Wednesday, 27 March 2002

SIX PEOPLE KILLED AND DOZENS INJURED AT DEMONSTRATION IN KYRGYZSTAN

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By Anna Kirey, American University in Kyrgyzstan (3/27/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

After a long hunger strike and constant appeals from the human rights activists and civil society to release Azimbek Beknazarov, a member of parliament accused of dereliction of duty, his trial was supposed to take place on March 17 in the town of Toktogul in the Aksy district of the Jalalabad region in the South of Kyrgyzstan to demand the release of their deputy. The trial was supposed to take place in Toktogul. Over 2,000 demonstrators marched on Toktogul.
After a long hunger strike and constant appeals from the human rights activists and civil society to release Azimbek Beknazarov, a member of parliament accused of dereliction of duty, his trial was supposed to take place on March 17 in the town of Toktogul in the Aksy district of the Jalalabad region in the South of Kyrgyzstan to demand the release of their deputy. The trial was supposed to take place in Toktogul. Over 2,000 demonstrators marched on Toktogul. According to eye-witnesses of the events, the militia ordered the demonstrators to stop and gave them fifteen minutes to scatter, yet opened fire before this time had elapsed. The marching crowd was fired upon, and five men aged from 24 to 44 were shot dead; 23-year-old Eldar Umetaliev was killed on the next day, March 18. 61 people were injured, including 47 militiamen and 14 civilians. The Government claims that the situation is still unclear and that an investigation is needed to establish who opened fire, but the heads of Aksy's district administration and police department were dismissed from their posts and the district prosecutor took a vacation. These three individuals blocked the demonstration, and according to Radio Liberty, the district prosecutor Abdykalyk Kaldarov ordered the militia to open fire. As usual, the opposition is accused of attempting to destabilize the situation in Kyrgyzstan. In particularly, a human rights activist and one of the instigators of the hunger strike, Mr. Akunov, is individually blamed for shedding blood. Akunov, however, claims innocence and reports that he was trying to stop the crowd from taking any unlawful action. According to an interview given to a local TV channel, he was detained by the militia while asking for a loud-speaker in order to talk to the crowd. Angered at the militia's action, the crowd then started a fight. The demonstration fulfilled its goal - Deputy Beknazarov was released by the Presiding Judge Bolot Mombekov. His trial was postponed indefinitely on his written undertaking not to leave Kyrgyzstan. Beknazarov came to the Parliament and gave a press conference regarding his imprisonment. He claims that his release was illegal because there was no trial, and also confirmed that he had been subjected to torture in prison. State-owned mass media alleges that he was lying either on February 19th, when he denied being beaten up, or now, when alleges that he was. Beknazarov's argument is that he did not want to encourage anger of the demonstrations by revealing the truth about the beatings. His case is being investigated by a special committee and is still pending. President Akaev in his speech at the Nooryz (Kyrgyz New Year's) celebration mentioned events in Jalalabad region as "a small group of provocateurs and demagogues playing with sincere patriotic feelings of the Kyrgyz people", using a kind of language that was widely used in the Soviet Union to slander those who disagreed with the totalitarian regime. The President also promised to improve the socio-economic situation which might have influenced the demonstrators' dissatisfaction. He rejected any responsibility on the part of the government in a case which has already cost 7 lives (a 54-year-old man died as a result of a hunger strike he was on in February). Akaev also blamed the opposition for pressuring the judge in his decision. Human rights activists and opposition figures claim that what happened in Kyrgyzstan is a natural outcome of the growing dissatisfaction of the people with the false promises of the government. The pro-government mass media is trying to present the opposition as the main evil of the whole situation and disseminates information about protesters being paid and not knowing what they were protesting against. Civil society organizations, however, see the situation as a signal of citizens' ability to unite and protest the unjust decisions of the government. Anna Kirey, American University in Kyrgyzstan
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