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Kyrgyzstan - A Failing Transition to Democracy

(Washington, DC--October 9, 2002) A group of human rights activists concerned with the steadily deteriorating human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan told an RFE/RL audience recently that President Askar Akaev must restore the democratic process in the country.

Scott Horton, president of the International League for Human Rights, said that "a fair test" of Akaev's commitment to restore the democratic process in Kyrgyzstan would be to free opposition leaders such as General Felix Kulov, a former presidential candidate; parliament member Azimbek Beknazarov; and Tursunbek Akunov, chairman of the Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan. Horton said that the people of Kyrgyzstan must be given a choice in elections by "guaranteeing all candidates access to the political stage," and "ending intimidation of the independent press, and allowing access by the candidates to that media." Acacia Shields of Human Rights Watch called for "systemic changes" in Kyrgyzstan such as the elimination of criminal libel laws on the independent press.

"There is no doubt that Felix Kulov is a political prisoner, said Horton, "persecuted for his opposition to President Akaev." Kulov had served as vice president of Kyrgyzstan, governor of Chui Province, and mayor of the capital, Bishkek. Horton called Kulov a former member of Akaev's "loyal circle" whose "problems began when he formed a political party and announced his candidacy for president [in 2000]."

Nailia Kulov, the imprisoned Kulov's wife, believes that the "government's goal is to destroy Kulov and force the rest of the opposition into silence." She provided a litany of government transgressions against her husband during his arrest and three subsequent trials. Acquitted during his first trial, the government violated constitutional and legal principles of double jeopardy by retrying and convicting Kulov on the original charges. He is currently serving a seven year sentence in a high security prison.

Kulov's brother, Marcel Kulov, expressing the dilemma of the Kyrgyz opposition asked the RFE/RL audience, "How does one fight lawlessness by the state using legal means?" He expressed the hope that U.S. President George W. Bush would convince Akayev to free his brother, who was awarded the title of "Honorary Citizen of the State of Texas" when Felix Kulov visited the then-governor in 1997.