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Helsinki Commissioners Condemn Arrest of Kyrgyz Opposition Leader

WASHINGTON – “Secretary Albright should insist that Kyrgyzstan’s President Akaev release opposition leader Felix Kulov before her mid-April visit to Kyrgyzstan,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today following the March 22 arrest of Kulov by Kyrgyz authorities who took him from a hospital bed where he was being treated for cardiac problems and exhaustion to a cell in the Ministry of National Security.

“With the faulty parliamentary election and the subsequent arrest of Kulov, President Askar Akaev has discredited himself entirely,” said Smith. “Like his counterparts in other Central Asian authoritarian states, he talks about his commitment to democracy but manipulates the law enforcement apparatus and judicial system to remain in power indefinitely.”

Since March 12, Kulov’s supporters have been demonstrating to protest his highly suspicious defeat in the second round of Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary election. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) Election Observation Mission strongly criticized the February 20 first round for preventing parties and candidates from competing on an equal basis. The Mission has said that the March 12 runoff “failed to comply with OSCE commitments,” and openly questioned the official results in the Kara-Bura district where Kulov was running. Though he had won a plurality in the first round, he lost to a government-favored candidate in the second round.

Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) responded: “It appears one of President Akaev’s key goals in this deeply flawed parliamentary election was to neutralize two influential challengers: Daniar Usenov and Feliks Kulov. With the arrest of Kulov, Akaev has now taken the extra step of imprisoning a political rival. And the violent dispersion of pro-Kulov demonstrators by police signals a campaign to intimidate the public and a general crackdown before the upcoming presidential election.”

The election, in which Communists won the largest number of seats in party-list voting, has produced a legislature from which Akaev’s two leading rivals will be absent: Daniar Usenov and Felix Kulov. Both Usenov and Kulov had hoped to use the parliamentary seats as springboards to run for president in elections slated for later this year. Before the second round though, the Central Election Commission disqualified Usenov, leader of the El Bei Bechara Party, for allegedly not reporting all his assets. Kulov’s Ar-Namys opposition party was barred from fielding a party list in the election because the controversial election law carefully required parties to have been registered for one year. Though Kulov ran in a district, officials exerted sustained pressure to ensure his defeat.

Felix Kulov is a former Vice President, Minister of National Security, Governor of Chui Oblast, Mayor of Bishkek and KGB General. According to Kyrgyz officials, he has been charged with sanctioning an illegal purchase of listening devices while he was Minister of National Security, and his trial will be held in a closed military court. Kulov, who has been denied contact with his family or treatment by his own doctor, and whose lawyer has been intimidated by officials, has begun a hunger strike.

Both Chairman Smith and Rep. Hoyer call on President Akaev for “the unconditional and immediate release of Kulov.” Smith pointed out, “The highly politicized nature of these charges is obvious and protestations to the contrary by Kyrgyz officials are unconvincing. As [OSCE Secretary General] Jan Kubis said in Bishkek, these elections have been a ‘blemish on the president’s reputation.’ President Akaev should reconsider his tactics before his image at home and abroad is hopelessly ruined, with all the attendant consequences.”

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