BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan _ Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan voted Wednesday to reject a United Nations protocol banning the death penalty in a move sharply criticized by human rights activists.
The decision not to adopt the optional protocol to the 1989 U.N. covenant on civil rights signals that the former Soviet nation may be set to reverse recent reforms that led to the removal of the death penalty from its statute books.
Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished, predominantly Muslim Central Asian nation, imposed a moratorium on executions in 1998 and abolished the death penalty in its 2007 constitution.
But the rejection of the U.N. protocol could lead to reinstatement of the death penalty. Backers say capital punishment would help combat crime and save the government money spent on prisoners serving life sentences.
Proposals to reinstate the death penalty have picked up steam in Kyrgyzstan in recent months, with one top-ranking security official suggesting that executions could be carried out in public.
Government-backed Ak Zhol party lawmaker Askar Salymbekov said his faction's decision to vote against the U.N. protocol reflected public opinion. «Around 80 percent to 90 percent of our population is for imposing the death penalty,» he said.
Rights activists say the move is unconstitutional and could lead to backsliding on democracy.
«The introduction of the death penalty would be a threat to everybody who lives in our country,» said Tolekan Ismailov, executive director of the Citizens Against Corruption rights group. «If Kyrgyzstan takes this step, it will be condemned by many international organizations.»
While the death penalty remains on the books in some other former Soviet nations, Belarus is the only one in which it is still carried out. Others, including Russia, have banned it or imposed moratoriums to meet requirements for membership in the Council of Europe, a human rights body.