Alarm Over Kyrgyz Death Sentences

Human rights organisations urge Kyrgyzstan to abolish the death penalty

Alarm Over Kyrgyz Death Sentences

Human rights organisations urge Kyrgyzstan to abolish the death penalty

The Kyrgyz authorities are preparing to extend the number of offences qualifying for capital punishment in defiance of calls by human rights organisations for the death penaltry to be scrapped.

Prime Minister Amangeldy Muraliev proposes extending capital punishment to crimes such as terrorism, the taking of hostages, banditry, the organisation of and belonging to criminal gangs, trading in narcotics and plotting insurrection.

If parliament adopts the proposals, then the number of crimes qualifying for the death penalty will be doubled.

Under pressure from human rights groups, headed by Amnesty International, President Akaev issued a decree on December 2 extending a two-year moratorium on executions for another year, but courts continue to issue death sentences.

There were over 60 people in Kyrgyzstan awaiting execution at the beginning of the year 2000. Human rights activists say this is an uncommonly high figure for a democratic country of only five million people.

President Akaev imposed the moratorium by decree in 1998 to mark the 50th anniversary of the General Declaration of Human Rights. This silenced the firing squads but did not prevent the courts from delivering about 30 death sentences a year.

Human rights leaders argued that what they called questionable standards of the judicial authorities and law enforcement agencies made it all the more necessary to abolish the death penalty altogether.

The death penalty dispute divides the Kyrgyzstan society.

Deputy Zainitdin Kurmanov of the legislative assembly of parliament commented, "From the point of view of my party, Moya Strana ('My Country'), the death penalty is amoral.

The right to life is the same as the right to marriage or to a family and nobody can take that right away. But our society hasn't yet learned the value of human life."

At the same time, Kurmanov believes it's too early to talk about abolishing the death penalty. More lenient punishments for serious crimes would not be understood by the people, he said. For the time being, he thinks it is sufficient to simply extend the moratorium.

Nazarbek Tabrisov, assistant to the special prosecutor's office of Kyrgyzstan, believes punishments should be made harsher still. "Taking the life of a killer, in the same way he has taken the lives of other citizens, is justified," he said.

Most journalists also believe capital punishment is needed to protect society.

Sergei Bogdanov, for example, believes it is too early to abolish the death sentence. But he thinks courts should be more careful before imposing them.

"You can't ignore evidence and blindly believe the investigating officers," he said. "If courts adopt a more responsible approach then there will be less death row inmates."

Natalya Ablova, director of the Kyrgyz-American Bureau of Human Rights and the Observation of the Law, said, "Claims that people won't understand the abolition of the death penalty are incorrect. In my offices relatives of those that have been sentenced to death cry and ask for help.

"They go through the sort of trials and tribulations that make all the conclusions of death penalty advocates unconvincing.

Confessions are extracted through torture, people who can't have been guilty are convicted, sentencing is carried out in the absence of lawyers. In 1994 in Bishkek a mentally ill person was executed. The death penalty is a punishment only inflicted on the poor."

Abdynazar Mamatislamov, a member of the Djalal-Abad human rights organization Spravedlivost ('Justice') expressed similar concerns. "The death penalty has to be abolished," he said.

"Kyrgyzstan has chosen a democratic path of development. The state shouldn't put itself on the same level as people who have taken the lives of other citizens."

Yrysbek Omurzakov is a regular IWPR contributor

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