While the Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev visited the U.S. base in Bishkek on September 11 to pay tribute to growing relations between Washington and Bishkek, more of his opponents are threatened with being physically removed for their criticism. Baktybek Beshimov, a member of parliament (MP) and the former Ambassador to India, is the latest target of political persecution in Kyrgyzstan. Recently, Beshimov fled the country to escape direct death threats. "I was forced to secretly cross the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border," Beshimov told Jamestown (September 15). He served as the head of the presidential campaign for Almazbek Atambayev, who ran against Bakiyev in the July 23 election. Both Beshimov and Atambayev represent the Social Democratic Party, part of the United Opposition Movement.
At his September 15 presentation at the Central Asia – Caucasus Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Washington, Beshimov drew a murky picture of contemporary Kyrgyzstan. According to Beshimov, there are Russian political forces and local criminals helping the Bakiyev regime to exert pressure on opponents. The leader’s email and social networking accounts have been cracked in order to prevent any communication with the outside world.
This reflects the general pattern of the regime’s copying the logic of Kremlin’s political maneuverings. Beshimov argues that both the parliament and the president emulate the methods and decisions made by Moscow in order to maximize their own political control over opponents. The various methods of political suppression which are justified in Russia, are therefore also excused in Kyrgyzstan. On the same panel in Washington, another former ambassador from the Askar Akayev period Baktybek Abdrisayev also spoke. Abdrisayev concluded that the ongoing anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan has diverted U.S. attention away from Kyrgyzstan’s development. Thanks to allowing the Manas base to continue to function in Kyrgyzstan, Bakiyev was able to silence Washington’s criticism, while also receiving active political support from Russia.
In February, Beshimov was the only MP to vote for retaining the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan. His fellow party members in the parliament either voted against or abstained. Most local media have alleged that Beshimov receives financial aid from the west. These views, however, exist largely due to the near-total penetration of the Russian mass media in Kyrgyzstan that often promotes anti-western views. Beshimov has therefore been added to the growing list of government critics marginalized over the past year. Earlier this year, the former presidential aide Medet Sadyrkulov died in an "accident" that was allegedly orchestrated by the regime (EDM, March 16). In other incidents, two journalists, Syrgak Abdyldayev and Amaz Tashiyev, were severely beaten. While Adbyldayev spent several weeks in the hospital, and is now seeking political asylum abroad, Tashiyev died shortly after the attack. Finally, Alikbek Jekshenkulov, a moderate supporter of the opposition has been jailed in the past six months. If released, he will most likely exit the political scene.
Sadyrkulov’s death and the beatings of Kyrgyz journalists have influenced all government critics to avoid open confrontation with the regime. Numerous opposition leaders have fled Kyrgyzstan throughout the past four years in fear for their own safety. The past year, as Bakiyev sought re-election, was especially difficult for the regime’s opponents. Furthermore, the political role of the security services has tremendously increased in the past few years. Police and various law-enforcement agencies, such as the fiscal police and the prosecutor, are more frequently intervening in the lives of civilians. The budget of the National Security Service doubled after Zhanysh Bakiyev, the president’s brother, was appointed to head it, while the salaries of state security employees also increased. The parliament granted the army the right to intervene in internal affairs.
One member of the Ata Meken party told Jamestown that aside from direct pressure from the security forces, opposition members are constantly intimidated by criminals. Consequently, many critics of the government are likely to reside outside Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan in particular has become the primary place of refuge for persecuted Kyrgyz political leaders and journalists.
Bashimov has often been mooted by local and international observers as a potential presidential candidate. However, he emphasized that he is ready to invest in the opposition as an institution, as opposed to a personality-driven entity. News about his escape has not yet been reported in Kyrgyzstan (www.akipress.kg, September 17). As Beshimov concluded, the recent Kyrgyz presidential elections have shown the impossibility of constitutional regime change in Central Asia. Bakiyev is destroying what remains of the political institutions in Kyrgyzstan with nepotism and corruption, as "the president considers liberalism to be a weakness."