With just two weeks left to go until Kyrgyzstan’s presidential elections, the authorities have embarked on another highly politicized criminal case, accusing a well-known lawmaker of plotting to foment riots and topple the government.
The General Prosecutor’s Office announced in a statement on September 30 that it is filing criminal proceedings against Kanatbek Isayev, who has been formally detained, on charges that he planned to provoke violent unrest in the event of a political ally failing to win the October 15 election.
Isayev is identified in the statement as a supporter of one of the election frontrunners, Omurbek Babanov.
Prosecutors claim that Isayev entered into an agreement with “representatives of organized criminal groups” to “pursue active measures aimed at the organization of mass unrest.”
Around the same time as the prosecutors released their statement, a series of recordings were dumped on YouTube appearing to support the allegations. The source of the video and audio tapes is not made clear, although the apparent access to phone taps strongly suggests it may be handiwork of elements in or close to the security services. In Kyrgyzstan, similarly incriminating, anonymously released and ultimately unverified recordings regularly surface online in advance of politically tinged arrests.
One piece of video footage purports to show Isayev agreeing on a 2 million som ($29,000) payment to criminal elements in exchange for committing acts of violence. It cannot be indisputably confirmed from the footage that Isayev is actually the person featured, but the same account is echoed in a statement issued by the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, the local successor agency to the KGB.
The GKNB claims that it believes Isayev intended to hire mobs of young people, including criminals, to commit criminal acts under the guise of protesting would-be falsified election results. The security services do not cite the YouTube videos in their statement, but it is evident they are alluding to the same exchanges.
Isayev’s supporters say the lawmaker is being detained for at least 48 hours to face questioning. Another lawmaker named in passing in the recordings posted on YouTube, Kanybek Imanaliyev, called the accusations “nonsense and provocation” and denied all suggestions of any exchanges between Isayev and criminal elements.
Although the authorities have stopped short of implying Babanov was himself involved in the episode, it is clear this story may do serious harm in his run for the presidency against the other frontrunner, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who was handpicked as a candidate by the ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, or SDPK.
Babanov’s supporters have complained bitterly that Jeenbekov’s campaign has in various ways been assisted by what are euphemistically termed “administrative resources,” which usually mainly consists of civil servants and university students being pressured to vote for the ruling party-backed candidate. The multimillionaire Babanov, meanwhile, has marshaled significant financial resources for his campaign, plastering swathes of the country with posters carrying his image.
President Almazbek Atambayev is ostensibly stepping down after the election, having served the single seven-year term the constitution allows. But his associates — first and foremost his youthful, recent prime ministerial appointee Sapar Isakov — look intent to retain their grip over power.
Lawmaker Janar Akayev told KNews website that the detention of Isayev suggests the government senses its candidates is at risk of losing the election.
“Representatives of the authorities fear that their candidate is going to lose, and so they have detained Isayev. We all know that Kanat Isayev is supporting one of the presidential candidates. In this way, the authorities want people to know that they can stick anybody in jail,” Akayev said.
Civic activist Edil Baisalov, who has emerged as one of the strongest critics of Atambayev’s rule, was similarly cynical about the timing of this case.
“When two weeks before an election they open a criminal case against somebody who is not voting for the candidate put forward by the party in power, that means, most likely, that the citizens of Kyrgyzstan should be concerned about the usurpation of power,” he told independent news website Kaktus (formerly Zanoza). “I qualify Isayev’s detention as a rotten attempt to hold onto power, so that the people of Kyrgyzstan might be denied their right to make their choice at the elections.”