A man has been jailed on charges of promoting separatism in Kazakhstan — the first time someone has been thrown behind bars for a crime introduced last year, while separatist conflict raged in Ukraine.
The resident of the northern town of Ridder, a stone’s throw from Kazakhstan’s long border with Russia, received a five-year prison sentence for his activities on a social networking website, the Total.kz reports.
Igor Sychev, 26, was found guilty of propagating separatism over an online poll he published in spring quizzing the residents of Ridder on their views of whether their province, East Kazakhstan Region, should secede and join Russia.
The poll was published on the Heard in Ridder forum on Russian social networking site VKontakte, of which Sychev was administrator.
“I did not create the poll, and after there was a complaint the poll was removed,” Total.kz quoted Sychev as saying after the verdict was delivered on November 18.
“I have never engaged nor do I engage in any separatist activity,” added Sychev, who said his “illegal” trial had been conducted “for show.”
Sychev was convicted under a clause criminalizing calls for separatism that was hurriedly inserted into a new version of the criminal code passed last year. The crime carries a maximum 10-year jail term.
As many commentators pointed out at the time, pro-Russian activists fomenting violence in eastern Ukrainian cities like Donetsk and Luhansk could not fail to arouse consternation in Kazakhstan.
Members of the public in Kazakhstan have taken to stripping off and hitting the streets for bets and laughs — and to take showers.
The craze was sparked by a man who walked naked through the city of Oskemen in north-eastern Kazakhstan earlier this month for a bet.
The unidentified young man won the bet with a casual stroll down a main street in the city on November 11 — but ended up in jail for his pains, all for a pair of boots.
“My boots were torn, and I needed some new ones,” he explained to the YK-local news website on November 13, speaking under the pseudonym Adil.
“I was chatting to some friends, and we were talking about shoes. And we had a bet. The conditions were that if I walked naked through the street, they would buy me some boots. If I chickened out, I would have to do something worse.”
He refused to elaborate on what that was, as it was “a secret.”
Adil won a pair of $60 boots from the bet, but the police were not amused.
He was arrested and jailed for 15 days on hooliganism charges on November 17.
Tajikistan’s Asia-Plus news website is reporting that Russian troops are pulling out of their base in the southern city of Kulyab in an unexpected and, so far, unexplained development.
The website based its report on November 18 on an official order from Russian military command obtained by local residents with ties to the base.
“We inform you that in connection with a [Russian Central Military District] directive, this military facility is being relocated as of October 15, 2015. The relocation will be completed within two months of receipt of this directive,” reads the summons, as reproduced by Asia-Plus.
No details are provided about where the garrison is to be relocated.
Kulyab is one of the three cities in Tajikistan where the Russian 201st Motor Rifle Division is deployed — the others are Dushanbe and Kurgan-Tyube.
Russian troops numbers in the country are estimated to stand at around between 6,000 and 7,000.
The presence of the base in Kulyab provokes mixed feelings. While adding to the local economy, the military presence has also been at the root of much scandal in recent years.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported in July on an incident of drunken Russian soldiers going on the rampage in Kulyab and getting into a mass brawl with some local men.
In an earlier incident in February, a Russian officer was charged with grievously assaulting a waiter in Kulyab, RFE/RL reported.
And although the base is a valuable economic input, even that aspect has on occasion fallen short of people’s expectations.
Kazakhstan’s septuagenarian leader Nursultan Nazarbayev has issued a heartfelt call for public servants to step aside after 25 years in the job and make way for fresh blood.
The long-serving president did not immediately announce any plans to step down from his own post, which he has held for a quarter of a century.
“It is necessary to establish a clear position on public servants retiring when they reach the legal retirement age,” Nazarbayev — who, at 75, is 12 years past the usual retirement age for men of 63 — told a Cabinet meeting in remarks quoted by Tengri News.
“That’s enough. For 25 years [some public servants] have been holding on … It’s time to go,” he said, without evident signs of irony.
Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, first as its communist leader under the Soviet Union and then as president of an independent state since 1991.
Under legislation passed in 2010 granting him the title of Leader of the Nation, he is exempt from the usual two constitutional presidential term limits and can stand for re-election for the rest of his life. He was last re-elected in April with 98 percent of the vote.
At the Cabinet meeting, Nazarbayev warned that there was no place for life-long appointees in his country. Senior public servants should not think themselves irreplaceable and stop telling him “stick with me — the next person will be even worse,” Nazarbayev said, in remarks that are assumed not to have been a reference to himself.
Tajikistan is the latest country in Central Asia to get a bad news update on its economy, although probably to nobody’s great surprise.
The World Bank said on November 17, during its latest bi-annual update on the state of the country’s economy, that gross domestic product growth is set to slow to 4.2 percent this year.
That dip in performance is down to the widely reported decrease in remittances from Russia, as well as reduced demand and prices for Tajikistan’s main export commodities — aluminum and cotton.
“Remittances are the second largest source of household income in Tajikistan, so this sharp decline in remittances is limiting household consumption and is putting the sustainability of recent gains in poverty reduction at risk,” World Bank country manager Patricia Veevers-Carter said in a statement.
The figure offered for this year marks a decline from the 6.7 percent growth registered in 2014, but is still higher than the deep slump to 3.8 percent growth seen in 2009, when the world was in the throes of a financial meltdown. But the immediate post-crash recovery seen at that time is unlikely to be repeated as swiftly since Russia’s economy is set to remain in the doldrums for some time to come at current estimates.
The World Bank suggested that Tajikistan’s way out of crisis will be to support job creation in the private sector, improve workforce skills and enable access to labor among the most vulnerable.
The country has the region’s most parlous foreign exchange reserves situation, chronically loss-making state enterprises and a dismal banking sector, which is compounding matters even further.
Cruelty to animals has hit the headlines in Kazakhstan following the arrest of a young man for demonstrating his wrestling technique on a donkey.
This is the latest in a series of stories of abuse of animals – ranging from donkeys and dogs to wolf and bear cubs – that have caused public consternation.
Video of the man hurling the donkey over his head and onto the ground appeared online in early November, prompting police to launch an investigation after an outcry among social media users.
Police later arrested two unidentified suspects, a 19-year-old man and his accomplice, who was behind the video camera. The latter can be heard on the film screaming with laughter and making comparisons with “kures” — the traditional Kazakh sport of wrestling — as the donkey is thrown into the air and makes several hard landings onto its back and its head.
The two Almaty residents will face charges of cruelty to animals, police spokeswoman Zhanar Tolegenkyzy said in remarks broadcast by Khabar TV on November 9.
This is not first story involving animal abuse to hit the headlines in Kazakhstan of late.
In July, four men were arrested after appearing in a video showing them torturing some wolf cubs that they had caught. One attempted to decapitate one of the new-borns with a spade.
The mystery of how much cash Kazakhstan has been pumping into its flagship Astana sporting project has been solved. Darkhan Kaletayev, a leading light in the project, revealed all as to who gets what.
The biggest recipient of cash from the coffers of the Astana Presidential Sports Club, set up in 2012 as the umbrella organization for clubs in Kazakhstan's glitzy capital, is soccer's FC Astana, currently enjoying a run in UEFA's Champions League. Barys hockey club and the Astana Pro Team cyclists also receive big bucks from the fund, which is bankrolled by the deep pockets of Kazakhstan’s powerful sovereign-wealth fund, Samruk-Kazyna.
A key supporter of the project is Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a keen sports fan who can be seen pumping iron to a rap soundtrack in this promotional video for the presidential sports club.
FC Astana, which won Kazakhstan’s Premier League for the second time in a row on November 8, has pulled in $16 million from its European adventure — 35 percent of the club's annual budget, Kaletayev, managing director of Samruk-Kazyna, said in an interview given to Soviet Sport. This would put the club's funding at around $45 million a year.
Barys hockey club, which plays in the Kontinental Hockey League, receives around $40 million per year, while the Astana cycling team is underwritten to the tune of $18 million. The Astana brand also sponsors a basketball team, a stable of boxers, including world champion Gennady Golovkin, Olympic champion weightlifter Ilya Ilyin, and figure skater Denis Ten.
A soldier at the Russian military base in Tajikistan is suspected by police of murdering a Tajik citizen in an occurrence with apparent echoes of another killing in the country last year.
State news agency Khovar reported on November 10 that Tajik and Russian law enforcement officers jointly detained the suspect. Officials have said the killing took place on the grounds of the Russian military base in the capital, Dushanbe.
The Russian Defense Ministry is dispatching a Central Military District commission to investigate the circumstances that led to the suspected killing.
Khovar named the suspect as Ivan Scherbakov, a senior lieutenant with the 201st Russian military base, and the victim as Shoira Jabborova.
Scherbakov told investigators that he had no memory of the events of which he stands accused as he was heavily intoxicated at the time, Khovar reported.
Tajikistan’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Dushanbe to express its concern over the case.
“In the meeting, the ambassador was informed that these events are not in conformity with the spirit of traditional friendship and strategic partnership between our two nations,” the ministry said in an emailed statement.
The Foreign Ministry said it demanded that Russia objectively assess the incident and take necessary measures to avoid such acts being committed by Russian military personnel.
The fate of the accused will be watched closely, since murders committed by Russian soldiers have in the past led — not only in Tajikistan — to disputes about jurisdiction.
The era of cheap bread is coming to a close in Kazakhstan as the authorities prepare to scale back subsidies amid efforts to contain government spending.
Agriculture Minister Asylkhan Mamytbekov told parliament on November 9 that the government will lift price controls on the most basic type of bread — a subsidized loaf that is favored by the hardest-up.
As the minister explained in remarks broadcast by the private KTK TV channel bread subsidies not only put a burden on the state coffers but are also socially unjust since they are available to the rich and poor alike.
The authorities have pledged instead to provide targeted benefits to the needy in order to ensure that they do not go hungry. That will place the onus on those that normally rely on cheap bread to work out whether they qualify for assistance and to then go through the bureaucratic procedure of applying for that help.
No plan has been put in place for the transition and there are no plans to let bread prices rise until a new mechanism is put in place. One proposal under review involves handing out bread coupons.
The price of subsidized bread is set by the local authorities and is different in each region. The most expensive bread is on sale in Astana, at 65 tenge (around $0.20) per loaf, and Almaty, at 62 tenge. The nationwide average is 52 tenge (or $0.17), according to state newspaper Kazakhstanskaya Pravda.
By contrast, the price of non-subsidized bread varies wildly depending on location, outlet and quality, and can range from around 80 tenge per loaf to upward of 300 tenge.
With Russia about to be engulfed by an epic athletics doping scandal, a cycling team owned and run by the government of Kazakhstan is creeping out of its own muddle.
Cycling world governing body UCI has decided to extend the World Tour license to the Astana team following a four-month monitoring process, the Cyclingnews website reported on November 9.
The leaves the team open to compete in all the sport’s major competitions in 2016, like the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana.
Astana’s latest round of troubles began after the brothers Valentin and Maxim Iglinsky, both citizens of Kazakhstan, returned positive results for performance-enhancing substance EPO in August-September 2014.
UCI went ahead and gave Astana a license to compete the following December, but the team was made to understand it was on a final warning.
Extension of the license was contingent on a thorough audit of the team by the Institute of Sports Sciences in Lausanne, or ISSUL.
With that probationary period over, the UCI License Commission has now decided that earlier proceedings to withdraw the license are now no longer valid.
Cyclingnews said the aim of the ISSUL audit was to vet Astana’s organization, “culture and communications” and avoid a repetition of doping cases seen in 2014.
Two reports from ISSUL to the License Commission, in June and September, reported that communication, race management and medical matters were being handled in an improved fashion.
Astana wasn’t about to wait around for the definitive confirmation of its World Tour license extension, however.