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Kyrgyzstan: The Art Of Political Assassination

  • Bruce Pannier

http://gdb.rferl.org/851B507B-9C30-4B0F-9021-AD05C888BAAF_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/851B507B-9C30-4B0F-9021-AD05C888BAAF_mw800_mh600.jpg Edil Baisalov, soon after an assault on him in April 2006 (Courtesy Photo) The art of political assassination is alive and well in Kyrgyzstan -- or so says Edil Baisalov.

Until a month ago, the 30-year-old democracy activist was considered to be one of the Central Asian country's most promising young politicians, a social democrat with verve and a modern vision for Kyrgyzstan. But that was before last month's elections handed President Kurmanbek Bakiev's ruling party near-complete control of parliament in polls that Western observers said fell short of international standards.

Days before the December 16 vote, Baisalov was barred after complaints by election officials that he posted on his website a photograph of the ballot set to be used in the upcoming vote. Election officials, who said the photo could be copied to make fake ballots and stuff ballot boxes, sued the Social Democratic Party to cover the cost of printing new ballots -- some $570,000. Baisalov was banned from elections in which he was set to lead the party's list of candidates.

Baisalov, who for several years has organized demonstrations for democracy and against official corruption including election fraud, then fled to neighboring Kazakhstan, in fear for his safety following an attack by unidentified assailants.

"There were attacks on me," Baisalov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service from Almaty. "The authorities couldn't protect me. In answer to my questions about the assailants, the authorities told me they were people from Issyk-Kul who were on the run in Almaty. I am also in Almaty. Let them [the authorities] find those who attacked me."

Victim Of A Political 'Vendetta'

But why the backlash against him the first place? Baisalov maintains that it "was a provocation against the Social Democratic Party." He says it was done "in order to arrest me, to send me to jail and make me into a criminal." Baisalov describes himself as the victim of a political "vendetta."

Baisalov adds that he posted the photo in order to point out serious flaws in the ballot before the elections. And he denies that posting it compromised the election process in any way. He says the accusations against him are "groundless and without basis," and that the ballots "didn't have any protection," like a watermark, but "were printed on regular paper," and that he had contacted election authorities before posting the photo.

For now, Baisalov has temporarily suspended himself from the post of secretary of the Social Democrats, which won 11 seats in parliament -- the only opposition party to get any seats. But he remains defiant about challenging Bakiev and the government, and vows sooner or later to return to the political fray.

"All this talk about me fleeing, that I was seeking asylum, that I became a refugee, are complete lies," he says. "I am Kyrgyz. But now in Kyrgyzstan injustice is ruling. I will fight against this wherever I am, in Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan. I will not leave politics. I will always remain in politics."

Baisalov did not say when he planned to try to return to Kyrgyzstan, but human rights activists will be watching his case closely.

In 2006, Human Rights Watch called Baisalov "a respected human rights defender and champion of the rule of law" after he was attacked for organizing rallies to prevent a known criminal kingpin from running for parliament. Bakiev and former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov in the past also voiced support for Baisalov. But both men later became objects of his criticism, including calls to leave office.

(Burulkan Sarygulova conducted the interview and Amirbek Usmanov contributed to this report. Both are with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.)
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