A court in Kyrgyzstan has sentenced a member of parliament and a close ally of the runner-up in recent presidential elections to 12 years in prison on corruption charges.
The judge at Pervomaisky court in Bishkek ruled on January 4 to find Kanatbek Isayev guilty of abusing the tender process during the building of municipal facilities while he was mayor of the town of Tokmok, between 2008 and 2010.
Isayev, who is a lawmaker with the Kyrgyzstan party, is only the latest of several members of parliament to be jailed in recent months. By virtue of his deputy status, the period of time for which he will have to serve time in prison has been commuted to eight years.
Isayev and his allies have called the charges against him politically motivated.
“Unfortunately, the justice system operates at the behest of the White House,” Isayev said, alluding to the president’s office in Bishkek.
The case against Isayev on this particular charge was initially filed in 2011, shortly after he left his post as Tokmok mayor and before he became a member of parliament.
The matter lay dormant for some time but was revived in 2017 after Isayev stepped down as head of the Kyrgyzstan faction in parliament. Commentators link the turn of events to the politician’s opposition to government efforts to reform the constitution undertaken in 2016. Many of the most high-profile opponents of that reform, who include the leader of the opposition Ata-Meken party, Omurbek Tekebayev, have also been jailed.
Isayev drew further unwanted attention to himself by throwing his weight behind presidential candidate and multimillionaire Omurbek Babanov in the October elections.
Two weeks before the vote, the General Prosecutor’s Office announced it was filing yet more criminal proceedings against Isayev, accusing him of planning to provoke violent unrest in the event of Babanov losing the election. A trial on those charges is still pending.
After losing the election, Babanov himself became object of potential criminal investigations, including on suspicion of whipping up ethnic tension during his campaign.
In late December, in an evident attempt to ward off prosecution, Babanov announced that he was definitively quitting politics. He is currently based outside the country.
Under the constitution, members of parliament, the Jogorku Kenesh, can only be prosecuted in the event of the majority of lawmakers voting in favor of such action. Exceptions are made more for “grave offenses,” however, and Isayev’s alleged crimes were deemed to fall under that category.
The crackdown on opponents to the ruling regime and independent journalists began in earnest toward the end of former President Almazbek Atambayev’s single six-year term, which concluded in November. It is not yet certain that his successor and close ally, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, intends to pursue a similarly intense battle against his critics, although there has been no indication that the new president is considering revisiting any politically contentious cases from the past.
Nurjamal Djanibekova is a journalist based in Bishkek.