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

Kyrgyzstan: Fears for Missing Activist

Rumours are rife that the disappearance is linked to the long-time human rights defender’s criticism of President Akaev.
By Sultan Jumagulov

Tursunbek Akunov's two sons

Fears are growing for the safety of a Kyrgyz human rights activist who went missing after allegedly going to a meeting with employees of the National Security Service, NSS.


A 50-strong crowd of Tursunbek Akunov’s relatives and supporters marched on the House of Government in the capital Bishkek on November 23, a week after his mysterious disappearance, demanding that he be found.


The missing man’s father, Kyityke Musabekov, told journalists that the law-enforcement agencies were hiding his son. “If my son is not found, then I will set fire to myself outside the House of Government in protest,” the 73-year-old warned.


Akunov’s three children, all looking tearful and distressed, accompanied their grandfather. “I miss my dad, and I can’t sleep. Will someone find him, please?” ten-year-old Nurgazy asked journalists.


The NSS has flatly denied that any meeting had been arranged with the 45-year-old father of three, and the authorities have countered the allegations with claims that Akunov’s disappearance is nothing more than a publicity stunt.


A fight nearly broke out in front of the government building when Pervomaisk district head Mars Sakkaraev accused the protesters themselves of being behind the disappearance.


“Akunov is alive and well, and he will soon be found,” he said. “I think that he is just playing to an audience as usual. You are hiding him yourselves and know where he is.”


Akunov’s disappearance has shocked many, as such cases are rare in Kyrgzstan.


“Akunov is a tireless human rights activist and constantly irritated the authorities, but this case is without precedent,” said Jypar Jeksheev, leader of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan.


Akunov, who has not been seen since November 16, heads the Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan and is also chairman of the republic’s newly-formed National Patriotic Movement. He had been due to fly to Kiev to act as a monitor at the now-disputed Ukraine presidential elections when he disappeared.


His wife Gulmira Japar kyzy said that, on the day of his disappearance, Akunov had told her that NSS employees had invited him to a meeting.


His brother in law Janybek walked him to the Agroprom bus stop in the centre of capital, at which point Akunov asked him to leave as those he was due to meet had specifically told him to come alone. A short time later, the concerned Janybek turned back, but Akunov was nowhere to be seen.


The missing man’s family is convinced that he was kidnapped by the NSS. “In this way the authorities tried to stop his criticism of the policies of President Askar Akaev,” Gulmira claimed.


Akunov’s recent campaign to impeach Akaev – in which he had collected more than 5,000 signatures in favour of the proposal – is being cited as the motive for the alleged kidnapping.


Jeksheev, Tolekan Ismailova, head of Civil Society Against Corruption, and Nurlan Motuev, co-chair of the National Patriotic Movement, released a joint statement directly accusing the authorities of kidnapping Akunov, and demanding that he be released immediately.


In response, the NSS and Kyrgyz interior ministry issued statements denying any involvement in Akunov’s disappearance.


An NSS spokesperson said, “No employee of the NSS summoned Akunov for a meeting, because the special services have no need to do this. Furthermore, [they would] not have arranged a meeting on the street, as [we] have special offices for [this purpose].”


NSS deputy head Tokon Mamytov also told IWPR that his organisation was not involved. “I’m looking for him myself,” he said.


And interior ministry spokesperson Jolodoshbek Buzurmankulov said that the search for the missing man was countrywide, and that information on the case had been passed to Kyrgyzstan’s neighbours.


Buzurmankulov also believes that the disappearance could be a publicity stunt. “It would be the height of stupidity [for the authorities] to kidnap him before the upcoming elections, especially as he and his colleagues were gathering signatures to impeach the president,” he added.


Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC correspondent in Bishkek.