Kyrgyzstan: Public Defy Akaev

By Dmitry Kabak in Bishkek (RCA No. 143, 3-Sep-02)

Kyrgyzstan: Public Defy Akaev

By Dmitry Kabak in Bishkek (RCA No. 143, 3-Sep-02)

Monday, 14 November, 2005

Akaev sent a telegram to Bush in which he expressed sympathy and announced his readiness to support the international community in "exterminating terrorism - the plague of the 21st century - from which Kyrgyzstan has suffered over the last three years in the form of attacks by bandit groups".

The Kyrgyz leader did give invaluable support to the US in the form of access to Manas airport close to Bishkek. While the republic does not share a border with Afghanistan, its relative stability made it ideal as a "back up" base for coalition forces and aid deliveries.

Akaev hoped his backing for the US-led campaign would allay western criticism of his dreadful civil rights record - and it came as no surprise when it began to deteriorate.

"After giving Manas airport to the anti-terrorist coalition, Akaev decided that he could do whatever he wanted with dissidents inside the country," said opposition leader Adakhan Madumarov. Well-known journalist and rights activist Yrysbek Omurzakov said, "Under cover of the 'war on terrorism', he (the president) started his own war on dissidence."

Democratic institutions and the independent media came under attack, the leadership began to persecute opposition figures and human rights were violated.

The government issued a decree in January banning the distribution of leaflets and pamphlets by "subversive" or "extremist" groups and requiring all publishers and every type of printing equipment - even obsolete typewriters - to be registered. "The campaign to exterminate terrorism became an excuse for a war on independent media," said Rina Prizhivoit, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Moya stolitsa - novosti.

The decree was withdrawn in May after a storm of protest from NGOs and the media. Having tried to silence the media, Akaev then moved on to the opposition, though his attempt to deal with an outspoken deputy backfired and sparked a wave of protest that showed no sign of diminishing.

Azimbek Beknazarov, the head of the parliamentary committee for law and legal reforms, called for Akaev's impeachment after the Kyrgyz leader transferred 125,000 hectares of land to China in treaties with President Jiang Zemin in 1996 and 1999.

The government responded with a criminal case against the deputy, accusing him of malpractice while he was a lawyer. He was arrested in the Aksy village of Kara-Suru on January 5, and went on hunger strike shortly after, claiming the charges were politically motivated.

Hundreds joined him in his protest, one of the participants Sheraly Nazarkulov, 51, dying of a stroke on February 6. Matters came to a head on March 17-18, when the police opened fire on a group of unarmed protesters calling for Beknazarov's release. Six people were killed.

Beknazarov was set free the following day and the charges against him were dropped at the end of June. However, the people of Aksy were not satisfied. They organised a "Great March" to Bishkek and demanded Akaev's resignation and punishment of those who killed the Aksy protesters.

This led to the creation, on August 14, of the movement "For the resignation of Akaev and reforms for the people", headed by Ismail Isakov, a deputy from the Jogorku Kenesha Legislative Assembly.

Faced with mounting opposition and with no end to the public protests in sight, Akaev was forced to announce constitutional changes and declare his readiness to "share power".

On August 26, the president signed a decree preparing the ground for such reforms. He subsequently formed a constitutional council of 40 members, headed by himself, which is due to begin work on them on September 4.

As we approach the first anniversary of the attacks on America, the Kyrgyz government finds itself in a difficult political situation.

Over the last year, its attempts to establish total control of the country - to restrict freedom of speech and move away from democracy - have been effectively countered by a society prepared to stand up for its rights.

Dmitry Kabak is the president of human rights NGO Open Viewpoint in Kyrgyzstan

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