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Kyrgyzstan - The Increasing Failure of Askar Akayev

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A brief overview of post-independence Kyrgyzstan and the human rights abuses that mar its progress to an open and civil society.

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Islamic Human Rights Commission
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5th April 2003

BRIEFING: KYRGYZSTAN - THE INCREASING FAILURE OF ASKAR AKAYEV

POST-INDEPENDENCE OUTLINE

Since coming to power in 1990, Askar Akayev, Kyrgyzstan's incumbent president has attempted to disingenuously portray himself as a democrat and forward looking economic reformer to the outside world. But Kyrgyzstan's political and economic domestic situation could not be further from the truth. 60% of Kyrgyzstan's population live below the poverty line, with epidemic unemployment and institutionalised corruption.

Akayev, a former communist apparatchik, has continuously sought to consolidate his grip over Kyrgyzstan through a succession of rigged Presidential and Parliamentary elections. Through an extremely flawed 1996 constitutional referendum, Akayev obtained an increase in presidential powers. The October 2000 presidential elections saw Akayev win another term in an election marred by accusations of rigging, fraud and intimidation of opposition candidates. Shortly before and after the elections prominent opposition leaders were jailed on various charges. Akayev has abrogated previous constitutional stipulations which limit the number of terms a President can serve, organising the centralisation of power and awarding himself financial control over parliamentary activities. These events allude to the possibility that Akayev is attempting to install himself as president in perpetuity, following in the footsteps of Niyazov in Turkmenistan and Karimnov in Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyzstan is increasingly being polarised by north-south dichotomy, with Akayev's regime favouring northern clans, compounding the south's further sense of alienation. Much of the political unrest during 2002 can be attributed to this ever increasing clan rivalry. The combined factors of economic stagnation and regional and economic exclusion has fuelled popular discontent and support for the opposition.

ATTACKS ON POLITICAL OPPOSITION

Electoral Malpractice

The February and March 2000 Parliamentary and October 2000 Presidential elections were marred by electoral fraud and manipulated polls. This process witnessed the banning of four opposition parties. Both domestic and international electoral observers expressed their dismay at the progress of events. Reports of harassment and threats of job dismissal against ordinary citizens were alleged, along with government officials, under the direction of Akayev, coercing civil servants to support Akayev were recorded. Attacks against opposition supporters were numerous, with hundreds detained and beaten.

The February 2003 referendum on granting Akayev extended presidency until 2005 along with a new constitution was characterised by massive fraud, adding to the mood of increased despondency with Akayev's regime. The flawed referendum with its numerous irregularities saw the exclusion in many instances of independent electoral observers and the coercion of students to vote for the government through threats of expulsion. The purpose of the rigged referendum was to strengthen the executive at the expense of the legislature and promote the marginalisation of the opposition, contributing to Kyrgyzstan's increasing atmosphere of political instability.

Post-referendum

Akayev's regime attempted to pass a bill banning all political protest for three months, but was forced to retract the proposed legislation. Through proposed constitutional proposals it seems that Akayev is making arrangements for the future, in particular his immunity from prosecution when he leaves office. Further proposed amendments propose replacing the current bicameral legislature with a unicameral parliament, thus further reducing legislature ability to check the President.

Russian endorsement

Despite the serious flaws with the electoral process, Russia openly welcomed the result of the rigged referendum, a ringing endorsement of Akayev's regime. Akayev's Kyrgyzstan emerges as a vital player in Russian ambitions to re-assert its political supremacy in Central Asia. Akayev's regime entered an agreement with Vladimir Putin\'s government, allowing Russia to establish a military airbase near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital in November 2002.

Harassment of the opposition

Political groups and human rights organisations have been subjected to sustained harassment, with a confiscation of a group's property being a preferred tactic. Those who publicly dare stand in political opposition to Akayev run the risk of arbitrary detention, with the imposition of politically-motivated, trumped up charges of various kinds (see below). The regime has employed compulsory language tests to disbar opposition candidates who lack fluency in Kirghiz, along with elaborate re-registration procedures to frustrate the opposition. The judiciary, a repository of the executive, is wielded as a political tool to silence political critics. Along with the closure of independent newspapers and the jailing of journalists, the state-controlled media vilifies the opposition.

Cases of Torture

The security forces have been known to indulge in torture, mainly employed against the opposition. Throughout 2000 a number of incidences took place against the opposition. In of the more notorious incidences, a case of rape perpetuated by a police colonel against a female opposition activist, no action was taken. Other examples

  • Following January demonstrations in support of Keliks Kulov, an opposition activist was severely beaten and subsequently hospitalised

  • In October an opposition activist at a university was arrested. Whilst in detention the activist was subjected to suffocation techniques


Detention of opposition leaders and candidates

Several prominent opposition leaders were preventing from either participating or winning presidential and parliamentary elections, with some detained. The aftermath of the arrest of popular parliamentarian, Azimbek Beknazarov, revealed the level of popular discontent with the regime. Numerous demonstrations were held, especially in the south, demanding the release of Beknazarov. In Ak-Sui police attacks on a demonstration left six protesters dead and dozens injured. Furthermore, over 300 hundred went on hunger strikes in protest at Beknazarov's arrest, in which one Member of Parliament died. Akayev has invited further anger at his administration by remaining resolute in his refusal to take action against those responsible for the Ak-Sui fiasco. Other examples:

  • Shortly after the October 2000 presidential elections prominent opposition leader, former vice president Feliks Kulov was jailed on charges or abuse of power.

  • Resurrection of previous failed attempts to prosecute Daniar Usenov, leader of the 'El-Bei Bechora' (The Kyrgyz People's Party), resulting in a suspended sentence.

  • Leader of the 'Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan' was jailed on fraud charges.

  • Ramazan Dyryldayev, chairman of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KCHR), forced to flee into exile after state attempts to detain him. Shortly, afterwards his son was detained and KCHR offices were closed down.

  • Topchubek Turgunaliev, an open critic of Akayev. Former director of the State Opera and co-chairmen of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan, an umbrella group under which all of Kyrgyzstan's democratic movements coalesced under in the earlier 1990s, was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment on allegedly fabricated charges of conspiring to kill Akayev. Subjected to torture during pre-trial detention.


SUPPRESSION OF RELIGION AND RELIGIOUS DISSENT

Like many Central Asian dictators, Akayev has sought to utilise the events of 9/11 to manufacture a fictitious Islamist threat to bolster his authoritarian credentials, distract domestic attention from economic woes and democratic deficit, and win western support and approval. This has seen the targeting of Kyrgyzstan's main religion, Islam. Indeed Kyrgyzstan's Prime Minister, Bakiyev, a staunch Akayev loyalist, called for the monitoring of Kyrgyzstan's mosques to combat any 'Islamist threat'. Akayev's regime has embarked on a wave of purges of suspected Islamist sympathisers. In asserting a non-existent threat from Islamist group, 'Hizb-ut-Tahrir', an organisation advocating peaceful reform, Akayev's regime has conducted a campaign of arbitrary arrests and false arrests on accusations of 'Hizb-ut-Tahrir' participation. In southern Kyrgyzstan over 160 people have been arrested on such accusations. More disturbingly, Askar Aitmatov, a senior adviser to Akayev, revealed that the Kyrgyzstani regime had requested the US to provide military aid in order to clamp down on Islamists, particularly in southern Kyrgyzstan. Around the time that Akayev held talks with the Commander-in-chief of the US Central Command, it was established that US Rangers were training special troops inside Kyrgyzstan.

PROSPECT FOR REFORM

Recent years has seen Kyrgyzstan significantly regress in its efforts at progress towards greater democratic enfranchisement, the evolvance of an empowered civil society and entrenchment of the rule of law. The government has seemingly disavowed any attempts at political dialogue with the opposition.

Post 9/11; saw the establishment of an US military base near Bishkek. The US government has substantially increased both military and financial aid to shore up Akayev's regime, reaching in excess of $37 million in 2001. Undoubtedly, the US and Russian military presence and uncritical political endorsement of the Kyrgyzstani regime has emboldened Akayev to crackdown on the opposition.

Kyrgyzstan's immediate future

Increasingly Akayev is caught between the emergence of two factions within his regime. How Akayev mediates them will most probably dictate Kyrgyzstan's political future. One faction advocates a tougher repression of domestic opposition and media, whilst the other favours a more reconciliatory position. However, it seems for the time being that the hard line faction is in ascendancy. Akayev recently promoted the minister responsible for the Ak-Sui incident, Temirbek Akmataliev, to a senior position within the presidential office.

Whilst the prospect for an escalated intra-government power struggle remains strong, IHRC fears that the ascendancy of hardliners, along with the recent hyperbolic anti-Islamist rhetoric of Akayev's regime, may witness Kyrtgyzstan enter a period of sustained repression, especially towards practitioners of the Islamic faith.

IHRC further fears that the post-referendum environment may witness Akayev tighten his grip on the political process with the possible dissolution of parliament, retaliatory measures against the opposition and see further government vote rigging in upcoming parliamentary elections. The prospect of a viable civil society and the emergence of political pluralism seem to be distant dreams for the Kyrgyzstani people.

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Islamic Human Rights Commission
PO Box 598
Wembley
HA9 7XH
United Kingdom

Telephone (+44) 20 8902 0888
Fax (+44) 20 8902 0889
Email info@ihrc.org
Web www.ihrc.org

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