Opposition politicians in Kyrgyzstan serving prison sentences on charges of coup-plotting have been on hunger strike for the past two weeks in an attempt to force the resignation of the man they say is responsible for their jailing.
Ernest Karybekov, Bektur Asanov and Kubanychbek Kadyrov — all once prominent politicians on the national scene — have been serving their sentences at Bishkek’s Penal Colony No. 47 since last April. Karybekov was handed a 20-year term on charges of attempting to violently seize power, while the other two were ordered to serve 12 years apiece.
Karybekov, Asanov and Kadyrov’s supporters say they began their hunger strike at the end of January. They are refusing to consume anything other than water until the head of the State Committee for National Security, Abdil Segizbayev, agrees to tender his resignation, they have said.
“They believe that Segizbayev prevented a fair and impartial trial. The hearings were closed and they [the authorities] simply concealed the fact that they lacked any evidence for the accusations they were leveling — of plots to seize power and treason,” Zulfiya Marat, chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Political Prisoners rights group, said on February 13.
Marat said that of the three, Asanov appears to be in the worst physical condition. Asanov’s wife said he was unable to get to the meeting in the visitation area without assistance from prison guards when she visited recently.
The prisoners have warned they will step up their protest from February 15 by refusing to be placed on saline drips and allowing injections if there is no reaction from the security services or parliament.
In a development that critics of the government said was politically motivated, numerous opposition figures began to be targeted with prosecutions over the past two year. Some analysts had argued that the authorities were eager to smooth the way before the October presidential election in order to avoid unexpected surprises. Almazbek Atambayev was required to step down, having served his single permitted six-year term, creating an element of uncertainty. In the event, Atambayev’s close ally Sooronbai Jeenebekov was elected as the new president in a single round in the October 15 contest by garnering 54 percent of votes cast, surprising the many political observers who had anticipated a runoff.
“The authorities unleashed this widespread terror on the eve of the elections, so that nobody would oppose them. And now this trend, which began to take shape under Atambayev, is continuing. This is a mechanism that will not stop. And this is a massive problem,” Marat said.
Asanov and Kadyrov were detained by the authorities following the appearance online in March 2016 of wiretapped conversations appearing to document plotting by representatives of a cluster of regionally focused opposition groups. The speakers are purportedly heard to discuss ways in which to foment unrest. In one call, the speakers reveal their intent to “bring people onto the streets” and to “seize the White House,” the name of the government building that also houses the parliament.
A few days after that recording was posted online, yet another one surfaced that featured Karybekov and another veteran politician, the 70-year-old former head of the state gold agency Dastan Sarygulov. Karybekov admitted that the recordings were partially genuine but said that what was uploaded to the internet had been heavily doctored.
Sarygulov was handed a four-year jail term. Three of those years were conditional and he was allowed to serve his sentence at home.