By Arslan Sabyrbekov (08/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Kyrgyzstan’s judicial system has always depended on the executive and legislative branches of power that still tightly control the appointment and dismissal of judges. To ensure the judiciary’s independence in the aftermath of the April 2010 Revolution, two bodies were created; the Council on the Selection of Judges and the Judicial Council, a professional body of judges. However, because both these bodies are closely linked to the parliament and the President, they are hardly independent. This observation is supported by the fact that a number of judges have been ousted from their position for voicing legal opinions at odds with the views of the country’s political leadership.
This time, a senior judge in the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, Klara Sooronkulova, was dismissed for her position on the controversial legislation on biometric data collection. Last year, the Kyrgyz parliament passed a law for a nationwide biometric data registration program. The program was initially termed “voluntary,” but the submission of fingerprints was later linked to the upcoming parliamentary elections, with the authorities making registration “obligatory” in order to cast the ballot. Civil society activists have issued a unanimous statement that introducing biometric registration as a condition for participating in the elections is a gross violation of citizens’ fundamental constitutional rights and have filed a case to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court. Sooronkulova was appointed the leading judge to examine the case and sought international advice on the matter. But before she could announce her ruling on the case, Svetlana Boljurova, a lawyer from the parliament’s legal and judicial affairs committee, filed allegations against her. She claimed that in breach of procedure, judge Sooronkulova revealed her views that the biometric data collection was an unconstitutional act, ahead of announcing them publicly and demanded that she be removed from the case.
In the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, the judges were split 50 to 50. The Chamber’s chairperson had the decisive vote and removed Sooronkulova from the case. At Boljurova’s further demand, the Judicial Council reviewed an allegation that Sooronkulova had shown “insubordination” by criticizing her colleagues for “following the direct order of the president’s and that of the parliament’s Office.” On these charges, the Judicial Council ordered Sooronkulova to step down before the expiration of her term and submitted all the documents to the parliament to pass a final decision.
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted three times before it managed to reach 80 votes out of the 120 sitting MPs. According to Sooronkulova, “the situation is completely chaotic. It is clear that in between the votes, the President’s Office was working with MPs using different methods.” Sooronkulova also added that the head of the President’s Office was present during the voting.
Kyrgyzstan’s prominent civil society activists immediately issued a statement, describing the situation as a state of complete lawlessness. According to civil society activist Cholpon Zhakypova, Sooronkulova did not even have the opportunity to defend herself, speak in front of the parliamentarians and present evidence of direct pressure to the Constitutional Chamber. Indeed, Sooronkulova’s demand to address the parliament was rejected by its Speaker on the grounds that “there is no necessity to listen to Sooronkulova since we have received all the documents that prove she was in breach of her competencies and did not observe the required procedure.”
Kyrgyzstan’s Constitutional Chamber, which was a separate Constitutional Court before the country’s constitution was adopted in 2010, has become increasingly challenged over the past several months. Under the suggested terms of the upcoming amendments to the country’s constitution, the Constitutional Chamber risks turning itself into an institution that can only give decisions of recommendatory nature, paving the way for unconstitutional acts. Emil Oskonbaev, another judge in the Constitutional Chamber, was reprimanded for expressing his support to his now former colleague Sooronkulova.
Sooronkulova’s forced and controversial resignation favors the interpretation that the declared comprehensive reform of the judiciary, passed by a presidential decree in 2012, does not aim to turn it into an independent branch of power. The judiciary remains as dependent as ever.
By Valeriy Dzutsev (01/22/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Amid allegations of abuse, a highly controversial trial ended in lengthy prison sentences to suspected Islamic militants in Kabardino-Balkaria. An already violent republic may experience another spike of violence as the authorities demonstrate their lack of willingness to find political compromises. The absence of political mechanisms for bringing changes to the state system and economic recession are the two other major factors that will likely contribute to the deterioration of the security situation in the republic. Moscow’s reliance on crude force and refusal to use political dialogue to settle differences are contributing factors to the instability in the republic.
By Oleg Salimov (10/29/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon continues persecution of his former Minister of Industry, businessman, and politician Zaid Saidov. On October 16, Tajikistan’s Anticorruption Agency raised several new criminal charges against Saidov, who already serves a 26-year prison term as of December 2013. Presumed by Rakhmon to be a potential political challenger, Saidov was convicted on charges of rape, polygamy, fraud, and bribery. The new charges include document forgery; abuse of office; misappropriation; illegal actions towards property subject to inventory, arrest, or confiscation; and tax evasion. The abuse of office was among the first charges pressed against Saidov at the moment of his arrest. However, when announcing the verdict, the court ordained this charge to supplementary examination. The cumulative punishment for the new charges against Saidov envisions up to 15 additional years of imprisonment.
Saidov’s rapid downfall was provoked by his announced intention to organize a new political party in Tajikistan, which was supposed to focus on addressing the concerns of business owners and entrepreneurs. The criminal charges against Saidov were brought up soon after the announcement, resulting in his arrest in May 2013 (see 04/09/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst). His ensuing conviction to a 26 year prison term and the confiscation of his property was widely seen by local and international human rights organizations as a punishment for political initiative and a warning to other potential challengers to Rakhmon.
Tajikistan’s Supreme Court rejected Saidov’s appeal in May 2014. After losing the appeal, the lawyers representing Saidov were determined to obtain an assertion of their client’s innocence in the International Court of Human Rights. The lawyers also consecutively criticized the Anticorruption agency for fabricating its case against Saidov and Tajik courts for ignoring the defenders’ arguments, evidence, and relevant materials. According to Saidov’s lawyers, the takeover of numerous successful businesses belonging to Saidov is another motive behind his conviction and the new charges. At the moment of his arrest, Saidov owned and co-owned 13 business enterprises ranging from fertilizers to light industry and education. Some of the businesses, including the large company TajikAzot were confiscated soon after the conviction. The new charges aim to expropriate Saidov’s remaining assets as well as punishing all individuals connected to him.
Saidov’s lawyers were among the first victims, as two out of three were accused by the Anticorruption agency of committing fraud and bribery. Fakhriddin Zakirov was arrested in March 2014 and Shukhrat Kudratov in July 2014. Previously, Saidov’s lawyers reported receiving warnings, threats, and harassment while working on Saidov’s case. A day before his arrest, Kudratov published an open letter stating the political motives for Saidov’s conviction sanctioned by the country’s top political elite. Just like the trial against Saidov, Zakirov’s case, which started on October 3, is conducted behind closed doors with no reporters or journalists allowed. The international Commission of Jurists in Switzerland expressed grave concerns regarding the persecution of Saidov’s lawyers due to their client’s political views. Two new lawyers will join Saidov’s team of defenders, replacing Zakirov and Kudratov who are still under arrest.
Saidov’s relatives are also targeted by Rakhmon’s regime. In August 2014, the Anticorruption agency initiated a document forgery case against Zaid Saidov’s son Khairullo. In January this year, the Higher Economic Court of Tajikistan reopened a case against Saidov’s other son, Khurshed, accusing him of illegal gain of property. In August 2013, Saidov’s friends and relatives took part in a symbolic action of support releasing one hundred white pigeons and balloons with Saidov’s portrait. They were soon arrested and spent several days in jail on charges of hooliganism.
The latest charges against Saidov involve 14 alleged accomplices including 6 unnamed city of Dushanbe officials. The assumed criminal ring headed by Saidov is suspected of financial manipulations and misuse of funds allocated for construction purposes. The group is also accused of repeated tax evasion.
There is a high probability that the 56-year-old Saidov will spend the rest of his life in prison. Besides losing his freedom, Saidov will be deprived of all his financial assets. New charges will likely continue to emerge until President Rakhmon is fully ascertained of Saidov’s complete political and financial destruction. Saidov’s case demonstrates that Rakhmon’s regime is determined to annihilate all potential opposition in Tajikistan while acquiring considerable financial assets from convicted persons, and does not shy from targeting business, personal, and political companions and manipulating the legal system in the process.
By Eka Janashia (08/14/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The summer of 2014 was replete with striking political events in Georgia. The country held local elections on June 15 - July 12 with a landslide victory for Georgian Dream (GD) and signed a historical Association Agreement (AA) with the EU on June 27. Shortly after the polls, PM Irakli Gharibashvili reshuffled his cabinet to deliver “all of the promises pledged by GD” with double “energy, motivation and efficiency.” However, an event that received considerable attention both at home and internationally was the Tbilisi City Court’s August 2 order to place former president Mikheil Saakashvili in pre-trial detention.
On July 28, Georgian prosecutor’s office filed charges against Saakashvili related to the anti-government protests erupting on November 7, 2007, and the subsequent police raid on Imedi TV resulting in tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili’s loss of the TV station and other assets.
The prosecutor’s motion accused Saakashvili and then former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, who is currently in jail, for deliberate use of excessive force aiming to intimidate protesters and prevent further rallies. The deployment of army units in central Tbilisi during the dispersal of the protest was also considered a violation of the law. On August 2, in compliance with the prosecutor’s claims, Tbilisi City Court ordered Saakashvili’s pre-trail detention in absentia.
Three days later, new criminal charges were filed in connection with an attack conducted in 2005 against then opposition MP Valeri Gelashvili, a businessman and a member of the Republican Party. Gelashvili was severely beaten up by masked, armed men shortly after an interview in which Gelashvili insulted the former president’s family and accused Saakashvili of confiscating his property. “Motivated by personal revenge,” Saakashvili commanded then Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili to beat Gelashvili. As he refused to do so, Saakashvili handed over the task to Merabishvili who complied, the prosecutor’s motion claims.
The indictments against Saakashvili and Merabishvili were filed under part three of article 333 of the criminal code, which deals with excessive use of official powers committed by use of violence and insult of the victim’s dignity and envisages imprisonment from 5 to 8 years.
Saakashvili’s defense lawyer, Otar Kakhidze, termed the evidence presented by the prosecutors insufficient and as fabrications ultimately drawing on a witness testimony of then parliamentary chairperson Nino Burjanadze. Kakhidze submitted an appeal to the Tbilisi Court of Appeals in an attempt to reverse the court’s decision, though the latter found the complaint inadmissible.
In a statement published on August 1, a group of five NGOs called on the Georgian authorities to maintain transparency and accountability to avoid public and international perceptions of political retribution. The statement expressed suspicion over the fact that the criminal charges against Saakashvili were filed instantly after the latter failed to appear for questioning, casting doubts on the actual need to summon Saakashvili as a witness.
The decision on Saakashvili’s pre-trial detention drew criticism from the EU as well as the U.S. Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said that “Georgian authorities deviate from the European path by using the justice system for revenge.” In the same fashion, the European People’s Party (EPP), a partner of Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM), stated that politically motivated actions pursued by the Georgian government means that it does not take the AA seriously. It was Saakashvili’s ongoing activities in Ukraine that incited charges against him, EPP said.
The U.S. Department of State and U.S. Senators also expressed concern and disappointment over the issue. A joint statement released by Republican Senators John McCain and Jim Risch says that perceptibly the ruling GD coalition systematically punishes their political opponents, imposing “unnecessary challenges in moving our relationship forward.”
The GD members and high-ranking government officials have dismissed Western criticism. MP Giorgi Volski disapproved the EPP statement assessing it as “factually incorrect and prejudicial.” PM Garibashvili called Bildt a representative of the “club of Saakashvili’s friends, who have certain obligations of friendship” and assured the public that Saakashvili’s case would have no effect on Georgia’s European integration process. The Swedish Foreign Minister was quick in responding that “if the Georgian PM does not want to listen to the best friends of his country in EU, that’s his choice. We take note.”
What became clear after Saakashvili’ indictment is that from the standpoint of the EU and U.S., the ruling coalition may have crossed a red line. Since GD came to power, EU and U.S. officials have repeatedly indicated that the coalition should move beyond past confrontations and focus on the future.
The episode is yet another indication that GD tends to prioritize narrow political interests over strategic national ones.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.