April 7, 2010

Proceedings against opposition leaders

Over the past year, several of Kyrgyzstan's well-known opposition leaders have been charged with offenses and imprisoned. Prominent among them is Ismail Isakov, the former defense minister, who left the government to join the political opposition in October 2008. Isakov was arrested in late 2008, and in January 2010 he was sentenced to 11 years in prison on corruption charges, allegedly for providing a government apartment to his son without proper documentation. His imprisonment and sentencing prompted several demonstrations and a hunger strike.

Erkyn Bulekbaev, the leader of the Green Party, was arrested in April 2009 and charged with "instigating ethnic conflict." The authorities accused him of involvement in a clash between ethnic Russian and Kurdish people in a village of Chui province after a Kurdish man was accused of raping a young girl. Bulekbaev, who as of February 2010 was still in custody, contends that he went to the village to try to help resolve the conflict.

On March 16, 2010, Alikbek Jekshenkulov, a former foreign minister and the head of the For Justice movement, was sentenced to a five-year prison term for financial wrongdoing, although the sentence was suspended, and he is no longer in custody.  He had been arrested in March 2009 and initially accused of complicity in the assassination of a Turkish citizen, though that charge was later dropped.  

Developments in March

The political opposition took to the streets several times in March to protest government actions, ranging from the imprisonment of opposition leaders to alleged nepotism and mismanagement. Peaceful protests on March 17, in the lead-up to the national kurultai, or political assembly, held by the government on March 23, drew thousands in Bishkek and in several other locations.

More protests were held on March 23 in Bishkek, as opposition demonstrators attempted to deliver a list of demands to the national gathering. Protesters clashed briefly with police, and the police said that 19 protesters had been detained.

At the kurultai itself, which the government intended as a forum to start a political healing process in Kyrgyzstan, President Kurmanbek Bakiev said that there was "no certainty" that models of democracy based on elections and human rights "are suitable for all countries and peoples."

Freedom of expression and information

In the days prior to the March 17 opposition demonstrations, at least four Internet providers in Kyrgyzstan - Kyrgyztelecom, Megaline, Aknet and Prohost - periodically blocked access to several websites, including Ferghana.Ru, Centrasia.Ru, White Sail (a website that had been edited by Gennady Pavluk, an opposition journalist who was murdered in December), Livejournal and Azzatyk (the Kyrgyz language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). In addition, local broadcasters stopped airing the radio program of RFE/RL, and the Kyrgyz national broadcaster stopped retransmission of the BBC news programs, citing "technical problems."

Other media freedoms have suffered considerable setbacks in recent months. In March alone, courts in Bishkek ordered the suspension of three opposition Kyrgyz language newspapers: Forum, Achyk Sayasat (Open Politics) and Nazar (Viewpoint). The prosecutor investigated complaints lodged by the government that these newspapers had insulted the president and called for the overthrow of the government. On April 1 financial police seized equipment in a raid on the Stan-TV offices, accusing the company of illegally using Microsoft software.

In February, a Kyrgyz court handed down five-year suspended sentences to two Kyrgyz policemen found guilty of beating a journalist, Almaz Tashiev, in 2009. Tashiev, 32, who worked for the independent newspaper "Agym" (Stream) in Osh, subsequently died as a result of the beating.

Pavluk, a leading journalist in Kyrgyzstan, died on December 22, 2009, six days after he was thrown from the sixth floor of an apartment building in Almaty, Kazakhstan. He was found unconscious with his hands and feet bound. Pavluk was the founder of the Kyrgyz edition of the Russian weekly Argumenty i Fakty, and of White Sail. Omurbek Tekebaev, leader of the opposition party Ata-Meken, said that Pavluk had started working on a website for the party prior to his death.

In December, a journalist and a well-known political analyst were beaten in Bishkek. OnDecember 16, two men wearing police uniforms beat Aleksandr Evgrafov, a journalist with the BaltInfo, a Russian-language news agency. RFE/RL reported that the two men forced him into a car and warned him "not to write ‘bad things' about Kyrgyzstan." The political analyst, Aleksandr Knyazev, was beaten by unknown assailants, who stole his laptop computer. Knyazev, who works for the Commonwealth of Independent States Institute, had been critical of the government's foreign policy.

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