The protesters gathered at midday on February 14 near the main Bishkek railway station, before marching towards the central Ala-Too Square. They were holding slogans that read “We demand the rule of law” and “We are for a bright future” among others.
Rally participants also condemned a recent ruling by a Bishkek court that ordered a mitigated punishment and no jail time for former customs official Raimbek Matraimov, who was placed on the U.S. Magnitsky sanctions list for his involvement in the illegal funneling of hundreds of millions of dollars abroad.
Matraimov, the former deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan’s Customs Service, was fined just over $3,000 after pleading guilty to corruption charges. The court said on February 11 that Matraimov had paid back around $24 million to the state in damages lost through corruption schemes that he oversaw.
In June 2019, an investigation by RFE/RL, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Kloop implicate Matraimov in a corruption scheme involving the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan by Chinese-born Uyghur businessman Aierken Saimaiti, who was assassinated in Istanbul in November 2019.
The $700 million scheme involved a company controlled by Matraimov bribing officials to skirt customs fees and regulations, as well as engaging in money laundering, “allowing for maximum profits,” the Treasury Department said.
The participants of the protest in Bishkek condemned the court ruling and chanted: “Arrest Raim” and “Raim must be held responsible.”
The protest was initiated by the Bashtan Bashta movement, which has been organizing similar peaceful rallies in central Bishkek every Sunday since October 2020 when anti-government protests over official results of parliamentary elections toppled the government and led to President Sooronbai Jeenbekov’s resignation.