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Kyrgyzstan: Public Divided Over Politician's Arrest

On June 21, Nariman Tuleev [ru] (also spelled as Tyuleev), a popular opposition MP and former mayor of Bishkek, was detained by the authorities in Kyrgyzstan. Four days later, Tuleev was charged with taking bribes while overseeing the procurement of 200 overpriced buses from China back in 2008. The corrupt deal allegedly cost the state some $1.4 million in economic losses. Kyrgyzstani netizens have greeted the unexpected detention of the politician with shock, joy and a goodly dose of suspicion.

Nariman Tuleev, screenshot from video uploaded May 8, 2010, by Youtube user narimantv2010.

After Tuleev was detained on the evening of June 21, his son, Bakyt, claimed [ru] in an interview with K-news Information Agency that the detention had been far from peaceful:

Через некоторое время из двух микроавтобусов появились 15-20 вооруженных автоматами спецназовцев, сломали ворота, ворвались на территорию дома, задержали отца и насильно увезли его. Ими не были предъявлены ни документы, ни ордер на задержание.

After some time, 15 to 20 armed Special Forces troops arrived in two mini-vans, broke the gate, entered the house, detained my father, and forcefully took him with them. They did not show IDs or a detention warrant.

A video below shows Special Forces troops detaining Tuleev at his home in Bishkek. The video had been recorded on a mobile phone and uploaded on Youtube by user eldarnyc on June 21.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xa7efn4w_Po

The first information on Tuleev’s detention appeared on the Internet at about 10 pm on Thursday. The news blog Kloop.kg has been running [ru] updates ever since.

The level of interest in proceedings against Tuleev has surprised many, since he was commonly believed to have fallen off the political map after seeming squeezed out of the race for the Kyrgyz presidency in October 2011. Tuleev was  moreover short of supporters even inside his own party, Ata-Jurt, believed by experts to have splintered [ru] into three parts shortly after its entry into the parliament in autumn 2010. In the cabinet and president's office, the ex-mayor is reviled by new power-brokers who had been part of  the opposition during his time in Bishkek's City Hall. However, following Tuleev's detention, many MPs from his own party and from the Ar-Namys party have rallied behind a call for his immediate release.

Kyrgyzstani Internet users have been sharing questions and opinions on Tuleev's detention on Twitter and Facebook, with the situation surrounding the ex-mayor proving by far the most discussed topic among Kyrgyz netizens on both platforms.

While Tuleev is being accused of profiting from the purchase of Chinese buses during his tenure as Bishkek's mayor, his arrest has been interpreted by some internet users as a crackdown on non-malleable MPs by the government.

For example, on June 25, Kyrgyz television anchor Assol Moldokmatova tweeted [ru]:

Что с Нариманом Тюлеевым?! Отпустили?! Толковый, хозяйственник, умеет держать слово, успешные, состоятельные для многих, как кость в горле.

What's happening with Nariman Tuleev? Has he been released? [He is a] knowledgeable, business-oriented person who can keep his word; successful, well-to-do [people] are always disliked.

Others waxed nostalgic, remembering Tuleev as one of the brightest politicians in the administration of former president Kurmanbek Bakiev and using the opportunity to criticize Bishkek's current mayor, Isa Omurkulov. AnaraKG tweeted [ru]:

Вот честно,не люблю я эту политику,тем более она у нас очень грязная,но Тюлеева я всегда уважала,я вижу разницу когда Тюлеев был и щас Омурк.

Honestly, I am not fond of politics, particularly because it is a very dirty business [in Kyrgyzstan], but I have always respected Tuleev and I can see the difference between the time when Tuleev was [the mayor] and now with [Omurkulov] holding the office.

Other segments of the Kyrgyz population were just happy to see Atambayev’s government take steps in its long-promised fight against corruption. Under a K-news article on Tuleev's arrest, Chika rejoiced [ru]:

Тюлеев- ВОР ВОР ВОР ВОР ВОР ВОР ВОР ВОР ВОР… ВОР должен сидеть в тюрьме

Tuleev is a thief, thief, thief, thief, thief, thief, thief, thief, thief.. The thief belongs in jail.

However, some readers have been quick to point to the fact that Tuleev's arrest is difficult to reconcile with the legal immunity that he has as an MP. Azat noted [ru]:

Не сторонник Тюлеева,более того,привлекать его,есть за что,но не такими методами.Тюлеев,все таки депутат,ведь депутатский иммунитет,насколько я помню,никто не отменял.

I am not a supporter of Tuleev; moreover, I think there are reasons to bring him to justice, but not through this kind of methods. Tuleev is still an MP, and, as far as I can remember, MPs enjoy legal immunity.

Are the charges brought against Tuleev politically motivated? On Twitter, a Kyrgyzstani user, @Nosovik, wrote [ru]:

Вы видите в случае с ТНТ высокое стремление АША бороться с коррупцией? Я вижу тут грубую, чисто в стиле БКС, борьбу с опппонентом!

Do you see the incident with [Tuleev] as part of [President Almas Atambayev's] anti-corruption drive? I see the incident as part of an uncompromising struggle against a political opponent, very much the [former president Bakiev's] style.

Prominent Kyrgyz Twitter user, Edil Baisalov, responded [ru]:

тюлеева надо было еще когда закрывать. Вопрос не в нем лично. Вопрос в иммунитете и процедурах!

Tuleev should have been put behind bars ages ago. The question isn't about him as a person. It is about [respecting MP's] immunity and [following proper] procedures!

Zarima Sultanbekova, a contributing editor at Kloop.kg described [ru] the mood outside of the courtroom on June 25, when a Bishkek court approved a two-month incarceration for Tuleev:

охх, была я возле суда. половина людей хотят свободы для экс-мэра, другая – смертную казнь. там такой хавыч!

Ooh, I was just outside the courtroom. Half of the people there want the ex-mayor freed; the other [half] wants a death penalty for him. There was so much [intensity] there.

A video below, uploaded by KloopLive on Youtube on June 25, shows dozens of supporters and opponents of Tuleev as well as local and international reporters waiting outside the courtroom where the politician's case is heard:

 

Some argue [ru] that the events that have seen Tuleev thrown in jail are somehow connected to the mayoral elections which will take place this autumn. Tuleev has made no secret of his desire to return to the City Hall in Bishkek, having been summarily “disappeared” from office following the April 7 coup over two years ago. Ironically, he recently accused [ru] the present mayor, Isa Omurkulov, of pursuing an ineffective strategy regarding an agreement with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for a $15.6 million purchase of trolleybuses for the capital. Perhaps he thinks he would have got a better value for money…

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

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