On Monday, March 23, the trial of former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev began in a court in Bishkek. It was soon adjourned and postponed to next week. Atambayev and 13 co-defendants have been charged with a bevvy of crimes stemming from the clash between Atambayev’s supporters and government forces last August.
Atambayev, who served as Kyrgyz president from December 2011 to November 2017, had a gradual falling out with his hand-picked successor, current President Sooronbay Jeenbekov. As the summer of 2019 progressed, Atambayev’s allies faced various corruption charges and then the former president lost presidential immunity. All signs pointed to Atambayev being next on the block. In late summer, the government attempted to serve Atambayev with a subpoena to bring him in to be interviewed in relation to the early release of a Chechen gangster Aziz Batukayev from Kyrgyz prison.
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.
Last August Atambayev, holed up in his home in the village of Koi-Tash outside Bishkek, refused the summons. As a result, Kyrgyz state authorities faced a choice: leave Atambayev be or move to arrest him for refusing a state summons.
The stand-off culminated in a two-day effort to detain Atambayev. On August 7, 2019, a botched first raid resulted in the death of a Kyrgyz special forces member by gunshot and the taking hostage of several other Kyrgyz security officers by Atambayev supporters. On August 8, Atambayev eventually surrendered after the Kyrgyz government returned with greater forces.
Atambayev and the other defendants now face charges under several articles of the Kyrgyz criminal code, including mass rioting, hooliganism, murder, attempted murder, threats of vioelnce against government officials, attempted violent seizure of power, illegal weapons and hostage-taking.
For months, Atambayev has defied the court, refusing to attend hearings and arguing that the whole process is a sham. Nevertheless, the Kyrgyz judicial system slowly pushed the legal process forward and on March 23 the trial began in Bishkek.
Given that Kyrgyzstan declared a state of emergency last week over the spread of the coronavirus, the Kyrgyz Supreme Court clarified on March 19 that planned trials would proceed but limited who could attend, barring the public.
Atambayev’s lawyer requested that the trial be postponed until after the pandemic, but the request was declined. Nevertheless, the trial quickly adjourned until March 30, reportedly because Atambayev experienced a drop in blood pressure.
24.kg reported in late February that while Atambayev had agreed to take part in the trial recounted above, he refused to participate in proceedings regarding the Batukayev case for which Atambayev faces additional charges.
Atambayev’s trial is supposed to continue next week on March 30.
What would have been the top news story in Kyrgyzstan has been subsumed by the coronavirus pandemic. Kyrgyzstan logged its first case of COVID-19 on March 18. The government has progressively expanded its response, from banning arrivals from the hardest-hit countries, closing borders, and imposing curfews in major cities.