BISHKEK -- A Kyrgyz opposition activist is facing up to five years in prison for social media posts that security services claim are a call to overthrow the government.
Mirlan Uraimov, a member of the Butun Kyrgyzstan (United Kyrgyzstan) party, was arrested on February 8 and is being held in a State Committee for National Security detention center. The 37-year-old is a known blogger and the founder of Mekendesh TV on YouTube.
The security services didn’t say exactly what statements by Uraimov they suspected of being criminal. But Kyrgyz media reported the charges stem from a Facebook post that claims the government does not function well and needs to be replaced. Uraimov’s lawyer said the activist had nothing to do with the post and that his Facebook account was hacked.
Opposition supporters say the charge against Uraimov -- calling for the seizing of political power by force -- is an attack on freedom of speech and a warning by authorities to other government critics, bloggers, and activists.
Activist Adil Turdukulov told RFE/RL that by arresting Uraimov the authorities are targeting his party, Butun Kyrgyzstan, which has risen from so-called street opposition to an important political group that has five representatives in the 90-seat unicameral parliament, the Jogorku Kenesh.
“It means that the party enjoys people’s support and, therefore, any criticism by party members is taken by the government far more seriously,” Turdukulov said. “The [criminal case against Uraimov] is an attempt to frighten the party members, to weaken them.”
Turdukulov also accused authorities of selectively targeting bloggers who criticize government policies on social media. At the same time, the authorities turn a blind eye to material published by pro-government bloggers who vilify the opposition, even sometimes inciting interregional hatred, Turdukulov added.
Butun Kyrgyzstan leaders criticized the way Uraimov was arrested during a nighttime raid by law enforcement agents to his home, “scaring his children and other family members.” The party says the officers also conducted a search of his house.
“Is this some kind of warning to others? Where did this practice come from -- breaking in at night? There used to be no such thing in Kyrgyzstan,” Butun Kyrgyzstan party leader Adakhan Madumarov said.
He accused the government of putting pressure “on a person who simply expressed his opinion.”
Gulya Kozhokulova, a Butun Kyrgyzstan lawmaker, called it a gross violation of human rights.
“Law enforcement agents carry out the arrests of [activists and bloggers] as if they are dangerous criminals or members of organized criminal groups,” Kozhokulova told parliament on February 10.
Kozhokulova warned that such an attitude can lead to “legal chaos.”
Meanwhile, Prosecutor-General Kurmankul Zulushev said a probe is being launched to determine the legitimacy of the charges against Uraimov and the circumstances of his arrest.
“Of course, it would have been wrong to open a criminal case just because someone offended someone in their statement,” Zulushev said. “But if the statement contains certain calls or something else that threatens state security, then [the person behind the statement] should be held responsible.”
On February 10, a court in Bishkek approved Uraimov’s pretrial arrest for two months. About 80 people gathered outside the court to support the activist. The crowd chanted slogans calling for justice for Uraimov and demanding the government end what they described as "political persecution."