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Pressure Grows In Kyrgyzstan For Return Of Death Penalty

Local media have speculated that the killing of lawmaker Sanjarbek Kadyraliev in April is behind the talk of bringing back capital punishment.
Local media have speculated that the killing of lawmaker Sanjarbek Kadyraliev in April is behind the talk of bringing back capital punishment.
Kyrgyzstan, the first Central Asian country to suspend the death penalty, is now considering bringing it back.

After more than a decade since the death penalty was suspended, an attempt by a parliamentary committee last week to add Kyrgyzstan's name to a UN protocol aimed at ending capital punishment met strong resistance.

The bill was not greeted warmly by the dominant pro-presidential party, Ak-Jol, whose parliamentary faction decided not to support the bill when it reaches parliament.

There has been some speculation in local media that the killing of Ak-Jol lawmaker Sanjarbek Kadyraliev outside his home in April is behind the talk of bringing back capital punishment.

Kadyraliev was the fifth member of parliament to be killed since President Kurmanbek Bakiev took power in March 2005, and in the past two years a former presidential aide and two journalists have also been killed.

The decision by Ak-Jol, which holds 71 of the 90 seats in the unicameral parliament, has been sharply criticized by human rights activists.

They fear that the decision could lead the way to the reinstatement of the death penalty, pointing to the portrayal of capital punishment by some officials and legislators as a fiscally responsible crime deterrent as a sign of things to come.

'Will Of The People'?

The November 10 initiative to join the UN's Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which went into force in 1991, was seen by supporters as a way of highlighting Kyrgyzstan's commitment to democratic principles.

During Ak-Jol's discussions on the UN protocol on November 11, Ak-Jol deputy Zholdoshbek Zhakypov called for a public referendum to decide whether the constitutional death-penalty ban should be overturned.

Askar Salymbekov said most Kyrgyz support the return of the death penalty.
Another Ak-Jol member, Askar Salymbekov, expressed confidence that the ruling party's position simply reflects public opinion, saying that "80 to 90 percent of our society will support capital punishment."

Kyrgyz media have pointed to popular support for the death penalty for those who have committed violent crimes such as murder, or sex crimes against children.

Bakiev's spokesman recently said that the "president works according to the constitution" and that "if parliament and the people support the idea of reinstating the death penalty, the president would support their position."

During discussion in parliament, Zhakypov noted that there was no reason to sign on to the UN protocol, because the United States, Russia, and Kazakhstan have not done so.

And as Ak-Jol member Raisa Sidorenko argued, the United States continues to carry out executions, including the recent case of John Allen Muhammad.

"In our country, for example, there was a horrible crime recently when a person brutally killed two women and three children with an axe," Sidorenko added. "How could we possibly give him a life sentence, and then in a few years he somehow, by some amnesty, were to be released from prison?"

Continuing Debate

The debate over the death penalty gained momentum in September when Murat Sutalinov, the head of the State Committee for National Security, proposed restoring capital punishment during a meeting of the National Security Council.

Sutalinov reportedly argued that Kyrgyzstan should "not look to the West" in deciding on the issue, and that in some cases -- such as terrorism -- public executions should be carried out in order to reduce the crime rate.

Adakhan Madumarov, who at the time headed the since-disbanded National Security Council, expressed support for Sutalinov's proposal, questioning why society should have to provide for inmates sentenced to life sentences for "horrible crimes committed against them?"

Kyrgyzstan has 200 prisoners serving life sentences.
On the other hand, when queried in the course of this week's debates, Justice Minister Nurlan Tursunkulov said there was no reason to believe that crime has risen since the death penalty was abolished.

"You know very well how the criminal situation was before that, in the beginning of the 1990s. People were being robbed, kidnapped, murdered, beaten up, etc.," Tursunkulov said.

"We analyzed the criminal situation after that, and there wasn't a rise in crime rates after the death penalty was abolished."

With about 200 prisoners serving life sentences, Tursunkulov estimated that the state must pay about 200 soms (about $4.50) a day to keep them in prison, including food, wages, medical services, guards, electricity.

Officials recently estimated that the number of inmates serving life sentences will rise to about 240 by the end of this year.

Fear Of Abuse

Meanwhile, Kyrgyz human rights activist have expressed outrage over the suggestion that the death penalty could be reintroduced.

Tolekan Ismailova argues that in a country where courts are not independent and there is no guarantee of fair trials, reinstating the death penalty could only have dangerous consequences.

And even among Ak-Jol there are those, such as deputy Zayniddin Kurmanov, who share concerns expressed by religious leaders that the death penalty could be misused in the government's ongoing campaign against purported religious extremism and terrorism.

In January 2007, Kyrgyzstan boosted its image as an "island of democracy" in the region when President Bakiev endorsed a new constitution that effectively abolished capital punishment.

Kyrgyzstan had already imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in December 1998, but the new constitution paved the way for additional legislation that officially replaced the maximum sentence of death by firing squad with long prison terms.

Post-Soviet Moratoriums

Among the Central Asian states, only Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have formally abolished the death penalty and joined the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Authorities in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, where moratoriums against the death penalty are in place, have said they have no intention of reintroducing the death penalty.

Russia imposed a moratorium on the death penalty 10 years ago when it signed on to the European Convention on Human Rights, but has never ratified the document. On November 9, Russia's Constitutional Court debated the issue of restoring capital punishment before deciding to continue the discussion in a closed hearing later this year.

On November 10, the president of Ingushetia in Russia's North Caucasus, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, suggested that the death penalty should be reinstated for "those who perpetrate premeditated murder" in the republic, which has been plagued by terrorist attacks and insurgency.

Belarus is the only former Soviet country that still carries out executions.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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