The government in Kyrgyzstan has collapsed after weeks of sniping between coalition members over contentious constitutional reform plans.
The Social Democratic Party (SDPK) declared in a statement on October 24 that it is leaving the four-party coalition.
Objections to amending the 2010 constitution had been voiced most strongly by the left-leaning Ata-Meken party, which all the while resisted pressure for it to initiate the breakup of the ruling coalition.
In an illustration of the seriousness of its disagreement with Ata-Meken, SPDK accused the party of being in cahoots with the deposed leaders of Kyrgyzstan, Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
“We cannot be in one coalition with those that, as it turns out, share common interests with the Akayevs and Bakiyevs, and who follow their instructions. With those who oppose the interests of the country. It became especially obvious during the constitutional reform,” the party claimed in official statement.
There is no immediate evidence that Ata-Meken have engaged in any dialogue with either of the country’s former leaders.
The outgoing coalition was formed by four political parties soon after the parliamentary elections in October. It constituent parties included the SPDK party of President Almazbek Atambayev, the mostly pro-government Kyrgyzstan Party, the agrarian issues-dominated Onuguu-Progress and Ata Meken. Two other parties, Bir Bol and Respublika-Ata Zhurt, remain in the opposition’s ranks.
The initiative to tinker with the current constitution has been steadily gathering pace since July. Backers of the fix have proposed around 30 amendments, which are due to be put to the population in a referendum in December.
Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan narrowly passed a draft law on October 5 to criminalize the religious consecration of marriage rites for minors.
If the legislation is approved by President Almazbek Atambayev, clerics officiating such ceremonies could face jail terms of between three and five years, as could parents of the couple.
The vote in parliament marks a volte-face by MPs, who had provoked outrage in May when they rejected proposals to criminalize a ritual known as ‘nikah.’ The changes to the law specifically relate to religious marriage rites, as opposed to nuptials registered with the state. The legal age of marriage in Kyrgyzstan is 18, although that can be lowered by special dispensation.
Supporters of the new law in parliament did not mince their words.
“Let’s call things by their names and not hide behind nice words about national traditions and rites. People under the age of 18 are considered children according to our legislation, so forcing them into marriage or other actions is pedophilia. I ask each man in this room to imagine their daughters while voting. But while you can defend [your daughters] from early marriages, many of our children from poor families don’t have such an opportunity,” Natalia Nikitenko, a member of parliament with the Ata-Meken party, said during a discussion of the bill.
But some MPs resisted the bill on the grounds that it is against what they say is the spirit of Kyrgyz traditions, others questioned whether the law would help bring offending clerics to heel. Social-Democratic Party MP Dastan Bekeshev argued that it would be impossible to find evidence of the illegal rite taking place.
A court in Kyrgyzstan’s Chui region held a hearing on October 4 on whether the case of jailed activist Azimjan Askarov should be reopened for fresh investigations.
Once again defying the demands of a UN Human Rights Committee, the court rejected pleas to release Askarov from custody pending further developments.
Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was given a life sentence in September 2010 after being found guilty of inciting a crowd to murder police officers on June 13 that year during deadly inter-communal riots in the southern Kyrgyzstan town of Bazar-Korgon. He has always steadfastly maintained his innocence and pleaded in court to be subjected to a lie detector examination.
The case has grown increasingly toxic over the years and has placed authorities in the impossible position of having to either placate the international community — much of which has argued Askarov was unjustly jailed in a marred trail — or risk stirring the ire of ferociously nationalistic sections of the population.
As in all previous court procedures involving the Askarov case, relatives and colleagues of a policeman purportedly killed at the activist’s instigation were present, angrily raising objections at numerous stages. Askarov too was present in the court, looking weary and sporting a white beard.
In his opening argument, a lawyer for Askarov, Nurbek Toktakunov, said the court should abide by a UN Human Rights Committee request for Askarov to be released. The committee argued in April that Kyrgyzstan had grossly flouted the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights in its treatment of Askarov and said the activist was denied the right to properly prepare for his trial and criticized the manner of his initial detention.
“The collegium of Chui regional court has a superb opportunity to fulfill the decision of he UN committee and let Askarov,” Toktakunov said.
Kyrgyzstan’s president struck a sour and far from statesmanlike note during independence day celebrations on August 31 by using a public address to condemn his critics and promote contentious changes to the constitution.
In a series of vitriolic verbal broadsides delivered on a stage in the center of Bishkek, Almazbek Atambayev found time to lash out at a number of the erstwhile political allies with whom he helped grab power from former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in the 2010 revolution. He reserved particular animus for Roza Otunbayeva, who served as interim president after Bakiyev’s overthrow, prompting her to storm off the stage in disgust.
The president’s choleric disposition was brought on by a statement issued on the eve of independence day by the members of the 2010 interim government that pleaded with the government to desist from pursuing amendments to the constitution. Plans currently taking shape envision a referendum in the fall on the amendments, which would see the office of the prime minister broaden its powers — a measure that many suspect is designed to bolster the position of elites surrounding the one-term president. Another particularly controversial change would enshrine vaguely defined “supreme state values” that critics fear would dilute the value of individual human rights in deference to concepts like “love of the Motherland,” “respect for the elderly” and “the accommodation of tradition and progress.”
Atambayev spared no bile for the members of the interim government, which Otunbayeva led.
A car packed with explosives was rammed into China’s Embassy in Kyrgyzstan on August 30 in what appears to be an unprecedented terrorist attack.
Authorities have reported that one person, the attacker, was killed and three embassy employees were injured.
Police said that at around 9:33 am, a Mitsubishi-Delica smashed through the embassy and that an explosion was set off inside the grounds of the mission.
Deputy Prime Minister Zhenish Razzakov told reporters that the bomber “rammed the gate, kept going for 40 or 50 meters, and then detonated the car.” According to preliminary estimates, the blast had a TNT equivalent of 100 kilograms of TNT.
Police say the attacker was the only person killed. The alleged bomber’s identity has not been established.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Elena Bayalinova wrote on her Facebook page that the two of the injured embassy workers sustained concussions and fragment wounds, but that their condition was satisfactory. Another injured embassy employee traveled to the hospital under her own steam.
Residents in the south of Bishkek reported hearing a massive blast.
"At 9.35 am today, a loud blast nearly shook me off my chair at home. I went to the window and saw a mushroom of dust over the Chinese embassy. The loudest sound I've ever encountered, it was a scary experience”, wrote Facebook user Usha Rajak, who published a picture of the aftermath of the explosion from her apartment block nearby.
Photos of the aftermath show scenes of utter destruction from the Chinese Embassy building. Debris is scattered all around the grounds of the embassy. Some nearby residents reported shards from the embassy blast landing on their property.
Police from Uzbekistan have detained four citizens of Kyrgyzstan in a contested border zone, threatening to unleash a new wave of tension between the two nations.
Kyrgyzstan’s border service said on August 24 that Uzbekistan deployed a group of police officers to the disputed Ungar-Too mountain, site of a Kyrgyz-run television relay station, and took four men into custody.
The mountain and surrounding areas were object of a testy standoff in March that culminated with Uzbekistan deploying several armored personnel carriers. The situation was resolved peaceably after negotiations.
RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service reported about an Mi-8 helicopter carrying seven Uzbek policemen landing on Ungar-Too on August 22, but news of the detentions only emerged later.
“According to Uzbek side, four Kyrgyz citizens working at relay station were taken to Yangikurgan police department in Uzbekistan for procedural measures. According to the Uzbek border service, there is no cause for concern about the detained Kyrgyz citizens,” Kyrgyzstan’s border service said in its statement.
As happened earlier this year, this dispute is centering around disagreement over which country can post which law enforcement and military personnel where. Kyrgyzstan says it is in talks with Uzbekistan to have it remove its forces from the disputed mountain. Uzbekistan is in turn demanding that Kyrgyzstan in turn remove its police checkpoints leading to another disputed facility — the Kasan-Sai reservoir, whose water is used to irrigate fields in Uzbekistan.
This latest standoff has been brewing for almost two weeks. Kyrgyz border guards had earlier reported that Uzbek policeman was detained after allegedly illegally crossing the border on August 13.
With the presidential election coming into view in Kyrgyzstan, parliament is bracing to effect new changes to the constitution — the eighth round of amendments since the country earned independence.
Speculation about possible tinkering with the founding law has been brewing since 2014. President Almazbek Atambayev stoked talk of imminent action at an end-of-year press conference in December, when he argued constitutional changes were necessary to successfully implement judicial reform.
“Sooner or later, the amendments are needed. If we want normal courts, we will have to change the constitution. Of course, the essence of it cannot be changed, we have to follow the path we chose,” Atambayev said.
Atambayev has repeatedly stated he has no plans to change the constitution to remain in power or become the prime minister after his term ends in 2017, so that remains off the table for now.
The latest constitutional initiative has ostensibly been spearheaded by members of parliament, who insist the consideration of their package of changes should be considered this fall. The MPs comes from four parliamentary factions: the Atambayev-linked Social Democratic Party (SDPK), the Kyrgyzstan Party, Onuguu-Progress and the Respublika-Ata Jurt opposition party.
There are about 30 amendments in play touching on areas including human rights and the authority of parliament, the judiciary, the president and the prime minister.
The highest court in Kyrgyzstan has set an unusual precedent by ruling to allow a new legal appeal for a rights activist whose imprisonment has sown dangerous ethnic, diplomatic and political tensions.
Security was tight in Kyrgyzstan’s capital on July 11 as the Supreme Court began its review into the criminal conviction of an ethnic Uzbek rights activist jailed in 2010.
Clusters of police officers stood at intervals of 10 yards around the building as authorities sought to ensure the hearing was not interrupted by public unrest. Few members of the public seemed to be aware of what was going on, however.
The hearing on Azimjan Askarov’s case is being held at the behest of the UN Human Rights Committee, which in April pressed Kyrgyzstan to release the rights activist.
In September 2010, Askarov was sentenced to life imprisonment for what Kyrgyz authorities say was his role in inciting the mob killing of a police officer amid ethnic unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan in June that year. Askarov denies all charges. His supporters say he was singled out for arrest and prosecution because of his advocacy work highlighting police abuse.
Observers attending the hearing, who included reporters, representatives of European diplomatic missions and local and international human rights activists, had to pass through several stages of security screening before being allowed into the big, light courtroom. An English-speaking interpreter was made available by the court to assist foreigners in attendance.
The UN Human Rights Committee’s complaint created grounds for Askarov to appeal for reconsideration of a final and non-appealable decision of the Supreme Court under Article 41 of Kyrgyz Constitution and request revision of his case.
Proceedings started shortly after 10 a.m., around half an hour later than planned. Chief justice Kakchekei Esenkanov explained that the court was waiting for representatives of Askarov’s alleged victims.
Labor migrants from Kyrgyzstan have complained over the years that they were made to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get work papers in Russia. Now, authorities in Kyrgyzstan are bracing to subject foreign laborers to their own onerous red tape.
The National Migration Service said in a statement on June 23 that under a new rule being considered, would-be foreign laborers may have to prove basic knowledge of the Kyrgyz language. The elementary proficiency standard would require learners to prove working knowledge of around 900 Kyrgyz words.
Although this fact is not specifically spelled out, the proposal is clearly aimed at Chinese laborers, whose presence in Kyrgyzstan is object of much popular grumbling.
The language test would not be applicable to ethnic Kyrgyz people and relatives of Kyrgyz citizens. The waiver would also apply to “famous artists, scientists and the other people that want to contribute to the economic, social and spiritual development of Kyrgyzstan, as well as highly qualified specialists required by the Kyrgyz economy.”
This fits within broader attempts to protect the domestic labor market. Earlier this year, authorities aired proposal to limit the number of foreign workers in any local company to 20 percent of the total workforce.
RFE/RL’S Kyrgyz service has reported that the government sets aside 13,000 work permits for foreign citizens and that 85 percent of that number is claimed by Chinese citizens.