Temirlan Ormukov. Source: Youtube. Poet Temirlan Ormukov, who pens satirical poetry critical of the Kyrgyz authorities, cut his stomach open on 29 March with a razor in protest against being imprisoned at an Interior Ministry building. Ormukov was treated by emergency services, and on 5 April was placed in investigative detention in Bishkek. Ormukov, who is blind and is recognised as having a disability, was kept in a tiny, three-metre-square ward. Handcuffs dangled from the hospital bed as two police officers kept watch.
Ormukov believes that the authorities want to imprison him for publishing his poetry, which satirises high-ranking public officials, on Facebook. This criminal prosecution came via Dastan Bekeshev, a parliamentary deputy with the ruling Social Democrat party. According to Ormukov, Bekeshev wants vengeance after the poet requested a criminal case against him. The poet, a coordinator at the civic fund of blind and deaf persons, requested that the Kyrgyz General Prosecutor’s Office investigate if Bekeshev was financing protests by blind persons in 2016.
Several members of the Kyrgyz Society for the Deaf and Blind stated publicly in September 2016 that they had organised public demonstrations at Bekeshev’s request in support of removing Kalyk Mambetakunov, head of the society. According to them, Bekeshev, who had promised to allocate several society members apartments, reneged on his promise as soon as Mambetakunov was removed. Bekeshev, who is blind, later stated that these accusations were based on selective interpretations, and members of the society presented no evidence in support of their case.
“Participants of the demonstrations said that they were paid themselves,” Ormukov tells me. “But my request was ignored. Then Bekeshev contacted the Prosecutor’s Office to request a criminal prosecution for false denunciation.”
Bekeshev also applied to have a judicial analysis of Ormukov’s poetry, specifically, the poem “Azhoun oorup zhurogu” (“The ruler’s heart was ill”), which concerns former president of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev. In particular, in 2016 Bekeshev tried to press a defamation case in relation to the following stanza:
“Having called the Talas folk non-people,
He couldn’t reconcile those who were offended.
Will the sheep from Naryn remain without food
When you die?”
This poem was a reaction to a speech made by Atambayev in 2013. Back then, the head of state quoted an extract from the Kyrgyz epos Manas, written by Sayakbay Karalayev about the residents of Naryn and Talas regions. In this extract, the hero (Manas) says to his wife Kanykey: “Talas will not be your home, and the Talas folk will not be your people after my death.”
Different versions of Atambayev’s speech went viral on social media — on one YouTube video (later deleted), he said the phrase “People of Naryn, you are cattle”, causing a reaction on the internet. According to the General Prosecutor’s Office, unidentified persons deliberately distorted the president’s words, and placed a doctored version of the video online in order to discredit him. According to the authorities, Atambayev said “People of Naryn, you are cattle-herders.”
State forensic analysis found Ormukov’s words to be defamatory of the former president, and the poet was fined 50,000 soms ($750). Ormukov tells me that the analysis also found that his poem contained “grounds for spreading inter-regional conflict”, though he denies this, stating that he merely decided to compose a poem mocking Atambayev’s speeches off the back of a wave of public criticism.
Bekeshev’s complaints didn’t stop there. According to Ormukov, at the beginning of 2017, a false reporting of crime case was opened against the poet, and he was banned from leaving Bishkek. In August 2017, a Bishkek district court ordered that Ormukov be placed in pre-trial detention for 30 days after he failed to appear in court. But he was placed under arrest in March 2017. “They decided to imprison me because I was getting medical treatment in Vorontsovka [a hospital 20km from Bishkek]. If they’ve decided to shut me up, then it’s all the same to me. Every time they try and pressure me, I write new poems.”
Ormukov says that he doesn’t fully understand the accusations against him — he can’t familiarise himself with the charges due to his disability. He needs an official representative for the charges to be read out, but the court hasn’t given him one. On 29 March, Ormukov cut his stomach in protest at his detention. Source: Facebook.
Edil Momunaliyev, an investigator at Bishkek’s city Interior Ministry, informed that that Oktyarbsky district court ordered Ormukov’s arrest on the request of Bekeshev. When I asked why the investigation isn’t account for the poet’s disability, he stated that this was the court’s decision.
Mira Rittman, a representative of Human Rights Watch in Central Asia, stated via email that, according to international law, you need special circumstances to imprison an individual — not only for people with disabilities, but for anyone facing criminal prosecution.
“In this case, it’s hard to understand what could become a ‘special circumstance’ for imprisoning Ormukov,” Rittman writes. The Kyrgyz Committee in Defence of Freedom of Speech has also condemned Ormukov’s imprisonment.
Playing for the public
Dastan Bekeshev has said that he didn’t intend to request Ormukov’s imprisonment. On Facebook, he claims that the poet didn’t attend court hearings for various reasons — and this why the court changed its decision. “I hope that public opinion will understand there’s a lot of exaggerations in this case: a person cannot rip open their stomach and livestream it on Facebook, and then visit the cardiology ward. This is all playing to the public. Sometimes unreasonable people have emotions of reasonable people.”
Placing the blind poet Ormukov in pre-trial detention isn’t the only case of its kind in Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz Republic, known as the “Switzerland of Central Asia”, has already fallen down the rankings of the Reporters Without Borders between 2016-2017. It is now considered “Partially Free” by Freedom House.
The defamation lawsuits against Kyrgyz independent media, which started in 2017, have played their role — and all court decisions have found in favour of former president Atambayev. The losing parties have to pay compensation costs of 40m soms ($588,200), which will likely bankrupt them, as in the case of the independent Zanoza.kg site in 2017.
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