenesh, or parliament, 15 out of 18 government ministries are headed by SDPK representatives, according to the leader of Ata-Meken, which holds 11 seats. Tekebayev said that of the remaining three ministers, two are from the Kyrgyzstan party — which has 18 deputies in parliament and is widely viewed as a stalking horse for the SDPK — and another is from Bir Bol, which has 12 MPs.
Kyrgyzstan’s most improbable political alliance — between the parties of southern, nationalist firebrand Kamchybek Tashiyev and the northern, business-oriented former prime minister Omurbek Babanov — has crumbled just ahead of next month’s local council elections.
The uneasy tandem act joining Tashiyev’s Ata Jurt and Babanov’s Respublika was first announced in October 2014 and was viewed at the time as likely a short-term proposition. Few partnerships have ever seemed as peculiar. Tashiyev is an easily angered ex-boxer most comfortable conveying his political positions with his fists. Babanov is a wealthy urbanite skilled at operating behind scenes.
In an attempt to convince the public that their alliance had arisen from genuine personal sympathy, Babanov posted pictures on his Facebook account of him horse-playing with Tashiyev in the picturesque snowdrifts of the Suusamyr Valley. The scene drew much ribald commentary.
“A true romance! Kamchike grabbed some snow in his sledgehammer-like fist. With his other hand he grabbed Omuke by the neck and rubbed the snow in Omuke’s face. And Omurbek enjoyed it. He loved it. It was amazing,” one newspaper, Aibat, reported at the time.
Against all expectations, the union kept more or less fast for two years. Together the parties won 28 of the 120 parliamentary seats up for grabs in the 2015 elections, making it the second biggest faction in the legislature after President Almazbek Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party.
Numerous objectors to plans to tinker with Kyrgyzstan’s constitution have found themselves reportedly object of criminal investigations in a worrying sign the country may be slipping back to old authoritarian ways.
President Almazbek Atambayev’s office on November 14 released details of his meeting with Abdil Segizbayev, head of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB), whose anticorruption department is increasingly said to serve as a stick with which to beat government critics.
At the meeting, Segizbayev is said to have informed Atambayev of materials supposedly provided to the government by the authorities of Belize, in central America, linking unnamed politicians to offshore companies purportedly set up to help benefit the hated son of deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
The online statement did not identify the suspected figures, but it does mischievously leave their names clearly visible on documents shown in accompanying illustrative photos. They include former Justice Minister Almanbet Shykmamatov, former general prosecutor Aida Salyanova and leading politician Omurbek Tekebayev — all three members of the now-opposition Ata-Meken party.
Ata-Meken quit the ruling coalition last month in protest at the proposed constitutional reforms, which are designed to bolster the authority of the executive branch and reduce that of parliament and the judiciary.
A website in Kazakhstan, which bills itself as a platform for regional analysis, has reported that authorities in Uzbekistan are mulling the creation of a fake opposition group.
Polit-asia.kz claimed in an article published on November 8 that the proposition under consideration is to revive a banned political party called Ozod Dehkonlar (Free Peasants) that was founded by 52-year old Nigora Khidoyatova, a political emigre based in the United States.
The writer of the piece, Akbar Asanov, claimed that Uzbekistan is endeavoring to persuade the international community that it is embarking on a path of democratization in order to attract inward investment.
Askarov wrote that talks have taken place between the head of the security services, Rustam Inoyatov, acting president Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Khidoyatova to allow for the Ozod Dehkonlar leader to return to Uzbekistan in exchange for acting as a pliant opposition force. Khidoyatova has been provided security guarantees for her, family and friends as part of the deal, Askarov wrote.
Asked for comment on the report, Khidoyatova told EurasiaNet.org that only some parts of the story were accurate.
“A lot of what is written there is true, but as far as coordinating with the government, that is a red herring,” Khidoyatova said.
Khidoyatova is a historian by training and the daughter of another celebrated Uzbek historian, Gogi Khidoyatov. Her political activities culminated in 2003 with the creation of the Ozod Dehkonlar party, which was refused registration. Party members were denied permission to stand in the 2004 parliamentary elections.
By the party’s own estimated, in 2012, when Khidoyatova finally fled the country fearing arrest, it counted around 100,000 rank-and-file members.
A high-ranking member of a banned opposition party in Tajikistan jailed for purportedly masterminding the hoisting of an Islamic State flag in his town has died in prison, Ozadagon news website has reported.
Ozadagon reported on August 16 that Kurbon Mannonov, who was head of the local branch of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan in the town of Nurek, died at detention facility (SIZO) NO. 1 in Dushanbe overnight. At the time of his sentencing, in February, Mannonov was 73 years old.
Ozadagon cited sources in the IRPT as saying that Mannonov had recently complained of ill-health and bleeding.
A couple of cases involving Islamic State flags over the past year have revealed the new depths being probed by the arch-paranoid government as it seeks to crush all those opposed to its rule. Tajikistan’s Western partners have registered only mute condemnation of the regime embrace of outright authoritarian practices and the United States continues to lavish the government with security assistance.
The Khatlon regional court in February sentenced Mannonov and 12 others to jail terms between 10 and 25 years for putting up the terrorist group’s distinctive black flag. Formally, the group was charged with membership in a criminal organization, public calls for the overturning of the constitutional order and extremist activity.
The group was arrested in August, just as the authorities were beginning to ratchet up their pressure against the IRPT, which has since been banned.
A court in Kazakhstan has ordered the release on parole of jailed opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis wrote on his Facebook on August 4.
Kozlov, the former leader of the banned Alga! opposition party, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for his supposed involvement whipping up unrest in the town of Zhanaozen in December 2011.
Zhovtis wrote of his relief at the news of Kozlov’s imminent release.
“It is true that another 15 days will pass before the decision comes into force, but at last…” he wrote.
Kozlov has appealed for early release on previous occasions without success. On the contrary, the politician appears to have been singled out for particularly harsh punishment by prison authorities for allegedly violating rules.
Last July, officials at Kozlov’s prison colony in Zarechniy in south-eastern Kazakhstan transferred him “to a strict-regime cellblock,” purportedly for offenses that included “speaking ill of the country’s president.” Kozlov was reportedly transferred away from the strict-regime cellblock on August 1.
Kozlov was not present in Zhanaozen at the time of the disturbances, but the government claims he was whipping up strikers with the ultimate aim of overthrowing Nazarbayev. The politician has always steadfastly denied any involvment in the violence and argued at the time that he wished to serve as a negotiator between the government and striking oil workers in the town.