Crossroads Asia | Politics | Central Asia

Former President Atambayev Barred From His Own Trial

The former president reportedly refused to sit in the box with the other defendants.

Catherine Putz
Former President Atambayev Barred From His Own Trial
Credit: Russian Presidential Press and Information Service

The trials of former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev have crept forward despite delays caused by the unique sensitivities of the cases and a pandemic. Atambayev is named in two cases, one regarding the August 2019 events at his compound in Koi-Tash and the other regarding the 2013 early release of a Chechen gangster. 

On June 1, Atambayev was ordered to be kept out of the court until the Koi-Tash trial is over — the latest step in a circus-like cycle of oddities and distractions. 

Here at The Diplomat, we last checked in on Atambayev’s trials in late March. 

Atambayev and 13 others stand accused of mass rioting, hooliganism, murder, attempted murder, threats of violence against government officials, attempted violent seizure of power, illegal weapons, and hostage-taking — all stemming from the unrest last August at Atambayev’s compound outside Bishkek.

Atambayev had defied the court for months, refusing to attend hearings and arguing that the whole process is a sham. Colleen Wood wrote in January of this year: “Since being taken into custody, Atambayev and Kyrgyzstan’s legal system have effectively fallen into a cycle of lather, rinse, repeat: The former president refuses to participate in the trial, the judge reschedules the trial for a later date, and authorities extend Atambayev’s pre-trial detention for another few months.”

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On March 23 the Koi-Tash trial began, only to be postponed — not because of the ongoing pandemic but because Atambayev’s blood pressure had dropped. The former president has occasionally been reported to be ill, although Kyrgyz authorities say he’s fine and under constant supervision.

On June 1, Atambayev was barred from appearing in court until the Koi-Tash trial concludes. The former president had refused to sit in the caged area — common in Central Asian courtrooms, far less so in the West — with the other defendants and instead had been sitting beside his lawyers. State prosecutors demanded that Atambayev be put in the glass box with the other co-defendants on May 11 and the judge agreed. Then on June 1, as the trial resumed, the judge announced the decision to bar Atambayev from appearing in court and he was taken out. Atambayev’s lawyer has argued that removing his client is illegal, given the right of a person to participate in their own trial.

Meanwhile, outside the court, two protests took place: one in support of Atambayev and one against. The protest in support of Atambayev was led by his wife, Raisa Atambayeva, and their sons. Police reportedly stood between the two groups.

Kyrgyzstan’s COVID-19 state of emergency was lifted last month, and Bishkek announced the lifting of many restrictions toward the end of May.