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Kyrgyzstan: Court Annuls Beknazarov's Sentence But Not The Verdict

Prague, 28 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- An appeals court in southern Kyrgyzstan upheld today the conviction of opposition parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov, whose prosecution caused widespread demonstrations over the past months.

The court in the city of Toktogul annulled Beknazarov's sentence, but not the verdict. He will be allowed to continue to hold his seat in parliament.

Last month, the district court in Djalalabad found Beknazarov guilty of abuse of office while serving as a prosecutor's investigator in 1995. That court sentenced Beknazarov to one year in prison but suspended the sentence.

Meanwhile, earlier today, the lower house of Kyrgyzstan's parliament, the Legislative Assembly, passed a draft law -- submitted by the cabinet -- that grants amnesty to all those involved in a March protest in support of Beknazarov, which left five demonstrators dead.

The amnesty bill provides for closing the criminal case against Beknazarov. Opposition deputies, such as Ishenbay Kadyrbekov, said today that Beknazarov does not "need" to be amnestied because he is not guilty of the charges. Beknazarov himself opposes the amnesty provision applying to his case, arguing the charges against him are politically motivated.

The amnesty also affects dozens of civilians arrested in the protests, as well as three policemen charged with killing the five demonstrators. Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev addressed the Legislative Assembly today, explaining the need for amnesty for opposition representatives, as well as law enforcement officers and local government officials.

"Both sides are demanding that we resolve this issue -- one side defending their people, the other side defending their own people. Therefore, after several consultations, we have decided, at a government meeting, to finally resolve this issue by proposing a law granting amnesty [to people arrested in connection with opposition demonstrations in the Aksy district in March 2002]."

The bill now must be approved by the upper house of parliament -- seen as a formality since the majority of parliamentarians in the upper house are pro-government -- then signed by President Askar Akaev.

According to Kyrgyzstan's Kabar news agency, the upper house is expected to hold a session in Bishkek next week.

Opposition leaders are angered over the amnesty proposal, saying it releases authorities from responsibility and gives nothing to protesters, who were simply exercising their constitutional rights to demonstrate. During the debates in parliament today, opposition deputy General Ismail Isakov said: "Those who have used a repressive policy in Aksy have to be held responsible. If people are against this law, why should we vote for it? To divide people into two sides? I am against [this law], and I am appealing to you to vote against this law."

About 1,500 protesters gathered today in Kerben, Osh, and Djalalabad in southern Kyrgyzstan, calling for Beknazarov's acquittal and demanding that those responsible for the deaths in Aksy be punished.

A special commission formed to investigate what happened in Aksy concluded last month that blame for the events lay with the local authorities for failing to control law-enforcement officials, who in turn were blamed for giving the order to fire on the crowd.

The Kyrgyz government resigned last month following the commission's findings, but it did not stop calls to bring to justice those responsible for the Aksy events.

(Tynchtykbek Tchoroev of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)