In recent weeks, the mammoth Friday edition of Vechernii Bishkek, the newspaper of record for Russian-speaking Bishkek, has featured two full-page editorials warning that “the future of the secular state” is in danger.
So one would have expected the October 14 editorial to reference the “terrorist” hunt last week, in which one individual was shot dead near Osh and 10 more arrested. Perhaps the government’s story -- that the arrests disrupted a multi-ethnic Islamic Jihad Union cell determined to destabilize the country ahead of a presidential election on October 30 -- was too much for even Vechernii Bishkek to stomach.
Yet the October 14 editorial does sound the alarm about “groups of partisans of different varieties of Islam” working within the state-sponsored Muslim Spiritual Board, or Muftiate. On this score, Mufti Chubak hajji Jalilov appears to have gotten the message.
Last month, after stoking protests over a de facto ban on headscarves in public schools, the Muftiate quickly retreated and backed the government line – that no ban was in place. Islamic civil society groups were not satisfied, however, and some may now be taking their anger to the mosque.
Kyrgyzstan is a dark-horse candidate in elections for a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council, but one of its advantages is the Manas air base, according to an analysis by Bloomberg:
The impoverished former Soviet state, which has no credit rating or international bonds, has been criticized by the U.S. and UN for corruption and a range of human rights abuses, including the abduction of girls for forced marriages.
Still, it has two cards to play in seeking a place in the UN’s most powerful group: a woman leader and air bases.
The land-locked country has Central Asia’s first female president and is unique in having both Russia and U.S. use military bases on its territory. The U.S. relies on the Manas Transit Center to support operations in Afghanistan, after Uzbekistan evicted U.S. military from its airfield in 2005....
[President Roza] Otunbayeva “is certainly going to do her best to ensure the maximum number of Western votes for the only democracy in that part of the world with a valuable transit military base leased by the U.S,” said Lilit Gevorgyan, a London-based analyst at IHS Global Insight.
Well, and that's the only evidence presented that Manas will have any effect on the vote. Kyrgyzstan is a candidate for the de facto Asia seat on the council, and its primary competition is Pakistan. And there is much speculation in the South Asian press that the U.S. is marshaling support for Kyrgyzstan over Pakistan. From the Times of India:
Kyrgyzstan has suffered another self-inflicted wound on its economy. Following a weekend attack on its gold exploration camp, a South African joint venture is suspending drilling after supporters received death threats, Reuters reported.
The attack on Talas Copper Gold’s site in northwestern Kyrgyzstan was the second there this year. Approximately ten horsemen “armed with sticks and petrol bombs” set fire to several buildings on October 8 and beat up the camp’s security chief, Reuters, which closely follows the mining sector in Central Asia, reported.
The mudslinging against the favorite in Kyrgyzstan’s upcoming presidential elections on October 30, Almazbek Atambayev, shows little sign of abating.
Kyrgyz-language newspaper Uchur reheated allegations on October 13 that Atambayev is profiting from the illegal drug trade, but not without adding some piquant and typically (for Kyrgyz-language newspapers) outrageous and unsourced allegations.
According to the Uchur report, the Russia media has turned on Atambayev and exposed his alleged involvement in the drug trade. It is not clear to which Russian publications Uchur is referring and there is little evidence of any truth in their claim. So far, it seems the slurs have only gained traction on a handful on dubious local news websites and Internet forums. (In fact, on October 10 Atambayev was received in Moscow by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, which looks suspiciously like an endorsement.)
The campaign appears to be the brainchild of a group that calls itself the Association of Free Bloggers and Journalists of Kyrgyzstan, which no prominent blogger in the country has confessed to ever having heard of. The only figure identified as having any association with the group is one Bakit Djailibaev, who spends most of his time on Facebook taunting actual bloggers and posting links in favor of rival presidential candidate Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a conservative from the Ar-Namys party.
Early this year, President Roza Otunbayeva of Kyrgyzstan named fighting organized crime a principal ambition of her tenure. But it’s proved a tough battle rooting out gangsters, especially since so many of them seem tangled up in the country’s notoriously corrupt political system. So it is lucky for her that a man whom Barack Obama calls one of the world’s most odious drug kingpins has shelved plans to return to her country.
Kamchy Kolbayev has seen more column inches than he’d probably like this year. After he was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in July on suspicion of robbing a jewelry store, Bishkek requested his extradition to face charges of organizing a transnational criminal group. Obama added him to a list of global drug barons in June, prohibiting US companies and citizens from doing business with him. Interpol says the 37-year-old Kyrgyz citizen is sought for “crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives” and “organized crime/transnational crime.”
But at home, Kyrgyz authorities’ uncertainty about what to do with Kolbayev suggests he enjoys favor in some powerful places. After all, it’s not uncommon for government officials and criminals in Kyrgyzstan to work together when it suits them. At the very least, his case illustrates the dysfunction of Kyrgyzstan’s justice system.
As long prison terms were handed down in Almaty on October 11 to those convicted of the murder of Kyrgyzstani journalist Gennadiy Pavlyuk in 2009, vital questions about the case linger. Was justice done for the reporter who was brutally defenestrated?
Aldayar Ismankulov (a Kyrgyz citizen and former member of Kyrgyzstan’s security services) was sentenced to 17 years in prison. His accomplices Shalkar Orazalin and Almas Igelikov (both Kazakh citizens) received 11 and 10 years respectively.
It’s not often that those guilty of perpetrating violence against journalists in Central Asia are taken to court at all, so the first reaction to the sentencing might be applause.
But wait a minute. Despite loudly voiced misgivings that the death of Pavlyuk – an investigative reporter who wrote under the pseudonym Ibragim Rustambek – was linked to Kyrgyz politics, the court appears to have swallowed the version propounded by Kazakh investigators earlier this year that this was a robbery gone wrong.
According to that theory, the thieves lured Pavlyuk 200 kilometers from Bishkek to Almaty purely to rob him. When they failed to extract satisfactory valuables from the reporter, they became so enraged that they bound his hands and feet and hurled him to his death from the sixth floor of an apartment building.
Pavlyuk’s associates have long pointed to the flaws in that theory – namely that the reporter was not a rich man and that defenestration seems something of an overreaction to the circumstances.
For lack of reliable polling data in Kyrgyzstan, you have to take a hint from Woodward and Bernstein's Deep Throat and "follow the money."
The presidential election race is being hyped as the first vote in Central Asia in which the result is not known from the outset. But going by the size of the various campaign war chests, Almazbek Atambayev, who temporarily stepped aside as prime minister last month, looks set for an easy ride into office on voting day, October 30.
According to information released on October 11 by the Central Election Commission, Atambayev still has one-third of the 33 million Kyrgyz som ($730,000) he started out with. That easily outstrips second best-funded presidential candidate and avowed nationalist Adakhan Madumarov, who has already spent almost all of his 19.6 million som ($430,000).
Kamchybek Tashiev, co-leader of the fiercely nationalist Ata-Jurt party, has long been considered a worthy contender, but he will have to do it on charm alone if the state of his financing is anything to go by. He too has almost already completely burnt through the 9 million som ($200,000) he had to spend.
Indeed, Tashiev has actually been outspent by disgruntled former general prosecutor and deputy security services chief Kubatbek Baibolov, who had a kitty worth 10.3 million som ($230,000) at his disposal. Baibolov's wife is a well-known figure in her own right and one of the richest people in the country, so perhaps no prizes for guessing where that cash came from.
Kyrgyzstan is gearing up for presidential elections later this month. The latest trouble in the unsteady south will offer authorities a reason to increase security checks and tighten control across the region, scene of ethnic violence last year between Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks that killed over 400 and left the two communities deeply distrustful of each other.
Bishkek may have other motivations for a bolder security posture, however. Since the bloody ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010, the mostly northern politicians who took over have had trouble consolidating authority in the south, leading many observers to fear the upcoming election could exacerbate regional divisions. The two leading contenders represent the north and south, respectively.
Police in Kyrgyzstan say they have killed “a terrorist” who hijacked a minibus in the country’s volatile south. Authorities have been highlighting the threat of terrorism as the country faces presidential elections on October 30, designed to put an end to 18 months of uncertainty since former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled during a bloody uprising in early 2010.
The bus was traveling from the market town of Kara-Suu to Osh when the suspect, fleeing a police operation, apparently boarded and took the passengers hostage on October 8. Kara-Suu is a predominantly ethnic Uzbek town, which Kyrgyz police describe as a hotbed of Islamist extremists.
None of the 15 passengers on the bus were harmed, local media said. A police sniper reportedly killed the suspect at a roadblock outside Osh. Interfax quoted security officials saying operations were continuing in Kara-Suu District to find accomplices.
Such a delicate mission could easily heighten ethnic tensions. Since violence between the majority Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks in June 2010, police – who are overwhelmingly ethnic Kyrgyz – have regularly focused operations on Uzbeks. Human rights groups charge that violent police bias against Uzbeks has become business as usual.
Tensions remain high across southern Kyrgyzstan. This week, protestors in Jalal-Abad Province blocked the country’s main highway demanding authorities release four Kyrgyz police charged with torturing an Uzbek man to death.
Kyrgyzstan has joined the 153 countries that have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. During the signing ceremony in New York on September 21, President Roza Otunbayeva emphasized her country’s commitment to building a tolerant society that respects the rights of all citizens. While parliament must still ratify the motion, which would give the Convention the strength of law, Otunbayeva’s move is important for acknowledging the right of disabled people to full participation in society.
Disability in Kyrgyzstan, like the rest of Central Asia, is stigmatizing. Children with disabilities like cerebral palsy or Down’s syndrome are often sent to institutions to be ‘rehabilitated,’ as though a disability were a crime or a contagion. Others are kept at home in isolation. Having a disabled child in the family can negatively affect other siblings’ marriage prospects, as the family is considered tainted by misfortune.
Thanks to the public advocacy efforts of local non-governmental organizations as well as disabled people themselves, these attitudes are beginning to shift. The right of access to public services -- like education, health, and transportation -- for people with disabilities is increasingly included in policy discussions in Kyrgyzstan. However, the danger is ever-present that disability rights will be seen as a niche issue, the subject of charity, or the last luxury to consider when all other problems have been solved.
But retrofitting is always messy. If we do not build rights for all into the policy process from the beginning, there will always be an excuse for exclusion.