Kyrgyz Opposition Protests Jailing of Ex-Minister

Ismail Isakov fell foul of the law after switching sides to the opposition.

Kyrgyz Opposition Protests Jailing of Ex-Minister

Ismail Isakov fell foul of the law after switching sides to the opposition.

Opposition leaders in Kyrgyzstan have accused the authorities of hounding opponents after former defence minister Ismail Isakov was given an eight-year prison term.

Isakov was sentenced on January 11 after having been found guilty of abuse of office, specifically of illegally transferring a defence ministry-owned apartment to his son. Two other charges of negligence and financial mismanagement were dismissed. Isakov was also stripped of the rank of lieutenant-general.

He denied all the charges against him.

Isakov played a key role as defence chief in the administration of President Kurmanbek Bakiev that came to power in the “Tulip Revolution” of March 2005.

In May 2008, Isakov left the defence ministry to become secretary of the Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council, a key policymaking body. However, he resigned in October the same year – delivering a scathing attack on the Bakiev administration as he went. He referred to “increasing signs of authoritarianism”, corruption in the police and judiciary, and procedural irregularities in local elections held at the time. (For more on his resignation, see Kyrgyz Political Elite Hit by Infighting, RCA No. 552, 21-Oct-08.)

Almost immediately, he reappeared as a leading light in the opposition, and he and his allies say it was this switch in allegiance that led directly to criminal charges being brought against him.

In his final statement before sentencing, Isakov said, “The persecution against me started after I wrote a letter to the president pointing out all the problems facing the country.”

His defence lawyer Azimbek Beknazarov, who is also head of the United People’s Movement, UPM, the main opposition alliance in Kyrgyzstan, said the trial was proof that the authorities were engaged in “a policy of destroying those who voice dissent”.

“It’s clear to all that this case is politically motivated,” said Beknazarov. “But it’s impossible to write Ismail Isakov off as a politician.”

Roza Otunbaeva, who heads the parliamentary faction of the opposition Social Democrats, expressed regret that the authorities were targeting their opponents rather than trying to talk to them.

“At the moment, we and the authorities are on the opposite sides of a river and there is no dialogue,” she said. “The authorities want economic prosperity and stability, but that cannot be achieved by destroying opposition and dissent.”

Pavel Dyatlenko, an analyst at the Polis Asia think-tank, said that Isakov had fallen victim to what he described as “selective justice”.

“In Kyrgyzstan, it isn’t the practice to launch criminal cases against high-ranking persons,” he said, adding that prosecutions of public figures were generally aimed at “former ministers and officials who join the opposition”.

“Over the last two years, there has been increase in the number of cases where people who join the opposition find criminal charges are brought against them and they get put behind bars,” said Dyatlenko.

This is a view shared by opposition members, who say the last year has seen an upsurge of prosecutions which they believe amount to a concerted campaign against them.

In December, a court in the northern town of Balykchy sentenced 19 opposition activists for their part in protests during the July 23 election, the day Bakiev won a second term as president. Green Party leader Erkin Bulekbaev and opposition activist Sapar Argymbaev have been in detention since April 2008 after being accused of inciting ethnic unrest in the village of Petrovka.

However, Marat Kazakpaev, a political analyst in Bishkek, disagreed that a campaign of persecution was under way.

There certainly were tensions between the government and its opponents, he said, but both sides were equally to blame.

Kyrgyzstan’s human rights ombudsman Tursunbek Akun would not comment on the verdict but said he was sure it was “not a political order from the authorities, merely a judicial decision that may cast a shadow over them”.

At the same time, he said, sentencing him [Isakov] to so many years is not fair”.

In general, Akun believes “ministers should be punished when they are still in office, not when they change their political views”.

Isakov’s conviction sparked a number of protests.

Leading UPM figure Topchubek Turgunaliev was named as head of the new Committee to Protect Political Prisoners, set up after Isakov was found guilty. On January 13, he and eight others began a hunger strike.

“We will pursue this action as long as our health permits,” Turgunaliev told the news agency.

In an interview for IWPR, Turgunaliev said demonstrations were under way in various parts of southern Kyrgyzstan – in Gulcha, the village Isakov comes from, in the city of Osh, in the village of Aksy in Jalalabad region and in Kadamjai, in the Batken region.

According to lawyer Beknazarov, the defence will mount an appeal against Isakov’s conviction within the prescribed ten days.

Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan.

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