Kyrgyzstan: Opposition Hunger Striker Dies

Government opponents call for the resignation of President Askar Akaev following the death during a hunger strike of human rights activist Sheraly Nazarkulov

Kyrgyzstan: Opposition Hunger Striker Dies

Government opponents call for the resignation of President Askar Akaev following the death during a hunger strike of human rights activist Sheraly Nazarkulov

Kyrgyzstan is in shock following the death of prominent human rights activist Sheraly Nazarkulov on February 7, 22 days into a mass hunger strike.

At an official news conference, doctors said Nazarkulov, 51, died after suffering a brain haemorrhage, unrelated to the protest. But government opponents say the action had led to a deterioration in his health and accuse President Akaev of failing to intervene to resolve the dispute.

Nazarkulov died soon after he and other fellow hunger strikers were visited by US embassy officials on February 6. Following their departure, the activist fainted several times. He was rushed to hospital. By the time he reached intensive care, he was in a coma and all efforts to revive him failed. He was pronounced dead in the early hours of the morning.

Nazarkulov began the hunger strike in protest at the arrest of parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, who was detained on January 5 on charges of abusing his office as a criminal investigator in 1995. The arrest came shortly after Beknazarov called for the impeachment of President Akaev over Kyrgyzstan's signing of a controversial border agreement with China.

The jailing of Beknazarov has provoked a wave of anger against the president's policies. Human rights activists and other deputies have cited it as yet another example of Akaev attempting to silence his critics.

According to those with Nazarkulov on the night he died, he insisted to the last that his protest will continue until Beknazarov was released. He also asked his fellow hunger strikers to take care of his baby son, born two days into the action and whom he had never seen. Nazarkulov named the boy Azimbek after the detained deputy.

"Recently I gave a birth to his only son who will continue the line of his family," said his distraught widow Nazgul. "He was so much affected by the idea of justice, that he decided to see his son only after Beknazarov was released from imprisonment."

At a news conference on February 7 held by the government information agency Kabar, prominent cardiologist Mirsaid Mirrakhimov said Nazarkulov's hunger strike had not contributed to his death. Chief forensic expert Ismail Mamyrkulov then caused considerable controversy when he added that digested food had been discovered in the stomach of the deceased.

Meanwhile, representatives from opposition factions in parliament and various NGOs held a news conference laying responsibility for Nazarkulov's death squarely on the shoulders of the president.

They accuse him of turning his back on the hunger strikers, by refusing to even listen to their demands and going on holiday soon after their protest began.

"We went on hunger strike to publicise our demands and try and resolve the current crisis - now we are demanding the resignation of the president, " said one of the activists.

Tolekan Ismailova, leader of the For Democracy and Civil Society coalition of NGOs, said she and her colleagues were also prepared to die if the authorities continued to undermine human rights and democracy in Kyrgyzstan.

Even in death, however, Nazarkulov could not escape the machinations of government, which attempted to bury him far from Bishkek. Activist Aziza Abdrasulova is convinced the authorities intervened to prevent a high profile funeral in the capital, which could have become the focus of widespread protest and demonstrations.

His colleagues and immediate family believed he deserved a honourable send off in Bishkek. "He fully devoted himself to ideals of democracy and human rights in his country. He was very much in a hurry and had no time for the details of personal life," said fellow activist Tursunbek Akunov.

Sultan Jumagulov is an IWPR contributor

China, Kyrgyzstan
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