BISHKEK -- A Kyrgyz opposition leader has criticized the United States for not speaking out about media freedom and other rights violations in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.
Opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) leader Almazbek Atambaev told RFE/RL today that the U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan used to express its concern about the human rights situation in the country, but that American officials find maintaining the air base in Bishkek -- known as the NATO Transit Center at Manas Airport -- more important than criticizing the human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan.
Meanwhile, nine Kyrgyz opposition activists started a hunger strike in Bishkek today in support of former Defense Minister Ismail Isakov. The action is led by Topchubek Turgunaliev of the United Popular Movement (UPM), an umbrella group of opposition blocs and parties.
Isakov was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to eight years in prison by a Bishkek Military Court on January 11. He was also stripped of his military rank.
Some 70 relatives and supporters of Isakov are holding a rally in his support and are putting up tents in Isakov's native Alai region, a mountainous area in
On January 12, several opposition activists established a Committee in Defense of General Isakov, demanding an end to the persecution of opposition activists and independent journalists as well as for Isakov to be acquitted of all charges.
Isakov, a lieutenant-general who served as Kyrgyzstan's defense minister from 2005-2008, was sentenced for granting an apartment to someone based on false documents.
In a final statement at the trial, Isakov said the criminal charges against him are politically motivated and he urged the judge not to issue a verdict that was ordered by the government.
Isakov was a close associate of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev and became defense minister shortly after the March 2005 Tulip Revolution that brought Bakiev to power.
Isakov was appointed secretary of the National Security Council in May 2008. He left the post in October 2008 and joined Kyrgyzstan's political opposition.
Colleagues and human rights groups have said the case against Isakov is in retaliation for his opposition activity.