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Qishloq Ovozi

A court in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where lawyers often come under fierce pressure from the authorities. (file photo)

January 24 was the Day of the Endangered Lawyer and an opportunity to remember the many problems some Central Asian attorneys have to face.

In Central Asia, defendants have a right to an attorney, but state-appointed defenders have a reputation for half-hearted work or, in some cases, even supporting the prosecution in convicting their clients.

Being an independent lawyer willing to defend people who for some reason or another are looked upon as a nuisance or threat by the governments of the region is a hazardous occupation.

Some of these attorneys are intimidated or threatened, some are attacked, and some are imprisoned.

On this week's Majlis podcast, RFE/RL media-relations manager Muhammad Tahir moderates a discussion on the plight of lawyers in Central Asia.

This week's guests are: Madina Akhmetova, the director of the Dignity public association based in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan; from Washington, Jasmine Cameron, who is originally from Kyrgyzstan but is now a senior staff attorney at the Human Rights Center of the American Bar Association; from California, Steve Swerdlow, a longtime Central Asia watcher, recently returned from Uzbekistan, and human rights lawyer who is currently an associate professor of human rights at the University of Southern California; and from Prague, Bruce Pannier, the author of the Qishloq Ovozi blog.

Lawyers In Central Asia: Defending Clients And Themselves
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Listen to the podcast above or subscribe to the Majlis on iTunes or on Google Podcasts.

Early on in the campaign, Abdil Segizbaev (above) said he had information about Sadyr Japarov that included the identity of who had “ordered” Japarov to return to Kyrgyzstan.

In the days leading up to Sadyr Japarov’s inauguration as Kyrgyzstan’s newly elected president, three former high-ranking officials were detained -- including two who competed against Japarov in the January 10 election.

Former Prime Minister Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev was arrested on January 27 on corruption charges. He was not a candidate in the presidential election.

One of Japarov’s rival candidates, former Deputy Interior Minister Kursan Asanov, was arrested on January 26 on the dubious charge of seizing a state building during unrest in Bishkek after results were announced from the clearly unfair October 4 parliamentary elections.

Japarov was freed from prison during that unrest.

Former Prime Minister Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev was arrested on January 27 on corruption charges.
Former Prime Minister Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev was arrested on January 27 on corruption charges.

Another rival presidential candidate, former chairman of the State Committee for National Security Abdil Segizbaev (UKMK), was detained on January 25 and officially arrested on January 27.

Segizbaev faces two charges: abuse of office under Article 320 of the Criminal Code and being involved in the illegal transfer of land.

Former Deputy Interior Minister Kursan Asanov, was arrested on January 26 on the dubious charge of seizing a state building during unrest in Bishkek.
Former Deputy Interior Minister Kursan Asanov, was arrested on January 26 on the dubious charge of seizing a state building during unrest in Bishkek.

The cases of both former presidential candidates raise questions, but Segizbaev’s case particularly so.

The Land Deal

The charge of abuse of office was filed against Segizbaev by three members of the Ata-Meken party: leader Omurbek Tekebaev, Almambet Shykmamatov, and Aida Salyanova.

It involves Segizbaev’s role in the so-called “Belizegate” scandal of 2016, when Segizbaev was UKMK chief.

Segizbaev had said he had a set of documents from Belize proving Shykmamatov, Tekebaev, and Salyanova were involved in the illegal sale of more than 50 percent of the shares in Kyrgyzstan’s Alfa Telecom company.

But the documents were fake.

Shykmamatov filed the complaint in 2018. But the Prosecutor-General’s Office said there no corpus delicti in Segizbaev’s actions and rejected the case.

On January 14, 2021, four days after the presidential election, the Prosecutor-General’s Office overturned that decision and decided to go ahead with investigating the complaint from the three Ata-Meken members.

Sadyr Japarov: From Convicted Kidnapper To Kyrgyz President?
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Segizbaev only received 1.46 percent of the vote in the presidential election.

During the campaign, Japarov was criticized by all 16 other candidates. They also questioned the sources of his support.

In fact, during a series of televised debates that started on December 28, the one thing all of Japarov’s rivals could agree on was to criticize Japarov.

Japarov was the only candidate ballot who did not participate in the debates.

Segizbaev was the head of the UKMK when Japarov was taken into custody in 2017 after Japarov returned to Kyrgyzstan from Kazakhstan.

Japarov had fled to Kazakhstan in late 2012 rather than face charges of hostage-taking for his alleged involvement in unrest in the northeastern town of Karakol during protests against a foreign-owned gold mining venture in the mountains nearby.

Japarov Announces He Holds 'All Power' In Kyrgyzstan
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It was those charges that landed Japarov in prison in 2017. His original 11 1/2-year sentence was later reduced to 10 years.

Early on in the campaign, Segizbaev said he had information about Japarov that included the identity of who had “ordered” Japarov to return to Kyrgyzstan.

On December 30, during the third and last round of the first set of televised debates, with six of the then-18 candidates appearing each night, Segizbaev chided Japarov for not taking part in the debate the previous evening.

Segizbaev also criticized Japarov for making vague counterclaims that Segizbaev was a criminal.

“What is my crime?” Segizbaev said. “Come and debate with me and tell. I can list your crimes.”

Segizbaev then read out a list of questions for Japarov to answer:

1) Was Japarov involved in the raider seizure of the investment bank Issyk-Kul?
2) Was Japarov involved in laundering money for Maksim Bakiev through that bank?
3) Was Japarov involved in the transfer of the Jirlagan mine to China?
4) Was Japarov involved in the transfer of the Jetim-Too deposit?
5) Did Japarov buy a building on Kiev Streeet from crooks?
6) Did Japarov initiate the matter of selling Kumtor in 2009?
7) Why did Japarov remain quiet in 2005-10 when he was next to the Bakievs and there were 60 political murders carried out?
8) Why was Japarov silent when Maksim Bakiev took $3 billion out of the country?
9) From whom did Japarov receive the millions for his election campaign?

“Answer these questions,” Segizbaev said. “If you are a man, let’s talk face-to-face in the debates. Don’t run away.”

The OTRK television station that hosted the debates put recordings of each program on YouTube.

But by the morning after it had posted the third debate with Segizbaev on YouTube, it disappeared -- even though recordings of the first two debates remained available for viewing.

The television station said the recording had somehow been lost.

Japarov never answered any of the questions that Segizbaev put to him on television.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Shykmamatov said he did not see any political motivations behind Segizbaev’s arrest.

“In this case it is understood: a crime was committed. Segizbaev took advantage of his official position, and this case should be a lesson,” he said.

Some others agreed but conceded there could be an element of revenge behind Segizbaev’s arrest.

As for Kursan Asanov, the building he is accused of seizing is the police headquarters in Bishkek.

Asanov did take command of police in Bishkek on October 7, after then-Interior Minister Kashgar Junashaliev abandoned the post. He worked from the Interior Ministry building.

Asanov’s lawyer, Ikramidin Aytkulov, called his client’s detention politically motivated.

He noted that Asanov had been asked by then-Security Council Deputy Secretary Omurbek Suvanaliev to fill in as police chief and put an end to the disorder in Bishkek.

Asanov was asked to leave the Interior Ministry building on October 9 and he did so.

Japarov pledged to be tough on corruption. Perhaps the three high-profile arrests before his inauguration are Japarov making good on his promises.

It is interesting that Segizbaev and Asanov were not only rival candidates of Japarov in the presidential election. Both also have backgrounds in law enforcement and would have been more familiar than most people with the details of investigations of Japarov.

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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