Security services in Russia have detained another native of Kyrgyzstan in connection with the bombing of the St. Petersburg metro train that claimed 15 lives.
Russian news outlets have cited officials as saying Arbor Azimov is suspected of being one of the masterminds behind the April 3 attack. A representative of the Investigative Committee, Svetlana Petrenko, has said that Azimov’s suspected role in the bombing is not yet clear, however.
A video posted online on April 17 shows a squad of Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, officers pouncing on Azimov near a railway underpass in the Odintsovo district outside Moscow and then carting him away in handcuffs. In the video, Azimov is seen to have a Makarov handgun tucked into the back of his jeans.
A few details have already emerged about Azimov’s background. He is an ethnic Uzbek born in 1990 in the southern city of Jalal-Abad, but moved to Russia some years ago and renounced his Kyrgyz citizenship. Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev’s office issued a statement on April 18 to say that Azimov’s Kyrgyz citizenship was revoked in 2013.
In 2016, Azimov reportedly flew twice to Turkey on a Russian passport — once in March, when he spent three days in Istanbul, and again in October. St. Petersburg-based news website fontanka.rusaid that on the second trip, Azimov returned to Russia via the South Korean capital, Seoul, from where he traveled to the Pacific coast city of Vladivostok.
A district court in the capital of Kyrgyzstan has convicted four opposition politicians on charges of attempting to violently seize power in a case that the defendants’ supporters say was politically motivated.
The longest term handed down on April 17 was reserved for Ernest Karybekov, who has been ordered to serve 20 years in jail.
A former governor of the Jalal-Abad region, Bektur Asanov, and former MP Kubanychbek Kadyrov received 12 years apiece, while Dastan Sarygulov, a former head of the state gold agency, were given a four-year jail term, of which three are conditional.
Zulfiya Marat, a member of the Committee for the Protection of Political Prisoners rights group, complained that rights activists were denied access to the verdict hearing.
“They selectively allowed in only relatives and, after insistent requests, the journalists. The rest it seems were not to their pleasing, and they left them outside under the rain,” she said.
Marat said there were no international observers present at the hearing.
After the verdict was read out, Sarygulov reportedly shouted that he had “no guilt in anything.” Marat told reporters that an appeal is planned.
“We will do everything the law permits. Yes, we do not believe in the justice system, but we will get through this. We will carry our burden,” she said.
Asanov and Kadyrov were detained by the authorities following the appearance online in March 2016 of wiretapped conversations appearing to document plotting by representatives of a cluster of regionally focused opposition groups. The speakers are purportedly heard to discuss ways in which to foment unrest. In one call, the speakers reveal their intent to “bring people onto the streets” and to “seize the White House,” the name of the government building that also houses the parliament.
A representative for the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan has said that four madrasas have been shut down over the past week for failing to obtain proper authorization.
Kushtarbek Mamatov told EurasiaNet.org that the schools were giving lessons without the correct papers and did not appear to know that they needed to register and obtain approval from a government commission.
“They have stopped their activities and sent children home. Now they are collecting all the required documents,” he told EurasiaNet.org.
Mamatov noted, however, that while the madrasas were operating without authorization, there is no evidence they were teaching anything improper.
“They only taught good and useful things there. Now it is simply a matter of legalizing it all. We explained everything to them,” Mamatov said.
The closure of several madrasas took place several days after a nongovernmental organization, the Bulan Institute for Peace Innovations published, a report detailing the need for a radical overhaul to religious education in Kyrgyzstan.
The report found that Kyrgyz madrasas often operate without proper permission and provide poor conditions for their students.
Religious affairs expert Orozbek Moldaliev said that the muftiate has repeatedly been petitioned to take action against delinquent madrasas, but has failed to do so.
“These are basically places that were opened by people who got funding and who are pretending to teach children. But if you barely have an education yourself, how are you going to start teaching others?” Moldaliev said.
Murat Imankulov, a member of a working group on the reform of religious education, said that many children finishing their studies in madrasas often find they are unable to enter the labor market.
Officials in Kyrgyzstan have said that opposition politician Sadyr Japarov, who was arrested earlier this month after returning from years of self-imposed exiled, has attempted to commit suicide in prison.
The state prison service stated that in the early hours of April 2, Japarov “slashed himself in the neck and left arm.” His cellmates reportedly immediately summoned officers in the detention facility when they saw the former member of parliament had lost consciousness.
On April 4, website Super.kg ran graphic images of Japarov being stretchered away by emergency medical staff.
Japarov, a member of the nationalist Ata-Jurt party, returned to Kyrgyzstan on March 25 after a four-year absence, only to be immediately detained by the security services. That sparked rowdy demonstrations in the capital, Bishkek, by his indignant supporters. The protests degenerated into ugly scuffles with police. Several dozen people were held by police over the unrest. Japarov’s supporters have alleged that the politician’s sons were also detained and subjected to beatings at the hands of the police.
Cholpon Omurkanova, a member of a prisons supervisory body, said that she had been able to visit Japarov following the self-wounding incident.
“This was an attempted suicide as a form of protest against the situation that led to his sons and relatives being beaten while also held in detention facilities,” she said.
Was the St. Petersburg bomber the one that got away?
Russian media have reported that the deadly April 3 bombing that shook St. Petersburg metro, killing 11 people, was carried out by a 23-year old suicide attacker from Central Asia. Media in Kyrgyzstan have cited the State Committee for National Security as saying the main suspect is a man called Akbarjon Djalilov, born in 1995, and a native of Osh, but now a Russian citizen.
If these claims are confirmed, they would fit into a clear pattern established by the numerous terrorism-related arrests of people of Central Asian origin in Russia over the past few years. The implications for the vast community of embattled migrant laborers living in Russia could be grave and will pose a thorny security and political challenge to authorities in Moscow.
Of late, reports of Central Asians being detained across Russia — including in St. Petersburg — on suspicion of involvement with radical Islamic groups are so common as to barely elicit much attention.
Just to cite some cases at random, Life News website reported in November that a court in St. Petersburg had ordered the arrest of a Tajik citizen, 25-year old Umar Mirzoyev, on suspicion of recruiting Russian citizens into the Islamic State group. Mirzoyev was detained in St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport as he prepared to embark on a flight to the southern city of Samara.
Also in November, the Federal Security Service, or FSB, announced they had intercepted a terrorist cell planning terrorist acts in Moscow and St. Petersburg. At least 10 people were detained in that instance, although it is unclear how many were eventually charged.
The Interior Ministry in Kyrgyzstan is pushing for new rules that would allow them to expel foreigners from the country without need for a court ruling, thereby streamlining the process.
Officials say revisions to the law are intended to target people violating migration laws. They come on the heels of the Kyrgyz authorities’ recent decision to summarily expel a Russian journalist from the country without clear legal justification.
If the changes are adopted, expulsion can take place along either “administrative” or “mandatory” lines. In the case of the latter, the foreigner will be permitted to try and resolve their issue or leave the country independently, and the decision will be subject to appeal.
In the latter case, however, foreigners can be forcibly removed under the supervision of the State Committee for National Security, the border service and the police. And this would happen without a court decision.
Proponents of the revised rules say they will help fight against labor migrants violating the law. It will also clear up existing contradictions in the law, they say.
Advocacy groups are not so certain, however. The doubts arise following what amounted to the deportation of Grigory Mikhailov, a formerly Bishkek-based editor with Regnum news website. As Mikhailov explained in an interview to fergana.ru, his removal from Kyrgyzstan earlier this month was engineered largely by subterfuge. When he was stopped in the street by police and found not to have some necessary paperwork, the officers suggested he cross the land border into Kazakhstan and then immediately return — a common trick among foreigners seeking to avoid the tribulations of the registration process in Kyrgyzstan. But when the reporter attempted to return, he was informed that he had been blacklisted.
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.