A court in Tajikistan has ruled to extend the detention of jailed lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov by two months, according to a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi.
Ozodi cites the press service of the Ismoil Somoni district court in Dushanbe as saying that the extension is required for further investigation into the case.
Yorov was arrested in September on charges of fraud and forging documents only days after he agreed to represent 13 members of the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), whose entire leadership stands accused of attempting to topple the government. The case against Yorov relates to an alleged incident in 2010, when he is said to have received $4,000 dollars from an individual in the city of Istaravshan.
Yorov’s relatives said that court decision on the extension of his detention was adopted in their presence on January 28, Ozodi reported. “We saw him close up, and he felt fine,” one relative told the broadcaster.
Unrelenting pressure against the opposition is par for the course for a government increasingly reliant on unfettered authoritarian measures, but the mistreatment of lawyers is a particularly grim harbinger.
Another lawyer acting for the IRPT, Nuriddin Mahkamov, was arrested on October 22.
Compounding their international reputation for legal nihilism, the authorities earlier this month detained three foreign lawyers — two from Turkey, another from Russia — who had traveled to Tajikistan in the hope of meeting the jailed IRPT members and lawyers.
Kazakhstan’s president could hardly be expected to run for parliament, so the ruling Nur Otan party has gone for the next best thing: The actor who played him as a young man in the biopic.
Nurlan Alimzhanov is just one of several celebrities that Nur Otan included in its populist list of candidates for the March 20 parliamentary election, which authorities are hoping will serve as a tonic for their flagging legitimacy.
Other recognizable faces selected by a unanimous vote at a party congress in Astana on January 29 included Gennady Golovkin, a world champion boxer renowned as the best pound-for pound fighter in the world, Olympic gold medal-winning weightlifter Ilya Ilyin and Kairat Nurtas, a wildly popular 26-year-old pop singer.
One actual Nazarbayev is also standing — Dariga Nazarbayeva, the president’s daughter and current first deputy prime minister.
Alimzhanov may be the actor, but it was President Nursultan Nazarbayev that gave the real performance in Astana as a man pretending his party is readying for a proper election. Speaking to the congress, he urged a “competitive fight” in the upcoming vote.
Since there is no real opposition (not behind bars) anywhere to be seen, however, it can be taken for granted that the new legislature will be similarly compliant as the outgoing lot.
Kyrgyzstan’s thin-skinned President Almazbek Atambayev’s long-running and unseemly spat with an outspoken local journalist has taken a fresh and typically farcical turn.
After Atambayev successfully sued the editor of Kyrgyz language outlet Maalymat.kg, Dayirbek Orunbekov, for defamation last year for a whopping $26,000, the journalist has managed to persuade a local court to take up a case against the president on similar grounds.
If Orunbekov wins — which few expect — he will claim from the head of state a single unit of the battered national currency, the som.
Judicial proceedings to determine whether or not Atambayev defamed Orunbekov in his end of year speech, by effectively accusing him of being a slanderer-for-hire, began earlier this week.
Testifying in Atambayev’s favor, presidential representative Chynara Musabekova told the court on January 28 that suggestions Orunbekov was “working on somebody’s money” when writing articles critical of the head of state were only a “hypothesis” rather than an insult to Orunbekov’s “honor and dignity.”
According to local news site Kloop.kg, Orunbekov was prevented from making his own argument in court due to his inadequate Russian, with testimony in the state language Kyrgyz oddly inadmissible.
Bad driving, severe code violations and pervasive corruption among traffic cops are rampant on Kyrgyzstan’s roads.
The Interior Ministry has reported that more than 6,600 car accidents occurred in 2015, leaving 976 people dead and another 9,847 injured.
“Traffic accident fatalities have a great impact on the economic and social development of our country as the main victims in accidents are young people of working age. Various experts estimate that the Kyrgyz economy loses $250 million (about 4 percent of the gross domestic product) every year as a result of these crashes”, the ministry has stated.
To tackle the problem, before the parliamentary elections in 2015, deputies proposed a bill on mandatory car insurance, which would allow the injured and the families of car crash victims to secure compensation for damage to their health and property. It was the first time any compulsory insurance was to be introduced in the country. The law will oblige car owners to insure their civil liability within five days of buying their vehicle and to extend the policy annually.
The cost of the insurance is to be around $40. In the event of a death, insurance companies would be liable to pay $2,600 and a sum up to that amount in case of injuries.
Since the law takes effect in early February, many car owners are now fretting about possible fines for people found not in possession of an insurance policy. The head of the Financial Market Control Service, Sanzhar Makanbetov, tried to reassure drivers by telling them they will have two months to get insurance before they could start facing fines.
When demonstrations begin taking place in the town of Naryn in Kyrgyzstan, the authorities need to start worrying.
As Kloop.kg reported, about 200 people gathered on January 27 on the main square of the high-altitude town for a rally to complain about issues including electricity tariffs and lack of transportation links in the region.
Maybe the most sensitive issue, however, was related to the salary bonuses paid to workers in mountainous locations. State employees there receive a 50 percent additional payment to compensate for the arduous living conditions, but lawmakers had been considering scrapping or minimizing that allowance to save costs. The government earlier in the week hastily ditched the proposal in recognition of its potential to provoke unrest, but that has not entirely soothed moods.
Not only do Naryn residents want the allowance to remain in place, but they also want it raised to 70 percent of their salaries. The Naryn rally was peaceful and proceeded without incident.
When former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was toppled in 2010, it was at the culmination of quality of life protests that first gained momentum in Naryn, so the government is acutely aware of the need to placate discontent.
With that in mind, remarks made in parliament on January 27 by a member of the main coalition force, the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, were particularly provocative.
Unemployment fears are a constant for most people in Tajikistan, but they have never bothered the family of President Emomali Rahmon.
The clan leading the country continued to cement its positions in power on January 27 with the appointment of Rahmon’s daughter, Ozoda, as head of the presidential executive apparatus.
Ozoda Rahmon, 38, previously served as first deputy foreign minister and head of the foreign ministry’s consular section. She has five children and has, according to her official biography, studied at both Georgetown University and in the languages department at the University of Maryland, both in the United States. She is the second of Rahmon’s nine children.
Ozoda’s husband, Jamoliddin Nuraliyev, is the first deputy chairman of the central bank.
Another son-in-law, Shamsullo Sohibov, is Tajikistan’s trade representative to Great Britain. And then there is another son-in-law, Ashraf Gulov, who is Tajikistan’s Consul General to Russia.
Best known among Rahmon’s offspring is, of course, 29-year old Rustam Emomali, who is often touted as a possible successor to the presidency. Emomali currently heads the anticorruption agency — a job that comes on the heels of his appointment to the rank of general at the tender age of 25, when he was also named head of the customs service.
Another Rahmon daughter, Zarrina, is married to the son of the notorious Beg Zukhurov, head of the communications service. Zukhurov is best known for his predilection for blocking websites and phone services, and for accumulating a vast array of business interests while in post.
Tajikistan’s security services have broken their usual silence to deny rumors that several members of the Alfa antiterrorist crack force have fled their post in the remote Gorno-Badakhshan province.
The speculation is an unwelcome reminder of a particularly shattering defection last year, when high-ranking OMON paramilitary police commander Gulmurod Halimov left for Syria and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
The State Committee for National Security, or GKNB as the body is known by its Russian initials, said in a statement on January 26 that the rumors were being spread by people inside and outside the country that are seeking to sow instability
“At the current time, all GKNB units are continuing their professional activity as normal and strictly abiding by their service duties,” the statement said.
The incendiary claims of a fresh defection appear to have initially surfaced on the Payhom website, which is linked to the now-banned opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan.
According to the report on Payhom, a group of around 11-12 Alfa troops dispatched to the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) on the night of January 21 disobeyed their orders and absconded with all their weapons in tow. The report claimed, although without providing sources for its information, that relatives of the Alfa troops in question have been detained in Dushanbe to compel the men to hand themselves in.
Payhom also said GKNB chief Saimumin Yatimov had personally traveled to GBAO to oversee the situation.
Hot on the heels of a graft scandal that has blighted a flagship exhibition to be staged in Kazakhstan’s capital comes news that its budget is being slashed – again.
With Kazakhstan in the throes of economic crisis, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has approved cuts of 53 billion tenge ($140 million) to the budget for hosting EXPO-2017 in Astana next year.
“We have to look at budget spending, taking account of hard times,” Akhmetzhan Yesimov, the official in charge of organizing the project, said in remarks quoted by Tengri News on January 26.
The latest cuts bring the total reduction in public spending on the exhibition to 131 billion tenge ($345 million), a dramatic slump forced by the fall in global oil prices.
That is around one-tenth of the originally expected total expenditure of $3 billion, most of which was to come from private investors but with a significant chunk provided by the state.
The project’s financial well-being was not helped by officials previously in charge of organizing it pilfering some $27 million dollars from the construction funds.
Kazakhstan is scrambling for ideas on where to cut as it enters its worst economic crisis since the 1990s. Some economists are forecasting negative growth this year for the first time in nearly two decades.
Critics of the EXPO see it as a vanity project that is wasting money at a time of crisis, though when Kazakhstan won the hosting rights in 2012 oil prices were riding high and growth was buoyant.
As bad as things may have got for Kazakhstan, authorities have tended to grasp the tender slip of consolation that the economy was expected to grow in 2016, if only slightly.
Analysts at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit now beg to differ and are predicting that Kazakhstan is set for its first year of negative growth in nearly two decades.
“We have revised our forecast for Kazakhstan and now expect GDP to contract for the first time since 1998,” the think tank tweeted on January 22.
An accompanying table showed that the EIU believes the economy will shrink by 2 percent this year, posting negative growth for the first time since 1998.
Years of near double-digit growth were fueled by surging oil prices, and the slump has accordingly been caused by the collapse in the cost of the commodity, which accounts for about one-quarter of Kazakhstan’s economy.
EIU’s prediction, the gloomiest one out there for Kazakhstan, piles on the misery as the country comes to terms with the economy slowing to just 1.5 percent last year, down from 4.3 percent in 2014.
The government is now recalculating its budget, with the most pessimistic scenario based on oil costing just $16 per barrel on average over the year, Prime Minister Karim Masimov said last week. The government’s core scenario is based on $40 oil, well above the sub-$30 per barrel mark registered most of last week.
Kazakhstan is also bearing the brunt of a slowdown in its major trading partners Russia, which is in full-blown recession, and China, which posted its lowest growth in a quarter of a century
Serikhzhan Mambetalin's mother, Anastasia, sobbing after the Almaty court verdict on Friday, January 22, 2016.
Two political activists have been jailed in Kazakhstan on charges of inciting racial hatred at the close of a trial that their supporters believe was politically motivated.
The trial in Almaty ended two days after President Nursultan Nazarbayev called a snap parliamentary election for March 20, a move he said was aimed at consolidating the nation as the country battles an economic crisis.
Yermek Narymbayev – who has been in ill health throughout the trial – received a three-year prison term and Serikzhan Mambetalin was jailed for two years at the end of a six-week trial, to cries of “shame!” from supporters as Mambetalin’s elderly mother was led away from the courtroom in tears.
During the summing up of legal arguments on January 22, Mambetalin denounced the proceedings as “a political order” and Narymbayev dismissed them as “illegal.”
The two were tried on the charge of incitement to ethnic, religious, tribal or social strife, which civil society campaigners recently urged the authorities to abolish, claiming it is used to muzzle critics. The government denies that any politically motivated trials take place in Kazakhstan.
The charges against Narymbayev and Mambetalin stem from their Facebook postings about an unpublished book written some two decades ago by another anti-government activist, Murat Telibekov, who is under investigation on the same charge.
In their postings, the two “incited ethnic strife and insulted the honor and dignity of the Kazakh nation,” a prosecutor claimed – arguments the defendants, known for their mildly nationalist stances promoting ethnic Kazakh interests, dismissed as nonsense.