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Kulov Appeal Fury

Kyrgyz activists threaten protests over President Akaev's refusal to quash opposition leader's conviction.
By Aziza Turdueva

Supporters of jailed opposition activist Felix Kulov last week staged an angry protest in the Kyrgyz capital after a Bishkek court threw out an appeal against his conviction.


Dozens of supporters smashed windows in the court following its October 11 decision to uphold Kulov's ten-year prison sentence for abuse of power. They went on to briefly blocking one of the capital's main streets.


Kulov is one of Kyrgyzstan's most famous political figures and is a main opponent of President Askar Akaev who, on the eve of the appeal, was bombarded with calls for the activist be freed and the charges - widely denounced as false and politically-motivated - be dropped.


The Coalition For Democracy and Civil Society and Kulov's Ar-Namys opposition party both issued a statement criticising the court's decision.


Ar-Namys leader Emil Aliev claimed the president's inner circle had a vested interest in keeping Kulov behind bars for as long as possible. "The government itself fabricated the charges, so they were eager for the city court to uphold the sentence," he said.


Fellow activist Abdysapar Bayalinov added that the decision to reject the appeal should come as no surprise to anyone in Kyrgyzstan, as the courts simply "do what the authorities want".


Kulov's run-in with the authorities began in March 1999, when he resigned his post as mayor of Bishkek following a series of disagreements with the president's administration.


The activist, who had a long and distinguished political career, went on to found Ar-Namys, and in February 2000 announced his intention to contest the presidential elections scheduled for that year.


Just weeks later, he was arrested. And following a trial at Pervomay district court, he


was found guilty on May 7, 2000 of abuse of power while national security minister.


The campaign to free him has been gathering momentum ever since, and his supporters are taking strength from the recent release of popular opposition deputy Azimbek Beknazarov following a series of mass protests and hunger strikes.


A senior representative of the Committee to Protect Kulov, Bodosh Mamyrova, declared a hunger strike on October 8 to draw attention to his plight. "We saw how Beknazarov was released from detention through public pressure. We intended to get Kulov freed in the same way," he said.


Participants in the action included human rights activist Tursunbek Akunov, Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan leader Klara Ajibekova, Mamyrova and Aliev. They demand that Kulov be released and fully exonerated.


Kulov's brother Eduard, who also took part in the protest, told IWPR that the trial of political activists showed that the Kyrgyz justice system is firmly under the thumb of the authorities. "By hunger striking, I am protesting against further abuses of court power," he said.


Residents of Kulov's home village of Baitik, in the Alamudun region, have also threatened to stage mass demonstration if Kulov remains in jail.


The situation is now coming to international attention. During Akaev's September 24 visit to the United States, he was approached by Congressman Christopher Smith, co-head of the Helsinki Commission on Human Rights, who handed the Kyrgyz president a letter, co-signed by himself and congressional colleague Stan Hoyer, expressing concern over civil liberties in the republic.


The congressmen also urged Akaev to release Kulov. "Along with Amnesty International and other human rights organisations, we consider Kulov to be a political prisoner who is being punished for trying to contest the post of president," the letter said.


Felix Kulov has insisted in recent interviews that all the charges against him are false, and that he must eventually be exonerated.


At a court hearing on September 26 he said, "Sooner or later I will be vindicated. If I had felt that I was guilty of anything, I would have used all means in my power to emigrate. But as I am certain of my innocence, I have not done so."


Aziza Turdueva is an RFE/RL stringer in Bishkek


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