Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan are renewing their criticism of the authorities for failing to punish those responsible for the killing of pro-opposition demonstrators in the southern Aksy District in 2002. And for the first time, the secretary of the Kyrgyz Security Council is acknowledging that those who shot at protesters did so intentionally and should be held accountable.
Kyrgyzstan next week marks the second anniversary of one of the blackest days in its short history as an independent country.
On 17 March 2002, in the southern Aksy District, five people were shot dead and one died later from injuries after police opened fire on a crowd of more than 1,000 demonstrators. They were protesting opposition leader Azimbek Beknazarov's arrest on what they called politically motivated charges of abuse of power. Beknazarov was later released.
In a special parliamentary hearing yesterday, Kyrgyz lawmakers criticized the authorities for failing -- two years on -- to punish those responsible for the killings. They called on President Askar Akayev to support them in their demands.
Beknazarov, a deputy in the Kyrgyz Parliament, told his fellow parliamentarians, "A criminal case hasn't been opened on the six people who were shot to death, on the dozens of people who were seriously injured and on the use of firearms [by police]."
Oksana Malevanaya, chairwoman of Parliament's Human Rights Committee, also complained that no one has yet been punished for the shootings.
Opposition lawmaker Ismail Isakov demanded that those responsible for the demonstrators' deaths be brought to justice and barred from holding official positions.
Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu tells RFE/RL that the issue needs to be settled once for all.
"I think nobody has been punished for the Aksy events," he said. "And I think it is right to raise this issue once again because one has to say whether there are guilty people. If there are, they should be punished. Otherwise, one has to state nobody is guilty. [But] until now, there hasn't been any decision."
In yesterday's hearing, the secretary of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council, Misir Ashirkulov, denied his involvement in the Aksy events to parliamentarians. The Security Council, he stressed, was not in charge of police activities in southern Kyrgyzstan at the time.
For the first time, however, Ashirkulov acknowledged that those who shot the demonstrators and those who ordered them to do so should be tried for their actions because they did so intentionally.
"I think, dear Kurmanbek [Osmonov, chairman of the Supreme Court], that sooner or later, we will have a fair judiciary system. Then I will have the opportunity to question [local officials Abdykalyk] Kaldarov [who died last year], [Shermamat] Osmonov, [Abdimital] Kalybayev, [Kubanychbek] Tokobayev, [Daniyar] Kuluyev and [Alik] Rakyshev. I accuse them of intentionally [ordering the police to] open fire," Ashirkulov said.
The deaths in Aksy sparked nationwide protests. Government officials in the capital, Bishkek, warned at the time that the country was close to slipping into civil war.
Growing pressure led to the fall of the government in May 2002. The new government offered compromises, including a general amnesty for all involved in the shootings, on both sides.
Several local officials were tried for allowing the protest to turn violent and were given short prison terms. Their sentences were later reversed by another court and they were released.
By Antoine Blua,
RFE/RL Feature Articles, March 11, 2004