Penalties for swearing and drinking alcohol in public places in Kyrgyzstan have been stiffened as officials pursue a morality agenda aimed squarely at the nation’s youth.
Changes to the law approved by President Almazbek Atambayev on January 23 will see an increase in the fine for cursing in public places to 1,500 som ($21.50) from 300 som. The fine for drinking in improper locations, including the workplace, will rise tenfold to 1,000 som ($14).
The revised law will come into effect in early February.
Curiously, as Kloop.kg notes, the backers of the law from the Respublika-Ata-Jurt faction in parliament, were unable to specify which words in particular would fall foul of the swearing law. As to the drinking, police will be permitted to mount raids on apartment courtyards as they seek out offenders loitering in doorways and children’s playgrounds brews in hand.
One aspect of the changes to the law addresses the matter of underage drinking. Parents of minors found consuming intoxicating beverages will also now face much greater penalties. Fines for antisocial behaviour involving minors are also been made more severe.
A brawl broke out in a contested section of the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over the weekend — the latest of many such incidents caused by failure to forge a solution on joint use of the area.
As usual, the picture has been muddled by duelling accounts of precisely what happened.
On January 21, the head of Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region, Kenesh Salikhov, told media that a representative of the Tajik police came informed him that some villagers from the Kyrgyz village of Kok-Tash had assaulted a citizen of Tajikistan. Despite the nominal border, the two communities have homes side by side, in what is sometimes described as a chessboard configuration, so dust-ups can break out apparently trivial matters.
Salikhov said that his information led him to disbelieve the Tajik police account.
“Later, we found out this person was not assaulted by our citizens and the Tajik police had no case to make, but on the next day, the victim summoned about 15-20 people and came to our village for a showdown,” he told Zanoza.kg.
The bout of verbal sparring from both sides then escalated into stone-throwing. As a result, the informal village leader of Kok-Tash, Raziya Osorova, was injured and had to be taken to a hospital for severe head injuries.
Turmush.kg news website reported this dispute involved around 20 residents from the Kyrgyz village and nearly 100 residents of the Tajik side. Witness accounts of such events, however, should be treated with caution since either side typically inflates the size of opponent contingents in the interests of their narrative. One house and four cars are said to have been damaged in the fighting.
A Turkish cargo plane crashed outside the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, early on January 16, killing at least 37 people and destroying dozens of homes.
According to preliminary and unconfirmed information, the Boeing 747-400F crashed on a cluster of homes in the Dacha-Suu complex next to Manas International Airport at around 7:29 a.m. as it was coming in to land.
Officials said 37 people have been killed, but with recovery work still ongoing it will be some time before a final figure is confirmed. There are believed to be several children among the dead.
Deputy Prime Minister Muhammetkaly Abulgaziyev has said that the accident may have been caused by pilot error and that 11 airplanes had landed safely in the past day despite heavy fog. Abulgaziyev said that the plane tried to land on two occasions and at one stage damaged the landing strip illumination.
“This crew has flown [to Manas airport] 3-4 times. They know the landing strip at Manas airport. The visibility was 400 meters. That is why the flight controller at Kyrgyzaeronavigatsiya gave them clearance to land. The conditions were suitable for landing. So the provisional explanation is that the crash was due to crew error,” Abulgaziyev was quoted as saying by local media.
While officials have said the conditions were good enough for the cargo plane to land, an aircraft carrying President Almazbek Atambayev to Bishkek from China on January 15 was diverted to the small Tamchy airport in the Issyk-Kul region because of the weather. Motorists driving around Bishkek on the eve of the crash reported being able to see only a few meters ahead because of the fog.
A brouhaha between Azerbaijan and Armenia is threatening to hamper the operations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in multiple member nations, including Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
OSCE country mandates are the responsibility of the organization’s permanent council, which deals with all the OSCE day-to-day business and is comprised of representatives of all 57 member states. But as the OSCE told EurasiaNet.org “participating states have not yet reached consensus on extension of mandates of a number of OSCE field operations.”
“The Chairmanship continues to lead negotiations on this with the aim of early agreement,” an OSCE press officer said in an email
A source familiar with the situation has said the holdup is down to a battle of wills between Azerbaijan and Armenia over budgets for certain security-related programs. The standoff between the two foes has precipitated a veto from Armenia on the normally automatic extension of field office mandates.
The OSCE has said that its field operations will, this impasse notwithstanding, remain open and continue administrative and non-mandate-related work pending agreement on this issue.
Meanwhile, Moscow-based news website ferghana.ru has cited its own sources as saying the existing situation has had a negative impact of moods within the staff and fostered much disillusionment about the organization’s inability to fulfill its stated missions.
“There is growing disappointment over the nature and purpose of the OSCE, which is supposed to prevent conflicts and yet is powerless when it comes to pursuing consensus, even in such basic matters as the extension of mandates,” the source told the website.
If the hidden camera investigation of an amateur sleuth is anything to go by, there is a sex palace buried in the bowels of Kyrgyzstan’s national Sports Palace, the venue of many a prestigious tournament.
On January 9, news website Zanoza.kg posted videos and photos it said it received from an anonymous source who took an unsavory tour of the bathing section of the state-owned facility.
Among other things, the photos and footage clearly show a used condom on the ground within flinging distance of a grubby-looking bed. A warm sauna adjacent to this “resting room” is in a terrible-looking state and seems to have long ago ceased to be the main attraction. The video also features a conversation with a female attendant who says that while the Sports Palace does not provide prostitutes for clients, it doesn’t stop them from dropping by.
“Most of our clients are sportsmen, who do not use the services of prostitutes,” she clarified sniffily.
Reactions to the article were understandably couched in outrage.
One reader, posting under the name Ashki Bala, said: “Well just take a look at what our ‘controllers’ have done! We cannot let this slide. Let's keep on this and bring the matter to a close. They ruined our only Olympic swimming pool, sell [things] off and do whatever they want. It is a shame on our sport and this wonderful palace.”
A court in Kyrgyzstan has set a precedent alarming to freedom of speech advocates by ruling against a political activist in a defamation suit for a post he wrote on Facebook.
Bishkek’s Oktyabrsky district court on January 5 ruled that Mavlyan Askarbekov should publish an apology on his Facebook page to member of parliament Dastan Bekeshev and leave it online for the duration of one month.
The start of this episode dates back to July, when Askarbekov penned an attack against the visually impaired MP for what he said was his undue interference in the activities of the Kyrgyz Association for Blind and Deaf People.
“When I spoke [at an association meeting], Bekeshev started insulting me and had me kicked out. He did not respond to my questions about the legitimacy of his actions and did not let me say a word,” Askarbekov wrote in his original post.
Askarbekov is a well-known figure in youth nationalist circles and first came to prominence in the wake of the April 2010 uprising.
In August, Bekeshev filed a defamation suit against Askarbekov, saying the activist needed to be “reined in” over his false accusations.
Opposition activist Adil Turdukulov called the court’s ruling unlawful.
“This [lawsuit] is a continuation of a systemic policy of suppression of freedom of speech. It is no accident that it was Bekeshev who the filed lawsuit, when it was he that previously proposed bringing in additional controls over online media and social networks,” Turdukulov said.
Kyrgyzstan has made an about-face on a recently introduced law requiring foreign visitors to register within five days of arrival.
The change of tack followed weeks of indignant protest from people working in the tourism industry, who warned that the rule would cause job losses and damage the economy.
On December 19, the government is due to approve a list of 90 countries whose citizens will not require visas or immediate registration, as had been the case prior to the changes of rules in November. The rule applying to citizens of Western European and North American countries, as well as Australia, South Africa and a few South American nations, will be for registration within 30 days.
Citizens of a handful of nations with bilateral agreements with Kyrgyzstan will be allowed to remain in the country without registration for periods of up to 90 days.
The difficulties that foreigners experienced trying to stay within the new rules brought in on November 5 were well covered by some local media, who showed how government registration offices were struggling to cope even with its existing workload, registering Kyrgyz passports and birth certificates.
The state registration service provided foreigners with information about new rules only in Russian, which was also the only language used for the forms, creating a major barrier for many unwitting tourists from the get-go. Visitors also told reporters that border officials failed to inform them of the new rules upon arrival, leaving them even more adrift.
Kyrgyzstan’s voters will head again to the polling stations this weekend for a constitutional referendum intended to rebalance powers between the president and the prime minister, as well as enshrine several conservative norms aimed at pacifying the country’s traditionalists.
The December 11 referendum is being pushed through in the teeth of resistance from opposition parties and nongovernmental groups, earning them contempt from President Almazbek Atambayev.
The main amendments concerning the running of the country will bolster the role of the prime minister, who will be able to hire and fire ministers and local government leaders. Proponents of the amendments say the increased authority of the prime minister will ensure continuity and put an end to the regular turnover of heads of government that has been the trademark of Kyrgyzstan’s politics.
Critics maintain, however, that this tinkering is all about Atambayev and his associates clinging onto power. Atambayev is constitutionally required to step down when his single term ends and to give way to the president elected in October 2017. The argument of the revamped constitution’s opponents is that the current elite is rearranging the furniture to ensure they remain in charge even after the presidential transition.
There are multiple other changes, however, that will have a more direct impact on citizens.
One regards a change to rules on the appointment and rotation of judges of local courts, whose position will now be determined by the president, upon advice from the Council of Judges. Critics of this change, which include Venice Commission, an advisory body to the European Council that rules on matters of constitutional law, worry about its detrimental impact on the independence of judiciary.
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan have lashed out at social media and, in particular, how it is being used to say mean things about President Almazbek Atambayev.
In recent days there have been two reports of Facebook users being called in for a stern talk with the security services for things they have written — or might have written — about Atambayev. Nobody has been charged, yet.
There was a surge of hubbub on social media last week when news broke of one man being reportedly grilled over suspicions he is the mind behind Murch, an anonymously run Facebook account that serves as a repository for lowbrow political humour.
Jomart Jamgyrchiyev, a native of Issyk-Kul region, was hauled in by the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, at the beginning of the month in Karakol along with several relatives. Investigators told him that photos that appeared on Murch, which has around 6,000 subscribers, had been linked to his computer’s IP address.
Although it is not clear that the photos concerned Atambayev directly, most of Murch’s fairly infantile jibes do. A recent post that garnered a lot of attention, for instance, featured a photoshopped image that showed Atambayev squatting on a toilet.
The ever-vigilant authorities then followed up with a similar swoop on December 7, according Temirlan Ormukov, who claims he was called into the General Prosecutor’s office to discuss a poem he wrote about Atambayev on Facebook.
The leader of Kyrgyzstan’s opposition Ata-Meken party, Omurbek Tekebayev, has raised the stakes in his face-off with the president by announcing that he is laying the groundwork for impeachment proceedings.
News website K-News cited Tekebayev as saying on November 22 that Almazbek Atambayev had left himself open to the move by openly supporting his former party, the Social Democratic Party, or SDPK, in violation of the constitution.
“In February, a new political party council was formed and it included all the president’s entourage — Farid Niyazov, Albek Ibraimov, Ikramzhan Ilmiyanov, Kubanychbek Kulmatov. All of them occupy some kind of position in the presidential apparatus or are somehow dependant on him, and they don’t make a secret of it,” Tekebayev said.
Tekebayev is in effect saying what everybody already knows, since the SDPK, while not de facto led by Atambayev, is indissolubly associated with the president. To point out the emperor has no clothes is a transparent political provocation, however.
“The position of SDPK chairman is still not filled. Why? Maybe it is because he [Atambayev] still leads the party?” he said.
Tekebayev said that the influence of the SPDK extends even further. While the party only holds 38 out of the 120 seats in the Zhogorku Kenesh, or parliament, 15 out of 18 government ministries are headed by SDPK representatives, according to the leader of Ata-Meken, which holds 11 seats. Tekebayev said that of the remaining three ministers, two are from the Kyrgyzstan party — which has 18 deputies in parliament and is widely viewed as a stalking horse for the SDPK — and another is from Bir Bol, which has 12 MPs.