By RFE RL
By Bruce Pannier*
(RFE/RL) — Kyrgyzstan’s courts have never been truly impartial and the country’s presidents have often used the courts to punish their political foes, media outlets, and individual journalists.
On October 14, the day parliament deputies finally and officially voted to make Sadyr Japarov Kyrgyzstan’s prime minister, he said: “I, as prime minister of the Kyrgyz Republic, do not have the moral right to influence courts, the prosecutor’s office, or investigations.”
Subsequent events seem to cast some doubt on that assertion.
Japarov — as is known to anyone who has followed Kyrgyzstan in the last three weeks — was in prison when mass protests erupted over the results of the tainted October 4 parliamentary elections.
He had been there since his August 2017 conviction on kidnapping charges and was due to stay behind bars until 2027.
On the evening of October 6 — less than 24 hours after protesters had freed Japarov from prison — a group of some 30 deputies from the 120 total tried to make Japarov prime minister at a session in a Bishkek hotel.
The person just elected speaker of parliament at the session, Myktybek Abdyldaev, immediately turned to the matter of Japarov’s nomination to be prime minister and said there was no legal reason Japarov could not serve in that post since the Supreme Court had acquitted him of his kidnapping conviction.
It seemed unlikely that in the midst of the unrest that broke out on October 5 in Bishkek, the Supreme Court would have met the next day to consider overturning the conviction of someone who had been let out of prison by demonstrators just hours before.
On October 9, the court denied it had acquitted Japarov, though Chynara Mamytkanova from the court’s press service told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service (known locally as Azattyk), that Japarov’s lawyer had filed a motion for acquittal in 2019 and a panel of judges had satisfied the petition to annul the previous court decision and sent that to the Prosecutor-General’s Office for pretrial proceedings.
On October 19, the Supreme Court did overturn the convictions against Japarov, Kamchybek Tashiev, and Talant Mamytov for trying to overthrow the government in October 2012.
The three had been sentenced to 18 months in prison but all were released after spending just a few months in confinement.
Melis Myrzakmatov, the infamous former mayor of Osh, finally returned to the southern Kyrgyz city on October 7 after fleeing the country in 2014 to avoid charges of abuse of office and corruption.
Myrzakmatov was convicted in absentia of those charges and sentenced to seven years in prison in 2015.
But on October 8, a panel of judges from the Supreme Court ruled to overturn Myrzakmatov’s convictions and send his case back for review by the Osh city court where it was — in fact — sent six days later.
When Myrzakmatov returned to Osh he came to support embattled President Sooronbai Jeenbekov who is from the region.
Jeenbekov officially resigned as president on October 15, but Myrzakmatov remains in Kyrgyzstan, apparently confident he will be exonerated of the charges against him.
Japarov has also promised to get tough on organized crime, even though some believe it is organized criminal groups that have supported Japarov’s meteoric rise to power.
On October 20, Raimbek Matraimov, the subject of several lengthy investigative reports from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Kyrgyzstan’s independent Kloop news website, and Azattyk, was detained.
Conveniently, Matraimov was at a gas station near the security committee building when he was taken into custody and was quickly let go on his own recognizance and told not to leave the country.
Raimbek is one of the three brothers who make up the influential Matraimov family.
One of his brothers, Tilek, was detained by Uzbek border guards on October 7 after he tried to illegally cross into Uzbekistan.
Tilek Matraimov has been the head of the southern Kara-Suu district since 2012. Kara-Suu — which borders Uzbekistan and is a key trade juncture — is the most-populous district in Kyrgyzstan.
Uzbek border guards handed him over to Kyrgyz authorities on October 9 but by October 15 he had been released from custody and put under house arrest.
Meanwhile, all the members of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan who were freed overnight on October 5-6 were sent back to prison by October 10, except for two who fled the country (former Prime Minister under Atambaev, Sapar Isakov, and former Bishkek Mayor Albek Ibraimov).
Former President Almazbek Atambaev was one of those freed and then returned to his cell, though he was transferred on October 26 to the Bishkek detention center where, according to his lawyer, Atambaev was put in a basement cell where the heating had only been turned on the previous day and where his toilet reportedly does not work.
Some of Atambaev’s supporters — such as Temirlan Sultanbekov — were detained for their alleged roles in unrest on October 9 during which several groups demonstrated in Bishkek, including Japarov’s supporters.
Kursan Asanov, who in the wake of the October 5 protests had briefly acted as commandant of Bishkek and also acting interior minister, was detained on October 10 on suspicion of helping organize the unrest on October 9.
But none of Japarov’s supporters were detained even though they seem to have played a major role in the October 9 events when they attacked a rally of opposition parties on Ala-Too Square as well as in the days after an emergency situation was declared, when Japarov supporters continued to gather in Bishkek and called for the ouster of various officials.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) has also proven malleable for years and even during campaigning managed to deny the Kyrgyzstan party registration when the party’s documents were not delivered by the authorized party representative. When a court ruled against that decision, the CEC registered the party without appealing the court decision.
The same thing happened to the Butun Kyrgyzstan party, which was denied registration when its original list of candidates did not match the list given to the CEC for registration.
The party appealed the decision in court, which then ruled in favor of the party. The CEC again did not appeal the court decision and allowed Butun Kyrgyzstan to enter the race.
The CEC is getting credit, at least temporarily for insisting on October 26 that parliamentary elections be reheld in December, going against Japarov’s call that they be held several months after that.
Meanwhile, Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebaev was stripped of his deputy mandate in 2017 after he was charged with fraud. Tekebaev has been trying to get his seat in parliament back but, on October 12, the CEC rejected his request because “there is not a vacant seat in parliament.
On October 14, Tekebaev met with Japarov.
The next day the CEC gave Tekebaev his parliament seat back after another member of the Ata-Meken faction in parliament, Sadyk Sher-Niyaz, decided to give up his seat.
The law has rarely been impartial in Kyrgyzstan, but it has usually been at least reflective and court cases could go on for weeks or months.
Thus far that has not been the case in the weeks since Japarov came from nowhere to become Kyrgyzstan’s prime minister and acting president.
- Bruce Pannier writes the Qishloq Ovozi blog and appears regularly on the Majlis podcast for RFE/RL.