The ruling of the Bishkek court to release three Kyrgyz opposition leaders convicted previously for attempting to violently overthrow the country’s legitimate authorities has sparked public discussions at all possible levels. Only several minutes after the announcement was made, social media platforms were full of varying comments ranging from welcoming the decision to accusing political leaders of bribing the judges and their supporters of pressuring and intimidating the Kyrgyz judiciary. The Kyrgyz Prosecutor General’s office brought the case to the country’s Supreme Court, which on August 6, 2013, sentenced the defendants to 1.5 years in prison but due to the fact that they were previously held in detention, this prison term has already expired. According to Kyrgyz law, one day in a detention facility constitutes two days in regular prison.
On October 3, 2012 Tashiev, the leader of Ata-Jurt party, and two of his party members were arrested after organizing and leading a demonstration outside of the parliament to demand the nationalization of Kumtor, the country’s most lucrative asset and the largest source of tax revenue owned for the most part by the Canadian Company Centerra Gold. During the demonstrations, Tashiev allegedly called to overthrow and replace the government and occupy the White House. Along with his supporters, he climbed over the White House fence. Later, Tashiev claimed he was just trying to get to his work.
The Court proceedings lasted for almost nine months, with some circles claiming that this prolongation turned the politicians into martyrs, with their supporters even willing and intending to establish a monument in their honor. According to Kyrgyz political analyst Marat Kazakpayev, Tashiev can now use his prison experience to strengthen his opposition credentials and become the major political force against the president. He also noted that due to the arrest, Tashiev’s electorate grew in numbers and the ruling elite did not win anything from the process.
There is no single opinion among the country’s political elite and experts to link the recent court decision to release the opposition leaders to the riots that broke out last month again over the fate of the gold mining company resulting in a number of injuries. The government managed to appease the demonstrators by promising them to invest more into their local infrastructure and to improve ordinary people’s lives. The unrest escalated and quickly spread into the Southern part of the country as well, where the Ata-Jurt Party enjoys significant support. On May 31, Ata-Jurt Party supporters were even able to seize the local Jalal-Abad main administration building and appointed their own so called “people’s governor,” who was later arrested and released due to a blockage of the road connecting the southern and northern parts of the Kyrgyz Republic.
Kenjebek Bokoyev, a member of parliament from the Republic party, firmly believes that the recent court decision was politically motivated. He noted that the decision was taken in light of the demonstrations and with the objective of ensuring stability in the country. Some perceive this decision to be a sign of the weakness of the ruling elite, which from the beginning did not have a clear idea of how to handle the case. How much the central authorities had to fear these demonstrations remains unclear, with the country’s president still making claims in front of Tashiev supporters that he had no control over the court’s verdict. Meanwhile, during the first press conference after his release, Tashiev extended his gratitude to President Atambayev for his support and for ensuring the rule of law in the country.
Local experts and analysts are also divided in their opinions over the expected changes in the country’s political environment due to this release. Some expect increased stability while others anticipate another season of political turmoil. One thing remains clear; the urgent need to achieve political consensus by all the parties involved in order to prevent further destabilization, which this time could put the question of statehood into jeopardy. This consensus will depend on the civic responsibility of the political forces.