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Kyrgyzstan: 'Public Trial' Held On 2002 Killings

  • Bruce Pannier --> A police video of the Aksy shooting showed that the police were not provoked before the shooting (RFE/RL) Some 500 people turned out in Kyrgyzstan's southern Aksy district for a trial that the justice minister has called illegal. The unofficial "public trial" by rights activists, lawyers, and citizens heard the case of the Aksy killings -- six years to the day after the tragedy took place.

The group behind the event says it was forced to conduct a symbolic hearing to remind officials that those who gave the orders to fire on protesters in March 2002 were never brought to justice.

In a ruling that is bound to spark controversy, former parliament speaker Mukar Cholponbaev read out a verdict at the end of the "trial" that found former President Askar Akaev and current President Kurmanbek Bakiev "as heads of the state and of the government, as guarantors of the constitution and the rights of the country's citizens," responsible "for organizing and carrying out" the 2002 shooting in Aksy.

Aksy remains a controversial and tragic event in Kyrgyzstan.

Several thousand protesters had gathered there to protest the detention of a local representative to parliament on charges of abuse of office. The situation was tense. Some protesters threw stones and sticks as police looked on. No one expected the police would open fire, but they did -- and five people were killed. A sixth died the next day, although there's been a lot of debate about whether that fatality was connected to the police shooting.

The event sparked protests that stretched to the capital, Bishkek, in the north.

At first, then-President Akaev blamed the protesters, saying a few ambitious people had used them for their own political aims. But when a videotape of the shootings emerged, it showed clearly that the police were not sufficiently provoked to fire on the protesters.

The prime minister at the time, current President Bakiev, resigned along with his government some two months later. Akaev, in a bid to calm the explosive situation, declared an amnesty for all involved and ordered the country to move on.

Demanding Justice

But that did not satisfy many who believe the people responsible not only for using deadly force but for authorizing it had escaped justice. This was especially true for the relatives of those killed, who have never stopped trying to have the tragedy properly investigated and those responsible brought to trial, including Akaev and Bakiev.

Sartbai Jaichybekov is an attorney for the relatives of those killed. Speaking at the trial on March 17, he suggested that he and others still think that Bakiev played a key role in the events at Aksy. He also pointed out that Bakiev's statements of his whereabouts when the shootings took place do not conform to other testimony in the case.

Bakiev "says that he was abroad, on a business trip" when the shootings happened, "but former Prime Minister [Kubanychbek] Jumaliev said in court that right after the Aksy events he was at a conference in Bakiev's office," Jaichybekov said. "He said: 'They called me and told me to go to Aksy and gather all the Aksy officials and I left right away for Aksy. I flew there and assembled 28 or 29 Aksy officials.' If Bakiev was outside the country, how could Jumaliev have been with him?"

Akaev was chased from office in March 2005 by protests against rigged parliamentary elections and his failure to improve living standards. Bakiev, by then an opposition leader, was elected president in July 2005.

Since then, there have been minor trials of some officials involved in Aksy. The highest-ranking official of that time to face trial so far is Sultan Urmanaev, the former governor of Jalal-Abat province, where Aksy is located.

Aksy Trial 'Illegal'?

Earlier this month, Urmanaev was found guilty of misusing his position and failing to address the growing problems in Aksy before the violence broke out. He was given a five-year suspended prison sentence with three years probation.

Pointing out that there have already been trials concerning the Aksy events, such as the one that convicted Urmanaev, Justice Minister Marat Kaiypov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on March 17 that the "people's court" in Aksy was illegal.

Kaiypov also recommended that if anyone is unsatisfied with progress so far in finding the guilty parties at Aksy, then they should lodge an appeal in the official court system.

"Since we a have a state, there are justice institutions in this state. Nobody else can judge" or hold a trial," Kaiypov said. "If people think that the trial wasn't fair, then it might be launched again. If somebody escaped trial, then they could be brought to court now. But if people say we are not satisfied with this court, so we will judge by ourselves, then nobody will be satisfied with that, because there is always one side upset with the court."

Aksy is like an open wound on Kyrgyzstan's national psyche. The protests that followed the killings forced the government to loosen its control over the right to assemble and ultimately served as a rehearsal for the events of March 2005 that chased Akaev from power.

But the lack of any real resolution weighs heavily on the minds of many Kyrgyz who are increasingly convinced that the authorities are not interested in seeing the case resolved.

Venera Djumataeva of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report
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