Kyrgyzstan: Prominent opposition leader moved from prison for health reasons

A dogged opponent of Kyrgyzstan’s former president has been moved from prison to a heart clinic in a possible sign that the current leadership is seeking to rebuild bridges.

Omurbek Tekebayev, who has been held at a prison colony for the past nine months, serving a sentence on corruption charges, will remain under observation indefinitely.

During former President Almazbek Atambayev’s time in power, Tekebayev became one of the country’s most outspoken opposition leaders and had spoken especially sharply about the ex-leader’s tinkering with the constitution.

Tekebayev’s family and colleagues have been warning about his need for medical treatment since the start of the year. Prison officials rejected all such appeals, calling the politician’s condition “satisfactory.” There has now been a change of tune.

“Tekebayev has been hospitalized for examinations, and not because his health has worsened,” prison officials said in a statement cited by RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service. “It is not known how long he will remain in the hospital.”

The backstory to this gesture of compassion is that Atambayev was last year replaced by his protege-turned-antagonist Sooronbai Jeenbekov. Concessions to the opposition appear like a chance for Jeenbekov to rally support from Atambayev’s most hardened foes.

Corruption charges are readily used in Kyrgyzstan for what look to all intents and purposes like politicized ends.

Jeenbekov’s team has made a public show of being engaged in the fight against corruption. Many top allies of Atambayev have been either arrested on graft charges. Among them are ex-Prime Minister Sapar Isakov and the recently dismissed mayor of Bishkek, Albek Ibraimov.

Atambayev has described the moves against his associates as a “dirty persecution.” As irony would have it, Tekebayev used to deploy similar language when criminal charges that many observers believed to be trumped-up were leveled at him. He was sentenced to four years in prison in November 2014.

The custom of moving jailed politicians to the hospital has some considerable vintage in Kyrgyzstan. It is common for prominent figures to request medical treatment shortly after being taken into custody.

One recent example of this was when another former prime minister being investigated for corruption, Jantoro Satybaldiyev, asked to be released from detention for treatment. A decision on this matter has yet to be taken.