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Kyrgyzstan: Human Rights Activist In Court Suing Prime Minister

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, who has been at that post about six months, is being sued by a leading human rights activist, Tursunbek Akunov. The trial opened yesterday in Bishkek and was promptly postponed until next week.

Prague, 13 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A Bishkek court has begun considering slander charges brought against Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev by a leading human rights activist, Tursunbek Akunov.

The trial opened yesterday and was immediately postponed until next week.

Akunov, the chairman of the Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan and a former presidential candidate, accuses Tanaev of slandering him on television.

Tanaev's lawyer has said the comments were misunderstood.

Tanaev himself did not appear on opening day, and the court has approved a request from Tanaev's lawyer absenting the prime minister from the proceedings.

Akunov was unhappy with the court for allowing Tanaev to miss the trial. "I asked him to appear here and you [the court] did not bring him. So I declare now that there should be no confidence in your court," Akunov said.

His supporters were also upset. A woman, Dokturkan Turdueva, voiced her displeasure with the decision and explained what Tanaev said at a government session on 9 September to spark the case against him. "We are very unhappy that Tanaev did not come [to court]. I am prepared to testify as a witness because I saw the report on television about the government session when Tanaev said [switches to Russian] 'Wherever Tursunbek Akunov is, there is unrest and blood, and he receives money [from people outside the country],'" Turdueva said.

Akunov is probably best known as the "people's diplomat," an unofficial title he earned for negotiating with armed Islamic militants who took dozens of people hostage, including four Japanese geologists, in the summer of 1999.

When the Kyrgyz government refused to hold talks with militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Akunov trekked into Kyrgyzstan's southern mountains alone to speak with the hostage takers. Virtually the only contact between the militants and Kyrgyz officials was made through Akunov, who nearly had his head chopped off during a third and final visit to the region.

Such public attention led Akunov to make an ultimately unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2000.

Since then, Akunov has been a notable participant at trouble spots around the country, drawing accusations from some officials that he is less a rights activist than a troublemaker.

Akunov was in the southern district of Aksy in March when police fired on demonstrators, killing five people. He was also in Tash-Komur in May when demonstrators blocked the country's main north-south highway. He was arrested in that protest.

Akunov has asked for a formal apology and the sum of 1 million soms ($22,000) in damages. But if past experience is any guide, he should not expect the money anytime soon.

Attempts have been made in the past to sue other Kyrgyz officials, including President Askar Akaev and former Soviet-era leader Turdukan Usubaliev, without success and usually to the detriment of the plaintiff.

The court is scheduled to reconvene on 22 November.

(Naryn Idinov of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)