Only weeks before Kyrgyzstan is set to hold potentially decisive presidential elections, a court on August 16 sentenced a leading opposition politician to eight years in jail on charges that government critics have described as flimsy.
Large contingents of police were dispatched to guard the Pervomaisky district court ahead of the final verdict against Ata-Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev, who was found guilty of corruption.
Prosecutors claimed that while serving as deputy prime minister in the interim government that took power following the April 2010 revolution, Tekebayev demanded $1 million from Russian businessman Leonid Mayevsky in exchange for including him on the board of directors of Alfa Telecom, a company that had been partially nationalized by the incoming leadership.
Crowds of Tekebayev supporters also assembled at the court throughout the day, raising concerns of possible unrest, but the mood was peaceful even after the late-night verdict was delivered by the judge, Aibek Ernis uulu. In the courtroom, a group of people reacted to the verdict with cries of “shame, shame!”
After Tekebayev and a fellow defendant, former Emergency Situations Minister Duishonkul Chotnov, who was also sentenced to eight years in jail for acting as an accomplice to the purported corruption, were escorted from the courthouse, supporters began to disperse.
Lawyers for Tekebayev have said they will appeal, although they also said they had little confidence in the fairness of the Kyrgyz justice system.
Basic inconsistencies in the state’s case have bolstered charges that the entire trial was engineered to neutralize one of President Almazbek Atambayev’s most vocal and influential critics.
Atambayev is set to step down from office in the wake of the October presidential elections as he is constitutionally limited to only one term in power. Political commentators have argued, however, that his entourage are seeking to ensure a loyal replacement is guided into the president’s seat in order to ensure that their political and financial interests are not adversely affected.
The role of acting as handpicked would-be successor has been handed to Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov, a bland but influential powerbroker from Kyrgyzstan’s south. But Jeenbekov’s succession is a very far from certain affair and he faces stiff competition from multimillionaire and seasoned political player Omurbek Babanov. As for Tekebayev, a southerner like Jeenbekov, he would also have liked to participate in the election, but his conviction all but ensures he will not be able to register as a candidate.