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.
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.
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.