Authorities in Kyrgyzstan have agreed to grant a request from neighboring Kazakhstan to extradite a political activist linked to a hidebound opponent of the government in Astana, illustrating anew Kazakhstan’s determination to hunt down dissidents at home and abroad.
RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyq, reported on May 24 that Muratbek Tungishbayev is being held at a State Committee for National Security detention cell in Bishkek pending further appeal. The time to mount a legal case against the extradition will expire by the end of the month.
Tungishbayev is accused by investigators in Kazakhstan of being involved in the funding and management of the Democratic Choice Kazakhstan, or DVK, a party founded last year by voluntary exile and Astana foe Mukhtar Ablyazov.
Tungishbayev’s lawyer in Kyrgyzstan, Nurbek Toktaunov, said at a press conference that both the extradition process and his client’s pre-trial detention were in violation of the law.
Extradition proceedings were conducted with great haste. Tungishbayev was arrested in Bishkek, where he is believed to have been lived for at least two years, on May 10. The extradition ruling came 11 days later.
“All of this happened too quickly,” said Toktaunov.
A court in Kazakhstan in March ruled to designate DVK a extremist organization, a move that has automatically compromised all people tied to the party.
The extent of Tungishbayev’s current involvement with DVK is not straightforward, although the activist has long been engaged in projects widely linked to Ablyazov.
Appeals on his behalf on Facebook suggest Tungishbayev is well-known rather than well-liked in the civic activist circles.
Andrei Tsukanov, a self-identifying communist, said he had “sometimes argued and even argued heatedly” with Tungishbayev, but he nonetheless argued forcefully for his release.
“I have never supported and do not support the DVK, but I consider it a medieval barbarity to extradite a person for their political views,” Tsukanov said.
Human rights campaigner Galym Ageleuov described Tungishbayev as being “difficult to befriend,” but pressed the Kyrgyz authorities to release him immediately.
The determination of Kazakhstan’s authorities to get their hands on Tungishbayev is predicated on their animus for Ablyazov. Since emerging from prison in France in 2016, following unsuccessful extradition appeals by Russia, Ablyazov, who is an unceasing critic of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, has largely done his politicking online. His main strategy has been to urge his supporters to organize protest rallies — a call that has been heeded, albeit on a small scale.
While Astana's motivations in this case are self-evident, Bishkek’s reasons for fast-tracking the extradition process are not so obvious. The two countries were at each other’s throats until the turn of last year, although ties appear to have warmed considerably since then.
One possibility is that Kyrgyzstan may be seeking similar favors in return. Earlier this year, Kyrgyz member of parliament Damirbek Asylbek uulu was arrested in Kazakhstan on smuggling charges in a move that left Kyrgyz authorities red-faced. When Bishkek’s foreign ministry inquired into the incident, Astana pointed out that Asylbek uulu had Kazakh, as well as Kyrgyz citizenship. Asylbek uulu was subsequently stripped of his mandate.