A court in Kyrgyzstan has set a precedent alarming to freedom of speech advocates by ruling against a political activist in a defamation suit for a post he wrote on Facebook.
Bishkek’s Oktyabrsky district court on January 5 ruled that Mavlyan Askarbekov should publish an apology on his Facebook page to member of parliament Dastan Bekeshev and leave it online for the duration of one month.
The start of this episode dates back to July, when Askarbekov penned an attack against the visually impaired MP for what he said was his undue interference in the activities of the Kyrgyz Association for Blind and Deaf People.
“When I spoke [at an association meeting], Bekeshev started insulting me and had me kicked out. He did not respond to my questions about the legitimacy of his actions and did not let me say a word,” Askarbekov wrote in his original post.
Askarbekov is a well-known figure in youth nationalist circles and first came to prominence in the wake of the April 2010 uprising.
In August, Bekeshev filed a defamation suit against Askarbekov, saying the activist needed to be “reined in” over his false accusations.
Opposition activist Adil Turdukulov called the court’s ruling unlawful.
“This [lawsuit] is a continuation of a systemic policy of suppression of freedom of speech. It is no accident that it was Bekeshev who the filed lawsuit, when it was he that previously proposed bringing in additional controls over online media and social networks,” Turdukulov said.
The exodus of Tajikistan’s best minds has reached record levels, according to figures coming out of Russia.
In 2016, 14,000 Tajik family units filed residency applications withs Russia’s Interior Ministry under a state resettlement program designed for former citizens of the Soviet Union.
The number of applications marks a notable increase from 13,000 in 2015 and 10,000 in 2014.
Of those, in 2015, 1,200 families received residence permits, and that figure rose to 1,850 in 2016.
The Russian Interior Ministry’s representative for migration affairs in Tajikistan, Vladislav Makarevich, noted that preference is given to highly qualified applicants.
“First of all education and work experience are considered. Almost everybody who takes part in the program has higher or at least basic education. We are talking about medics, teachers, accountants, entrepreneurs,” Makarevich told Asia-Plus website.
Among all former Soviet nations, Tajikistan generates the greatest number of applications to relocate to Russia.
Russia’s gain naturally translates into Tajikistan’s loss, which continues in a climate of enduring economic stagnation to struggle in holding onto its qualified workforce.
Once families decided to relocate, the move is typically permanent.
The number of Tajik citizens that has received Russian citizenship in the past two deacdes is by some estimates placed at anywhere between 300,000 and 500,000. Arriving at an exact number is complicated by the fact that some people move to Russia for work and only apply for citizenship for several years after residing there.
Part of an apartment building collapsed in a central Kazakhstan town overnight on January 1, killing at least nine people, including three children.
Authorities have said preliminary investigations suggest the accident may have been caused by the explosion of a heating boiler. These kind of heating units are crucial to survival in towns like Shakhan, in the Karaganda region, where temperatures in winter can drop to minus 40 degrees Celsius.
Officials say that part of the apartment blocked destroyed in the collapse was home to 25 people.
Homes in Shakhan, a town of around 8,000 people, were at some stage provided with heating from a central boiler, but that has broken down and not been replaced by the government. Committees managing apartment buildings are in such situations compelled to install basements with autonomous heating systems, which are fueled with coal, wood or paper and can pose significant risks to residents, as in this case.
The deputy Karaganda regional governor Andrei Lyapunov told media that he had appealed to the National Economy Ministry for funds to resolve the heating problem in Shakhan, but that progress was hindered by money shortages.
“A project blueprint was developed. It was examined by state experts. The budget was about 2.8 billion tenge in 2014 [NB. $15 million at mid-2014 rates and $8.3 million now],” Lyapunov said.
But that money was not enough to finance a project to provide heating to around 100 apartment blocks, he said.
“This cannot be done quickly. Especially as the the town has a very distended heating grid and homes are very distant from one another. This is why building a [central] boiler takes a certain amount of time,” Lyapunov said.
The former head of Kazakhstan’s security services, a long-time associate of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been detained on suspicion of leaking state secrets and abuse of office.
Nartay Dutbayev presided over the National Security Committee, or KNB, from December 2001 to February 2006 — a period that saw the murder of two prominent opposition figures that government critics have routinely lain at the feet of the security services.
Dutbayev is a hardy survivor on Kazakhstan’s political scene, so his arrest is nothing short of startling. He and at least two other individuals, named as a Nurlan Hasen and Yerlan Nurtayev, were detained and placed in a KNB holding cells on December 26. News of the detentions was announced two days later.
Nothing is known about the details of the offenses that Dutbayev is suspected of having committed, so journalists and commentators have indulged in a frenzy of speculation.
Political analyst Daniyar Ashimbayev told Sputnik Kazakhstan that the clearance for going after Dutbayev could only have been granted at the highest levels.
“The issue was most likely agreed upon in the higher echelons — at the very least, in the presidential administration,” Ashimbayev said.
Kazakhstan’s security services say they have rounded up 33 members of a religious extremist organization called Takfir Wa Al-Hijra following a sweep started earlier this month.
Operations were reportedly carried out in the Almaty, Aktobe and Atyrau regions and in the city of Almaty.
The National Security Committee, or KNB in its Russian initials, have said all the detainees are citizens of Kazakhstan — from southern and western regions of the country specifically. Religious literature and CDs, as well as large but unspecified sums of money, were found during searches.
The group is suspected of propagating extremist ideology and inciting the creation of a theocratic government in Kazakhstan. The activities of this cell was reputedly coordinated from abroad, although it is not stated from which country in particular.
While there is no evidence any of those detained were intent of traveling to the Middle East to link up with Islamist militants there, security services say they were sympathetic to the cause of groups fighting in Syria and Iraq. The KNB said most of the suspect are cooperating with investigators.
Seven leading figures in the group identified as Takfir Wa Al-Hijra are being held in custody and another has been granted release on their own recognizance. Seventeen people described as rank-and-file members of the group have been qualified as just witnesses.
The chief editor of a leading news website in Kazakhstan has announced that he has left the country out of concern that he may be targeted for prosecution.
Bekzhan Idrisov, who edits Radiotochka.kz, made the announcement on his Facebook page on December 26. The publisher of his website and editor of Central Asia Monitor newspaper, Bigeldy Gabdullin, was detained by the authorities in mid-November on suspicion of committing fraud.
Stories of reporters feeling compelled to flee Kazakhstan are a stark reminder of the problems face by independent media in the country as they negotiate financial constraints and pressure from the government to refrain from critical coverage.
“I have left Kazakhstan. Forever is my hope… I want to explain this to my colleagues at Radiotochka.kz. I know that I have vanished suddenly and at an inconvenient time for you. But you know there is no convenient time for such things. Either I end up in jail next to Gabdullin or I give evidence against him,” Idrisov wrote.
Idrisov suggested that a feature on his website — Who Owns KZ — has caused particular umbrage in Astana. The section draws on open sources to document the tax payments and property ownership of government officials, businessmen and other public figures.
Idrisov has declined to reveal his current location over security concerns and said that his sources have informed him he has been placed on a wanted list.
With the New Year holidays approaching, Russia and Tajikistan have decided to engage in a fresh round of battle of flight bans.
The dispute is sowing deep uncertainty among passengers and affecting those most vulnerable, the Tajik migrant laborers upon whom Tajikistan’s economy strongly depends.
The first to be hit by the new bans were the passengers expecting to fly on December 23 on Somoni Air from the Russian city of Orenburg after aviation authorities in Russia stopped the company from operating in its skies. Somoni Air is now barred from flying at another four Russian cities.
The history of the dispute dates back to early November. Dushanbe fired the first salvo by refusing to give clearance to flights arriving from the Moscow region airport of Zhukovo, to which Russia reacted by threatening a complete halt to all flights to Tajikistan.
A Tajik delegation travel to Moscow on November 7 and managed after some panicked negotiations to reach a workable compromise and avert the embargo.
Trouble resumed on December 21, when Russia again threatened to close its airspace to Tajik airlines if Dushanbe would not agree to admit flights from Yamal Airlines, a company based in the northern Siberian town of Salekhard. More than 100 tickets had been sold for this route.
But Tajikistan’s Transportation Ministry said that during the November negotiations, Tajikistan agreed only to flights for Ural Airlines and Tajik Air, and that there was no mention of Yamal Airlines.
The Transportation Ministry noted that Yamal had no right to sell tickets without receiving a permit from the the government.
Aimira Shaukentayeva appearing to react to a question from Russian interviewer Vladimir Posner.
A state-controlled TV channel in Kazakhstan has waded into a fresh scandal involving a famous Russian interviewer that has seemingly led to the departure of one of its best-known anchors.
Late last week, effete First Channel Eurasia newsreader Ruslan Smykov breathlessly told viewers that he had a startling announcement to make — his colleague Aimira Shaukentayeva had been interviewed on an illustrious Russian news show. As sensations go, it was a decidedly unimpressive intramural media affair, but state media in Central Asia unashamedly relishes in the attention of outsiders.
In the purported interview, Vladimir Posner, best remembered in the West for his involvement in a landmark series of televised discussions in the 1980s between audiences in the Soviet Union and the US, appears, courtesy of some editing trickery, to be flattered by the opportunity to finally meet Shaukentayeva.
This was the first clue something wasn't quite right. Shaukentayeva may be well known in Kazakhstan for her arch news-reading style, heavily accentuated pouting and near-Kabuki-level makeup, but she is a nonentity beyond the country’s borders. The brief trail of the interview set up by Smykov shows Posner and Shaukentayeva exchanging some generic niceties and little else.
The faked interview looks at worst like an oddly pointless prank perpetrated, like most of First Channel Eurasia’s news output, at the expense of the unwitting viewers and for the amusement of its creators. Sources at First Channel Eurasia confirmed to Today.kz that the interview was indeed a “joke” — not that this was made at all clear from the outset.
All the same, the forgery provoked howls of indignation.
The yawning, decades-long divide between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan will get that little bit narrower next week when a senior Uzbek delegation travels to Dushanbe for talks on trade and economic cooperation.
The delegation will travel to Tajikistan on December 26 and be led by Uzbek deputy prime minister Rustam Azimov, whose recent removal as finance minister appears for now to signal his transition to a role as the lead on development of Uzbekistan’s external economic ties.
Talks will focus on reopening railway and road links that have now been closed for several years. At the heart of the historic disaccord is Tajikistan’s plan to build a giant hydropower dam that Uzbekistan could threaten its access to vital irrigation water. Tashkent has tried by multiple means — mainly by imposing a de facto transit embargo — to hinder progress on that dam and force Dushanbe to back down.
Dushanbe-based news website Asia Plus reported that the Uzbek-Tajik intergovernmental commission convening in Dushanbe will agree on the reopening of specific railway and road links, suggesting the talks may go beyond an rhetoric exchange of goodwill messages. The website cited unnamed Tajik government sources as saying the two sides will agree on the opening on new border crossings.
This comes on the heels of an announcement in November that flights are set to resume between the two countries in January for the first time in 24 years.
The game of pass the parcel with one of Tajikistan’s rare industrial success stories has now led to a promising fertilizer plant being taken over by Chinese investors.
The lower house of parliament on December 14 ratified a deal between Tajikistan and China for Henan Zhong-Ya holding group to assume control of OAO Azot in a deal that will require the company to invest $360 million over the coming three years.
All in all, the deal is a sweet one for Henan Zhong-Ya. Azot will enjoy a tax holiday for a six-year period as it gradually ramps up production. The plant specializing in the production of carbamide, or urea, an organic compound used in fertilizer.
The plant has been standing idle since it was nationalized at the expense of Ukrainian tycoon Dmytro Firtash in 2014.
For the first 10 years of resumed operations, the plant will be 51 percent owned by the Chinese, while the remainder will be held by the Tajik government. The general director of the company will be Chinese.
Annual demand for carbamide in Tajikistan is around 360,000 tons, an amount it now imports at a cost of $50 million. The plant, which is situated in the southern Khatlon region, is slated to reach annual output of 200,000 tons of carbamide within the first two years.
Under the bilateral agreement, 30 percent of profits will go to the Tajik state and the rest to the Chinese partner.
There is a requirement, however, that half the employees must be Tajik nationals at the start to operations, and that this number must increase to 90 percent within 18 months.