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article imageKyrgyzstan charges two anti-Putin protesters with hate crime

By AFP     Mar 28, 2019 in World

Kyrgyzstan has charged two people with inciting inter-ethnic hatred after they protested a visit to the Central Asian country by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the couple's lawyer said Thursday.

Nurlan Karymshakov and Gulzana Imayeva, who are husband and wife, were arrested and charged while staging a protest outside the Russian embassy in the capital Bishkek on Wednesday, lawyer Zamir Zhosheev said.

"They have been charged with inciting inter-ethnic hatred," Zhooshev said.

The offence "is a serious crime and can carry a prison sentence up to 10 years," he said, calling the charges "complete nonsense."

Police confirmed the arrests but did not immediately confirm the charges.

In a statement on Thursday police said the pair had held posters calling Putin a "killer" and called for an end to Russian military activities near a lake in Kyrgyzstan.

Police also said that a rifle, ammunition, $17,600 in cash and passports with visas for Mexico had been found at the couple's family home, which they raided following their arrest.

"According to the results of state judicial-linguistic expertise, a conclusion was received that (the posters) contain appeals to incite national, racial, religious hatred," police said in a statement.

Putin arrived Thursday on a state visit to Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished ex-Soviet ally that looks to Russia for much-needed investment and security.

During the visit Russia and Kyrgyzstan agreed to expand the territory allocated to Russia's base and raise Moscow's annual rent payments to Bishkek by nearly $300,000 per year to $4.79 million.

Moscow is also set to provide Kyrgyzstan with a grant of $30 million to support the cash-strapped state budget, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said at a Wednesday press-conference in Moscow.

The Kyrgyz government has regularly stressed its loyalty to Moscow and Russia has operated a strategically important military base in Kyrgyzstan since 2003.

In 2012, Kyrgyzstan agreed to extend Moscow's lease of the Kant base by 15 years while Russia pledged to cancel nearly $500 million of debts.

Two years later the country opted not to extend the lease on a base used by the United States for Afghanistan operations.

The latest charges come as a Kyrgyz citizen is on trial for inciting inter-ethnic hatred over critical comments about Russia on social media.

International rights groups regularly accuse Kyrgyzstan and other countries in the predominantly authoritarian region of Central Asia of using inter-ethnic hatred laws too broadly.

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