“Some people” in Kyrgyzstan had their phones tapped in early 2021 by state authorities, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry admitted this week. The ministry’s statement on September 1 characterized the wiretaps, from early January to February 10, as legal under a court order and part of the investigation into the events of October 2020.
The ministry said in a statement: “In order to establish the involvement of individuals in the commission of criminal acts, and to document possible ties between them and suspects now under investigation … an order was approved by the Pervomaisky district court in Bishkek [for surveillance] of telephone connections between January 6 and February 10.”
It’s a curious justification from a government the October events brought to power, led by a person busted out of jail amid the unrest.
The ministry’s statement came after pressure from a group of Kyrgyzstan’s most prominent lawyers and rights activists, including Klara Sooronkulova, Saniya Toktogazieva, and Nurbek Toktakunov. Sooronkulova, a former judge in the Constitutional Chamber of Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court and now the head of the reformist Reforma party, posted a copy of the court order on Facebook on August 30. The order included around 100 people, and rooted the justification for the wiretaps in an investigation into the protests on October 5 and the storming of the Kyrgyz White House.
Sooronkulova wrote that the order includes people “who have nothing to do with the October events.”
Toktogazieva is a constitutional law scholar who wrote and spoke extensively in opposition to Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov’s constitutional referendums in January and April. Toktakunov represented the late Azimjan Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek rights activist imprisoned for a decade until his death last summer despite a U.N. Human Rights Committee opinion calling for his release in 2016. Others on the wiretapping list are active politicians, including MP Dastan Bekeshev, who have been critical of the Japarov government.
Bekeshev, per RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, commented that “In our country, politicians have always been bugged,” though he also called the judge’s order approving the wiretapping illegal. Another MP on the list, Kanybek Imanaliev, said the wiretapping was “upsetting,” expressing frustration about “legal lawlessness” in Kyrgyzstan. Bekeshev said the issue would be raised in parliament.
The wiretapping orders were not extended beyond February 10, according to the Interior Ministry.
Kyrgyz authorities have pursued criminal cases against individuals for their involvement in the October events, but selectively. In early May 2021, Jenish Moldokmatov, a politician, was arrested on charges of “seizure of buildings and structures” during the October 5-6 protests. His detention was extended to September 6 on July 1. Moldokmatov, and others, called his arrest politically motivated — he has been a sharp critic of Japarov and opposed the constitutional referendum.
I’ll close by referring to something I wrote earlier this year, an observation worth keeping in mind:
One curiosity of Kyrgyz politics is that all politicians have engaged in protests of some kind over the years, many of which have ended with the storming of government buildings or even the overthrow of governments. Japarov, for example, was first arrested in 2012 on charges of attempting to “violently seize power” with a pair of other politicians, Talant Mamytov and Kamchybek Tashiev. The three had led an “attack” on the Kyrgyz White House, replete with calls to “occupy” and “replace” the government. Tashiev, now heading the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security, reportedly led protesters over the fence around the White House. Mamytov is now speaker of the Kyrgyz parliament.
Japarov and his allies have seen some of their past convictions overturned after coming to power.