A court in Kazakhstan has sentenced a trade union activist to two-and-a-half years in jail for his role in a recent labor dispute.
The presiding judge in the Almaty courthouse in the capital, Astana, Aizhan Kulbayeva, ruled on April 7 that Nurbek Kushakbayev had violated a law by encouraging workers to participate in an unauthorized strike.
Kushakbayev was charged for his involvement in strike mounted in December by several dozen workers at a company based in western Kazakhstan and called Techno Trading Ltd. The workers declared they were going on a partial hunger strike in a demand for improved working conditions and an increase in their wages. Kushakbayev is accused of giving strikers advice on how to formulate their demands.
“Kushakbayev offered them his consultation, gave them more effective tips on how to mount a strike, and specifically suggested that they declare a hunger strike, gather as many people as possible and not be afraid of the police,” prosecutor Kanat Daribay said in the opening hearing in late March.
Daribay said that the protest set Techno Trading Ltd back by around 25 million tenge ($79,000). It is not clear how this amount was calculated, but the court rule to also require Kushakbayev to pay that amount in compensation.
Uzbekistan’s president came away with some eye-catching investment deals with Russia from his state visit to Moscow this week, but the less flashy talks on labor migration may have represented the most important achievement of all.
Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s visit to Russia on April 4-5 marked his third trip overseas after Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan — a sequence that is telling about the new leader’s foreign policy priorities.
One of the first documents to emerge from the government-to-government meetings involved an agreement to create a clearer and more formal process for Uzbeks to resettle in Russia for short-term work contracts. Representatives offices will be established in one another’s countries to assist Uzbek migrants.
While this seems like a largely arcane bureaucratic fix, it actually represents a historic step for Uzbekistan, which has, perversely, never since gaining independence actually formally recognized the existence of labor migration.
This is not to say that Uzbek officials are not aware of the fact that their fellow citizens go abroad to work. On the contrary, in 2013, the late President Islam Karimov alluded at length to such people, only to refer to them as “lazy people” who “disgrace all of us.”
Even the concept of unemployment is barely acknowledged in Tashkent. The official unemployment rate is around 5 percent, which is a figure that bears no proper scrutiny.
Karimov’s remarks were particularly offensive in view of the vast amounts of money Uzbeks in Russia inject back into their home nation’s economy.
Indeed, Russia’s Central Bank noted last month that money transfers by individuals in Russia to Uzbekistan had hit $2.74 billion in 2016.
In a repeat of events in 2015, the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan are experiencing a wave of landslides, although careful preventative appears so far to have averted any loss of human life.
Since January, the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region, GBAO, has endured a string of catastrophes. In the last week alone, the situation has been particularly bad in the regional center, Khorog.
“There was a lot of snow this year … And the consequences are being felt now. The mountains are loosening and because of that we are getting rocks falling. Thank God, there are no human casualties,” one Khorog resident told EurasiaNet.org.
According to residents, the authorities have issued warning all those living in high-risk zones to relocate to safer places, so as to avoid any loss of life. But few options have been offered as to where exactly people can move.
“They told us to evacuate, but the Pamirs are all mountains, where should we evacuate to? Anybody with relatives in safe places just moves there, but there is no other choice,” said another local resident, who spoke to EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity.
In many areas electricity supply has been patchy as power lines have been damaged by disasters. That has in turn put water-pumping stations out of commission. The Shugnan and Rushan districts have reportedly been particularly badly affected.
RFE/RL’s Tajikistan service, Radio Ozodi, has cited GBAO administration spokeswoman Nilufar Aslamshoyeva as providing an official damage tally for the past week at five partially damaged houses and five completely destroyed houses. More than 300 families have been evacuated and most gone to live with their relatives, she said.
The recent visit to Kazakhstan by a notoriously provocative and pro-government TV presenter on Russian state television drew howls of indignation from the self-styled national-patriotic camp.
The irritation could be felt even before the arrival of Vladimir Solovyov, who is among others things charged with being a prominent propagator of the chauvinist “Russian World” ideology that underlies much of the aggressive diplomatic, and at times military, posturing by Moscow toward its neighbors. Solovyov has, for example, been an ardent champion of the annexation of Crimea and condemned Ukrainian government attempts to regain control over its separatist-occupied territories in the east.
Unruffled by the criticism, Solovyov described his detractors in Kazakhstan as “lost people suffering from mental illnesses.”
The talk show presenter was ostensibly in Kazakhstan to lead a training seminar for people looking to get ahead in business, deal with tricky opponents and develop leadership techniques.
He was bullish on his return to Russia this week, noting on his Twitter feed that “the seminar went well. I met no ‘outraged citizens.’ That was to be expected. Internet hamsters do not reflect the mood of the population.”
Kazakh-language media in particular has had a field day.
The website Abai.kz ran a story under the headline: “Fire the people that invited Solovyov!”
Politician and commentator Amirzhan Kosanov was quoted as saying that it was absolutely mandatory that “any kind of propagandist should be given no quarter.”
In a potentially seismic break from custom, state television in Uzbekistan has begun broadcasting news bulletins live to air instead of pre-recording the programs.
Dia.uz News website reported that the first such bulletin to be aired in this way was the Ahborot (“News”) program shown on Channel 1 on April 4 at 2 p.m.
This sudden change of policy comes on the heels of criticism about the standard of news programing from President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The president said at a government meeting on March 30 that state television and radio stations needed overhauling — he singled out Uzbekistan and Yoshlar TV stations and the Ahborot bulletin for particular condemnation.
“The time for cheerleading is over. What we need on television are critical and analytical materials. People should be waiting for these programs with a sense of anticipation,” he said.
It was Mirziyoyev that specifically suggested the news should go out live.
Naturally, the remarks themselves were extensively reported on state television and then in other media.
Ahborot broadcasts every day in a 20-minute slot. On Sunday, a wider-ranging, hour-long analytical version of the program is aired.
The presumed purpose of allowing news programs to air live is that it will limit the scope for censorship and grant reporters greater freedom to run potentially problematic reporting. How it will actually play out, however, is another matter, since broadcasters are liable to simply censor themselves in the process of production instead of the edit.
But it is evident that Mirziyoyev is eager to circumvent certain branches of his own government — the security services first and foremost — and engage more directly with the general public.
A trial that opened this week in Kazakhstan sees the government returning with gusto to the pursuit of its favorite bogeyman: disgraced banker and opposition stalwart Mukhtar Abylazov.
The special inter-district court of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s business capital, on April 3 started hearings into charges of alleged massive fraud. The anti-corruption bureau has put the cost of the alleged financial machinations while Ablyazov was head of privately run BTA Bank at more than $7.5 billion — a sharp jump from the $6 billion that has previously been cited.
Abylazov was nowhere to be seen. He did, however, post a video appeal on his Facebook page on the eve of the hearings to give advice on how to mount massive protest rallies in Kazakhstan in his absence.
“You have to choose a theme for the protests that will bring thousands or tens of thousands of people out onto the street,” Ablyazov said from an undisclosed foreign location. He suggested that land ownership issues, education and bad roads could be good spurs for rousing demonstrations.
In Ablyazov’s absence, three of his former associates are having to face the music. Zhaksylyk Zharimbetov, chair of loan committee at BTA bank and a former No.2 to Ablyazov, admitted full culpability. Saduakash Mamesh, chair of the board, and Kairat Sadykov, loans director, pleaded only partial guilt.
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.
Chinese authorities are on high alert in western Xinjiang province after the appearance of an Islamic State propaganda video featuring militants from China’s Uighur ethnic minority group.
In the 30-minute video, distributed by the Al-Furat Province division of Islamic State (IS) in western Iraq, heavily armed fighters and children give speeches, pray, and even kill “informants.”
One Uighur fighter is filmed saying, “Oh, you Chinese who do not understand what people say. We are the soldiers of the Caliphate, and we will come to you to clarify to you with the tongues of our weapons, to shed blood like rivers and avenge the oppressed.”
The video released in late February marks perhaps the most serious IS threat against Chinese territory since the militant group encouraged its fighters to launch operations in China more than two years ago.
Chinese officials are taking this threat seriously. In early March, a spokesperson from China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing was ready to work with the international community to combat terrorism. Normally, China has dealt with security issues on its own, or has worked with other states within the framework of regional groupings, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS).
Beijing has long worried that disaffected ethnic Uighurs — a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority in Xinjiang and in neighboring Central Asian states, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan — would attract the attention of, and support from, Islamic State.
Russia has once again slapped major restrictions on Tajikistan-based private carrier Somon Air in the latest installment of a long-running saga.
The Transportation Ministry in Moscow was candid in a statement over the weekend that it adopted the measure in a tit-for-tat response to Tajikistan’s refusal to grant landing rights to Russia’s Yamal Airlines.
The dispute stems from a petty disagreement over what airlines are allowed to operate which routes and has been rolling on since early November, so some background is in order.
Dushanbe fired the first salvo by refusing to give clearance to flights arriving from the Zhukovsky airport in the Moscow region, to which Russia reacted by threatening a complete halt of all flights to Tajikistan.
After multiple rounds of bickering, Tajikistan agreed to allow Yamal Airlines, a Russian airline based in the northern Siberian town of Salekhard, to fly once a week to Dushanbe and the northern city of Khujand.
The matter appeared to have been definitively put to rest following the visit to Dushanbe from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov in late January.
Tajikistan’s Somon Air was again granted the right to fly to four Russian cities — Krasnoyarsk, Krasnodar, Orenburg and Ufa. And for its part, Dushanbe relented by finally giving clearance to flights arriving from Zhukovsky airport.
Not so fast.
It would now appear that Yamal Airlines is now intent on securing yet more flights — four weekly to Dushanbe and three to Khujand — but Tajikistan does not seem to think that was part of any deal.