Kyrgyzstan’s President Says Acquitted Protesters Deserved “At Least a Fine or Probation”

Parliament Building, Bishkek. Photo: TCA

International rights groups welcomed the recent acquittal of more than 20 Kyrgyz activists and political figures who would have faced long jail sentences if convicted of plotting riots and other crimes, but Kyrgyzstan’s president says the defendants should have been fined or put on probation.

President Sadyr Japarov commented about the case on Saturday in an interview with the official Kabar News Agency, one day after the activists were acquitted because of insufficient evidence. The activists were arrested in 2022 after protesting against a border demarcation agreement with Uzbekistan that involved the Kempir-Abad Dam and surrounding lands.

“The court is a separate branch of government,” Japarov said. “I have been saying since the beginning that no one has the right to interfere in the work of the court. We must all obey the court’s decision. We have no right to criticize whether it is legal or not. Whatever the court decides, whether it is right or wrong, we must agree.”

Japarov continued: “But now, after the decision of the court, I can express my opinion. If I were a judge, I would give the organizers of this case some kind of punishment, at least a fine or probation.”

The Kyrgyz president said the activists deserved a penalty because, in his view, they misled people into thinking that Kyrgyzstan was losing the entire dam in the border deal, when in fact it is being jointly managed with Uzbekistan.

Prosecutors were seeking 20-year jail terms for the defendants. Several were also charged with trying to violently seize power.

“We didn’t expect it, at all. We were crying from surprise,” Rita Karasartova, one of the accused activists said of the acquittal. She was quoted by Amnesty International, which described the charges as politically motivated.

The prosecutions in the Kempir-Abad case fed into worries that Kyrgyzstan, under Japarov’s leadership, is walking back the relative freedoms that it has enjoyed in comparison to some of its Central Asian neighbors. Critics point to prosecutions of journalists and a new law that tightens control of foreign-funded non-governmental groups as signs of growing authoritarianism.

Japarov has described some of the international criticism as an exercise in double standards and meddling in the country’s internal affairs.