A well-known Kyrgyz political opposition figure who has been in and out of jail for the past four years is now facing the most serious charge ever leveled against him -- plotting to kill the country's president. But RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier says the case against former university rector Topchubek TurgunAliyev raises many doubts.
Prague, 2 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Troubles never seem to end for Kyrgyz opposition figure Topchubek Turgunaliev. Some years ago, TurgunAliyev was rector of the University of Humanities in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, and played a prominent role in the country's political opposition. But since late 1995, he has been in and out of prison on various charges. Now, he is facing the most serious charge yet: plotting to kill Kyrgyzstan's president, Askar Akaev.
As the former chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Erkin Kyrgyzstan political party, TurgunAliyev is no stranger to the country's law enforcement authorities. His first serious brush with the law came in December 1995, when he was accused of insulting the president during a Kyrgyz presidential election campaign. In many countries, criticizing the head of state is allowed, even expected, but in Central Asia it can court disaster. TurgunAliyev was sentenced to 18 months in jail in April 1996. His sentence was suspended, but it turned out to be a short reprieve.
Eight months later, TurgunAliyev was again arrested -- this time on charges of embezzlement dating back to when he was university rector in 1994. No proof was provided that TurgunAliyev himself actually took any money, but he did authorize his aide Timur Stamkulov to take $10,000. For that, TurgunAliyev was sentenced in early 1997 to 10 years in jail, reduced to four years. International attention to his case helped shorten the time he actually served to eight months. Before the end of 1997 he was back in Bishkek, largely because he had been named a prisoner of conscience by the international human rights organization Amnesty International.
Now TurgunAliyev faces a far more serious challenge. Last spring, several young men with weapons were arrested in Bishkek. They were tracked down after information was received about an alleged assassination plot from an informant named "Yuldashev." Yuldashev turned out to be Timur Stamkulov, Turgunaliev's aide during his days as university rector, the same aide who took the $10,000.
RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service has asked both the Kyrgyz interior and security ministries for details of the case against Turgunaliev. But officials at the two ministries declined to comment.
TurgunAliyev did speak with our Kyrgyz Service. He said that his accuser, Stamkulov, has recanted testimony he gave earlier:
"From more than 10 people they (law enforcement authorities) detained, only one person, Stamkulov, gave evidence against me. And they arranged a confrontation between us. I asked him, 'Timur, you say there is an armed formation in Kyrgyzstan, there are field commanders, but did you see that I met with them, that I gave them orders, that I instructed them, that I checked their weapons, or maybe that I had weapons in my hands?' He said, 'No, I did not see that.'"
TurgunAliyev also said an investigator was present at his meeting with Stamkulov. According to Turgunaliev, that investigator became upset with Stamkulov's reply:
"The investigator then said [to Stamkulov], 'You gave different testimony earlier. Why are you saying this now?' And I said, 'You must have forced him to say that."
The case raises many doubts. When the story of an assassination plot first broke, it was not Turgunaliev, but former Security Minister Feliks Kulov, who was believed to be its instigator. Kulov denied it and gave several reasons why the accusations could not be true.
In the nearly 12 months since then, Kyrgyz authorities have gathered eight large tomes of information said to connect TurgunAliyev with the alleged plot. Yet the evidence suggesting there was a plot at all remains sketchy, as Kyrgyz officials have not revealed what they have.
But then, TurgunAliyev has been a victim before, and may be so again. TurgunAliyev began to work at the Kyrgyz-American University in Bishkek after his release from prison in November 1997 but its leadership had to dismiss him in a few months of work under pressure from the government. Now 58, after being a director of the State Opera in Bishkek, then a co-chairman of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan, and finally a leader of the Kyrgyz opposition, he is unemployed.
(Naryn Idinov of the Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report)