A power struggle is building between the executive and legislative branches of government in Kyrgyzstan, underscored by the arrest of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov on abuse of power charges. Differences over the settlement of a border dispute between Kyrgyzstan and China precipitated the political clash in Bishkek.
Beknazarov, the chairman of the Kyrgyz parliamentary Committee on Judicial and Legal Reforms, was formally charged on January 8 with abuse of power. The charge relates to a 1995 murder case handled by Beknazarov, who was then the Toktogul District prosecutor. He stands accused of impropriety in not filing charges against the murder suspect, and of improperly detaining relatives of the victim.
Over 20 Kyrgyz MPs, led by Speaker Abdygany Erkebaev, adopted an appeal on January 6, the day after Beknazarov's detention, stating that the legislator's arrest had been politically motivated. Beknazarov had been a vocal critic of the government's decision to cede large portions of the Kyrgyz territory to China, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. His committee rejected two Chinese-Kyrgyz agreements signed in 1996 and 1999 respectively that called on Kyrgyzstan to transfer about 125,000 hectares of territory to China in order to settle a territorial dispute. Beknazarov also criticized the recent agreement between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan on border delimitation, signed in Astana on 16 December. Despite the rejection of the agreements and continuous significant opposition by the parliament, the Kyrgyz government has pressed on with the territory transfers.
Human rights monitors in Kyrgyzstan say that Beknazarov's arrest signals an intensification of a political crackdown carried out by President Askar Akayev's administration. The president has long sought to limit the influence of his political opponents. Local human rights advocates point to the continuing persecution of Feliks Kulov, who is widely viewed as President Askar Akayev's strongest political rival, to support this assertion. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Now, Akayev's administration appears intent on stifling all domestic criticism of its policies, some local analysts say. The campaign has even extended to human rights monitors.
For example, in late 2001, a court in the town of Kara-Suu sentenced Ravshan Gapirov, a local human rights activist, to a multi-year jail term on fraud charges. Gapirov's human rights organization, Pravosudie, has provided legal representation to members of unsanctioned religious groups, including Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which is agitating to establish an Islamic caliphate in Central Asia. In addition to Gapirov's arrest, authorities detained dozens of young Kyrgyz suspected of having ties to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, according to local media reports. Officials insist that Hizb-ut-Tahrir's activity constitutes a security threat.
Some local analysts believe that the intensification of the crackdown is connected with the US-led anti-terrorism campaign. Akayev, they say, is taking advantage of the United States' preoccupation with containing terrorism by casting his domestic political opponents and unsanctioned religious activists as potential security threats.
Satybaldi Kurmanov, a local observer, noted: "It is the collaboration with the Western anti-terrorist forces that is giving confidence to local governments. Authorities believe that there will be no harsh consequences from donor countries for human rights abuse.
Alisher Khamidov is currently a Muskie Fellow graduate student at the Joan B. Kroc Institute of Peace Studies at Notre Dame University.