Kyrgyz Parliament Cries Foul

Deputies angered at a proposal to lift their immunity from prosecution.

Kyrgyz Parliament Cries Foul

Deputies angered at a proposal to lift their immunity from prosecution.

Members of the Kyrgyz parliament are outraged at a proposal by President Kurmanbek Bakiev to lift their immunity, accusing him of trying to resurrect the draconian practices of his predecessor Askar Akaev.


The issue is a complex one, with some politicians standing up for the rights of an institution whose members are already on the defensive. But the president and others suggest that some deputies do not deserve protection from the law, saying they got themselves elected precisely so as to escape prosecution.


President Bakiev used his role as chairman of the October 13 opening session of the Constitutional Council, a body set up to institute changes to the constitution, to float the idea of abolishing the immunity currently accorded to parliamentary deputies, the prime minister and himself as president.


“If the president, prime minister and deputies really wish to serve the people, then they do not need immunity,” he said. “I am against immunity.”


His remarks caused an immediate flurry of outrage from parliamentarians who dismissed the idea as “populist”.


The speaker of parliament, Omurbek Tekebaev, compared the proposal to the way Kyrgyzstan’s last president behaved in getting the immunity of certain opposition politicians lifted so they could be put in jail.


In 1996, members of parliament lost their right to immunity in an administrative reform. This then made it possible for the authorities to launch a criminal case against Daniyar Usenov, who was a deputy at the time. In 2002, another opposition deputy, Azimbek Beknazarov, was prosecuted and jailed.


Under the new administration that came in after the March 2005, Usenov became deputy prime minister and Beknazarov was until recently prosecutor general.


Parliamentary immunity was restored in 2003 in a national referendum, and many politicians are opposed to rolling back this right a second time.


Kubatbek Baibolov has served in three legislatures and has seen how both systems work.


“We have lived without immunity and seen what happens in practice,” he told IWPR. “If we want deputies to point out the regime’s shortcomings, criticise it and stand up for the people’s interests, then they need immunity. If we want them to stay silent, immunity can be removed.”


Justice minister Marat Kaiypov is openly opposed to President Bakiev’s plan, and cites as an example the Beknazarov case, which led to protests in the politician’s Aksy constituency resulting in six deaths when police opened fire on the demonstrators.


Many argue that there are already legal rules which can be invoked to prosecute a politician without abolishing immunity wholesale, although they acknowledge they could be improved on.


In September, parliament approved a proposal by chief prosecutor Beknazarov to lift immunity from the ex-president’s son Aidar Akaev, ahead of a planned prosecution.


Deputy Kubatbek Baibolov admits that the procedure may be over-complex, “We resolved the issue of lifting Aidar Akaev’s immunity with great difficulty. I don’t know how the requirement for a two-thirds majority vote became part of the rules, but it’s very hard to fulfil.”


“If a deputy has committed a serious crime, then the procedure making it possible for him to face criminal charges must be made much simpler,” said former deputy Orozbek Duisheev.


One suggestion made by speaker Tekebaev is that the Constitutional Court could be granted powers to prosecute sitting members of parliament.


The dispute over immunity is part of a broader rift between president and parliament, which last month turned down six out of 16 cabinet appointments for which Bakiev sought approval.


In turn, some government officials are accusing parliament of providing a refuge for criminals who want to avoid prosecution.


In a confrontation with parliament last month over the killing of deputy Bayaman Erkinbaev, President Bakiev responded to charges that security provision for parliamentarians was inadequate by hinting that many of them were mixed up in shady businesses themselves.


“Everyone knows well who is tied up with whom," he said at the September 22 hearing. "I know that many of you bribe the law-enforcement agencies, and that they take bribes from you. The [police] agencies and the gangsters work hand in hand. I know this for a fact.”


Many politicians say they agree with Bakiev’s proposal to lift the immunity enjoyed by deputies. “If a person is untainted in the public eye, then why does he need immunity?” asked Security Council secretary Miroslav Niyazov.


Deputies complain that this move to curb their rights comes at a time when they are already vulnerable.


In the last five months, two of their colleagues have been killed. In June, Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev was shot in broad daylight outside to his office, and Bayaman Erkinbaev was killed by a hitman near his home in Bishkek.


“Being a deputy has now become one of the most dangerous professions,” Tekebaev. “The fatality rate is not as high even among journalists as it is for deputies.”


Cholpon Orozobekova is a correspondent for Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of RFE/RL.




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