Dozens of people traveled to Kyrgyzstan’s capital this week to rally for the release of 12 people arrested on suspicion of involvement in an arson attack on a mining facility in the southern Toguz-Torou district.
Participants in the peaceful demonstration, which took place on Bishkek’s Ala-Too square on April 23, said that some of the people arrested were unrelated to the recent unrest.
The alleged firebombing assault on April 11 came on the heels of mounting objections from the local community to plans by Makmal G.L Developing, a Chinese-backed company, to build a gold refining plant in the town of Kazarman. Residents worry that the plant will be environmentally harmful and complain that they were not consulted during the approval process.
One the rally participants said she was the mother of one of the arrested men. She said he had nothing to do with the attack on the Makmal G.L Developing facility.
“They called him in the morning from the police station. He went there and then disappeared. I called him at lunchtime but his phone was switched off. My husband began to worry and went to the police station. He was told that our son had been sent for processing in Naryn. Later that night they told us he was in Bishkek,” Baktygul Abdrasulova told Eurasianet.
Abdrasulova and other demonstrators claimed it was the company itself that set the plant alight in a bid to frame disgruntled local residents, who had been organizing a series of increasingly intemperate public gatherings. Zulpukor Toktobayev, a 34-year-old resident of Kazarman, said people found gloves and cans of gasoline on the grounds of the plant when protesters entered in April.
Local residents have inflicted damage to the Makmal G.L Developing site before, however, and proudly claimed responsibility after the fact.
In a separate development, the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, has filed a criminal case against the individuals involved in granting Makmal G.L Developing the license to build its plant in the first place. The GKNB has said that officials in the Jalalabad region issued the permit without seeking the proper environmental approvals.
Maksat Jeenaliyev, a representative for Makmal G.L Developing, said that the necessary permits had been obtained by an affiliated company.
Jeenaliyev said that this impasse and the arson attack had generated bitterness among the Chinese investors and prompted them to leave the country.
“They were very indignant and accused us of permitting this major incident. Now everything depends on Kyrgyzstan’s authorities, on whether they can calm everybody down and create good conditions,” he said.
Nurjamal Djanibekova is a Bishkek-based journalist.
Nurjamal Djanibekova is a journalist based in Bishkek.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.