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New Charges in Kyrgyzstan’s Kempir-Abad Case

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New Charges in Kyrgyzstan’s Kempir-Abad Case

Rather than backing down, the Kyrgyz government has reportedly filed new charges against the large group of politicians and activists detained last October.

New Charges in Kyrgyzstan’s Kempir-Abad Case
Credit: Depositphotos

On April 12, Kyrgyz Prosecutor General Kurmankul Zulushev urged deputies in the Jogorku Kenesh, Kyrgyzstan’s unicameral parliament, to stop calling the cases related to a group of 26 politicians and activists detained in October 2022 the “Kempir-Abad” case.

“The case was filed on the organization of mass riots. If you would say so, it would be more correct. No case has been initiated on the issue of Kempir-Abad. We don’t have that kind of thing,” he said.

Adakhan Madumarov, the head of the Butun Kyrgyzstan party, pushed back, noting that investigators referred to those arrested as “members of the committee for the protection of Kempir-Abad.”

Madumarov accused the government of arresting vocal opponents to the border agreement between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan regarding the Kempir-Abad reservoir ahead of a planned (and several times delayed) visit by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Kyrgyzstan to seal the agreement.

And thus, it remains the “Kemir-Abad case” in the press and in parliamentary discussions, in part because the term is accurate and also for want of a better term to refer to the wide array of individuals swept up.

Since their arrest in late October 2022, the group has largely remained in pre-trial detention. These have been several recent releases to house arrest, including former member of the Central Election Commission Gulnara Jurabaeva, former Constitutional Court Judge Klara Sooronkulova, former diplomat and politician Mambetzhunus Abylov, former MP Asiya Sasykbayeva, and politicians and activists Ulukbek Mamataev and Taalaibek Mademinov. Chyngyz Kaparov, another activist, was released to house arrest after being taken to the hospital from prison earlier in April.

The group was detained shortly after meeting to establish an organized opposition to the planned border deal between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The Kyrgyz government has framed their organizing as plotting “mass riots” and, according to the latest reports, has added charges of attempting “forcible seizure of power” and “public calls for a violent seizure of power.”

Radio Azattyk, RFE/RL’s embattled Kyrgyz Service, reported this week that Nurayym Sydygalieva, the wife of Ali Shabdan — one of the activists still in detention — said that some of her husband’s past Facebook posts have been attached to the case. A lawyer for Ravshan Jeenbekov, another detainee, confirmed and told Radio Azattyk that it was his understanding that they would all be similarly charged. 

The new charges carry more severe sentences, with “violent seizure of power” punishable with a 10-15 year prison term in addition to financial penalties such as the confiscation of property.

The Kempir-Abad case is about much more than the border agreement. (That’s a done deal, by the way, with Mirziyoyev’s long delayed visit occurring in late January and the treaty signed.) The case is a litmus test for how much political opposition Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and his administration — including the other half of the ruling tandem, Kamchybek Tashiev — can stomach.

Japarov has dodged questions, in mid-December remarking when asked about the case, “I didn’t arrest them.” He said their fate would be decided by a court, but lawyers for the accused criticized Japarov for speaking of those detained as if they were guilty already.

Given that Kyrgyzstan has had three revolutions — irregular protest-driven changes of power — in 32 years of independence, and Japarov himself came into the presidency after being busted from jail during one of them, it may ultimately be proven short-sighted for his administration to try and lock away political irritants.