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Corruption Watch: May 10, 2006

10 May 2006, Volume 6, Number 2
By Bruce Pannier

Are political opponents trying to kill one of Kyrgyzstan's most outspoken civic leaders? That's the question on many people's minds after an attack overnight on April 12-13 on Edil Baisalov, leader of the NGO-umbrella group "For Democracy and Civil Society." Baisalov's public targeting of criminal elements in the government have made him powerful enemies that are being blamed for the attack.

Physicians treating Baisalov have refrained from saying whether he was shot -- as eyewitness accounts have suggested -- or struck in the head with a rock or other object. But Health Ministry officials said on April 13 that Baisalov is in stable condition at a Bishkek hospital, where he'll remain for a week.

Baisalov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that he thinks he was hit with a stone. He described what he remembers after leaving the offices of his For Democracy and Civil Society coalition.

"I was coming out of the office and crossing a street toward our car on the other side of the street," Baisalov said. "Suddenly, it felt like somebody hit me from behind. I lost consciousness for an instant but didn't fall down. Then I saw someone fleeing. Then I started bleeding profusely. Then [some ethnic] Russians came and started to help me. I told them, 'Somebody hit me.' And they told me, 'No, no one hit you, they shot you with some kind of popgun ["khlopushka"].'"

Political allies are assuming that the attack was politically motivated. After all, Baisalov helped organize a public rally in the capital on April 8 urging that criminals be barred from participation in government. The very next day, a reputed crime boss currently under investigation for murder won a parliamentary by-election.

Baisalov's deputy, Jyrgalbek Turdukojoev, told RFE/RL that For Democracy and Civil Society thinks the attack was prompted by such efforts to combat organized crime. "We believe that this happened because of Edil Baisalov's very strong political activity," he said.

Prime Minister Feliks Kulov has been one of the loudest voices condemning criminal infiltration into government and state institutions. Within hours of the attack, Kulov had suggested it was meant to intimidate activists and the broader public. "The people who are trying to do things like this -- their aim is not just simply to kill but [also] to create fear," Kulov said. "[For them] the outcome was not important, whether they killed or not. What was important was to create fear."

The Ar-Namys party, which Kulov founded but has since left, released a statement on April 13 warning that "crime has become virtually a branch of state power" and suggesting Kyrgyzstan's current leadership is "completely helpless" to combat it.

Deputy Interior Minister Omurbek Subanaliev meanwhile insisted that organized crime's fingerprints were all over the Baisalov attack. "The chance of a third party's involvement is negligible because Edil Baisalov really [spoke out] against criminality," Subanaliev said. "He was outstanding regarding latest developments in Kyrgyzstan [in the fight against organized crime]."

Lawmaker Melis Eshimkanov said Baisalov told him one day before the attack that he feared he was being followed. "Just yesterday I spoke with Edil [Baisalov] and he said that in the last few days, he felt someone was constantly watching him and his car was always being followed by several vehicles," Eshimkanov said. "He asked us for help with security. Deputy Kubatbek Baibolov and I asked the Interior Ministry today about this, but the matter still hadn't been decided."

Three members of parliament were killed in separate incidents last year -- along with a number of local officials and businessmen.

Baisalov has vowed not to be deterred from continuing his work, however. And his group is planning a new rally against criminal influence in politics for April 29. (Tynchtykbek Tchoroev of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report. Originally published on April 13.)

By Bruce Pannier

The election of Rysbek Akmatbaev to parliament on April 9 has sparked debate over the legitimacy of his election. Kyrgyz officials are scrambling to get a ruling on the legality of Akmatbaev sitting in parliament, while civil groups are unhappy that there is a chance for a reputed criminal figure to become a deputy.

Akmatbaev, who is Kyrgyzstan's most famous criminal suspect, is waiting to find out if he will be able to sit in the parliamentary seat he won in a by-election on April 9.

Central Election Commission Chairman Tuigunaly Abdraimov said on April 11 that he received a threatening phone call from Akmatbaev the night before because of the delay by the commission in making an official announcement about Akmatbaev's claim to the seat. "Yesterday [April 10], after my press conference was shown [on local TV], as I was sitting in the office of Education Minister Dosbol Nur-uulu, Akmatbaev called my mobile phone and threatened to kill and destroy me," he said. "I recognized his voice. However, I need to say that despite such threats, we will act within the framework of the law."

Akmatbaev received nearly 80 percent of the vote in the Balykchy District. Earlier on April 10, Abdraimov announced the results. "There will not be a runoff in the Balykchy constituency," he said. "Akmatbaev Rysbek has won in the first round. All of these [voting tabulations] are just preliminary results."

But it is not so easy. Akmatbaev has a criminal record in Kyrgyzstan. He was jailed twice in the 1990s for robbery, assault, and other offenses. He was accused of killing a policeman but was acquitted of those charges earlier this year. The family of the murdered policeman is appealing the acquittal. That means there is still an investigation in progress and, according to Kyrgyzstan's election laws, Akmatbaev should not be able to run for public office.

The Central Election Commission rejected his candidacy once, on the grounds he has not resided in Kyrgyzstan for the last five consecutive years. That sparked protests by Akmatbaev's supporters in the Balykchy district, who traveled to Bishkek to demonstrate. A Bishkek city court heard Akmatbaev's appeal and overturned the decision banning him from running. A few days later, the Supreme Court upheld that decision.

The issue of Akmatbaev's criminal record and the outstanding criminal case against him somehow eluded officials until April 10, after the announcement of preliminary election results. Abdraimov tried to explain the complications: "According to Article 28, his case cannot be considered in court because he is a candidate. This is the contradiction we are facing. We will ask the parliament for clarification of this legal discrepancy."

Simply put, if Akmatbaev is officially a candidate for public office then he enjoys immunity from investigation or prosecution. But, if he is still under investigation on the murder charge he should have been rejected as a candidate.

Abdraimov and the Central Election Commission have turned the matter over to parliament for a ruling. But that is still not the end of the story.

Nongovernmental organizations have been protesting Akmatbaev's right to run for a seat in parliament. On April 8, the day before the by-election, some 5,000 people demonstrated in Bishkek with a clear message of wanting to keep alleged criminals out of the government.

Other NGOs are saying they will resist Akmatbaev's attempts to take a seat in parliament. One is the director of the Inter-Bilim Center, Asiya Sasykbaeva, who told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service: "Today [April 11] we met with [U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard] Boucher. We told him about the current [political] situation. The people don't support criminality today, as you know. They are supporting [reputed criminals] out of fear. About 13,000 voters in the Balykchy [constituency] elected [Akmatbaev] simply out of fear. I think, 50 percent of the voters there came to vote because they were frightened."

NGOs and political parties plan to have another Bishkek rally against criminality in government at the end of the month. (Originally published on April 11.)

By Bill Samii

Tehran has responded to an annual U.S. State Department report identifying Iran as "the most active state sponsor of terrorism" by suggesting that the United States is not qualified to pass such a judgment. Iranian allies in the Lebanese Hizballah singled out in the April 28 report responded similarly, accusing the Bush administration of supporting "Israeli terrorism" and carrying out its own terrorist activities. But the participation of numerous terrorist groups in a mid-April conference in Tehran -- as well as Iranian officials' open encouragement of suicide bombings -- undermines that country's defense of its policies.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi countered the State Department report by accusing the United States of hypocrisy. He was quoted by IRNA on April 29 as saying the U.S. administration singles out countries whose policies it opposes and who stand up to what he described as the "Zionist regime." Assefi described the United States as Israel's "main supporter," and he said U.S. policies contribute to the intensification of terrorism. He added that the United States is therefore in no position to point the finger at others.

The State Department's annual "Country Reports on Terrorism" also describe the Lebanese Hizballah -- which it has labeled a "Foreign Terrorist Organization" -- as being "closely allied with Iran and often act[ing] at its behest."

Hizballah's reaction was described on the Lebanese organization's Al-Manar television on April 29. Hizballah charged that Washington supports what it called "Israeli terrorism." The group said that actions by U.S. President George W. Bush's administration warrant a spot at the top of a list of global terrorists. Hizballah declared that it is unmoved by its appearance in the U.S. report, adding that it considers it "a big medal on [the] mujahedins' chests."

The State Department report asserts that Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) were "directly involved in the planning and support of terrorist acts." It claims they also encourage the leadership of Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian groups with leaders in Syria to "use terrorism in pursuit of their goals."

The State Department alleges that "Iran maintained a high-profile role in encouraging anti-Israeli terrorist activity -- rhetorically, operationally, and financially." The report notes that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad have "praised Palestinian terrorist operations."

The State Department accuses Iran of having provided "extensive funding, training, and weapons" to groups that include the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Iranian officials and members of those groups have rejected the U.S. accusations.

Representatives of those organizations attended an April 14-16 conference in Iran called Support for the Palestinian Intifada.

The State Department report does not mention that recent conference, as it covers the year 2005. But Supreme Leader Khamenei made statements in connection with the event that arguably encourage terrorist operations. He told the conference on April 14 that "the values of jihad and martyrdom are revived," IRNA reported. Khamenei added that "the noble blood of martyrdom-seeking youths and the presence of dauntless warriors within the struggle invalidate all calculations of worldly materialists and hedonists." Khamenei hailed "a new arena where blood triumphs over sword."

Khamenei's emphasis on martyrdom is not unusual. It is a prominent theme in Shi'a Islam, the Iranian state religion. It is also cited when Iranians discuss those who gave their lives in the Iran-Iraq War or otherwise serving the country. Yet in the context of a conference on the intifada and to such an audience, Khamenei appeared to be encouraging suicide bombings (also known as martyrdom-seeking operations).

Indeed, Iranian officials appear to have encouraged their own citizens to participate in such attacks. The Headquarters for Tribute to the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement -- which is connected with the IRGC -- began enrolling volunteer suicide bombers in 2004. Headquarters spokesman Mohammad Ali Samadi said in an interview that appeared in the April 20 issue of "Il Giornale" that 55,000 Iranians have volunteered for suicide-bombing missions in Palestine or Iraq. He said that 1,000 of those volunteers have completed their training. The spokesman added that the Iranian martyrdom volunteers are active. But he noted that "unlike Hamas or Islamic Jihad," the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement "are not committed to a declared conflict."

The State Department's terrorism report also describes Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria as "state sponsors." The report alleges that those countries facilitate terrorists' acquisition of funds, weapons, and materials, and they also provide terrorist groups with safe havens. (Originally published on May 2.)

The United States scored some tactical victories in the battle against Al-Qaeda last year, but the militant group led by Osama bin Laden remains the most lethal terrorist threat facing Washington, according to the U.S. State Department in its annual report on worldwide terrorism released on April 28.

The broad report also singles out Iran as the leading state sponsor of terror, and said the world saw 11,000 terrorist attacks last year -- nearly four times more than in 2004.

In one brief line, this year's State Department report on global terrorism draws a key conclusion: "Overall, we are in the first phase of a potentially long war."

"You look at the ups and downs of this battle, it's going to take us a long time to win this," said Henry Crumpton, the U.S. ambassador in charge of counterterrorism, in briefing the media about the report at the State Department. "You can't measure this month by month or year by year. It's going to take a lot longer."

The report also took dead aim at Iran, on the same day that the crisis over Iran's nuclear program escalated with the UN nuclear watchdog's report that Tehran failed to meet UN Security Council demands.

The State Department report reiterates the U.S. position that Iran is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, but it also gave new details, accusing Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Ministry of Intelligence and Security of being directly involved in planning and backing terrorist attacks.

Five other countries are classified as sponsors of terrorism: Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.

Afghanistan, meanwhile, has ceased to be a safe haven for Osama bin Laden and his top aides. They were portrayed as scattered and on the run. Moreover, ties between the terror network and Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers are weakening, and the group's finances and logistics have been disrupted.

"Afghanistan embraced a new democratic government -- a remarkable feat -- even while violence along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border increased," Crumpton said.

Overall, the report said more than 14,600 people were killed last year in some 11,000 attacks around the world.

About 3,500 of last year's attacks occurred in Iraq and about 8,300 of the deaths occurred there, accounting for a large part of the increase over 2004. The report said the rest of the increase was due to new methods of counting the attacks -- although some independent analysts say the higher figures show that terrorism has grown around the world since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Through the death and arrest of several of its top operational planners, Al-Qaeda's leaders lost some control of their organization last year. Nonetheless, the United States and its allies still face a formidable threat from bin Laden's terror network.

But through technology, including the Internet, militants are getting training, the report says. And they're turning up in local, less-organized cells that are difficult to track.

Indeed, the report warns Al-Qaeda is likely to continue to adapt to changing conditions, and that there will be "several more cycles of action/reaction before the war's outcome is no longer in doubt. It is likely we will have a resilient enemy for years to come." (Originally published on April 28.)