Crossroads Asia

A Certainly Incomplete Update on Detained Kyrgyz Politicians

Recent Features

Crossroads Asia | Politics | Central Asia

A Certainly Incomplete Update on Detained Kyrgyz Politicians

A litigious air has swept Kyrgyzstan: It’s hard to keep track of who has been detained and who could be next.

A Certainly Incomplete Update on Detained Kyrgyz Politicians
Credit: Dan Lundberg/Flickr

August nears its end and it’s as good a time as any to take stock of which Kyrgyz politicians are under investigation, who has been detained, and what’s next for the rest.

The obvious person to start with is Almazbek Atambayev. On August 20, the former president’s pre-trial detention — set to expire on August 26 — was extended until October 26. Atambayev was taken into custody on August 8 after a dramatic failed raid the day before on his residence in the village of Koi-Tash. After a second raid, Atambayev surrendered. Kyrgyz authorities are investigating a wide range of charges against him. One set, consisting of various corruption and abuse-of-office charges, pre-dates the August 7 botched raid. A second set stems from the events of August 7: using violence against representatives of the authorities, organizing mass unrest, masterminding a murder attempt, hostage taking, and illegal use of firearms.

Kyrgyz authorities have begun to seize Atambayev’s assets, including various properties. Late on August 7, April TV — a channel owned by Atambayev — was blocked and its director, Dmitriy Lozhnikov, has been summoned for questioning on multiple occasions by various branches of the Kyrgyz government including the State Committee for National Security (SCNS), at least two Interior Ministry departments, and the Military Prosecutor’s Office.

The authorities have widened the circle from Atambayev as well. Raisa Atambayeva, the former president’s wife, is reportedly under investigation. The Prosecutor-General’s office did not give any details about the investigation, but Atambayeva told reporters on August 16 that the case against her has to do with Manasbek Arabaev, ex-chief of the presidential office’s department for judicial system reform under Atambayev. Arabaev was arrested on corruption charges in June but released to house arrest in July after giving testimony that Atambayeva intervened in judicial matters involving a Chinese construction company. Arabaev’s lawyer told that the case against Atambayeva pre-dates her husband’s detention and her client merely confirmed information the authorities already had. 

On August 23, a member of Atambayev’s inner circle — Irina Karamushkina, a deputy in parliament and member of the Social Democratic Party (SDPK) faction — was put under house arrest. Karamushkina faces possible charges of hostage-taking and being an accomplice to a crime. She was present at Atambayev’s compound in early August. On Facebook, Karamushkina said the authorities alleged she handed out money and gave orders to Atambayev’s supporters during the two raids. Karamushkina was among the small group of supporters who traveled to Moscow on a private jet from the Russian base at Kant on July 24 with Atambayev. Atambayev met with Putin in Moscow before returning to Kyrgyzstan.

Another notable new member of the house arrest club stemming from the early August brouhaha is not an Atambayev supporter, but the then-deputy interior minister who personally negotiated Atambayev’s August 8 surrender. On August 13, Deputy Interior Minister Kursan Asanov was shockingly fired for “betraying the interests of the Kyrgyz police and losing confidence.” As RFE/RL reported:

The Prosecutor-General’s Office said that Asanov and his assistant, Damirbek Paizylda Uulu, had allegedly provided Atambayev and his supporters with secret information and unspecified items during clashes between the former president’s supporters and law enforcement troops in and near Atambayev’s residential compound in the village of Koi-Tash on August 7-8.

On August 22, Asanov’s lawyer, Ikramidin Aitkulov, was placed under house arrest on suspicion of fraud. Two days later, Paizylda Uulu — Asanov’s assistant — was put in pretrial detention until October 23. And then on August 27, Asanov himself was put under house arrest pending possible charges of abuse of authority. 

Then there’s the change of tide for opposition politician Omurbek Tekebayev and Duishonkul Chotonov, former emergency situations minister. Tekebayev, the leader of the Ata-Meken party, was arrested in February 2017. Along with Chotonov, he was convicted of bribe-taking in August 2017 and sentenced to eight years (later reduced to four and a half years). Tekebayev, a harsh critic of Atambayev, was setting up for a presidential run and has long argued his arrest and conviction were politically motivated. On August 21, Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court responded to an appeal by the pair’s lawyers, citing evidence of a lying witness, by nullifying the conviction and ordering a new trial.

New trials in Kyrgyzstan do not always end in new results (See: both of jailed human rights activist Azimjan Askarov’s retrials) but they do often reflect new circumstances among the political circle. Tekebayev was Atambayev’s bugaboo — he may not be Jeenbekov’s.

There are other cases to keep track of: former Deputy Prime Minister Duishenbek Zilaliev, arrested back in December, is set to remain in custody until November 30 now; two former mayors of Bishkek — Kubanychbek Kulmatov and Albek Ibraimov — are part of a group of 14 facing corruption charges, with the trial set to begin imminently; and then there is former Prime Minister Sapar Isakov, who had been charged with corruption stemming from the Bishkek Power Plant scandal and additional issues. Isakov was hospitalized in mid-August for what RFE/RL reported as “stroke symptoms.” He reportedly remains ill but was recently transferred back to pretrial detention.

There are most certainly others, but the above ought to give an adequate lay of the land when it comes to Kyrgyzstan’s political environs at the moment. The litigious air masks an unfortunate but fundamental weakness in the rule of law in Kyrgyzstan. Just like the holding of “elections” does not make a country a democracy, arrests and trials do not necessarily indicate a healthy rule of law. Each case should be investigated on its merits and each individual subject to due process, but given the heavy burden and past precedent, that is a tricky task to accomplish. Furthermore, when nearly the entire political elite has arguably engaged in various forms of corruption over the almost three decades of Kyrgyzstan’s independence, one has to ask when the hunting stops and the reforms begin.