Main Photo: Protesters in Bishkek demanded on Monday the release of political prisoners who opposed the land swap with Uzbekistan. (Photo: Metin Dzhumagulov)
About 300 people marched on Monday through Kyrgyzstan’s capital of Bishkek, demanding the release of activists who protested against a land swap with Uzbekistan in which Kyrgyzstan lost a man-made lake in return for land elsewhere along the undefined border, OCCRP member center Kloop reported.
The crowd chanted “Kempri-Abad is ours,” referring to the swapped water reservoir located on the border, and “Freedom for political prisoners.”
Kyrgyz police on Sunday searched the homes and detained at least 21 people who objected in one way or another, the swap, including those who protested against it on Saturday. They have not been released yet.
Some of the detainees are members of a Committee for the Protection of the Kempir-Abad Reservoir - an ad hoc body the protesters created that day.
“In the course of special investigative actions, evidence was obtained about the involvement of individuals preparing for mass riots, followed by an illegal seizure of power,” the Ministry of Internal Affairs said.
Deputy head of government, Edil Baisalov, said that the searches were conducted in order to prevent a coup.
Civil society as well as several members of parliament criticized, even mocked the claim.
MP Dastan Bekeshev noted that Kyrgyz authorities “forgot the lessons of history” and think that Kyrgyzstan has temporarily slipped into authoritarianism.
“Can you imagine that a few active citizens expressing a position on the transfer of the Kempir-Abad reservoir could be preparing to seize power?” Bekeshev asked in a Facebook post.
“This is fantasy and nonsense that comes from above. A criminal case against citizens who oppose the fabricated, illegally concocted transfer of the Kempir-Abad reservoir. They could not convince with words, now they want to convince by force,” he said.
Former MP and current Kyrgyz ambassador in Germany Omurbek Tekebaev echoed Bekeshev’s statement, adding that threats and arrests will lead to no good and that the actions of the authorities are spoiling the reputation of the country in the world.
“Today, the people protect our national wealth. This is the constitutional right of each of us. Not only is it a right, but it is even our duty. I think intimidation and arrests are the wrong way. They won't lead to anything good. This is what our history over the last 30 years has taught us,” Tekebaev said on Facebook.
The Kempir-Abad reservoir has been the focus of public attention over the past few weeks. It is at a section of the border with Uzbekistan that had not been demarcated and government delegations from both countries signed a protocol on September 26 that would lead to a final definition of the border.
However, the content of the entire protocol was not made public but a part of it that foresees the transfer of the Kempir-Abad reservoir to Uzbekistan was met with criticism from local residents and some politicians.
Protests started on October 10 first in the Uzgen region where Kempir-Abad is located. Demonstrators demanded a clarification of the signed document and threatened with “tough measures” in case the reservoir is really handed over to Uzbekistan.
The same day, protests spread to Bishkek, where the head of the State Committee for National Security, Kamchybek Tashiev, who also heads the Kyrgyz delegation for the demarcation of the border, told the Parliament in a closed session that Kempir-Abad will be given to to Uzbekistan but that both countries will equally share its water.
In return, Kyrgyzstan will get about 20,000 hectares of other disputed border area, he said.
The controversy over the transfer forced President Sadyr Japarov and Kamchybek Tashiev to organize a public meeting in Bishkek, which journalists were allowed to attend, but without phones or any other recording devices.
Throughout the discussion, the President insisted that the exchange of 4,485 hectares of land of the Kempir-Abad reservoir for more than 19,000 hectares of land received from Uzbekistan in other areas is a chance that Kyrgyzstan should not miss.
“We have resolved 99% of the disputed plots in our favor. We are not giving anything away, on the contrary, we are acquiring,” Japarov said.