According to experts, civil control over the activities of the authorities will strengthen; however, they don’t expect any real actions against Raimbek Matraimov, whose name appears in the investigation of the illegal withdrawal of millions of dollars from Kyrgyzstan.
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On November 25, more than a thousand people gathered at the square of Bishkek to a peaceful protest against corruption demanding to carry out reforms. “Re:Action” is a civil protest action, which was organised with the use of internet technologies for the first time. The protest does not have any specific organisers; the calls for the protest were distributed mainly on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
Three days before the peaceful protest, the journalists of Radio Azattyk, OCCRP (The Organized Crime & Corruption Reporting Project) and Kloop.kg published the investigation of corruption schemes used by the customs service of Kyrgyzstan, which were a part of the illegal business run by former deputy head of the customs service of Kyrgyzstan, Raimbek Matraimov.
According to the materials, they were part of activities of Uighur multimillionaire Khabibula Abdukadyr and his family members, whereas businessman Aierken Saimaiti helped to withdraw illegally almost 7000 million dollars from Kyrgyzstan.
According to journalists, Saimaiti handed documents over to them, which “disclosed the scheme of mass and systematic theft of money from one of the poorest countries in the world.” A few months later, he was killed in Istanbul.
After the investigation was published, and seeing no response from the authorities, the Kyrgyzstanis held a peaceful protest demanding immediate decision about Raimbek Matraimov, as well as real actions against corruption and theft in the country.
The peaceful protest was held quietly and without provocations. Over a thousand people gathered together in front of the monument to the Heroes of April revolution in the centre of Bishkek. Both young people and the older generation took part to express their civic position against corruption and theft. Among participants there were also activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and all those who are concerned about the future of Kyrgyzstan.
“It’s the system needs to be changed, not the people”
According to the Corruption Perceptions Index made by Transparency International, Kyrgyzstan holds 132nd place among 180 countries. All states were evaluated using a scale of 1 to 100. 100 means the country is very clean from corruption, and zero means the country is highly corrupt. The countries that scored below 30 are deemed to be highly corrupt. Kyrgyzstan, according to the 2018 index, scored 29.
Civil activist Askhat Osmonov came to the protest to express his active civic position against corruption. According to him, today the authorities demonstrate shadow struggle against theft and lawlessness of state officials, which causes the public outrage. The people of Kyrgyzstan expect really effective outcomes of this struggle, which doesn’t happen.
“Our economic level has significantly decreased. I want our country to get rid of corruption. We won’t achieve that immediately, but we’ll reach that step by step. Someday the situation will be like in foreign countries, where people change their history in one day. It’s the system that needs to be changed, not the people,” Osmonov said.
Ersultan Alykulov, a young and talented artist, also joined the protest. He thought it was his duty to join and support the “Re:Action” as he wants to live in a developed country without corruption and theft, just like all the protesters.
“Today the authorities have reached their limit of lawlessness – people cannot live peacefully in the country and we cannot but respond to this situation. I’d like to emphasise that our president has strongly disappointed all of us with his latest actions [lack of reaction to the investigation]. We need reforms. We have criminals in our authorities and that needs to be prevented before it’s too late,” Alykulov said.
One of the key demands of the protesters was the arrest and initiation of a criminal case against former deputy head of the customs service, Raimbek Matraimov, and real reforms regarding the fight against corruption. All those who came to the square were disaffected towards the government and held up yellow cards. A petition was also created, which will then be submitted to the government office, president’s office and parliament together with the resolution.
So far, the authorities responded neither to the journalistic investigation, nor to the peaceful protest. Deputies keep silent, except for some individuals, and the head of state, Sooronbai Zheenbekov, keeps silent, too. The information policy department of the President’s Office said the head of the department, Tolgonai Stamalieva, was on a sick leave and failed to respond to the questions of CABAR.asia.
“No one wants to make a rod for their own back”
A day before, on November 25, the secretary of the Security Council of the Kyrgyz Republic, Damir Sagynbaev, said at the Bishkek press conference that former deputy head of the State Customs Service of Kyrgyzstan, Raimbek Matraimov, would possibly be invited to pre-investigation actions to establish reasons specified in the journalistic investigation.
“A joint interagency operational group was created to study and verify all the reasons specified in the article under the guidance of the State National Security Committee. I think all persons specified in this journalistic investigation would be invited. I think Matraimov will be possibly invited, too,” Sagynbaev said.
On November 24, the statement of Raimbek Matraimov, former deputy head of the State Customs Service of the Kyrgyz Republic, was posted on the Facebook page of his brother, where he wrote he decided to come back to his motherland and answer all the questions of law enforcement bodies.
The following day, at the press conference, the head of Security Council, Damir Sagynbaev, suggested that the former customs officer was in the country.
“Matraimov is not on a wanted list. So, we don’t keep a close watch on him. As far as I know, Matraimov is in the territory of Kyrgyzstan,” he said.
However, political analyst Medet Tiulegenov doubts any real actions would be ever taken against Raimbek Matraimov. According to him, it will be just a formal approach.
“Now the authorities will make it look like they started the investigation. […] However, I don’t think law enforcement bodies, courts, financial police and other competent authorities will take any real actions to investigate this case thoroughly. Moreover, his arrest and real prison time for him are out of the question,” Tiulegenov said.
According to him, Kyrgyzstan does little to fight corruption, which is based on the fact that many high rank officials and deputies are somehow linked to corruption schemes.
“When fighting corruption, be sure not to become the target of investigation, so no one wants to make a rod for their own back. Serious fight against corruption requires huge efforts, and, most importantly, desire. In this issue, you have to be ready that you’ll go against your friends and relatives,” the political analyst said.
President Sooronbai Zheenbekov emphasised this problem in the interview to Kabar news agency. He added that despite the obstacles created by officials, the anti-corruption struggle will continue.
“Everyone supports anti-corruption struggle, but in fact everything is different. Our population is 6.5 million people and everyone is someone’s brother, parent or relative. And when any official is suspected of corruption, their relatives want to justify them. This is what happens in our country. However, this phenomenon gradually recedes into the past,” Kabar cited Zheenbekov.
Kyrgyzstan does need effective reforms, according to political analyst Almaz Tazhybai. In his opinion, the country needs to change the system of authorities, not the people.
“The revolutions that took place in the country failed to change anything. Moreover, the life in the country has become even harder today. Therefore, I can deduce that the current system of state management has failed to give results that we want. I’m glad to see that the people of Kyrgyzstan realise their significance, which was proved by the protest,” Tazhybai said.
In his opinion, in the future civil control over the activities of government institutions will only strengthen and the authorities will be compelled to take public opinion into account.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.