Former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev is headed toward an inevitable confrontation with the government of his successor, Sooronbay Jeenbekov.
Late on July 10, officials from the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry delivered a second subpoena to Atambayev at his home, a compound in the village of Koi-Tash, south of the capital, Bishkek. The subpoena directed Atambayev to report to police in Bishkek “as a witness” in a criminal probe. According to RFE/RL, the police did not provide any further details about the case in question. Local media outlet 24.kg reported that Atambayev was being called as a witness in the Aziz Batukayev case.
Batukayev, a notorious ethnic Chechen crime boss, was released from Kyrgyz prison in 2013. At the time, the release was reportedly granted to allow him to pursue treatment for leukemia. But the leukemia diagnosis that got him out of jail was fraudulent.
Atambayev, who was president at the time of Batukayev’s release, is facing a bevvy of charges beyond the matter of the unlawful release of Batukayev, including corruption, lobbying on behalf of a Chinese company involved in the ill-fated modernization of the Bishkek Power Plant, involvement in supplying coal to the plant, and illegal receipt of a plot of land in Koi-Tash.
Atambayev refused to obey either recent subpoena. Atambayev’s lawyers argue that the authorities have no right to summon him for questioning, given his presidential immunity. Over the past year, the Kyrgyz parliament moved to strip former presidents — i.e. Atmabayev — of prosecutorial immunity granted by the constitution. The parliament succeeded, passing a law that allows for the revocation of immunity in light of continued political activities by former presidents or “serious crimes.”
Team Atamabayev is also appealing to the Constitutional Chamber. As quoted by 24.kg, an SDPK lawyer, Nurbek Kasymbekov, said, “The law is not retroactive. At the time of execution of the presidential duties by Almazbek Atambayev, the law dated July 18, 2003 was in effect. According to it, the former head of state has absolute immunity.”
Meanwhile, Atambayev — surrounded by supporters who have moved into his compound — remains defiant. Refusing two subpoenas, under Kyrgyz law, opens Atambayev to forcible detention for questioning. Atambayev has made clear he won’t go quietly.
“One person should show an example how to resist lawlessness,” he said, according to a 24.kg report. “This lawlessness must be stopped by someone at any cost. This is our homeland, our country. Some comrades confuse Kyrgyzstan with their kolkhoz, and the people — with sheep. We are humans, and we must respect ourselves. Playing these games means helping them, legitimizing lawlessness.”
It’s worth repeating what Erica Marat, an associate professor at the National Defense University, told The Diplomat last month: “Like in most post-Soviet states, Kyrgyzstan’s unreformed procuracy serves the needs of the political regime. Criminal charges are brought to prosecute individuals.”
The inconvenient reality is that Atambayev may be guilty of the crimes of which he has been accused even as the charges against him have moved forward for primarily political reasons. Under the veneer of terms like “rule of law” and “anti-corruption” lies a muddy political pit in which a closed circle of elites continue to wrestle for power and influence.