Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kyrgyz Cops Out in Force for Election

Authorities accused of using police to pressure opposition campaigners.
By Anara Yusupova
Ahead of the Kyrgyz presidential election which got under way on July 23, human rights groups alleged that police were being used to intimidate opposition supporters.

First deputy interior minister Sabyrbek Kurmanaliev said on July 14 that additional police would be deployed on election day to bring the overall number to 12,000, of whom 5,000 would be stationed at the 2,200 or so polling stations around the country.

Another 7,000 would be held in reserve, ready to be dispatched within half an hour to any polling station, he said.

“The law-enforcement agencies are flexing their muscles,” commented Asiya Sasykbaeva, head of the Interbilim non-government group. “What kind of election is it if there’s a need for so many police officers? What are they scared of? And what is the purpose of this rapid deployment?”

“Most Kyrgyz citizens perceive the deputy interior minister’s remarks as a threat,” she concluded.

Of the six candidates in the July 23 election, the president Kurmanbek Bakiev, seeking a second term, is the strongest contender. His leading opponent is Social Democratic Party leader Almazbek Atambaev, selected by the main opposition bloc, the United People’s Movement, UPM, as its sole candidate.

The others on the list are Temir Sariev of the Ak Shumkar party, Toktaim Umetalieva, Jenishbek Nazaraliev and Nurlan Motuev.

The campaign teams for both opposition-aligned contenders, Atambaev and Sariev, have claimed that police have harassed candidates and supporters or otherwise interfered with their campaigns.

Emilbek Kaptagaev of the Uluu Birimdik party, which is part of the UPM bloc, alleges that on the night of June 20-21, he was abducted by a group of men – one of them wearing police uniform – driven out of town, beaten up and abandoned.

Speaking at a press conference on July 16, Kaptagaev accused the authorities of arranging the attack.

At the same event, Atambaev recalled how he fell ill while meeting voters on June 19 – and alleged that officers of the State Committee for National Security, GKNB, had poisoned him.

Another leading UPM member, former defence minister Ismail Isakov, said, “They’re effectively hunting us down, and it’s happening with the approval of the country’s leadership.”

Sariev’s team allege that when they stayed overnight in a private house in the town of Tash-Komur in the southern Jalalabad region on July 7, police and local government officials intimidated the owner into asking them to leave.

“Terrified relatives of the host called and persuaded the candidate to leave the house. At around 11 in the evening, the election team left without having anywhere to stay, and was forced to leave for Aksy district,” said a report from Sariev’s campaign headquarters.

IWPR was unable to get a comment from the interior ministry on the specific allegations made by Kaptagaev and Atambaev, as it will not talk about matters that have not been formally reported to the police.

However, interior ministry spokesman Bakyt Seitov told IWPR that police officers were not interfering with campaigning by opposition candidates.

“Police officers across the country are rigorously carrying out their professional obligations to provide order and protect public security,” he said. “They do not get involved in politics. There is no proof to back up such allegations.”

He added, “I think opposition members say things like this as a cheap way of winning popularity.”

Beyshenbek Abdyrasakov, a member of parliament from the governing Ak Jol party, said there was no evidence that police were harassing opposition candidates.

“The opposition knows in advance that it’s going to lose this election, so it’s trying to get the public to believe that it has been subjected to pressure and threats,” he said. “In reality, it doesn’t enjoy very high ratings, so it invents stories of this kind to hide the fact that it’s unpopular and that not many people turn up for its meetings.”

In Abdyrasakov’s view, “This election campaign is more honest, clean and transparent than ever before. I think people will go to the polls of their own free will and make their own choices calmly.”

Sasykbaeva says that as well as the campaign teams, ordinary voters were fearful of police surveillance when they met candidates, in case this got them into trouble once the election was over.

“Villagers in many regions are forced to hide behind trees when they meet an opposition candidate and his election team, out of fear that if they will caught on video by security officers and they or their families then face persecution,” she said.

In a report published on July 14, the “Time for My Choice” Alliance of Civic Organisations, an umbrella group of non-government groups which aims to monitor electoral practices, said opposition members of local electoral commissions had been pressured to leave.

“Right after joining electoral commissions, representatives of opposition parties were forced to leave following strong pressure from local government, law-enforcement bodies and the security service,” said the report. “Of the 144 representatives from the Social Democratic party in Issykkul region, 48 people renounced their positions at the last minute.”

The Alliance of Civic Organisations published a list of recommendations calling for action against interior ministry police and GKNB officers who intimidated people into stepping down from electoral bodies.

Asked about the allegations, Samibek Kadyraliev, Issykkul regional coordinator for the governing Ak Jol party, said, “I don’t believe that – I think they’ve resigned because they know their candidates are hopeless.”

Political analyst Mars Sariev is sceptical of official claims that the opposition has made up the claims of harassment.

“The authorities are doing this in order to paralyse the activity of civil society. The increasing number of cases of journalists being beaten up and the general atmosphere of fear reigning in the country – it’s all designed to instil fear in Kyrgyzstan’s people.”

Anara Yusupova is pseudonym for a journalist in Kyrgyzstan.