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

Kyrgyz Opposition Under Pressure

Deputies and activists claim that the authorities are trying to intimidate them into silence.
By Sultan Jumagulov

Kyrgyzstan’s opposition movement is accusing the authorities of “persecution and provocation” in the run up to the parliamentary elections on February 27.


The Civil Society Against Corruption groups held a forum for opposition leaders to voice their worries on January 18, following a series of graffiti attacks and threats against drivers working for opposition deputies.


Atajurt (Fatherland) co-leader Roza Otunbaeva, a former diplomat who was recently controversially barred from standing for election, described the opposition’s position as bleak.


“We are being forced into a cage,” she said. “There is intimidation all around.”


Opposition deputy Bolot Sherniyazov told journalists that his driver Talant Turgunaliev had been kidnapped and interrogated on January 10, after being approached by men who had introduced themselves as police officers.


“They took 68 US dollars from me, and planted a matchbox containing marijuana in the boot of the car,” Turgunaliev alleged.


The driver claims that the “police officers” drove him out of the city in a car without government number plates, and interrogated him for several hours.


“They asked me where the [protest] signs and tents on parliament square came from, and asked about the activities of Sherniyazov and other organisers of the demonstration. Then they tried to frighten me, saying that I could be jailed for possessing drugs,” said Turgunaliev. Shortly before midnight, his kidnappers drove him back into the city and disappeared.


Sherniyazov sees a clear link between this incident and his political activity. “They want to intimidate me as an opposition figure by persecuting my driver,” he told IWPR.


The opposition deputy is one of the organisers of the protests that have been held in Bishkek’s parliament square since January 7, when Otunbaeva was stripped of her election candidacy. Officials ruled that as a diplomat stationed overseas, she had not spent the requisite time inside the republic. Her supporters believed this was a political decision linked to her outspoken criticism of President Askar Akaev’s regime.


Sherniyazov says that in the seven years that his driver has worked with him, this is the first time that he has disappeared in this strange way. “I called all the city services and my friends looking for my driver, until he contacted me himself,” said the deputy.


Bishkek police have denied that any of their employees were involved in the incident, and a criminal case has since been opened. National Security Service chief Tokon Mamytov also told IWPR that none of his staff were responsible for the kidnapping.


However, one day after Turgunaliev’s ordeal, the state traffic police impounded two cars belonging to opposition deputies Azimbek Beknazarov and Zamirbek Parmankulov.


Beknazarov’s driver Jyrgal Jailobaev claims that he was stopped by traffic police on the main square and asked to open the car’s boot.


“When I said that I would not open the car, the traffic police immediately drew up a report that I was drinking and driving, and took away my documents,” said Jailobaev.


Traffic police said Parmankulov’s car was stopped for a serious traffic violation. But the deputy sees it as a consequence of his participation in the protests.


Police took the number plates off another car belonging to deputy Muratbek Mukashev, who has also spoken out in support of Otunbaeva and other former diplomats prevented from running for parliament. Officers claim that the deputy’s driver had also violated traffic rules.


On January 12, Ismailova also told the media that several non-government activists, independent journalists and opposition politicians had woken one morning to discover that someone had painted bright orange dollar signs on their buildings, with their names added.


Graffiti such as “dollar + Otunbaeva” and “Down with the orange-dollar opposition” was written on the homes of opposition figures. Orange was the colour adopted by protesters in Ukraine, where public pressure eventually led to a disputed election result being overturned and the opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko elected president.


“The enormous orange dollars that appeared on the walls of our home insult our dignity, and our names written by hooligans give away our place of residence and our political views. Now everyone knows where we live, and anyone can put our lives in danger,” Ismailova told journalists.


“This is not the first case when human rights activists have been intimidated. I have also suffered various attacks and threats which led to the death of my mother, who found it all too much to bear,” said Ismailova.


“I think that these foul acts of vandalism are being done to make us stop our political activity, and put pressure on us. I want those responsible to be found and punished, as their actions are a violation of public order and psychological persecution of human rights and other activists,” she added.


Similar graffiti also appeared on the houses and doors of the apartments of Beknazarov, Otunbaeva, Jypar Jeksheev, Zamira Sydykova, Natalya Ablova and other opposition activists, and also on the building where the office of the newspaper Respublika is located.


Raisa Kadyrova, director of the foundation International Tolerance, told IWPR, “It is now becoming dangerous not just to be a human rights activist, but to be the relative, friend or neighbour of one.


“I think that the graffiti on the homes of human rights activists is linked exclusively to their political activity.”


Bolot Januzakov, first deputy head of the presidential administration, has categorically denied that any official bodies were involved in these events, and cast doubts on their interpretation of the graffiti incident.


“The incidents of orange graffiti on the walls of offices and apartments of the opposition and NGOs were staged by the activists themselves,” he said. “As for the incidents with the cars, law-enforcement bodies are investigating these cases and will soon make their findings public.”


But opposition deputy Dooronbek Sadyrbaev, co-leader of the Atajurt movement, insisted that the incidents were an act of persecution and provocation.


“I would not be surprised if our friends and relatives are kidnapped or beaten as election day draws nearer,” he said.


“I am sure that only dirty tricks will be used – the sort which are usually employed to hold on to power.”


Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC correspondent in Bishkek. Gulnura Toralieva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.