Kyrgyzstan: The departure of freedoms

Prague, 16 November, Caucasus Times. Widespread arrests, persecution and lawsuits against independent journalists and opposition leaders on the one hand and carefully guarded corruption shams implicating those in power on the other – this has become daily routine of freedom-loving Kyrgyzstan after the presidential election.

October 2017 presidential election in Kyrgyzstan swept Sooronbai Jeenbekov, handpicked successor of Almazbek Atambayev, into power by leveraging significant administrative powers.

It was the election that marked the beginning of the end for basic freedoms, and its outcome that defined Kyrgyzstan’s internal political path best described as descent into dictatorship.

A brazen example is the detention in spring of 2017 of Omurbek Tekebaev, leader of Kyrgyzstan’s opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party and one of the main opponents of the incumbent President Almazbek Atambaev.

Until recently, Tekebaev was an ally of the President and a fellow member in the Interim Government. Confrontation escalated when Atambaev lobbied for the constitutional referendum to unprecedentedly extend the authority of the Prime-Minister, position which Atambaev seeks after serving his term as President.

Tekebaev was the mastermind behind the Constitution which provisions prevented any amendments until 2020. Ultimately, the referendum took place and the Constitution was amended. And Tekebaev found himself behind bars.

The arrest of Kanat Isaev, the closest ally of the opposition candidate and former Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, is yet another example of the nascent dictatorship in Kyrgyzstan. Babanov, a clear election campaign favorite, was the head of the Republic party.

Kyrgyz state security service initiated criminal procedures against Isaev for conspiring to organize a coup d’etat while failing to present any evidence to back the accusations.

At the same time, repressions against the opposition had their grim start long before the election.

Against the backdrop of the headed election campaign in Kyrgyzstan and equally strenuous election, closed court trials of several public figures in the republic who at some point in time criticized the president almost passed unnoticed.

The list included dozens of names that fell out of favor with the government. Public figures were arrested and accused of organizing a violent seizure of power, among them members of the opposition movement “El Unu” (People’s Voice) Bektur Asanov, Kubanychbek Kadyrov, Ernest Karybekov, Dastan Sarygulov as well as members of the so-called “People’s Parliament” Bekbolot Talgarbekov, Tolubay Kolubaeve, Marat Sultanov, Aleksander Gusev and Toigonbek Kalmatov.

Essentially, the most recent wave of repressions against the opposition leaders in Kyrgyzstan can be tracked in three stages.

The first started in the spring of 2016 with the arrests of “El Unu” members and “seizure of power” storyline. The second stage developed in the winter of 2017 and aimed at the elimination of political opponents in the run-up to the election (cases of Tekebaev and Zhaparov). Lastly, persecution of journalists, human rights activists and media. Even republican media got its share.

Bank accounts of web portals “Azattyk” and were frozen and a law suit against the latter was filed for criticizing the incumbent government and truthful coverage of the events in the country. Most recently the authorities shut down the only opposition TV channel “September” which was established by Tekebaev, Atambaev’s main political opponent.

Another persona non grata is a famous journalist Kabai Karabekov. He was slapped a record fine of US $72,000 for his article exposing ties of the newly elected President Jeenbekov and his brothers to radical Islamists. Two other journalists were accused of the incitement of national discord. The accusations, as have you, carry no evidence. One of the journalists had to flee the country and another was sentenced to four years in prison.

In September this year a Kyrgyz journalist and editor-in-chief of the “Uchur” newspaper Zulpukar Sapanov was sentenced to four years in prison for allegedly “inciting hatred between religious faiths” in a book he published a year ago about pre-Islamic beliefs in Kyrgyzstan titled “Ancestry of Forefather Kadyr.” Kyrgyz Ombudsman Otorbaev described the sentence as “return to the inquisition.”

Persecution of mass media had escalated to the point where Kyrgyz human rights activists had to write an open letter to the European Union where they described the ongoing and increased repression against journalists and opposition leaders in the run-up to the Kyrgyz presidential election.

At the same time, in the last five years dozens of infamous criminal figures and members of criminal gangs were let free from jails. It is not a coincidence – these mobsters are known for their crass political campaigning that includes threats, intimidation, blackmail and other dirty campaign methods that the authorities used to secure the desired election outcome.
Admittedly, the incumbent government with Atambaev at the helm is fighting for its own self-preservation. The whole country is thrown into unprecedented chaos where personal interests of the powerful few stand above everything else

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