Kyrgyzstan breathed a collective sigh of relief on October 10, when parliamentary elections were held in a peaceful atmosphere. But an ugly incident outside an Osh courthouse on October 13 served as a reminder that the Central Asian nation has a long way to go before the trauma of last June’s violence in southern Kyrgyzstan fully heals.
The Osh incident involved friends and relatives of a Kyrgyz traffic police officer murdered in the Uzbek neighborhood of Cheremushki in June. Just before the opening of a trial session, they took the law into their own hands, attacking an ethnic Uzbek defendant, along with three relatives of the accused. “They pulled my hair, they beat me, and they kicked me,” 53-year-old Asalkhon Ismeddinova, an aunt of one defendant, told EurasiaNet.org at Osh City Hospital following the attack. She had difficulty speaking due to a swollen jaw, and her face was covered in cuts and scratches.
“No one asked us anything and we were pulled out of the car. No one even knew what we might be guilty of,” her husband, 61-year-old Ikram Ismeddinov, said with blood seeping from a bandage around his head.
The Ismeddinovs are not accused of any crime; they had gone to court to support their nephew. Like all but one of the trial defendants, he is charged not with the murder of the traffic policeman but with the theft of the officer’s car.
Another defendant facing an auto theft charge was also beaten up when he arrived at the trial. Fifty-year-old Sukhbatullo Nizamkhojayev – who is free on bail and did not arrive in the guarded prisoner convoy – was nursing two broken ribs and facial injuries, but he said he was discharging himself from the hospital since he feared the mob would hunt him down and assault him again if he stayed. In the hospital corridor, Zamira Khudoynazarova, the mother of another defendant, collapsed in hysterical sobs and was led away by relatives.
Back at the courthouse, enraged relatives of the murdered police officer refused to talk to journalists. One man punched a EurasiaNet.org reporter in the face and relatives of the murder victim threatened further physical reprisals as around 30 police officers stood by without intervening.
This incident is emblematic of the inter-ethnic hostility that continues to linger in Osh following the June spasm of violence. It also highlights concerns about whether justice is being served in trials taking place connected to the ethnic violence.
“There are severe shortcomings and severe violations with both the investigations and the trials. … The implications of this are that it both undermines justice and threatens the right to a fair trial for the defendants,” Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told EurasiaNet.org in Osh an hour before the October 13 attacks.
The number of criminal cases related to the June violence stood at 4,628 as of October 6. Government officials have not provided an ethnic breakdown of those facing trial, but rights activists are concerned that unofficial tallies suggest that the majority of defendants are ethnic Uzbeks. “There is a serious question about whether the murders of Uzbeks are being followed up as diligently as the murders of Kyrgyz,” Solvang said. He added that some ethnic Kyrgyz had been charged “so it’s not completely black and white.”
The due process concerns documented by HRW include: attacks on defendants, witnesses and relatives; allegations of torture and mistreatment of detainees; and arbitrary arrests. “There really needs to be a zero tolerance policy for disruptions during a trial,” Solvang said.
On October 13, HRW issued a statement urging the Kyrgyz authorities “to take immediate measures to ensure security at these trials and to end other violations connected with the investigation into the June violence.” The statement documented the October 13 assaults and other attacks at trials on October 11 and 12, during which police did not intervene.
Contacted by EurasiaNet.org, representatives of the Prosecutor-General’s Office and Supreme Court said the authorities were doing their utmost to ensure security.
Describing the October 13 attacks as “hooliganism,” First Deputy Prosecutor-General Ryskul Baktybayev said Osh police were investigating. He added that two more cases of trial-related violence had been documented in late September, “but expert examination confirmed nothing in these cases.”
“Everything necessary is being done and all measures are being taken to defend all the participants in the court proceedings. … All orders have been given to the relevant departments so that this sort of thing does not happen,” Baktybayev said. He denied allegations of torture and said human rights activists had been given broad access to detainees in order to follow up on allegations of abuses.
Measures are also being taken to prevent pressure on judges, said Baktybek Rysaliyev, head of the Supreme Court press service. “We are trying to ensure the security of all participants in court proceedings, including judges, to avoid pressure on judges though all kinds of rallies and banner waving, so that decisions are made within the framework of the law, in a measured and meticulous way,” Rysaliyev said.
In September, provisional President Roza Otunbayeva ordered law-enforcement agencies to ensure the safety of trial participants. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source close to her administration told EurasiaNet.org that an investigation was underway to determine why orders to upgrade security had failed to prevent fresh disruptions. The source added that provisional authorities were considering additional measures to bolster security inside and outside the courtroom.
The priority now, said HRW’s Solvang, should be to ensure due process of the law: “There were horrific crimes committed both against Kyrgyz and against Uzbeks in the June violence and the wounds are still very deep and very raw. One of the ways to heal those wounds is to have an orderly judicial process where you identify and you prosecute the perpetrators of these criminal acts. Right now, however, the judicial process that is going on is only making things worse.”
Alina Dalbaeva contributed reporting.