By Arslan Sabyrbekov (08/14/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Recent court decisions in Kyrgyzstan to release and cancel the charges against a number of key political figures have turned into a major topic of dispute. Some Kyrgyz observers perceive these decisions to constitute a sign of weakness and a significant step backward in the fight against corruption. Others have continuously underlined the political nature of the anticorruption campaign and the judicial system’s full dependency on the President, government and the parliament, despite a decade of judiciary reform.
On August 1, Bishkek’s Pervomaisky District Court released former Speaker of Parliament Akhmatbek Keldibekov and allowed him to travel to Germany to obtain medical treatment. The Prosecutor General’s Office opened the criminal case against Keldibekov on November 20, 2013. The outspoken opposition figure and member of the nationalist Ata-Jurt party, the single largest party in parliament, was arrested on charges of misappropriating public funds when he was the Chairman of the Social Fund in 2002-2005 and of the Central Tax Service Agency in 2008-2009. Keldibekov has continuously denied all the charges against him and described them as politically motivated.
From the early days of Keldibekov’s arrest, his supporters, mostly based in Kyrgyzstan’s southern regions, have organized a number of large-scale demonstrations calling for his immediate release. Around 200 people have tried to storm the regional government building, throwing stones and bottles against police officers and blocking central roads connecting the country’s regions. According to Bishkek-based political analyst Aalybek Akunov, it was the persistent protests in the south of the country that brought about Keldibekov’s release, demonstrating that the central authorities in Bishkek will continue to encounter problems in extending their influence across the entire country. Akunov also believes that “the protests have turned into an essential bargaining tool with the central authorities in reaching this or that agreement.”
Other political commentators describe this decision as the result of an informal consensus between the power holders and the opposition. According to them, Keldibekov was purposefully freed to obtain medical treatment abroad, so that he will simply stay there and not return to the Kyrgyzstan. This is especially favorable to the country’s political elite in light of the upcoming parliamentary elections. It should also be noted that the Ata-Jurt party was earlier heavily weakened by the arrests of its other three prominent leaders, charged with attempting to violently overthrow the government. All of them have been freed, but lost their seats in the parliament in accordance with the country’s legislation.
Another Bishkek district court has passed a decision to cancel all charges against former Bishkek mayor Isa Omurkulov, who was earlier convicted for abuse of power and illegal approval of the boundaries of the “Victory” park. Omurkulov is a member of the pro-presidential ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan and many believe that the case against him was simply opened to cool off the allegations that the fight against corruption is being carried out selectively and targeted only against prominent members of the opposition forces. Along with Omurkulov, charges were also dropped against four key members of his staff since, as the judge stated, “there was no basis for charging them with crimes.”
In addition to the aforementioned cases, the Court has also freed the son of MP Turatbek Madylbekov, who was earlier charged with illegally selling state owned assets. A top manager in former President Kurmanbek Bakiev’s team, Uchkun Tashbaev, has also been freed despite heavy charges that he exceeded his authority while heading the country’s Agency for Geology and Mineral Resources. In the words of the opposition and independent MP Omurbek Abdrakhmanov, “all those decisions demonstrate that Kyrgyzstan is losing its battle against corruption. Individuals charged with heavy crimes are being freed. The fight has been declared just to fool the population and did not bring any substantive results.” At this stage, Nariman Tuleev, mayor of Bishkek during Bakiev’s regime, remains the only prominent political figure serving his full sentence in one of the country’s prisons.