ENGRUS

Kyrgyzstan: Days Before Election, Opposition Politician Convicted

Danil Usmanov
Presidential candidate Omurbek Babanov leaving a press conference in Bishkek on October 1. (Photo: EurasiaNet/ Danil Usmanov)

A court in Kyrgyzstan has handed a prominent opposition figure a deferred five-year jail sentence on corruption charges, raising the political temperature, only days before an increasingly tense presidential election.

Kubanychbek Kasymbekov, a judge at Bishkek’s Lenin district court, on October 10 ruled to find Aida Salyanova, an ex-General Prosecutor and Justice Minister, guilty of abuse of office when she purportedly restored the lawyer’s license of a disgraced associate of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was overthrown in April 2010.

The court stipulated that Salyanova will only have to serve her sentence once her two-year old child turns 14.

Kasymbekov read out his ruling over three-quarters of an hour, often tripping over his words. At the end of his address, the few people allowed in the courtroom loudly expressed their anger at the conviction, while Salyanova remained largely impassive.

The criminal charges against Salyanova, who is a sitting member of parliament with the opposition Ata-Meken party, were filed in December at the behest of the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, the successor agency to the KGB.

Salyanova has denied the prosecutors’ accusations and described the case against her as politically motivated.

Tensions are inexorably mounting as the country approaches the vote to pick a new president on October 15. Rumors circulated on October 10 that election officials were considering disqualifying one of the two frontrunners, the multimillionaire former prime minister Omurbek Babanov, who is facing off against the candidate nominated by the ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, or SDPK. 

A working group with the Central Election Commission, or TsIK, met at the start of the week to recommend issuing Babanov a third warning over his alleged violations of election rules. The reprimand proposal came in response to public complaints over a supposed incendiary speech given on September 28 by Babanov in a mainly ethnic Uzbek neighborhood in the southern city of Osh. Most people only appear to have heard about the speech through social media, where heavily edited sequences showed the candidate uttering the phrases “better to die standing than to live on your knees,” and “if any policeman touches an Uzbek, he will be fired” — both of which were interpreted by his opponents as being incitements to ethnic unrest.

The GKNB claimed it would study recordings of the speech to check for evidence of incitement, although it failed to produce a formal assessment by the date of the election commission meeting. That notwithstanding, vote officials went ahead and issued their reprimand guidance.

But Atyr Abrakhmatova, a member of the election commission, assured RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, Radio Azattyk, that it was already too late for Babanov to be stricken from the ballot, despite his potential third strike.

“Yesterday was the final day on which the TsIK could have disqualified a candidate. According to Article 46 of the Constitution. a candidate may only be disqualified for violations up until five days before the election. A candidate may remove their name from the ballot of their own will until three days before the vote,” Abrakhmatova said on October 10.

Even so, Babanov’s campaign has angrily accused the authorities of pulling all the stops to ensure the victory of the ruling party candidate, Sooronbai Jeenbekov.

“TsIK, the GKNB and several TV stations have become advocates for one of the candidates. One of the candidates is supported by 65 percent of the population, and the other is supported by the authorities and money of unclear provenance,” said Babanov advisor Mirsuljan Namazaliev, alluding to Babanov and Jeenbekov, respectively.