The car of a 67-year security guard in the southern Tajikistan city of Qurghonteppa exploded late at night on March 12 in the vicinity of a military prosecutors’ office, prompting official claims of possible terrorism afoot.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the blast was caused by an incendiary device.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported that the prosecutor’s office in the Khatlon region is investigating the incident as a potential terrorist act, but it has provided few specific details. According to a source cited by Ozodi, investigators are considering the possibility that the security guard, Hasanboi Rahmonov, who was the only person killed in the explosion, was also possibly a perpetrator.
Investigators are questioning Rahmonov’s friends and acquaintances for more details on his background, Ozodi reported.
Meanwhile, news website Asia-Plus reported that the rumor mill in Qurghonteppa is insisting that Rahmonov was but an unfortunate bystander, who might just have been carrying a suspect package to the prosecutor’s office. By way of a supporting argument, people point to the fact that his place of work, a technical lyceum, is right next door to the prosecutor’s office.
Officials have declined to comment on this line of speculation, however.
Police in Kazakhstan are as of now under instructions to be more polite to the public and to refrain from using informal pronouns — such as the Russian “ty” (you) — or beckon people by just saying “hey.”
Tengri News website on March 15 cited the Interior Ministry as saying that instructions on politeness and proper behavior are included in overall police training courses.
“The conduct of Interior Ministry personnel is regulated by the government workers ethical code and departmental edicts laid down by the Interior Ministry. For police or traffic inspectors to talk in a rude manner or address people and drivers as ‘ty’ is not permitted,” the ministry was cited as saying in a statement.
People that feel they have been improperly addressed can file complaints with the Interior Ministry in person or over the phone.
Rules regulating proper behavior by police when dealing with the public already existed, although in practice there is often slippage in standards.
In another recent example of an apparent attempt by authorities in Kazakhstan to raise general levels of urbanity among the population, city hall in Shymkent last month “strongly forbade” bus conductors from yelling at every stop. The conductors would typically advertise their route by shouting the name of every stop ahead — a cacophonous practice that seems to have irked many members of the public. (See here for examples).
Grigory Mikhailov, a Regnum editor formerly based in Kyrgyzstan, attending a conference in 2016. (Photo: Facebook account, Sergey Kozlov)
Russia’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan has in a startling break from custom declined to come out in defense of a Russian reporter expelled from the country.
Unprecedented might be putting it too strongly, but for the Russian Foreign Ministry to willingly throw a reporter for a Kremlin-supporting news outlet under the bus is a notable development.
Andrei Krutko told news website Vesti.kg on March 13 that Grigory Mikhailov, a formerly Bishkek-based editor with Regnum website, had violated migration agreements between Russia and Kyrgyzstan.
“Also, we pulled up all our documents, and we have no record of Grigory Mikhailov ever being registered with us. It turns out that we had no legal record of his presence. For all five years in which I have been in Kyrgyzstan, Mikhailov never came to a single [embassy] event,” Krutko said. “It also turned out that he was not accredited with the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry or with the government.”
Krutko said Mikhailov’s situation was entirely analogous to that of the tens of thousands of Kyrgyz citizens deported from Russia for violating similar rules and that there was no evidence of any political motives in the case.
Any perceived mistreatment of Russian government-friendly journalists overseas — immaterial of the mitigating circumstances — typically provokes fiery protests from the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, but the response here has strayed from the regular script.
Regnum’s reaction to Krutko’s remarks has been indignant.
A journalist for a fiercely pro-Kremlin news agency has been expelled from Kyrgyzstan in a move that has political observers in the Moscow-friendly nation scratching their heads.
Grigory Mikhailov, an editor with Regnum website, posted an update on Facebook on March 13 to say he was returning to Russia from Kazakhstan after having been denied entry to Kyrgyzstan, where he has been based for more than a decade.
Mikhailov was stopped by police on the evening of March 10 while he was strolling with his wife in the center of the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and ordered to show his documents. The journalist, a Russian citizen, was not carrying his passport, but it was eventually established that his registration in Kyrgyzstan had expired, which constitutes a violation of migration law.
While Mikhailov admits his papers were not in order, he toldfergana.ru that police made no note of this fact in their reports.
“The police advised us to cross the nearest Kyrgyz-Kazakhstani border point and to return to Kyrgyzstan so that they could put a note about registration at the passport control booth,” Mikhailov’s wife, Yevgeniya Kim, told EurasiaNet.org.
But when Mikhailov attempted to do just that, he was denied re-entry at the border.
Mikhailov has said he believes he has been singled out for this treatment because of his work.
“It is possible that the evaluations that I made in my articles — and I have had a few recently — were not to somebody’s pleasing,” he said.
Technically speaking, Mikhailov was not even deported, since he left Kyrgyzstan of his own will.
Almaty resident Natalia Galiakbarova speaking to Channel 31 about the compensation being offered for the compulsory purchase of her home. (Photo: Channel 31 screengrab)
Barely a week passes in Kazakhstan without the authorities somehow creating a public uproar around land-related issues.
This time it is residents of an area of the business capital, Almaty, that have come out in protest over what they say is the paltry compensation being offered to them for the compulsory purchase of their homes.
Over the weekend, privately owned Channel 31 reported that some residents are being offered as little as 300,000 tenge ($1,000) for their homes and land, which lie on the route of a planned ring road.
Almaty has for many years been plagued by chronic traffic jams, prompting the authorities to embark on several ambitious road building projects to alleviate the problem. Doing so, however, has required them to pursue the demolition of swaths of often ramshackle homes that sprung up around the city limits in the years following independence.
This latest route has been designed “strategically important” and is intended to link to the northern districts of Almaty to the center. The bulk of traffic coming in that direction currently runs along one single road — Seifullina — and invariably cars get horrendously clogged up at peak hours.
Plans for the new road has been on the drawing table for many years, although work is only now going ahead.
After working out valuations for the houses set for removal, the city government sent out sale agreements that in some instances ranged between 300,000 and 700,000 tenge ($1000-$2,200) — an amount that would pay for only a few months of apartment rental costs in the city.
Kazakhstan is dangling more than $100 million in financial support in front of struggling neighbor Kyrgyzstan, but the transfer is reportedly being hindered by a combination of bureaucratic muddling and a turn of diplomatic ill-will.
The fate of the funds, which have been earmarked to smooth integration within the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), came up in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament on March 13 as MPs wondered aloud why the money was taking so long to arrive.
Agreement on the payment of $100 million in aid was reached late last year, and Kazakhstan’s prime minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev said earlier this month that he had agreed with his Kyrgyz counterpart for the sum to be increased by a further $41 million.
Saidulla Nyshanov, a deputy with the Ata-Meken party, said that the delay had been caused by the failure of Kyrgyz government departments to provide Kazakhstan with certain required paperwork.
The earmarked funds have been described as “technical aid” required to enable Kyrgyzstan to implement regulations in line with its membership in the EEU, which it joined in mid-2015. More specifically, the money is to be spent on building customs infrastructure and developing laboratory facilities for testing goods destined for export with the trading bloc. Kyrgyz deputy prime minister Oleg Pankratov also said in the last week of December that the support would go toward harmonization of railway cargo tariffs.
Kyrgyzstan’s top prosecutor has accused two major media outlets of insulting the president by spreading “false information” about him and has said her office will pursue damages in court.
Indira Djoldubayeva said on March 9 that the General Prosecutor’s Office will seek damages amounting to 26 million som ($375,000) from Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of US-funded broadcaster RFE/RL, and plucky news website Zanoza.kg.
The prosecutor’s office is filing two separate suits in its capacity as the guarantor of President Almazbek Atambayev’s honor and dignity.
The first suit is being filed in response to the two outlets’ reports on public allegations made against Atambayev by jailed opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev. Specifically, the leader of the Ata-Meken party alleged that Atambayev may have been the owner of cargo on a plane that crashed in January outside the capital, Bishkek, killing 39 people. Accusations that Atambayev was in some way linked to the contents of the doomed Boeing 747 cargo plane had previously been circulating as rumor.
Lawyers for Tekebayev suggested their client was arrested because he holds documentary evidence supporting his claims. Remarks by the lawyers were widely reported, and not just by Zanoza.kg and Azattyk.
The General Prosecutor’s Office has said the outlets “abused their freedom of speech” and failed to verify their reports, which they said “defamed” the president.
“Some individuals see freedom of expression as a free pass for satisfying their own ambitions and they frequently indulge themselves by spreading unreliable and negative information, often with offensive content, that demeans not just the honor and dignity of their own fellow citizens but also that of the president who stands for those people,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
US Ambassador to Tajikistan Elisabeth Millard meeting with new Dushanbe Mayor Rustam Emomali on March 8. (Photo: US Embassy website)
The net is tightening around the former mayor of Tajikistan’s capital as investigators reportedly question him over suspicious movements in the city budget.
Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev had proven the ultimate loyalist, serving as mayor of Dushanbe for almost two decades before resigning, likely under pressure, on January 12. But with the president’s son on the ascendancy, room at the top is getting tight for anybody who is not family.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, cited unnamed sources on March 8 as saying that anticorruption officials are questioning Ubaidulloev over the disappearance of state funds during construction of the Dushanbe-Plaza multistory complex and other government projects.
None of this has come as much of a surprise. At the end of January, the deputy head of the state anticorruption agency, Abdukarim Zarifzoda, announced that his office was auditing the City Hall.
The shot across Ubaidulloev’s bow came from the new Dushanbe mayor, Rustam Emomali, who is the son of President Emomali Rahmon.
“Even though the mayor’s office is inspected every two years, and the next inspection was due in 2018, the mayor of Dushanbe submitted a request to the anticorruption agency to check on the mayor’s activities,” Zarifzoda said in January.
In what is presumably only a coincidence, Emomali ran the anticorruption agency from March 2015 until his appointment as Dushanbe mayor in January.
Ubaidulloev is among other things being probed in connection to expenditures made during construction of the Istiqlol Medical Center.
“This clinic was built with funds from Dushanbe City Hall. He was in part questioned in connection to explanations provided by the head of the capital construction department at the mayor’s office in relation to money spent on this building,” Ozodi’s source stated.
A group of activists marching in the center of Bishkek on March 8 to mark International Women's Day (Photo: Courtesy of Bishkek Feminist Initiatives)
Dozens of people in Kyrgyzstan’s two main cities used the occasion of International Woman’s Day on March 8 to gather in solidarity with victims of domestic violence.
The holiday is typically a light-hearted affair in Kyrgyzstan and the rest of the region — an occasion for men to lavish flowers or other gifts on their female colleagues, spouses or other women in their life.
But feminist groups seized on the opportunity to remind the public about the problem of violence and discrimination that they see perpetrated against women in the country.
“For some reason, most of the population sees this as the holiday of spring and flowers. In reality it has lost its true meaning. We wanted to draw the attention of the public and the government to the problems that women face every day,” said feminist activist Reina Arturova.
Arturova and around 100 other people took part in a march in Bishkek that took them past monuments to two well-known female figures in Kyrgyzstan history.
Kurmanjan Datka was an important political figure in Kyrgyzstan who united Kyrgyz tribes in the face of Russian aggression in the 19th century before succumbing to Moscow. Before doing that, however, she is said to have fled a man who had kidnapped her for marriage, making her an appealing role model for many Kyrgyz women. Urkuya Saliyeva, meanwhile, was a reforming activist in the early Soviet period.
Arturova said that although women in Kyrgyzstan are often subjected to violent crimes, many of them often refrain from going to the police or pursuing legal action.
Kazakhstan’s parliament has hastily adopted amendments to the constitution following weeks of largely cursory public consultation.
Following parliament’s adoption of the reforms on March 6, the amendments will have to be reviewed by the Constitutional Court, but that procedure is likely to be a formality.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has described the reforms, which ostensibly should lead to his power being shared with the executive and parliament, as a historic development, although critics argue they will change little in reality.
Nurlan Abdirov, a member of parliament and the chair of a joint commission on the reforms, said that legislators approved 26 amendments to 19 articles of the constitution. That suggests that what the government says were the 6,000 proposals offered by the public and the feedback provided during 10,000 public events over the past weeks have largely been disregarded.
The speed with which the reforms have been pushed through parliament is remarkable, even by the normal standards of Kazakhstan’s rubber stamp legislature. The first reading was wrapped up on a single day on March 3.
Among the 10 changes approved on March 6 during the second reading, lawmakers agreed that any acts that could lead to “inter-faith conflict” should be deemed unconstitutional.
Despite the many challenges confronting Kazakhstan down the road, one of the main demands made by the public in the nationwide consultation was, apparently, for language to be inserted into the constitution that would properly reflect Nazarbayev’s historic contributions. The president is already officially designated Yelbasy — Kazakh for “leader of the nation” — a title that affords him lifetime immunity from prosecution and ultimate say over core matters of state, even in the event of his retirement.