Page last updated at 05:48 GMT, Friday, 16 October 2009 06:48 UK

Kyrgyzstan mulls return to death penalty

By Ibraim Nurakun-uulu
BBC Kyrgyz service, Bishkek

A Kyrgyz horse rider near the capital, Bishkek
Crime is on the rise amid the beautiful landscape of Kyrgyzstan

On a sunny day in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, there are clear views of distant snow-capped mountains.

There is little to suggest that the country is in the grip of a wave of criminal activity that includes political murders, kidnappings and violent attacks.

But security officials have been complaining that the murder rate is rising.

And while there are no precise statistics, in 2008 four parliamentarians and two journalists were among those killed.

It was the murder of a member of parliament outside his house in the capital earlier this year that sparked calls for the death penalty to be reinstated.

The country imposed a moratorium on executions in 1998 and formally abolished capital punishment in 2007.

Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongatiyev was the first to recommend reinstating capital punishment to cut the murder rate.

Now other leading officials have joined the chorus of those calling for strict discipline.

"Why must people put up for their entire lives with people who have committed terrible crimes against them," says Adakhan Madumarov, the secretary of the National Security Council.

Divided public

Another vocal supporter of the death penalty is the head of the security services, Murat Sutalinov.

"We have our own way that is different from the West. This is the place where we live," Mr Sutalinov says.

Murat Sutalinov
Security services chief Murat Sutalinov wants public executions

"We need to look again at the issue of the death penalty without looking up to the West or the OSCE [the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe]."

In a move that has alarmed international human rights groups, Mr Sutalinov has also called for public executions, which he says could be effective as a deterrent.

Public opinion is divided on the issue of bringing back the death penalty.

But polls suggest that most people in this impoverished, predominantly Muslim nation believe that capital punishment would cut crime.

"Of course we need the death penalty," says Narynbek, walking along a busy street in Bishkek.

"Imagine if someone abuses a child, why should we keep him in prison alive."

Crime concern

The latest debate has drawn stinging criticism from local human rights activists.

Toleikan  Ismailova
In a country where there are no independent courts, you can't say that the death penalty will bring discipline
Toleikan Ismailova
Human rights campaigner

The leader of Civil Society Against Corruption, a non-governmental organisation, told the BBC that the return of capital punishment was a step towards authoritarianism.

"In a country where there are no independent courts, you can't say that the death penalty will bring discipline. On the contrary it will bring an increase in crime", said Toleikan Ismailova.

Kyrgyzstan's national ombudsman, Tursunbek Akun, also warned that the move could damage the country's international image.

"I will do my best to prevent the proposals from reaching parliament and the president for approval," he told the BBC.

International human rights organisations have also entered the debate.

Amnesty International's Piers Bannister said the overwhelming global trend was to move away from the death penalty.

"The world is abandoning capital punishment in a very fast way," Mr Bannister told the BBC Kyrgyz Service.

"And once they've moved away from the death penalty, very few have actually brought back executions."

Human rights campaigners also argue that there is no evidence that capital punishment deters crime.

They say the authorities need to look at solutions such as better policing, crime prevention and poverty reduction to deal with the problem.

Underworld link

Some analysts link the latest debate to what they see as an increasingly authoritarian approach by the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

Erica Marat, a Central Asia expert at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington says the debate illustrates the weakening of civil society and the growing influence of military and security officials loyal to President Bakiyev on policy making.

President Kurmanbek  Bakiyev
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev will receive a report on the death penalty

"Before, politicians were more constrained. They knew that civil society and independent mass media would ridicule them, but this is no longer the case in Krygyzstan," she said.

"This is a direct result of suppressed civil society which is not able to react to this sort of proposition."

Observers also say that the government may be trying to rein in Kyrgyzstan's powerful criminal underworld, which has been accused of trying to intimidate politicians.

Erica Marat says the number of political assassinations in the past year are a clear sign of this, and she thinks that calls to bring back the death penalty could be a tactical move by the authorities, to scare those underworld bosses.

The National Security Council is due to hold further discussions on the death penalty and the findings will be sent to the president.

(Additional reporting was provided by Johannes Dell in London.)

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