Wednesday, 30 January 2002

HUNGER STRIKE FOR THE RELEASE OF DEPUTY CONTINUES IN KYRGYZSTAN

Published in Field Reports

By Anna Kirey (1/30/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The hunger strike involving 362 people all over Kyrgyzstan continues despite the fact that its main sources of inspiration, human rights activist Tursunbek Akunov and leader of Coalition of NGOs for democracy and civil society Tolekan Ismailova, quit the strike on its 15th day.  Their decision mainly came as an answer to a request by twenty-four NGOs to stop torturing themselves when this is unlikely to impact on government authorities.

Going on hunger-strike was the last resort of the desperate opposition after the arrest of deputy Azimbek Beknazarov who is accused of not instituting proceedings against an individual accused of homicide several years ago.

The hunger strike involving 362 people all over Kyrgyzstan continues despite the fact that its main sources of inspiration, human rights activist Tursunbek Akunov and leader of Coalition of NGOs for democracy and civil society Tolekan Ismailova, quit the strike on its 15th day.  Their decision mainly came as an answer to a request by twenty-four NGOs to stop torturing themselves when this is unlikely to impact on government authorities.

Going on hunger-strike was the last resort of the desperate opposition after the arrest of deputy Azimbek Beknazarov who is accused of not instituting proceedings against an individual accused of homicide several years ago. The opposition claims that the case is of a political nature and that the main reason for Beknazarov's arrest was his initiative to impeach President Akaev for surrendering 90,000 hectares of land to China in 1999. The main demand of the strikers is the release of Beknazarov on the pledge of one of the members of a special Public Committee on Border Issues, or his written undertaking, not to leave the country. However, there was no reaction from the authorities despite the fact that in Beknazarov's native Jalalabad region three schools were empty because parents did not allow their children to go to school in protest; there were pickets near the Jogorku Kenesh (the Parliament) going on for weeks; and each day, increasing numbers of people around the country joined the hunger strike. Some deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh also supported the protest and decided to meet with concerned citizens outside the Parliament building. On that day it was impossible to reach the Old Square of the city where the meeting was supposed to take place. The Militia was at every corner and students of the American University in Kyrgyzstan, which is located on this square, were unable to get through. Hundreds of people wanted to hear what popular deputies Omurbek Tekebaev, Alevtina Pronenko, Adaham Madumarov and Absamat Masaliev had to say. Around thirty people managed to reach the square to listen to the speeches and asking questions until the Militia broke up the rally. The deputies were accused of deliberate disruption of the Jogorku Kenesh session.

In other regions of Kyrgyzstan, picketers and strikers are threatened by imprisonment if they do not quit the strike. Government authorities are pressuring the Jalalabad electorate of Beknazarov to sign a petition affirming his incompetence in order to deprive him of his parliamentary seat.

Despite its duration of two weeks, the strike went almost unnoticed. Four of the strikers were hospitalized. The majority of the main figures participating in the strike being in their 40s and 50s and in bad health, the hunger strike may be hazardous to their health. The youngest striker is 19 and the oldest is 72 years old. At one point, a government official showed up and invited them to a restaurant. Being aware that strikers are losing their   strength, twenty-three NGOs wrote an open letter to the strikers asking them to quit. Two days after that, seven known public figures who according to the letter "are needed in good health to continue struggling for democracy and human rights" stopped the hunger strike. Other people, however, took their places, and the hunger strike goes on. Everyone is waiting for the court hearing on the Beknazarov case, which the opposition hopes will be fair and transparent.

As Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones mentioned in her recent meeting with students of the American University in Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. is aware of the human rights violations and the hunger strike in Kyrgyzstan and noted that she took up the Beknazarov case in her meeting with President Akaev. The international community is aware, but the Kyrgyz government authorities do not seem to change their policy in this case.

Anna Kirey

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