Police in Kyrgyzstan’s capital say they have detained three people as part of ongoing investigations into a spate of beatings by drug gang enforcers.
The arrests announced on April 4 are shedding some scant light on the often-underreported problem of underground narcotics trading in a region that is seeing a growth in the spread of synthetic drugs.
Last week, video footage circulating on social media showed a scene, seemingly filmed in Kyrgyzstan, of a drug courier being assaulted by a gang of enforcers from a group of traffickers operating under the name Princessa Duri (Princess Dope).
Going by the content of the footage, it appears the courier was suspected of stealing the drugs instead of delivering it to a drop-off point agreed with a buyer. The intent of the video appears to have been to scare other couriers into refraining from similarly appropriating the wares.
Sales of narcotics are these days typically made through the Telegram messaging app, while payments are effected digitally.
Advertising for drugs is carried out with relative impunity. The addresses for Telegram accounts trading in the illegal substances can be seen stenciled on walls and lampposts in the streets of cities like Bishkek, the capital.
Sometime around the middle of February, Princessa Duri began listing the identities of drop-off intermediaries it said had stolen goods. Toward the end of that month, it named a 17-year-old from Bishkek who later appeared in a video pleading for forgiveness before sustaining a number of blows from individuals standing off-camera.
The footage appeared on Telegram with a warning: “Another ‘kidok’ [fleeing courier] has been caught. For those who have not understood, anybody who runs off will be punished. Yours lovingly, Princessa Duri.”
The same group has offered a reward of “five grams of goods” to anybody able to hand in couriers accused of theft.
Princessa Duri also uses Telegram to advertise for new couriers in Bishkek and the surrounding Chui region, as well as other cities like Osh, Karakol and Naryn. Applicants are required to film themselves verbally divulging their addresses, as well as to provide a copy of their IDs. Copies of those IDs have reportedly later been used by the group when drawing up lists of wanted couriers it suspects of stealing.
Princessa Duri accounts are not transparent in divulging what kinds of drugs they trade, but there is anecdotal evidence that demand for mephedrone – known locally as “poor man’s cocaine” – is surging.
Calls for police to investigate the activities of enforcers have come, of all places, from a pro-drugs legalization self-styled political party called Legalize. The party has said that three days after it made its public appeal, on April 1, it received threats from police officers it claims are working in league with Princessa Duri.
“They clearly decided to unleash some other hucksters and uniformed henchmen onto us,” a representative for the party said on its Instagram page. “A little later, we’ll post their faces, titles and positions along with screenshots of their ridiculous threats. There is something interesting coming. You’ll be shocked.”
Legalize’s campaigning to reform the law has mostly been focused on drugs that pose less danger to the public, namely marijuana.
The Interior Ministry is not known to have reacted to these so far-undocumented allegations, but it has said it is cracking down on enforcers. In addition to the three people detained, police say they have identified several other figures who could face drug dissemination charges punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
The scale of Kyrgyzstan’s situation with addiction and dependence on drugs is only partly understood. It is generally assumed government data only show part of the picture. According to official figures from 2021, around 8,400 Kyrgyz citizens are officially registered as recovering drug addicts. Last, the Interior Ministry seized around 230 kilograms of what it described as “psychotropic substances.”
In an attempt to show just how seriously the authorities are taking the case, Interior Minister Ulan Niyazbekov has said he is taking personal charge of investigations going forward.
One problem likely to be faced is that the people ultimately directing operations such as Princessa Duri are likely not even inside Kyrgyzstan. Some circumstantial evidence pointing to that possibility is that prospective couriers are offered salaries in Russian rubles, rather than Kyrgyz som.
What is more, Princessa Duri has been active since the clamor around its activities began, indicating that it feels it is out of reach of Kyrgyz law enforcement.
In a mocking message posted via Telegram in recent days, the group said it wanted to thank all those people who contributed to raising its profile.
“We are also happy to get such advertising,” the message read, before adding a heart emoji.
Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.