In a sign of the growing political chill descending over Kyrgyzstan, authorities there have barred celebrated Russian rights activist Vitaliy Ponomarev from entering the country.
The door was shut in Ponomarev’s face in what is now becoming a standard farcical manner.
The activist, head of the Central Asia program at Moscow-based Memorial, had been in Kyrgyzstan for a roundtable on extremism and terrorism but crossed the border on July 5 on business in neighboring Kazakhstan. When he returned, however, he was informed he had been declared a persona non grata.
Because of the summary nature of the decision, Ponomarev was unable to even collect his possessions from where he had left them in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.
It is not immediately clear what precipitated the hastily implemented ban, although Ponomarev speculates that it might have been sparked by criticism of Kyrgyz law enforcers voiced during the roundtable he attended.
The authorities themselves have refused to provide any explanation. The head of the border service said he received the order for the ban from the State Committee for National Security, the successor agency to the KGB, and the Interior Ministry. But neither of those bodies was willing, or possibly even able, to say who had issued the instructions and why.
The border service said Ponomarev has already been in touch with them to inquire why he was banned.
“Citizen Ponomarev has been given comprehensive advice about which documents he should present to receive an answer as to why he was barred from entry [to Kyrgyzstan]. What response he will receive nobody knows,” a border service spokesperson told EurasiaNet.org with refreshing candidness.
Ponomarev has been on the receiving end of similar actions before. In 2010, when the deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was still in power, he was banned from Kyrgyzstan without any explanation. Once the interim government was installed following the April 2010 uprising, the ban was lifted.
Ponomarev is not the first Russian citizen to be barred from Kyrgyzstan in recent times.
In March, Grigory Mikhailov, a journalist for fiercely pro-Kremlin news agency Regnum, was de facto expelled. His persona non grata status was handled in a similarly shambolic and duplicitous manner.
One evening that month, he was stopped by police while out strolling with his wife in the center of Bishkek and was ordered to show his documents. After much to-ing and fro-ing, it was established that his registration had expired, so police advised Mikhailov to cross the border into Kazakhstan and re-enter the country, so as to reset his status.
But when Mikhailov attempted to do just that, he was denied re-entry. Although a pro-Kremlin publication should in theory be above suspicion in a country led by a president devoted in the extreme to his allies in Moscow, Mikhailov had evidently elicited irritation for larding his coverage with criticism of the Kyrgyz government.
Mikhailov and Ponomarev’s situations speak to the decidedly on the hoof authoritarian style that is increasingly becoming a hallmark of President Almazbek Atambayev’s final months in office.
Analysts have attributed the bullying tactics to the Atambayev regime’s desire to ensure broad political compliance as the president seeks to slide a hand-picked successor into the seat he is required constitutionally to liberate after completing his single seven-year term in October.