A draft bill in Kyrgyzstan aimed at marginalizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual communities has once again hit the buffers, raising faint hopes of a reprieve for the country’s embattled sexual minorities.
On May 24, a parliamentary subcommittee proposed holding up the bill for a fresh second reading — an unusual move since progress to a third and final review for legislation is typically a formality.
Kyrgyzstan’s anti-LGBT bill was first proposed in May 2014 and closely mirrored a law approved by Russia’s State Duma the year before. But in addition to the fine for the dissemination of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” envisioned by the Russian law, the Kyrgyz bill also proposed jail terms of up to one year for those who “promote homosexual relations” through the media or among children.
The head of the committee on rule of law, order and fighting crime, Janybek Bakchiev, said that although the bill had already passed through two readings in the previous session of parliament, another second-tier examination was required.
“Considering that this [new session of] parliament has not yet discussed this bill — and I think this is a very ambiguous issue important for society — it deserves to be discussed by the MPs of the current parliament,” Bakchiev told the committee. His suggestion was unanimously approved by the committee.
Bakchiev did not elaborate on the specific motivations for further scrutiny, however.
Deputies in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament have proposed legislation that would ban foreigners from setting up media outlets and restrict the proportion of non-local funding for news organizations to 20 percent.
The backers of the bill — a group of MPs led by Kojobek Ryspayev and Iskender Matraimov, both of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SDPK) — say the legislation is aimed at bolstering what they term “information security.” In the current climate, that language is a clear allusion to what jittery authorities fear is the potential for independent media to provide the kind of aggressive reporting that could fuel protest moods.
The proposed legislation was published online on May 12 for further public scrutiny and discussion. Sponsors of the bill have preventatively sought to dispel possible criticism by pointing out that it has been drafted in accordance with international practice. Examples offered are Russia and Kazakhstan, where foreign participation in media outlets is restricted to 50 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Both countries place toward the bottom of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index, with Russia in 148th position and Kazakhstan coming in at 160th.
The MPs note also somewhat disingenuously and inaccurately draws parallels with legislation in the United States, Australia and France, although media ownership regulations there are not quite as simple as a limitation of 20 percent to 30 percent in foreign ownership, as claimed.
Police in Kyrgyzstan “arrested” a red piano found standing outside main post office in the capital on May 16, local media reported, sparking widespread ridicule in the process.
Officers of the law confirmed the detention took place, with one spokesman citing security concerns in an interview with local outlet Kloop.kg.
"We were called on the 102 [number] and told unknown persons had abandoned the piano. We had to cordon off the area to ensure public order and the safety of residents and guests in the capital. We conducted search operations and found no explosives," said spokesman Olzhobay Kazybayev of the suspicious object in the center of the city.
As underwhelming bomb scares go, this is matched only by an incident in Britain over the weekend, when police evacuated Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium after detecting a fake explosive device that was left behind in a security exercise last week.
This jittery behavior should hardly come as a surprise. Kyrgyzstan’s government has appear more nervous than usual in recent months, and pianos do have previous.
They were seen seen surrounded by demonstrators in full voice during both the Gezi Park protests that rocked Turkey in 2013 and Ukraine’s EuroMaidan uprising the following year, for instance.
But on this occasion the offending object seems to have been a gift to the public from a nominally socialist party in the coalition government, Ata-Meken.
“We gave it as a present, so that anybody who wanted could play on the instrument. It was the idea of our youth wing,” a party representative Kairgul Urumkanova told24.kg.
In the wake of fresh arrests in Kyrgyzstan of would-be coup plotters, President Almazbek Atambayev indulged in another surreal tirade on May 15 against opposition politicians and nongovernmental groups.
The remarks came three days after the arrest of several prominent government critics — former Agriculture Minister Bekbolot Talgarbekov, ex-Finance Minister Marat Sultanov, one-time presidential candidate Torobay Kolubayev — on charges of plotting to seize power. Evidence provided by the authorities for the supposed coup scheme dreamed up by Talgarbekov, Sultanov and Kolubayev consists so far of a recorded conversation that left many skeptical. In a separate case, inveterate troublemaker and businessman Nurlan Motuyev is in hot water over his repeated and downright bizarre praise for the Islamic State group.
But Atambayev is in no mood to wait for due process and quoted eccentrically at an event at his presidential residence from a well-known poem, Quartet by early 19th century Russian writer Ivan Krylov, to deride the jailed foursome. The brief satirical poem tells the story of a group of animals — a monkey, a donkey, a goat and a bear — who try in vain to form a musical ensemble, much to the mockery of a nightingale.
“You, my friends, no matter what your positions, will never be musicians,” Atambayev noted gleefully, quoting the nightingale.
The caustic irreverence sounds an odd note against what the government has sought to cast as the mounting specter of potentially violent sedition. Another three opposition figures from an unrelated faction were arrested in March on the basis of similar accusations of plotting the “violent overthrow of power.”
After two years of tortuous debates in parliament, civil society in Kyrgyzstan has cause for celebration.
A contentious bill, modeled on a similar piece of legislation in Russia, that would in an earlier form have seen internationally funded nongovernment group designated as “foreign agents” was rejected by Kyrgyz deputies on May 12.
Out of the 111 members of parliament present, 65 voted against the bill, which was undergoing its third and final reading.
The legislation was first presented in 2014 by Tursunbai Bakir Uulu and Nurkamil Madaliev, two deputies that have since left parliament, and has proceeded in fits and starts ever since.
In the days preceding parliament’s final decision on the bill, rights groups mounted a lively campaign of opposition. On May 11, around a dozen activists rallied in front of parliament, urging deputies to reject the bill.
Tolekan Ismailova, head of the Bir Duino human rights organization, which gathers information on cases of torture and corruption, said at the protest that the bill was “discriminatory and inhumane”.
“A group of MPs started promoting this bill and we could see that the hand of the Kremlin was behind this,” Ismailova told Kloop.kg. “The discrimination concerns those NGOs that monitor corruption and the activities of parliament.”
But on May 12, some deputies came out in their strongest opposition yet to the legislation. Janar Akayev, a member of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SDPK), suggested the bill would dent Kyrgyzstan’s democratic credentials.
Kyrgyzstan has become the first country in Central Asia to get Google Street View, although prospective visitors need not think this comes even close to a substitute for the real thing.
The project to extend Street View to Kyrgyzstan was unveiled at a cultural center in the town of Cholpon-Ata, which lies on Issyk-Kul lake, a regional tourist magnet.
“Now users of Google Maps all over the world can take virtual trips along Kyrgyz roads and discover tourist attractions online. Among other things, Google technicians took images of exceptional cultural and historic sights like the Burana Towers, the Maiden Tears waterfall, the holy mountain of Suleiman-Too (in Osh), Fairy Tale Valley, the petroglyphs at Cholpon-Ata and other places,” Google representative Tilik Mamutov said on his Facebook account.
While touting this as an opportunity to see Kyrgyzstan from afar, Google says this will help boost tourism.
“You’ll be able to discover where to find a gas station, check out what a place looks like. And when a foreign tourist arrives in a certain place they can find a hotel or a restaurant on their phone,” Google representative Oleg Yakymchuk said in remarks cited by TengriNews.
That might be slightly overstating the case, however. Eateries out of the main cities and off the beaten track tend to be pretty lo-fi affairs and the idea of them being listed on Google Maps is, well, a bit of a stretch. Until users start submitting that kind of information themselves, that is.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev has fired his most senior military official following a series of violent and deadly incidents that point to growing disorder within the armed forces.
On May 11, Zhanybek Kaparov was dismissed and replaced by Raimberdi Duishenbiyev as head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, one day after a soldier in the southern Jalal-Abad region reportedly stabbed a comrade in a squabble over chewing tobacco.
That incident, which did not result in any fatalities, followed news that a 19-year old recruit in the northern Naryn province appeared to have hanged himself after he abandoning his post on May 5.Earlier in the month, a brawl between two soldiers, again in Jalal-Abad, culminated in the death of another 19-year-old conscript.
According to well-regarded human rights organization Kylym Shamy, there have been over 60 deaths in the armed forces in the last four years — most of them suicides.
Militaries across the Central Asian region — particularly its poorest countries Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan — are notorious for providing conscripts with dismal living conditions and paltry wages.
Hazing, or the bullying of young conscripts by older officers, is also widespread. Tajikistan is famously, if only unofficially, said to resort to “oblava,” or the kidnapping of recruits, as a method of hitting conscript quotas.
A high-profile racially motivated assault on two migrants in Moscow last week has prompted Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev to urge Russians to show more respect to their foreign guests.
Speaking at a May 9 requiem event in Bishkek to mark the 71st anniversary of victory in World War II, Atambayev reminded his listeners that hundreds of thousands of Russian evacuees were given shelter in Kyrgyzstan as that conflict was unfolding.
“Simple Kyrgyz families shared their last scraps of bread and clothes. Many evacuees remained in the country for good and became citizens of Kyrgyzstan,” Atambayev was cited as saying by K-News website. “So today I would like for this to be remembered by citizens of our brotherly nation, Russia, where modern fascists — skinheads — are raising their heads.”
The remarks were clearly inspired by a vicious group assault earlier this months on citizens of Kyrgyzstan traveling on the Moscow metro.
Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti cited the police as saying the attack was almost certainly racially motivated.
“They were all shaven-headed, wore heavy military-style boots. On their phones we found photographs of them holding up their arms in a Nazi salute and showing off weapons. Moreover, three of the four [attackers] were underage,” a police source told the agency.
A video posted on the Interior Ministry YouTube channel shows a worrying exchange between a police interrogator and one of the presumed attackers.
“What have you been detained for?” one young man, whose face has been hidden to protect his identity, is asked.
Kyrgyzstan has upped the stakes in its on-and-off battle against the operators of its giant Kumtor gold mine with a raid on the company’s offices that officials say is part of an alleged corruption probe.
Few doubt the April 28 raid in Bishkek was unrelated to the increasingly frayed relationship between Kyrgyzstan and Toronto-based Centerra — in which the Central Asian state’s government owns an almost one-third stake. Negotiations to revise the Kumtor concession collapsed last year, so the authorities have reverted to hardball tactics.
The state prosecutor’s office and the State Committee for National Security have said they are digging into payments made by Centerra’s local affiliate to the mother company in Canada going back as far as 2013.
It is too early to tell if government suspicions that some money may have gone astray are founded, but the sight of rifle-toting men entering the country’s largest private investor is going to do nothing to bolster Kyrgyzstan’s reputation as a promising destination for foreign money.
Mark Burton, Kumtor vice president for finance, and Leslie Louw, the vice president for procurement and logistics, both flew out of the country on the day after the raid, although Centerra insists — and on May 3 even offered proof — that both had planned holidays in advance of the event.
The company’s response to the raid itself was immediate and typically sanguine, noting the government had “expressed concerns regarding, among other things, an inter-corporate dividend paid by KGC to Centerra in 2013.”
Following the most potent criticism to date over the treatment of jailed activist Azimjan Askarov, Kyrgyzstan’s highest court said on April 25 that the case may be reviewed after all.
Whether that means Askarov could be released is not yet certain, but it suggests the authorities may be changing tack from their usual indignant combativeness over the issue.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee on April 21 urged Kyrgyzstan to immediately free the rights activist, who it said had been subjected to torture and denied a fair trial. In September 2010, Askarov, who is an ethnic Uzbek, was sentenced to life imprisonment for what Kyrgyz authorities say was his role in inciting the mob killing of a police officer amid ethnic unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan in June of that year. Many suspect he had been singled out for prosecution because of this prior activism highlight the routine abuses of police officers.
A day after the UN issued its statement, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) doubled down on the calls for Kyrgyzstan to overturn Askarov’s sentence.
“Kyrgyzstan now has an opportunity to correct this injustice, restoring both Mr. Askarov’s rights and its national human rights record in this regard,” ODIHR director Michael Georg Link said in a statement. “Freeing him will also send a strong signal to law enforcement and judicial actors in Kyrgyzstan that the rule of law must be upheld equally for all citizens.”
The Supreme Court said in a statement that the UN Human Rights Committee’s complaint created grounds, under Article 41 of the constitution, for Askarov to lodge a fresh appeal.