A man attending a rally in support of detained opposition politician Sadyr Japarov being dragged away by a police officer on March 25, 2017. (Photo: Danil Usmanov)
A self-exiled and wanted opposition politician returned to Kyrgyzstan on March 25 to face questioning by the security services, sparking a rowdy demonstration by his indignant supporters that degenerated into ugly scuffles with police.
The Interior Ministry said 68 people were detained following the clashes.
This episode of unrest has further ratcheted up unease in a decisive election year as authorities step up pressure against the opposition and independent media.
Sadyr Japarov, a member of the nationalist Ata-Jurt party, returned to Kyrgyzstan after spending four years in neighboring Kazakhstan, where he was evading arrest for his alleged involvement in whipping up disturbances in a regional town in 2013.
After Japarov arrived the Bishkek headquarters of State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, where he was taken after being detained at the land border with Kazakhstan, several hundred people — mostly young men — identifying as his supporters, mustered at the building. Some chanted: “Free Japarov!”
A lawyer for Japarov, Sharadidin Toktosunov, said the detention of his client was illegal, as he was initially summoned only as a witness, but was now being subjected to questioning.
Investigators accuse Japarov of funding the organization of violent protests in October 2013 in the Issyk-Kul region — ostensibly in favor of nationalizing the economically vital Kumtor gold field — with a view to sowing political unrest. During those protests in the town of Karakol, crowds reportedly took Issyk-Kul governoror Emil Kaptagayev hostage. According to some accounts, Kaptagayev’s captors at one stage doused him in petrol and threatened to set him alight.
The GKNB accuses Japarov of directing that alleged kidnapping.
One of the youngest and most active members of Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has been expelled from the pro-presidential Social-Democratic Party (SDPK).
The SDPK’s political council explained on March 24 that the views of Zhanar Akayev, 31, had drifted too far from its official platform.
The speculation is that the decision was taken following Akayev’s decision to participate in a march last weekend in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, in defense of media outlets being sued by the General Prosecutor’s Office on behalf of President Almazbek Atamabayev.
Akayev has said that he is not taking the expulsion to heart and that his colleagues were most likely “fulfilling an order” — implying the instruction was handed down by the president’s office.
“A person that tells the truth but who finds himself among liars and sycophants will always be considered an extremist,” he said.
In a previous life, Akayev worked for RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, Radio Azattyk, which is one of the outlets facing the libel lawsuits. He has regularly spoken in defense of his old employer despite Atambayev’s recurring criticism.
Commenting on the situation, Atambayev questioned how it was that Akayev even got into parliament in the first place.
“At the next parliamentary elections we will find out whether it was the people that picked him or whether he got in thanks to SDPK,” Atambayev said.
Akayev will remain in parliament and has said that he has no immediate intention to join the ranks of any of the opposition parties.
Atambayev’s brand is indelibly associated with that of the SDPK, although as president he is in theory not permitted to be involved in party political activity. Occasional remarks, like those on Akayev, however, appear to give lie to his claims that he no longer retains operation influence over the party.
A court in Kyrgyzstan has frozen the bank accounts of two media outlets facing libel lawsuits mounted on behalf of the president by the General Prosecutor’s Office.
Bishkek city court on March 22 ruled that assets belonging to RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, Radio Azattyq, and news website Zanoza.kg should be frozen pending hearings over their alleged “spread of dishonest information” about President Almazbek Atambayev.
Zanoza.kg chief editor Dina Maslova told EurasiaNet.org that the decision has put the operations of her outlet at risk.
“These are the funds we use to pay taxes, the salaries of our employees and our rent. Now we need to look into different options — opening another outlet, another website or just use social media. And there could be problems with advertisers,” she said.
Maslova said the website will appeal the ruling.
She and others have argued that the government is trying to force Zanoza.kg into refraining from critical reporting by filing unwarrantedly large lawsuits — Maslova has said her outlet is being sued for more than $140,000.
“We consider this a form of pressure. If the authorities wanted to get to the truth, then they would have settled this matter before going to court. They would have called, told us of their indignation, there would have been meetings. None of this happened. They want to ruin us from the outset, because what Kyrgyz outlet has this kind of money?” she said.
The court justified its ruling by saying that in the event of the lawsuit going the way of the General Prosecutor’s Office, it could directly levy the amount from the accounts.
But Maslova said the amount in question was not even on the accounts in the first place.
An earlier version of this story offered a regrettably inaccurate snapshot of the state of remittances paid by migrant laborers from Russia to Central Asia in 2016.
Contrary to what was asserted in that report, remittances have not been rising but mostly falling.
As stated before, the Russian Central Bank did note this week that money transfers by individuals to Uzbekistan had hit $2.74 billion in 2016, but this actually represented a drop not a rise, since the figure for 2015 was $3 billion.
Second place among cash transfers made from Russia to former Soviet states is taken by Tajikistan. The figure for remittances in 2016 was $1.9 billion — a global figure smaller than Uzbekistan, but one that accounts for a far greater proportion of the nation’s economy as a whole. This is a fall from the previous year, when it was $2.2 billion.
In third place in Kyrgyzstan, with $1.7 billion. Now, this is an improvement, from the $1.5 billion recorded in 2015
This picture affects the prior evaluation of the figures somewhat, and indeed in a way that makes more sense.
One obvious takeaway is that Kyrgyzstan’s decision to join the European Economic Union may indeed be starting to bear some scanty fruit, since the uptick in the inflow of remittances is likely connected to the greater ease with which Kyrgyz workers can now settle in Russia for employment.
Rally organizer and public activist Edil Baisalov, center, marching at a rally in defense of freedom of speech in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on March 18, 2017. (Photo: Danil Usmanov)
Hundreds of people went onto the streets of Kyrgyzstan’s capital over the weekend to demonstrate in support of free speech — only for many of them to be detained by police.
The rally in the center of Bishkek on March 18 was prompted by a wave of libel lawsuits filed on behalf of President Almazbek Atambayev that media rights advocates say are intended to crush independent reporting.
Among those participating were numerous journalists, members of parliament, rights activists and regular members of the public. The MPs were from the opposition Ata-Meken party, whose leader Omurbek Tekebayev is in jail facing charges of corruption. Several of the lawsuits involve the reporting of unproven allegations made by Tekebayev.
One participant in the rally was Alexander Kim, who is facing investigation over alleged financial misdemeanors while he was in control of Kyrgyzstan’s largest newspaper, Vecherniy Bishkek. The newspaper was wrested from his control by court ruling in 2015 and has since tacked to a fiercely pro-government and, accordingly, anti-opposition line. On the eve of the rally, finance police turned up at Kim’s home to detain him, but were foiled when it was found they did not have a warrant.
While the rally began peacefully enough, it was quickly interrupted by police, who said they had a court order to bring the march to a halt. After that, police began detaining participants, including activists Mavlyan Askarbekov, Aibek Myrza and Azamat Attokurov. Ata-Meken MP Kanybek Imanaliyev was held briefly before being released.
Rally organizer and public activist Edil Baisalov confronted the police, stating that the mayor’s office had given its approval. City Hall confirmed this information.
The former owner of Kyrgyzstan’s largest newspaper — which has tacked away from its formerly sparky reporting style since a court-ordered takeover in 2015 — is being targeted for arrest.
After nightfall on March 17, a group of officers with the finance police attempted to forcibly detain 70-year old Alexander Kim at his apartment, but their efforts were foiled following a public uproar.
The move comes against the backdrop of mounting intimidation of independent press and attempts by state prosecutors to seek crippling libel damages from critical outlets, such as Zanoza.kg, which is owned by Kim.
The State Service for Combating Economic Crimes has said it is investigating Kim over suspect financial activity when he was the director of the holding company that owned Vecherniy Bishkek newspaper.
Shortly after the arrival of the finance police squadron at Kim’s apartment, civic society and rights activists rushed to the scene. After a standoff lasting several hours, finance police relented but left a summons for Kim to present himself to the authorities on March 22.
Vecherniy Bishkek, a daily newspaper, has had a complicated and troubled past, having changed beneficiaries repeatedly through nebulous means.
Its current owner, Alexander Ryabushkin, previously had a degree of control over the paper, but argued that it was illegally wrested out of his hands. A court in September 2015 ordered that ownership of the newspaper be transferred from Kim to Ryabushkin.
Kim argued that the court decision was politically motivated and engineered by people close to the presidential administration.
Parliament in Kyrgyzstan has narrowly rejected legislation that would have made it illegal to hunt endangered animals until 2030.
Opponents of the bill, which was defeated 56 to 52, argued that the ban could cost the country money in lost tourist revenue. They also said the legislation would do nothing to solve the problem of poaching.
“We could get a boomerang effect from a moratorium. Besides, we would lose revenue from foreign hunters,” said Isa Omurkulov, a member of parliament with the ruling Social-Democratic Party (SDPK).
The government currently charges 450,000 som ($6,000) for a license to hunt Argali mountain sheep, known locally as Arkhar, the most commonly sought trophy animal for foreign hunters. An all-inclusive hunting expedition to the country can about $15,000-20,000 — likely the lowest rate in the whole region. (Here is footage of a foreigner on a hunt in Kyrgyzstan).
Authorities freely admit that foreigners buying a single license are at liberty to shoot dead as many animals as they care to.
Lawmakers certainly have a point about poaching.
According to official figures, there were 520 instances of illegal hunting recorded in the 2015-16 season, while only 69 licenses were handed out. Indeed, while those lawfully hunting contribute substantial sums of money to the economy, illegal hunters do nothing but cause possibly permanent environmental damage.
Supporters of the moratorium have said they will continue their campaign, however.
“We must continue to protect our ecology, which was religiously cared for by our ancestors,” said lawmaker Zhanar Akayev, who helped draft the bill. “There will always be those that resist major changes, but we must continue to expand the ranks of our supporters.”
Grigory Mikhailov, a Regnum editor formerly based in Kyrgyzstan, attending a conference in 2016. (Photo: Facebook account, Sergey Kozlov)
Russia’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan has in a startling break from custom declined to come out in defense of a Russian reporter expelled from the country.
Unprecedented might be putting it too strongly, but for the Russian Foreign Ministry to willingly throw a reporter for a Kremlin-supporting news outlet under the bus is a notable development.
Andrei Krutko told news website Vesti.kg on March 13 that Grigory Mikhailov, a formerly Bishkek-based editor with Regnum website, had violated migration agreements between Russia and Kyrgyzstan.
“Also, we pulled up all our documents, and we have no record of Grigory Mikhailov ever being registered with us. It turns out that we had no legal record of his presence. For all five years in which I have been in Kyrgyzstan, Mikhailov never came to a single [embassy] event,” Krutko said. “It also turned out that he was not accredited with the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry or with the government.”
Krutko said Mikhailov’s situation was entirely analogous to that of the tens of thousands of Kyrgyz citizens deported from Russia for violating similar rules and that there was no evidence of any political motives in the case.
Any perceived mistreatment of Russian government-friendly journalists overseas — immaterial of the mitigating circumstances — typically provokes fiery protests from the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, but the response here has strayed from the regular script.
Regnum’s reaction to Krutko’s remarks has been indignant.
A journalist for a fiercely pro-Kremlin news agency has been expelled from Kyrgyzstan in a move that has political observers in the Moscow-friendly nation scratching their heads.
Grigory Mikhailov, an editor with Regnum website, posted an update on Facebook on March 13 to say he was returning to Russia from Kazakhstan after having been denied entry to Kyrgyzstan, where he has been based for more than a decade.
Mikhailov was stopped by police on the evening of March 10 while he was strolling with his wife in the center of the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and ordered to show his documents. The journalist, a Russian citizen, was not carrying his passport, but it was eventually established that his registration in Kyrgyzstan had expired, which constitutes a violation of migration law.
While Mikhailov admits his papers were not in order, he toldfergana.ru that police made no note of this fact in their reports.
“The police advised us to cross the nearest Kyrgyz-Kazakhstani border point and to return to Kyrgyzstan so that they could put a note about registration at the passport control booth,” Mikhailov’s wife, Yevgeniya Kim, told EurasiaNet.org.
But when Mikhailov attempted to do just that, he was denied re-entry at the border.
Mikhailov has said he believes he has been singled out for this treatment because of his work.
“It is possible that the evaluations that I made in my articles — and I have had a few recently — were not to somebody’s pleasing,” he said.
Technically speaking, Mikhailov was not even deported, since he left Kyrgyzstan of his own will.
Kazakhstan is dangling more than $100 million in financial support in front of struggling neighbor Kyrgyzstan, but the transfer is reportedly being hindered by a combination of bureaucratic muddling and a turn of diplomatic ill-will.
The fate of the funds, which have been earmarked to smooth integration within the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), came up in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament on March 13 as MPs wondered aloud why the money was taking so long to arrive.
Agreement on the payment of $100 million in aid was reached late last year, and Kazakhstan’s prime minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev said earlier this month that he had agreed with his Kyrgyz counterpart for the sum to be increased by a further $41 million.
Saidulla Nyshanov, a deputy with the Ata-Meken party, said that the delay had been caused by the failure of Kyrgyz government departments to provide Kazakhstan with certain required paperwork.
The earmarked funds have been described as “technical aid” required to enable Kyrgyzstan to implement regulations in line with its membership in the EEU, which it joined in mid-2015. More specifically, the money is to be spent on building customs infrastructure and developing laboratory facilities for testing goods destined for export with the trading bloc. Kyrgyz deputy prime minister Oleg Pankratov also said in the last week of December that the support would go toward harmonization of railway cargo tariffs.