Kyrgyz professor battles for democracy

January 15, 1999

Topchubek Turganaliyev, former rector of the University of the Humanities in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, and former chairman of the pro-democracy Erkin Kyrgyzstan Party, has issued an appeal to Kyrgyz politicians, the media and human rights groups to join in a campaign for democracy.

The appeal comes at a sensitive moment in Kyrgyz politics, as Kyrgyz president, Askar Akayev, has just dismissed his entire government for failing to cope with the country's economic crisis.

Issuing the appeal put Professor Turganaliyev at risk of imprisonment. At the end of November he was paroled from a labour-camp sentence on the understanding that he would refrain from political activity. He had already been paroled earlier in the year, but was reimprisoned following a rally.

Professor Turganaliyev, adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, was originally arrested in December 1996 on charges of defaming President Akayev.

The following month, a local court sentenced him to ten years' imprisonment on charges of embezzlement of university funds, forgery and abuse of his power as rector.

The Kyrgyz Supreme Court reduced the sentence to four years, on the single charge of abuse of office.

Professor Turganaliyev's political supporters say all charges were fictitious, and that his offence was his support for democratic freedom, in the face of President Akayev's authoritarian regime.

His latest appeal, accusing the regime of "falsifying elections and referenda", puts him at risk of reimprisonment. However to rearrest him could cause unpleasant publicity at a time when Kyrgyzstan needs all the foreign goodwill and aid it can muster to climb out of economic crisis.

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