British citizen’s arrest in Kyrgyzstan raises concerns about commitment to democracy

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Briton’s arrest in Kyrgyzstan raises concerns

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Colleagues and relatives of a British citizen kept in solitary confinement in Kyrgyzstan demanded Thursday that his human rights be respected, in a case that is adding to concerns about the new government’s commitment to democracy.

The provisional government has been securing control over the Central Asian country after violent clashes this month that left dozens dead and drove out President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

Vugar Khalilov, a British citizen who was born in Azerbaijan, has been held for more than 10 days with little access to his lawyer or British diplomats, his supporters said.

He has been charged with money laundering, but his supporters claim the charges are politically driven. The clients served by Khalilov’s public relations company included Bakiyev and a bank with alleged ties to one of his sons.

“We believe that he and his firm were targeted because of the political ties of some of its clients, but ultimately the motive appears to be to silence him and ensure that he cannot speak to journalists,” Khalilov’s supporters said in a statement.

His case is among a number of issues that have prompted worries over the fragile anti-Bakiyev coalition that swept to power amid widespread discontent over worsening living conditions, corruption and the decline of political freedoms.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has urged the provisional authorities to investigate the deadly clashes that broke out April 7 between police and demonstrators, some of whom were armed, outside the main government building in Bishkek, the capital.

“In the highly politicized situation in Kyrgyzstan, international participation in an investigation will help to safeguard against accusations of bias,” Human Rights Watch researcher Andrea Berg said in the statement Wednesday. “But the government should act quickly.”

Kyrgyz state television has repeatedly broadcast footage of the clashes, describing the anti-government demonstrators as martyrs. Police complain that no mention is ever made of the casualties among their ranks.

Human Rights Watch noted that demonstrators played a role in the escalation of the confrontation, including firing at the government building from an armored personnel carrier they had hijacked.

On Tuesday, Paris-based Human Rights Watch expressed concerns about limitations imposed on TV stations and newspapers in areas of southern Kyrgyzstan where Bakiyev retains pockets of support.

“The new authorities (seem) to fear media coverage of Bakiyev and his supporters,” Reporters Without Borders said.

The interim government has cited the need to preserve order and avoid acts of provocation by Bakiyev supporters as the reason for the controls imposed on the media.

Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign affairs and security chief, said Tuesday in a speech to the European Parliament that Kyrgyzstan’s interim authorities would have to prove their legitimacy and commitment to democracy before receiving any EU support.


Associated Press writer Peter Leonard contributed to this report from Almaty, Kazakhstan.

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