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, their lawyer said Thursday.

Chief Executive of Gazprom company Alexei Miller exchanges documents with a member of the Kyrgyz delegation during a signing ceremony following the talks of Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Sooronbay Jeenbekov of Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek on March 28, 2019. (Photo by MAXIM SHEMETOV / POOL / AFP)

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

Activists said the pair held posters calling Putin a “killer” and an “occupier” and called for Russia to leave the military base it controls in Kyrgyzstan.

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

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Kyrgyz police confirmed the arrests but did not provide further details.

“They have been charged with inciting inter-ethnic hatred,” lawyer 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.”

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.

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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