Crossroads Asia

Former Kyrgyz President Facing Charges of Murder and Orchestrating Mass Unrest

There’s always room for surprises, but Atambayev and his closest allies seem to be on the road to serious prison terms.

Former Kyrgyz President Facing Charges of Murder and Orchestrating Mass Unrest

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev in better times, back in 2016.

Credit: Catherine Putz

Former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev is unsurprisingly now facing more than just corruption allegations. 

On August 13, the Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General’s Office said Atambayev will face charges of using violence against representatives of the authorities, organizing mass unrest, illegal weapons possession, kidnapping and as RFE/RL phrased it “masterminding a murder attempt.”

Orozbek Opumbayev, head of the State National Security Committee, then went a step further at the press conference and accused Atambayev of plotting a coup.

Opumbayev argued that Atambayev ignored repeated summons from the state and knew that would lead to the state having to use force to detain him. Knowing that, Opumbayev said, “he kept women, children and the elderly nearby. He paid them 1,000 – 3,000 soms [$14-$42)… He needed blood to carry out a coup.”

When Kyrgyz special forces attempted to detain Atambayev in an evening raid on August 7, the former president’s compound was teeming with supporters. In dramatic footage shot by journalists inside the compound when the first raid began, Atambayev is seen shaking hands when the raid begins. He’s whisked away into the house as the special forces come out of the bushes. The first raid, however, was unsuccessful and ended in an embarrassing and deadly disaster: one special forces member was shot dead and half a dozen held overnight as hostages. 

On August 8, the authorities tried again with greater force and Atambayev surrendered.

The next day, Atambayev was placed in pretrial detention with a surprisingly short term extending only to August 26 — usually, such pretrial detentions last a month or two, and in other cases are extended almost indefinitely until the trial takes place. He was formally charged with corruption in relation to the unlawful release of ethnic Chechen crime boss Aziz Batukayev in 2013, when Atambayev was president. 

The additional charges announced on August 13 come as no surprise.

Atambayev, as Bruce Pannier noted in an August 8 analysis, said in comments after the failed first raid that he was the one with the weapons, not his supporters. Pannier also correctly suggest that Atambayev would face charges of resisting arrest and attempting to overthrow the government. Indeed, in the weeks before the raid and throughout, Atambayev and his followers had been agitating for Jeenbekov’s dismissal. 

This would not be the first time Atambayev was arrested. In April 2010, as the revolution to oust Kurmanbek Bakiyev kicked off, Atambayev and Omurbek Tekebayev — another opposition politician who, incidentally, Atambayev saw convicted and sent to prison ahead of the 2017 election — were arrested. He wasn’t in government hands for long before being sprung amid the upheaval. He landed firmly, and, after the interim presidency of Roza Otunbayeva, was elected president. 

It’s not 2010 in Kyrgyzstan, however, and the present political circumstances are different. While there’s always room for surprises, Atambayev and his closest allies seem to be on the road to prison terms at the moment.