The chairman of a parliamentary committee in Kyrgyzstan was detained on 5 January and later charged with abuse of power in a case that stems from a murder investigation he conducted as a local official seven years ago. But other Kyrgyz legislators say Azimbek Beknazarov is being unfairly persecuted because of criticisms he has raised against President Askar Akaev -- including a call for the president's impeachment.
Prague, 9 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Azimbek Beknazarov, chairman of Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary committee on court reforms and legality, was formally charged on 8 January with abuse of power.
Zootbek Kudaibergenov, the prosecutor in Kyrgyzstan's southern Djalalabad Oblast , told RFE/RL that the charges stem from the alleged cover-up of a 1995 murder, when Beknazarov served as an investigator for a local prosecutor in the town of Toktogul.
"In 1995, a criminal case [of murder] was closed. [A man named Djaparaly] Kamychbekov was a student in his second year at the [police academy in Toktogul]. He was drunk and killed a local resident named Djolchu Bukeev. [Beknazarov] knew all of this. Beknazarov was an investigator at the Toktogul district prosecutor's office at the time. He didn't file the criminal case, knowing everything about the killing. He closed the case and even detained a brother of this killed person for three days."
But other Kyrgyz legislators, as well as an international human rights group, say they suspect Beknazarov is being persecuted because of critical comments he made about President Askar Akaev. Those criticisms include a call for Akaev's impeachment because of deals he struck that ceded large tracts of land to neighboring China and Kazakhstan.
One of the Kyrgyz legislators raising the allegations of government persecution is Omurbek Tekebaev, chairman of the opposition Ata-Meken, or Fatherland Party.
"We -- several of the deputies of parliament who are analyzing the events around this case against Beknazarov -- found that actions by the Djalalabad Oblast prosecutor's office do not correspond to all of the requirements of the law. It is clear that there have been special political instructions [in this case]."
The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights called on Akaev today to release Beknazarov, along with other jailed opposition parliamentarians. In a statement, the group said the charges against Beknazarov "might be linked with his recent criticisms of the government's policy" concerning the transfer of Kyrgyz territories to China and Kazakhstan.
The group also said there has been a pattern of attempts by Akaev to consolidate his power "through restriction of the parliament's independence, repression of any criticism against the executive," and through the use of the judiciary as a weapon against opposition leaders.
Akaev has not commented publicly on the case against Beknazarov, nor on the allegations raised by human rights advocates.
But Prosecutor Kudaibergenov, who filed the charges against Beknazarov, rejects any suggestion that Beknazarov is being singled out for political reasons.
He told RFE/RL: "For me, as the prosecutor, everybody should be responsible for obeying the law. Regardless of who violates the law -- whether they are from the opposition or a government official -- everybody should be treated equally [under the law]. For example, when I worked in other places, I prosecuted several local officials. They were in power."
Critics of the charges against Beknazarov note that he did not have the legal power in 1995 as a local investigator to close a murder case. In fact, the case was closed by his supervisors at the time -- the district and regional prosecutors -- after Beknazarov recommended that evidence showed the killer acted in self-defense.
When RFE/RL asked Kudaibergenov why Beknazarov's former supervisors had not been charged, he said: "Now there are investigations. If in these cases some facts would be found about the guilt of the district and regional prosecutors, they would also be accused. But now we are talking about Beknazarov."
Last month, before Beknazarov's arrest, 17 Kyrgyz legislators filed a petition complaining that he was being unfairly persecuted because of the complaints he had raised about Akaev's border deals.
In an interview conducted last month, Beknazarov told RFE/RL that he blamed Akaev for giving away some 125,000 hectares of land to China -- including about 90,000 hectares in the Uzengi-Kuush Valley.
Beknazarov also questioned why Akaev pushed a deal through his parliamentary committee in less than 24 hours that saw "strategically important" territory traded to Kazakhstan. In exchange, Kyrgyzstan received from Kazakhstan a larger tract of territory but which critics say is less important to the country's national interests.
Beknazarov told RFE/RL that as the parliament's committee chairman overseeing issues of legality, he saw the proposed deal with Kazakhstan less than 48 hours before Akaev was due to visit the Kazakh capital, Astana. He said that on the same evening, after he had raised objections to the deal, the government put significant pressure on other members of the committee to overrule his objections. The next day, the committee approved the deal by a vote of eight to two, and Akaev signed the deal that same week during his visit to Astana.
"We think that in this issue, only the president is guilty, and I think there are grounds to accuse the president and to impeach him."
Beknazarov explained that he thinks the deals with both China and Kazakhstan set a bad precedent that will lead to future territorial claims against Kyrgyzstan by its other neighbors.
"In my personal opinion, only the head of state -- the president -- is guilty for [the ceding of territory to China]. Why don't the people know about it? For centuries, these areas belonged to Kyrgyz people. Why didn't our ancestors cede it to China? Why didn't the Russian czar cede it? Why didn't the Soviet leadership cede the Uzengi-Kuush Valley? And now when we celebrate the 10th anniversary of our independence, suddenly we don't need these areas. It is similar to the process of privatization of state property [in this country]. All this property was given away. And now we are giving away our territories."
Beknazarov predicted last month that officials would try to silence his criticisms. He told RFE/RL that he was planning a press conference to inform the Kyrgyz people of the details of the land deals. But he was arrested before the press conference was conducted.
"I think this persecution won't stop. There are objective reasons for it -- and in any country when the positions are different, when the points of view are different, and if somebody speaks the truth -- there are objective reasons for persecutions. This persecution won't stop, and I can say that it is continuing."
Several government officials defend the land deals as legitimate decisions made in the best interests of the country.
Salamat Alamanov, chairman of the state commission on demarcation, said the deal with China settled all of Kyrgyzstan's territorial disputes with Beijing in a way that guarantees the country's security along its shared 1,000-kilometer border.
Askar Aitmatov, head of the government's international policy department, told the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting that Akaev had managed, through negotiations, to retain a majority of Kyrgyzstan's disputed territories. Aitmatov flatly rejected opposition claims that the government had made unnecessary concessions that were against Kyrgyzstan's national interests in order to maintain friendly relations with China.
(Narynbek Idinov from RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)