A government ombudsman in Kyrgyzstan has appealed to the president to consider granting a pardon to a jailed leader of the opposition.
Kubat Otorbayev said on May 3 that freeing Omurbek Tekebayev, who is serving a jail term on charges of bribery, would be an “act of goodwill and mercy” to mark the 25th century of the adoption of the constitution and the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Perhaps more importantly, releasing Tekebayev, leader of the Ata-Meken party, would severely irk his ardent antagonist, former President Almazbek Atambayev, who is currently embroiled in a low-level, behind the scenes squabble with the incumbent head of state.
Otorbayev laid it on thick with the arguments.
“You have spent much of your life fighting an authoritarian regime. At a difficult time, you and Omurbek Tekebayev were allies and together you overcame slippery slopes, difficult paths and situations. Like you, he has made a great contribution to enacting democratic transformations,” the ombudsman wrote in his appeal to President Sooronbai Jeenbekov.
Talk of fighting authoritarian regimes are likely allusions to periods under the regimes that were toppled in 2005 and 2010, run by president Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, respectively.
Otorbayev added for good measure that Tekebayev’s trial had been conducted in a biased manner and that the jailed politician is of ailing health.
Jeenbekov has since coming to office in November struck a markedly different note from Atambayev in his public announcements. The two are ostensibly close allies and friends, but the current president has been displaying increased desire to cast off his predecessor’s overbearing influence and to forge his own way. Unlike Atambayev, Jeenbekov has avoided getting embroiled in unseemly disputes with the media and leveling petty and personal insults at his opponents.
Reaching out to prominent opposition figures instead of making moves to put them in jail or keep there for longer would also represent a sea-change.
There has been mounting talk of Tekebayev’s release in political circles in recent months. When recently appointed Prosecutor General Otkurbek Djamshitov assumed his post, he made a point of noting that he would consider a review of major, high-profile cases. The remark was greeted with approbation by prominent politicians.
Tekebayev’s split with Atambayev reached critical point in late 2016, when the now ex-president sought to push through changes to the constitution. Matters came to a head when Tekebayev embarked on a quixotic attempt at impeachment and spoke in public about alleged financial wrongdoings by Atambayev. Shortly after that, prosecutors decided they had discovered a corruption scheme cooked up by Tekebayev several years earlier. The Ata-Meken leader’s supporters decried the charges as politically motivated.
Nurjamal Djanibekova is a journalist based in Bishkek.