This week, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) expressed concerns about the case brought against Taalaigul Toktakunova, a lawyer for the Ata-Meken opposition party, by the General Prosecutor of Kyrgyzstan. As 24.kg reported earlier this week, Toktakunova’s property was to be put up for auction in order to satisfy a court order for her and a colleague to pay a $146,888 (10 million Kyrgyz soms) in moral compensation for defaming then-President Almazbek Atambayev last year.
“The IBAHRI calls on the government of Kyrgyzstan to take all possible measures to ensure that lawyers can carry out their legitimate professional activities without fear of intimidation, harassment or interference, in accordance with international human rights standards,” said IBAHRI Co-Chair Ambassador (ret.) Hans Corell. “For the rule of law to prosper, it is essential that individuals in Kyrgyzstan, regardless of their political affiliations, be given equal access to legal representation, and that lawyers are not associated with their clients.”
IBAHRI, established in 1995 as an independent body within the International Bar Association, promotes human rights and the independence of the legal profession under a just rule of law around the world.
Toktakunova’s troubles relate back to her position as a lawyer for Ata-Meken, thus IBAHRI’s concern. It was in that capacity on March 1, 2017 — a few days after Ata-Meken’s leader, Omurbek Tekebayev was arrested — that Toktakunova and Kanatbek Aziz held a press conference. During the press conference, the lawyers alleged that he cargo of the plane which crashed at Manas International Airport in early January belonged to Atambayev. Toktakunova, RFE/RL reported, said that when Tekebayev was arrested he had been in possession of documents from Turkey’s security services supporting their allegation.
Atambayev took offense, and the two lawyers were charged with impugning the president’s honor.
The press conference also landed a handful of media outlets in trouble. Although the suit against RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz-language service was withdrawn — after the organization’s president made a pilgrimage to Bishkek — suits against 24.kg and Zanoza.kg went ahead. The media organizations were punished for reporting the comments made by the Ata-Meken lawyers.
According to 24.kg Aziz, remarking on the Bishkek Court taking up the case, said, “[W]e didn’t take part in [the case] as a protest. With this judicial system it is clear how the judges work, especially if you are at suit with the president.”
In December 2017, the two lawyers faced a travel ban until they satisfied the court’s order and paid up.
Why the IBAHRI is only now weighing in — nearly a year after the case began — is unclear. It’s also nearly irrelevant. The powers-that-be in Kyrgyzstan have ignored international commentary on human rights and rule of law before.
IBAHRI’s other co-chair, former Australian Justice Michael Kirby, commented in the body’s press release, “The IBAHRI is concerned that the ruling against Ms Toktakunova is likely to be in violation of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers that require states to ensure lawyers are able to perform their duties ‘without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.’ We remind the Kyrgyzstan government and Supreme Court of their international obligation.”