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.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee on April 21 urged Kyrgyzstan to immediately free jailed activist Azimjan Askarov, who it said has been subjected to mistreatment and torture since his imprisonment in 2010.
That appeal is bound to provoke deep irritation in Kyrgyzstan, which has reacted combatively to all international appeals over this particular case.
The Human Rights Committee said in a statement that 18 international human rights experts had found that Kyrgyzstan routinely flouted articles of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights in their treatment of Askarov.
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.
Echoing the positions adopted earlier by advocacy groups and Western governments, the UN rights committee said Askarov had been denied the basic right to properly prepare for his trial and criticized the manner of his initial detention.
“Askarov was initially detained at the police station where the deceased officer was based and … no specific security measures were in place to safeguard him,” the UN rights committee statement said.
Committee members ruled that independent medical examinations suggested Askarov had been subjected to acts of torture.
A subsequent inquiry in 2013 was found to be lacking “the element of impartiality, as it interviewed more than 100 law enforcement officers, judges, court clerks and prosecutors but failed to interview [Askarov’s] lawyers, human rights defenders who visited him in prison, and his relatives,” the committee said.
Going by recent form, Kyrgyzstan is unlikely to take this parade of charges well.
In March, officials from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan were at one another’s throats over a border dispute. But a month is a long time in frontier politics.
With moods now significantly calmed, representatives from both countries’ border services met on April 18 to discuss the recent discovery of an illegal cross-frontier smugglers’ tunnel.
Russian state-run news service Sputnik reported that the meeting took place at the “Uzbekistan” border crossing and organized at Tashkent’s instigation.
The underground passage discovered in March led from the village of Burbolik in Uzbekistan’s Altyaryk District to the village of Kyrgyz-Kyshtak in the Kadamzhai district in the Batken region. Sputnik cited Uzbek officials as saying they are still trying to establish who was running the smuggling operation.
Uzbek news website Podrobno.uz reported in March, that the 120-meter long tunnel was built six meters below ground and was around 70 centimeters wide and more than a meter high.
For all those relatively modest dimensions, Kyrgyz and Uzbek officials believe there is almost no limit to the evil that might have been coursing through the tunnel.
“Both sides are studying the possibility that this structure was being used to transport weapons, ammunition, explosives, unconstitutional literature, narcotics and militants,” Podrobno.uz reported.
The likelihood of “unconstitutional literature” — typically a codeword for religious pamphlets — is perhaps the most risible item on the list, since the Internet would be a far more secure way of conveying such material.
Kyrgyzstan has a new prime minister, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, an arch-loyalist of President Almazbek Atambayev and a significant power-broker in the south.
His ascendancy to the premiership, which was confirmed by parliament on April 13, was far from expected, including by 57-year old Jeenbekov, who has said this week he had “never even dreamed of getting the job.”
Out of the 115 deputies present, all voted for Jeenbekov to get the nod.
If the surname Jeenbekov sounds familiar, it might be because the new prime minister’s younger brother Asylbek Jeenbekov has acted as the speaker of parliament since 2011. Asylbek belongs to Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party.
The Jeenbekov crew are southerners from the Osh region.
A crowd appointed Sooronbai Jeenbekov people’s governor of Osh in the stormy days that succeeded the April 7, 2010 revolution. A little over a month later, however, another crowd of about 1,500 people stormed the regional administration headquarters and kicked Jeenbekov out of the building. He was quickly reinstalled once order was restored.
The halo of political influence extends further in the family. Another Jeenbekov brother who goes by a different surname, Zhusupbek Sharipov, was Jalal-Abad governor before the 2005 revolution.
The new prime minister is a certain bet for Atambayev and has long served the president with loyalty even when the times were hard.
Jeenbekov, who qualified as a zoo technician at the Skryabin Kyrgyz Agriculture Institute in 1983, will give up his current job as first deputy head of the presidential apparatus to take up the reins as prime minister.
In an apparent climbdown, a parliamentary committee in Kyrgyzstan has hastily rushed through a watered-down version of Russian-inspired legislation that would have seen many nongovernmental groups billed as “foreign agents.”
The Human Rights and Constitutional Legislation Committee spent less than a minute discussing the revised bill at its usual weekly hearing on April 12.
The draft law was first proposed in 2014 by former deputies Tursunbai Bakir Uulu and Nurkamil Madaliev, only to then make its way through parliament at snail’s pace. The overhauled version is hard to recognize from the original and will be considered at a plenary hearing of parliament on April 14.
While the previous draft bill proposed to label both Kyrgyz and foreign-based non-profit organizations that engage in any deemed to be “political activity” and receive outside funding as “foreign agents,” this term has now been quietly dropped.
The new document instead proposes the term “foreign non-commercial organization” to describe entities founded outside Kyrgyzstan that do not pursue profit-making purposes. Foreign government will not be allowed to found such groups.
And rather than requiring the submission of onerous and time-consuming paperwork to the Justice Ministry, as required in the original draft bill, the non-commercial organizations will now just have to publish an annual report online containing a breakdown of expenditure and display who is providing funding.
Kyrgyzstan has lost another prime minister — its 27th since independence.
Temir Sariyev, who spent less than a year in office, resigned on April 11 following a public and unsightly spat involving allegations of corruption.
Sariyev’s downfall was precipitated by his battle with Transportation Minister Argynbek Malabayev over a tender to build a strategic 104-kilometer road worth $100 million that was won by a Chinese company. The road would link the towns of Balykchy and Korumdu in the tourism magnet of Issyk-Kul region.
The scandal, which saw Malabayev accuse Sariyev of looking to profit from the deal and Sariyev attempt to engineer Malabayev’s dismissal, had Kyrgyzstan written all over it.
Chinese companies are responsible for building the vast majority of Kyrgyzstan’s road infrastructure and frequently face accusations of enabling government corruption.
Malabayev claimed Sariyev had a personal interest in Long Hai’s victory and blamed his own deputy, Ulan Uyezbayev, for helping to push the deal through behind his back. (Malabayev has said he was on a business trip outside the country when the results of the tender were announced).
In support of his claims, Malabayev said that the manager of Long Hai’s Kyrgyzstan office is a member of Ak-Shumkar party, which was founded and led by Sariev.
A parliamentary committee looking into the tender recommended parliament consider booting out Sariyev, who decided instead to fall on his sword.
Months after breaking off a long-standing deal with Russian companies to build two major hydropower projects, Kyrgyzstan has found a potential white knight in the form of a major Chinese investor.
Kyrgyzstan deputy Prime Minister Oleg Pankratov met with representatives of China’s State Power Investment Corporation on April 6 to discuss plan to build a cascade of four hydropower stations on the Naryn River. Collectively, the cascade is expected to generate around 4.6 billion kilowatt hours annually — more than either of the now-scotched Russian projects.
“We are carrying out work on a few projects to develop new generating capacities that will allow us, in the near future, to considerably increase the amount of power produced. This is of special importance, because energy consumption is growing every year that passes”, Pankratov was quoted as saying by KyrTag news agency.
An official for the state-owned electricity provider State Power Investment Corporation told Kyrgyz media that they have assessed the potential of the Central Asian nation’s hydropower potential and feel ready to begin work on building the 1,150 megawatt Kazarman hydropower cascade.
The terms of the deal are not yet known, however.
According to the company website, Beijing-based State Power Investment Corporation holds assets in hydropower, thermal and nuclear power and has registered capital of $7 billion and total assets worth $120 billion.
In January, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to cancel earlier hydropower construction deals with the Russian companies leading the projects, citing lack of progress in work.
With nerves on the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border only now dissipating, authorities in Bishkek have embarked on the potentially foolhardy move of helping themselves to four Uzbek-owned resorts at a popular tourist destination.
Local media has been full of the news about embattled Prime Minister Temir Sariyev signing a government order to appropriate the resorts on Issyk-Kul lake on April 4.
The timing is awkward, although it could stand to help Sariyev out of a tight spot.
On March 26, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan pulled back troops from a disputed section of shared border, ending an uneasy week-long standoff sparked by the sudden deployment of Uzbek soldiers and military vehicles to the area.
On balance, it feels like Uzbekistan lost the battle of wits and nerves. It withdrew its forces first from the high-altitude territory without ever properly explaining what prompted it to mobilize its men in the first place.
Still, the episode did momentarily blow some wind into the beleaguered opposition’s sails, so Sariyev may be looking to shore up his position and exploit the patriotic card to forestall an expected vote of no-confidence in parliament.
By all appearances, this looks like an ill-conceived gambit. According to a report by Tazabek.kg, only one of the four resorts seems to be long-term leased to a commercial organization, while the other three were controlled by state-owned Uzbek entities.
The agreements underpinning the ownership of the resorts date back to the Soviet era, when power-brokers in Moscow decided to boost Issyk-Kul’s profile as a place of rest and therapeutic treatments.
Azerbaijan has intermittently displayed interest in investing in Kyrgyzstan, but the latest set of revelations courtesy of the Panama Papers documents leak suggests that even the presidential family in Baku wanted a piece of the action.
In 2012, an obscure company called Redgold Estates Azerbaijan Ltd. became one of several international bidders hoping to snap up some out of a set of around a dozen gold concessions at an auction in Kyrgyzstan.
In the evening, the televised auction was called off when a group of demonstrators charged into a broadcast studio demanding a halt to proceedings.
As is the norm with offshore companies, tracing the line from a public company to the ultimate beneficiaries is a confusing business. Following the thread linking Redgold Estates Azerbaijan Ltd. to the family of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev is tricky and requires some circumstantial sleuthing.
All the claims are based on documents leaked from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, which has forged a reputation for providing offshore company services to all-comers.
According to an account published on April 4 by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Redgold Estates Azerbaijan Ltd. was incorporated 20 months before the Kyrgyzstan auction, in which it submitted five bids.
The leaked Mossack Fonseca files show that another company with the same name, Redgold Estates Ltd., was created six weeks before that in the Seychelles, one of many offshore jurisdiction favored for its privacy laws. Other than the name, the two company also shared the same Baku address.
Russia’s migration authorities have announced plans to organize patrols of busy transportation nodes in Moscow as part of a campaign to clamp down on unregistered foreign residents.
In Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, authorities are pushing ahead with efforts to get as many people off Russia’s migration blacklist to ensure as many migrant laborers as possible can leave the country in search of much-needed earnings.
The Federal Migration Service in Russia said in a statement on March 31 that their inspectors will be parked near metro stations in cars equipped with complete databases of foreigners with proper permits.
“It will be possible to use them to run complete checks of foreign citizens on the FMS database, including to establish whether they are in Russia legally. The cars will also be equipped with scanners for fingerprint registration,” the statement said.
Authorities are casting the initiative as one intended to enlighten foreign residents, particularly migrant laborers, about residency rules.
“During the checks, foreign citizens will be able to speak directly to representatives of the migration service, ask them questions and receive first-hand information about things like registration of work permits at migration centers in Moscow and Moscow region,” the FMS statement said.
Whether this is likely to put an end to the regular sight of Moscow police targeting unregistered (and registered) migrant laborers for bribes remains to be seen.
Russia’s economic decline is concentrating thoughts on the need to address the issue of illegal migration, which creates much ill-will among the most deprived sections of the population.