Kyrgyzstan: After Courtroom Violence, Judge Releases Opposition Lawmakers
A Bishkek court has acquitted and released three opposition leaders previously convicted for attempting to seize power violently. In March, Kamchybek Tashiev and two other lawmakers from the nationalist Ata-Jurt party received sentences of between six months and one year for leading unrest outside parliament last autumn.
But the end to this saga did not come without more violence. Tashiev, Sadyr Japarov and Talant Mamytov were released on June 17 after their supporters threw shoes and bottles at the judge and a prosecutor who was demanding an even longer sentence, AKIpress reports.
The Prosecutor General’s office told 24.kg that the court caved to public pressure and said it intends to pursue charges at the Supreme Court.
The case of Tashiev et al. is linked to regular protests over the fate of the lucrative Kumtor gold mine in Issyk-Kul Province. At the October rally, where Tashiev led protestors over the fence surrounding parliament and vowed to “replace this government,” the three Ata-Jurt deputies demanded the nationalization of Kumtor, the largest foreign-run gold mine in Central Asia, which accounts for over 50 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s exports.
Riots broke out near the mine again last month, resulting in dozens of injuries. Though Bishkek managed to quiet those protests after several days by promising to meet demands for more investment into local infrastructure, the unrest quickly spread south, into Ata-Jurt territory – specifically Tashiev’s hometown of Jalal-Abad.
On May 31, Tashiev’s supporters seized Jalal-Abad’s main government building and appointed their own “people’s governor,” local businessman Meder Usenov. When Usenov was arrested, protestors blocked the main road connecting northern and southern Kyrgyzstan for four days. They dispersed after Usenov was released, but small protests in support of Tashiev (and for Kumtor’s nationalization) have continued.
Authorities in Bishkek have appeared unsure how to handle the trial from the start, delivering a relatively short sentence in March as hundreds of Ata-Jurt supporters grew restless outside the courtroom. The three were due to be released by this autumn, but as convicts they would not have been able to return to parliament. With an acquittal, it looks like they can retake their seats.
How much the central government in Bishkek had to fear from Tashiev’s supporters will never be clear. Most of the protests were localized to Jalal-Abad, though a few hundred protestors’ ability there to sever a critical artery highlighted the central government’s weakness.
In some circles, Tashiev’s arrest made him a martyr. In the short-term, then, his release could ease pressure on Bishkek from Tashiev’s home region. In the long-term, though, it’s hard not to see how the release, after weeks of turmoil, does not make the government look weak. And Tashiev can now use his prison experience to augment his opposition credentials.
The issue ostensibly behind all this unrest, Kumtor, is still on the table. Bishkek is locked in negotiations with Toronto-listed Centerra Gold, which owns Kumtor. In February, parliament gave the government three months to renegotiate the 2009 operating terms or abandon the agreement. A June 1 deadline has been extended to September 10.
Tashiev, who upon his release last night said he had only wanted to bring the Kumtor issue to light, can now jump back into the fray.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.