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Kyrgyzstan: Kulov Out of Solitary

Jailed opposition leader's move to a more open prison may be ruse to keep him locked up for longer.
By Kubat Otorbaev

After nearly a thousand days in solitary confinement, opposition leader Felix Kulov was last week moved to a low-security prison - but his supporters believe this is a ruse to extend the period of time he serves.

Under Kyrgyz law, one day in solitary is considered equal to two days spent in a regular prison - and this would mean that Kulov, who is serving a ten-year prison sentence, could leave jail far earlier than expected.

Parliamentary deputy Omurbek Tekenbaev, leader of the Atameken opposition party, believes the authorities deliberately kept Kulov in solitary to ensure he had no contact with - or influence on - the outside world.

"But now they have transferred him to another prison because they're afraid he could be released early under the law which states that one day in solitary counts as two ordinary days," he said.

Kulov - a former Kyrgyz vice-president, National Security Service, NSS, chief and interior minister - was sentenced to seven years in prison in January 2001 on abuse of power charges relating to his time as governor of the Chui region. More than a year later, Bishkek's Pervomay court increased the term to ten years after he was found guilty of embezzlement.

When asked why Kulov had been transferred from solitary confinement, justice ministry official Damir Uzenbaev said he had no idea. "It was decision of the high-ranking officials - ordinary mortals like me do not know," he said.

Supporters of Kulov, who was put behind bars on what many believe were fabricated and politically motivated charges, say he is still seen by the authorities as too great a threat to President Askar Akaev and will be kept in prison until well after the 2005 presidential elections.

Opposition deputy and well-known film director Dooronbek Sadyrbaev told IWPR, "As long as Akaev rules, Kulov will remain in jail."

Even Kulov's lawyer, Lubov Ivanova, does not know the limit of his detention, and is preparing to challenge the latest sentence. "We intend to appeal to the supreme court over how the sentence was calculated," she told IWPR.

International human rights organisations link the case against Kulov to his February 2000 decision to leave the government and take part in that year's presidential ballot. He was arrested just one month after his resignation.

Kulov's supporters maintain that he is a victim of Akaev's repressive regime and continue to campaign for his freedom.

While relieved that Kulov has now been transferred from a maximum security prison, members of his party Arnamys believe that the authorities have no intention of pardoning the former vice president or even reducing his sentence.

The law on solitary confinement may not help him either - Arnamys chairman Emil Aliev believes that this will count for little in practice. "I doubt that the authorities will calculate our leader's term according to the law," he said.

Human rights campaigner Topchubek Turgunaliev is convinced that Akaev's nemesis will be kept in prison until the elections are over, claiming that the authorities will simply find new charges to press in order to extend his detention.

The opposition leader has now been moved to the so-called Red Zone, located 45 km from Bishkek, in the Sokuluk village of Zhanyzher. Around 500 former authority officials are believed to be serving time there after being convicted of various crimes.

In stark contrast to his time in solitary, Kulov will now occupy a large cell with around 60 other inmates. However, IWPR has learned that he has been allocated a small corner where he can watch television, listen to the radio and cook his favorite boiled rice.

Asked about Kulov's current state of mind his brother told IWPR that he is bearing up well. "His morale is good and he looks fresh, despite the obvious injustice he is suffering," he said.

Kubat Otorbaev is a RFE/RL correspondent in Bishkek