A quick scan of Tokun Mamytov’s résumé has left many in Kyrgyzstan noting that while he may be well qualified for many top government posts, human rights ombudsman is probably not among them.
“Here we have a former KGB officer who will (now) defend our rights instead of violating them,” wrote one seasoned civil society figure after Mamytov’s appointment was confirmed in parliament on September 26. “What paradoxes occur!”
The Facebook post posted by long-time election monitor Dinara Oshurahonova was marked “feeling sarcastic” for good measure.
To be sure, 64-year-old national security veteran Mamytov’s campaign to become the state’s top human rights official was never likely to thrill activists.
Aziza Abdirasulova, head of the Kylym-Shamy advocacy group and a tireless anti-torture campaigner, was quick to point out that Mamytov’s time as deputy head of what is currently called the State Committee for National Security, GKNB, coincided with some of the worst rights abuses under President Askar Akayev.
After Akayev was toppled by street protests in 2005, Mamytov quickly earned the favor of his ill-fated successor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, for whom he at one point headed the security council. This is a body that differs from the GKNB and technically sits above it in the security architecture.
Mamytov also took up prestigious posts during the tenure of fourth President Almazbek Atambayev. He headed the state mining company Kyrgyzaltyn from 2014 to 2015, and was deputy prime minister in charge of security for more than a year before that.
The resounding two-thirds majority with which parliament endorsed his candidacy as ombudsman suggests he also has a thumbs up from current leader Sooronbai Jeenbekov, an ally-turned-bitter rival of Atambayev.
It was the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, whose parliamentarians are mostly loyal to Jeenbekov, that nominated Mamytov to the post.
The parliament itself has largely done the executive’s bidding ever since his predecessor Atambayev began skewering opposition lawmakers on corruption charges, notably through the offices of the GKNB.
Mamytov’s competitors for the post, including Rita Karasatova, a feisty activist focused on judicial and law-enforcement reform, seemingly never stood a chance.
Expectations of the office, which has few formal powers, are relatively restrained these days anyway.
Mamytov’s predecessor Kubat Otorbayev spent a low-key two and-a-half years in the position as the country hurtled towards authoritarianism in the latter stages of Atambayev’s time in office.
One case that he did engage in extensively was the dubious detention and subsequent sentencing on graft charges of Atambayev’s arch-nemesis and parliamentary party leader, Omurbek Tekebayev.
For his troubles, he was pilloried in the pro-Atambayev press.
The general good regard in which Mamytov is held across factional lines may give him some time to win over local doubters as he settles into his new seat.
Even Abdirasulova conceded that he “might be a good person” and Eurasianet can testify to Mamytov’s general approachability, having interviewed him on several occasions.
But outside the country, in the ranks of international rights organizations and among Kyrgyzstan’s democracy-hailing Western partners, the symbolism of this appointment is unlikely to go unnoticed.
Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch castigated the country’s security services and police for their “dangerously over-broad definition of extremism” that the group says has provided the basis for hundreds of questionable convictions.
Citing numerous complaints of incriminating materials being planted on suspects by government agents in extortion attempts, HRW also noted that minority ethnic Uzbeks have been punished disproportionately under anti-extremism legislation.
With ethnic Uzbeks in the south broadly disenfranchised after inter-communal violence left hundreds dead in 2010, the prosecutions are “a potential source of tension”, the report warned.
As his predecessors all broadly ignored this issue, as well as other political hot potatoes like LGBT rights, it is probably unrealistic to judge Mamytov's future ombudsmanship against a standard that doesn’t yet exist in the country.
Still, until he proves otherwise, local civil society is likely to see his assumption of the post as a celebration of the impunity which law enforcement has long been accused of enjoying.