A court in the southern Kyrgyzstan town of Kara-Suu has sentenced a popular local imam to five years in prison on charges of inciting religious hatred and distributing extremist material.
The verdict delivered on the evening of October 7 marked the culmination of a four-month trial that Rashot Kamalov's lawyers regularly complained was marred by irregularities.
While accusations of extremism are not unusual in Kyrgyzstan, Kamalov has been the most prominent and influential religious to date to face prosecution for the offense. The imam's standing rests in great part on the reputation of his father, Rafik, a widely admired religious leader from Kara-Suu who was killed by Kyrgyz security forces in 2006.
Kamalov's defense team say they will appeal.
The imam was arrested on February 9 following a raid on his home by armed special operations forces. Police found a disk during their search that contained a video recording of a sermon delivered by Kamalov at Kara-Suu's As-Sarakhsi Mosque during Friday prayers on July 4, 2014.
Prosecutors said the sermon contained an exhortation to create a caliphate.
Against the backdrop of unrest in the Middle East provoked in part by the military campaigns of the Islamic State radical group, which claims to have founded a modern-day caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, the accusations were incendiary.
But throughout his trial, Kamalov repeatedly denied he was seeking to whip up unrest and said his sermon was only explanatory in nature. The imam has also been a public critic of Islamic State and is on record as telling people in Kara-Suu to prevent their children from going to Syria to fight.
Not content to sit back and let the men grab all the European football glory, Kazakhstan's top women's team has made its mark by holding Spain's Barcelona to a draw in the knockout stage of the UEFA Women's Champions League.
Last week, FC Astana made history by becoming the first team from Kazakhstan to gain a point in the Champions League group stage with a 2-2 draw with Turkey's Galatasaray, but the women's team BIIT-Kazygurt, based in Shymkent, southern Kazakhstan, is no stranger to European competition.
The team has been a regular in the knockout stages of the Women's Champions League since the competition was founded in 2009, but has never progressed beyond the round of 32 teams.
BIIK-Kazygurt fielded a cosmopolitan line-up against Barcelona with the teams defensive core hailing from Kazakhstan, and the rest of the team from the United States, Nigeria, Norway, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Barcelona took the lead after 57 minutes before BIIK-Kazygurt's Norwegian star Lisa-Marie Woods got the equaliser after 82 minutes.
Kazakhstan has had a women's football league since 2004, with BIIK-Kazygurt, then based in the commercial capital Almaty and known as Alma-KTZh, a founder member. The team relocated to Shymkent in 2010.
The league now consists of five teams – two from Shymkent, and one apiece from Almaty, Kokshetau and Aktobe. BIIK-Kazygurt were the runaway winners of this years league with a 100 percent record. Next week, the team makes the 4,300-mile trip to Spain for the return leg as it vies with FC Astana to bring European football glory to Kazakhstan.
Legislation approved last month by Kazakhstan’s parliament is creating onerous rules on how nongovernmental organizations are funded and sparking alarm among activists of a fresh crackdown on civil society.
Critics of the bill have drawn comparisons to a 2012 law adopted in Russia that requires foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents,” a label with toxic Cold War-era associations.
Although the wording of the bill in Kazakhstan is different, many fear the results may be similar.
The law will grant the government “ideological control over NGOs,” activist Amangeldy Shormanbayev warned on October 6.
Over 60 NGOs have signed an appeal for President Nursultan Nazarbayev to veto the bill, which was approved by the lower house of parliament on September 23 and is now awaiting a vote in the Senate.
The petition warns that “if this draft law is adopted, it will seriously restrict human rights,” including the rights to freedom of speech, conscience and association.
Since the constitution guarantees those rights, the law is anti-constitutional and also breaches international human rights commitments to which Astana subscribes, the appeal said.
The law will establish a single state operator through which funding for NGOs must be channeled. Activists believe that will give the state a veto over which NGOs receive funding, and for what kind of activities.
The law “contradicts the principles of open civil society, because NGOs cannot be 100 percent dependent on the state,” Shormanbayev, a representative from the International Legal Initiative, a nongovernmental foundation offering legal advice, told a news conference in Almaty on October 6.
With the neutralization of General Abduhalim Nazarzoda complete, Tajikistan is on the search for a replacement deputy defense minister.
Asia-Plus website has revealed a likely possible candidate whose name will come as a surprise to scholars of the country’s recent history: Bakhtiyor Langariyev.
On October 6, the website reported that Langariyev — whose brother Suhrob was sentenced to life in prison in 2009 on charges of drugs and arms trafficking — had returned to Tajikistan after a seven-year absence.
Around the time of his departure, which coincided with the period of Suhrob’s arrest in the city of Kulyab, Bakhtiyor Langariyev was head of the Dushanbe anti-organized crime department .
Another unnamed source cited by Asia-Plus suggests that yet another Langariyev brother, Faizali, could be named deputy defense minister and that Bakhtiyor could take up a position as head of a defense ministry special battalion. The website cites people close to 44-year old Bakhtiyor Langariyev as saying he is currently doing business in other former Soviet states and in the United Arab Emirates.
The appointments would mark a remarkable return to the fold for a family that, although once staunch loyalists of President Emomali Rahmon, eventually fell foul of the ruling regime.
Another of the four Langariyev brothers, Langari Langariyev, served as a leading field commander during the civil war in the pro-Rahmon Popular Front and was killed in combat in October 1992.
The criminal activities of Suhrob Langariyev appear to have precipitated the family’s demise, but as always in Tajikistan, there is more to matters than meets the eye.
In a noteworthy backtrack, education authorities in Kazakhstan have ordered a revision of school textbooks to ensure that they do not show Crimea as a part of Russia.
Mektep, the publishing house that creates history and geography textbooks used in schools in Kazakhstan, sparked a diplomatic row in September when it appeared to endorse the annexation of the peninsula by Russia.
But the Education Ministry said in a painfully worded press release on September 30 that Mektep had erred in how it assembled its facts.
“It was noted that the authors did not apply the entire range of factuality in objectively composing the given material,” the statement said, according to an Interfax report. “The publisher and authors did not fully reflect the position of Kazakhstan or that of the international community in its treatment of the Crimea issue.”
It remains to be seen how the Mektep textbooks will now endeavor to characterize the status of Crimea.
When it issued its protest over the books on September 25, Ukraine’s embassy to Kazakhstan was clear.
The suggestion that Crimea should be part of Russia “contradicts the position of the international community and the leadership of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which has more than once stated its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” the embassy said in its statement.
With campaigning season for Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary elections almost over, parties are resorting to all means available to claim as large a share as possible out of the 120 seats up for grabs.
A video was posted online on September 30 showing public officials in the southern town of Kara-Kulzha being coached on how to jubilantly greet a candidate from top parliamentary contender, the Social Democratic Party (SDPK). The video was uploaded by a candidate from the rival Azattyk party, Daiyrbek Orunbekov.
The footage is lending more ammunition to SDPK’s critics, who argue that what are known as “administrative resources” are being deployed to ensure the required result for them on October 4. SDPK is the party of President Almazbek Atambayev and a crushing win for them could assure them the legally allowed maximum number of 65 deputies – enough to form a government without entering into problematic coalitions.
In the video from Kara-Kulzha, a woman from the local administration explains to rows of listeners how to salute and praise parliamentary speaker and SPDK election candidate, Asylbek Jeenbekov. As they go through the motions of the rehearsal, people in the audience stand up, whistle and shout: “Long live SDPK! Hooray!”
SPDK reacted with a swift statement insisting that it was absolutely committed to honest and transparent elections.
Kamchibek Tashiyev, a nationalist former boxer from Kyrgyzstan’s south, looks set to sit out the October 4 parliamentary election as police investigate allegations he beat up a rival candidate.
On September 30, a Kyrgyz court endorsed the earlier decision of the Central Electoral Commission to exclude Tashiyev from the vote.
The co-leader of the Respublika-Ata Jurt party was struck off the list of candidates for allegedly beating up a representative of the Onuguu-Progress party while on the campaign trail in his native Jalal-Abad.
Accounts vary about what exactly Tashiyev is supposed to have done to Abdymanap Abdybahapov. Onuguu-Progress say Tashiyev may have broken Abdybahapov’s ribs. Respublika Ata Jurt says the interaction never went beyond a heated argument and that Abdybahapov instigated the dispute.
Tashiyev, a former emergency situations minister, has a history of using his fists outside the ring.
In 2011, he was involved in two violent altercations in the space of a couple of days.
In the first, he reportedly knocked out a member of his own party when his colleague refused to relinquish his parliamentary seat. On another occasion, he stormed out of a sitting of parliament with a bloody nose following the kind of lawmakers’ punch-up that became a fairly regular sight in the fifth convocation.
Kazakhstan's celebrations over FC Astana gaining its first Champions League point were cut short by news that its cycling superstar Alexandre Vinokourov could face charges of race-fixing in Belgium.
A Belgian prosecutor has ruled that Vinokourov should stand trial along with Russian rider Alexandr Kolobnev on charges that the two colluded to fix the result of Belgium's Liege-Bastogne-Liege one-day classic in 2010. Vinokourov allegedly paid Kolobnev around $225,000 to let him win the race, Sky Sports reported.
If convicted, both riders could face between six months and three years in jail and fines of between $330,000 and $660,000. Vinokourov and Kolobnev have contested the decision on the basis that the evidence is too flimsy to convict them. The decision whether to bring the case to court will be made by October 15.
The news broke just after FC Astana, playing its first ever home fixture in the Champions League group stages, fought back against Turkish powerhouse Galatasaray to earn a 2-2 draw. The Turkish side scored two own goals to Astana's one in a bizarre match.
FC Astana, along with cycling's Pro Team Astana is part of Kazakhstan's flagship sports project, Astana Presidential Sports Club, which oversees football, cycling and ice hockey teams, as well as ice skaters and boxers. The club is bankrolled by Samruk-Kazyna, Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund.
The United States has broken its silence over Tajikistan’s obliteration of the Islamic Renaissance Party with an expression of anxiety at the “blanket persecution of all opposition.”
The U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe said in an emailed statement to EurasiaNet.org on September 30 that it is concerned that the government is “limiting the activities” of the IRPT and says it is monitoring the unfolding criminal case against party members.
Authorities have been moving fast against the IRPT – the last credible opposition force left in the country.
The pretext for the final crackdown on IRPT was provided by unrest in early September that the government attributed to an alleged armed uprising by a rebellious former deputy defense minister, Abduhalim Nazarzoda.
Prosecutors have said Nazarzoda acted in collusion with the IRPT. Those accusations were followed by the arrest of 13 members of the IRPT political council on September 13.
On September 29, the Supreme Court ruled to designate the party a terrorist organization at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office. That decision will force the closure of the IRPT’s official newspaper, Najot, and stands to criminalize thousands of party members.
“Naming [IRPT] a terrorist organization now threatens its 40,000 members across the country with imprisonment," Freedom House executive vice president Daniel Calingaert said in a statement.
In its statement, the U.S. Embassy said it was vitally important to distinguish between peaceful political opposition parties and violent extremists.
An International Crisis Group report on Kyrgyzstan published on September 30, only days ahead of parliamentary elections, paints a grim portrait of the political situation and warns that the entire region could suffer from failure to adopt urgently needed reforms.
ICG identifies persisting ethnic tensions, corruption, unchecked nationalism and the surge of political Islam, fuelled by disaffection at self-interested party clans, as key and pressing problems facing Kyrgyzstan.
Despite those potential looming threats, ICG sees little likelihood of an imminent change in direction.
“Parliament and the presidency seem unwilling and institutionally incapable of addressing these issues,” the report said. “Few expect the 4 October parliamentary elections to deliver a reformist government.”
Kyrgyzstan bucks the overall trend in the region with its often rowdily competitive political system. Billboards up and down the country testify to the abundance of choice being offered to voters as they head to the polling stations to pick the 120 deputies that will represent them in parliament.
For all that political diversity, the picture on the ground appears bleak, ICG said in its report.
The ethnic Uzbek community, which accounts for 14.5 percent of the population, has been thoroughly marginalized on the political scene and remains subject to harassment from an almost homogenously ethnic Kyrgyz police force.
That trend has been coupled with the ascendancy of virulently nationalist and conservative groups.