A man faces a possible jail sentence after a video of him appearing to encourage his two young daughters to knock back shots of vodka went viral in Kazakhstan.
Broadcast by KTK TV on January 20, the video shows the children – who appear to be aged around three and six – drinking large shots of clear liquid dispensed by their father from a vodka bottle, to cries of “a hundred grams, a hundred grams!” and “let’s toast!”
The man, identified only as a 34-year-old resident of Astana, inadvertently drew the attention of the police to the video himself, by filing a complaint about an infringement of his privacy after a friend posted it online.
The clip went viral, sparking widespread condemnation among social media users in Kazakhstan.
The man now claims there was only water in the bottle – but he faces a possible 6 million tenge (around $16,000) fine or a prison term on the charge of encouraging anti-social behavior in a minor.
The video came to light as another case of child abuse shocked the nation, after a woman threw a newborn baby out of a car and allegedly caused its death in southern Kazakhstan earlier this month.
The suspect, Bakhytgul Baysengereyeva, is the adoptive mother of the underage girl who unexpectedly gave birth to the child prematurely in a car traveling along a highway.
She “admitted that she was afraid and threw the baby out onto the road, because she did not know about the girl’s pregnancy,” a police officer explained to Tengri News.
Anticorruption officials in Kyrgyzstan say they have exposed a $58 million money laundering operation — the largest ever seen in the country’s history.
The graft-fighting department at the State National Security Committee (GKNB) said on January 20 that the cash was laundered by a construction company called LLC Berkut Stroi, which they said was based in the southern city of Osh.
The GKNB say two employees of a commercial bank in Osh, Amanbank, registered the construction company in the name of Kanybek M. They then opened bank accounts in Amanbank and another bank, Rosinbank.
The next step was to sign bogus contracts for the purchase of construction materials from companies in China and Latvia, to which the 4.4 billion Kyrgyz som ($58 million) were transferred between January and October 2014. Meanwhile, tax records at Berkut Stroi reflected no economic activity.
The man identified as the founder of Berkt Stroi, whose name can only be given as Kanybek M., said he had no idea of what business was being done by the company he purportedly controlled.
“I was told [by a friend]: ‘Let’s start a company, we will take care of banking operations.’ I know nothing about banking operations,” he told the Kloop.kg news website.
Kanybek M. said anytime the alleged money-launderers need a document signed, they paid him an additional 500 soms ($7).
Another figure that Kloop.kg reported was linked to the case said that although he worked at the bank at the time of the alleged offense, he worked as the chief accountant and didn’t work directly with clients, so he couldn’t know who transferred the money.
As economic anxieties begin escalating into panic across many former Soviet republics, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon has delivered an annual address to parliament brimming with unvarnished optimism.
On the economic front, Rahmon argued in his January 20 speech, that it was all looking pretty good in 2015. Economic growth hit 6 percent, with inflation contained at a very manageable 5 percent. The proportion of the population living in poverty has fallen to 31 percent and gross domestic product per capita has increased by 3.8 percent. Child mortality has dropped by two-and-a-half-fold in the last five years, Rahmon said.
On and on came the figures.
Some claims are embellished, not to speak of outright wrong, while others are stripped of context. That boast of 5 percent growth looks less impressive when you realize that is the fourth consecutive annual drop in the rate of economic expansion. The figures for 2014 is 6.7 percent, and it is 7.4 percent for the year before that.
Without spelling out the details, Rahmon admits to external problems buffeting the economy. Remittances from Russia, where most Tajik migrant laborers work, fell by 65 percent in January-September 2015 ($1.54 billion), compared to the same period in 2014 ($3.16 billion). And that trend looks set to continue.
Leaders in Central Asia are fond of arguing that their plight is caused by the global economic crisis, but it is countries that are reliant on energy and Russia that are really feeling the pinch, as The Economist pointed out in a piece this past week.
Azizamo Asadullayeva seen during a visit to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, on January 4, 2016.
While never passing on an opportunity to bash strict Muslims, Tajikistan’s leaders are trying to have their cake and eat it by casting themselves as pious upholders of the faith.
The latest wheeze about to descend upon the Tajik public is a suggestion to endow President Emomali Rahmon’s little-seen wife with the title of “Leader of Muslim Women in Tajikistan.”
That proposal is the brainchild of Abdullo Muhakkik, a religious commentator best known for his broadsides against Salafist movements, who expanded on the idea in a January 19 editorial carried by state news agency Khovar. The idea may be exotic, but its appearance in Khovar makes it more than likely it will come to pass.
Underpinning Azizamo Asadullayeva’s claim to this newly devised titled is the fact that she has become, according to Muhakkik, the first woman from Central Asia ever to enter the Kabaa, the building at the center of Mecca’s most sacred mosque. Asadullayeva was part of the large delegation, headed by Rahmon, that visited Saudi Arabia earlier this month.
“Until now, dozens of Tajik women have performed the hajj, but have not been inside the Kabaa,” Muhakkik noted admiringly.
Muhakkik said this historic event should serve as example to Tajik women, and that Asadullayeva should stand as a role model for the devout.
The Saudi caretakers of Mecca purportedly bestow this honor on a select few, although they have been especially generous with their Tajik guests. Even one of Rahmon’s daughters, Ozoda Emomali, got to pop into the Kabaa.
Human rights campaigners in Kazakhstan are calling for the abolition of two pieces of legislation frequently used against critics of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The appeal comes against the backdrop of an ongoing trial in Almaty of two activists facing charges of incitement — an accusation that their supporters argue is an attempt to muzzle them through the courts.
“There are two articles in our Criminal Code that can – given the desire – be used against inconvenient dissidents and political opponents,” Yevgeniy Zhovtis, the country’s best-known human rights campaigner, told a press conference in Almaty on January 19. “Both are political.”
Zhovtis was referring to the charge of incitement to social, ethnic, tribal, racial, class or religious strife — a statute routinely wielded against political activists and journalists — and the charge of dissemination of false information, which was criminalized last year.
Continued use of these articles “for the persecution of dissidents” risks “turning our country into a police state moving closer to totalitarianism, which is extremely sad,” said Zhovtis.
Several international media have pounced with fascination on news that Turkmenistan has seemingly slapped a ban on the sale of cigarettes, but the facts are a little less straightforward.
The offensive against tobacco began earlier this month, when President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov demanded “an intensification in the measures being taken to root out smoking.”
To drive his point home, he publicly chastised the head of the state service for the protection of public health, Atadurdy Osmanov and demoted him by one military rank. (The name of Osamov’s agency is a little misleading — although it sounds like a branch of the health service, it is actually the renamed anti-narcotics agency, another strand of the law enforcement structures in effect).
After Osmanov’s dressing down, cigarettes began disappearing from the shops, even though no law had been passed or any official order issued to make their sale illegal. Hardened smokers could still get their fix under the table from shopkeepers, although prices per pack have reportedly shot up from $6 previously to around $12-14.
Dogmatic opposition to smoking among the authorities goes back a long way.
The late President Saparmurat Niyazov, who died of heart failure in late 2006, banned smoking in all public places in 2000. In doing so, he acted with the typical zeal of a former smoker. After being operated on for heart problems, he was told by doctors to give up cigarettes, which is when he decided to try and extend the prohibition to all his subjects.
Similarly, when Berdymukhamedov came to power, he was notably on the chunky side. Since then, he has embarked on an exercise drive that has visibly slimmed him down. Accordingly, he has become an energetic proponent for healthy living.
Except that there may be a little more to the fight against cigarettes than meets the eye.
Oil production is entering a new year of decline this year in Kazakhstan — a dismal omen for a country so heavily reliant on energy exports.
Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik said on January 15 in remarks quoted by the Novosti-Kazakhstan news agency that Kazakhstan expects to pump 77 million tons of oil in 2016, 3.1 percent down on the 79.5 million tons produced last year.
The fall is down to the gradual depletion of the country’s oil fields, most of which have been under development for decades. As the fields dry up, recovering the remaining crude becomes more expensive, and with oil prices now hovering obstinately at $30, drawing Kazakhstan’s deposits is becoming costly.
And this latest government forecast may be too optimistic.
Shkolnik said in September that Kazakhstan would slash its oil output forecast for 2016 to 73 million tons if the oil price hit $30, as it has done this week. He said 77 million tons would be the target if oil stood at $40 per barrel.
The decline has been in train for several years already.
Oil output dropped 1.2 per cent in 2014, to 80.8 million tons, and 1.6 percent last year, to 79.5 million tons.
But it is the disastrously low prices that are taking the toll on the economy. The government announced on January 15 that gross domestic product grew by 1.2 percent last year – a significant slowdown on the previous year’s 4.3 percent.
The government is to meet on January 19 to discuss cuts to this year’s budget in the face of the economic slump.
Fresh from President Emomali Rahmon’s visit to Mecca, the government in Tajikistan has dreamt up a new way to further curtail the rights of devout Muslims.
Asia-Plus website reported on January 15 that citizens under the age of 40 will no longer be allowed to perform the hajj.
An official on the religious affairs committee, Husein Shokirov, told Asia-Plus that the restrictions would give older Tajiks more of a chance to undertake the pilgrimage.
One ongoing development motivating the move, Shokirov said, are the stricter quotas being put in place by the authorities of Saudi Arabia.
The number of people from Tajikistan allowed to do the hajj in 2015 was 6,300.
Critics of the new age limit of 40, which has been raised from the limit of 35 that was instituted in April, will object that the authorities are attempting crudely to stamp out religiosity among the younger generations. The intent is apparently to prevent instances of radicalization.
Shokirov has also said that imams are to receive training on how to identify extremists and terrorists among worshippers at the mosque.
The courses will be led by representatives of officials religious organizations, who will teach imams how to spot the telltale signs of a terrorist at prayer.
“All imams in the mosques of Tajikistan are well acquainted with the behavior of adherents to our school — the school of Hanafi — and can distinguish them from others,” Shokirov said.
Where that will leave non-orthodox Hanafi practitioners who happen not to be terrorists isn’t clear.
In a flurry of banning, Tajikistan’s lower house of parliament on January 13 voted to make it illegal to give babies non-Tajik names or to seal nuptials without a medical certificate.
Deputies appeared particular irked by names such as Sang (Stone), Safol (Ceramic), Zog (Crow) and Gurg (Wolf).
Coming to the aid of new parents, the language and terminology committee at the Academy of Sciences is drawing up a list of 4,000 suitable names. Representatives of the titular nation — AKA ethnic Tajiks — will not be permitted to stray from the list.
Ethnic minorities will get a free pass and be allowed to name their children according to their own cultural traditions. (It is not immediately obvious which culture would allow for the name Ceramic).
It remains to be seen if names chosen out of slavish devotion to the authorities will fall under the ban. Tajikistan saw a craze a few years back for naming children in relation to the Rogun hydropower project. One baby was called Rogunshoh (King Rogun), while others were called Sahmiya (Share), after the shares in Rogun that countless Tajiks were pressured into buying as the government sought to scrabble together funding for the project.
The stricter rules on marriage have been introduced partly as a way of reducing the incidence of disabilities among children, which officials argue are the result of intensive inbreeding. Consequently, marriage among cousins and cousins-once-removed will be forbidden.
According to the Health Ministry, there are 30,000 children with congenital disabilities in Tajikistan.
Even non-relatives will be required to undergo a battery of tests for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other sexually transmitted diseases. There had been speculation for a long time that there were plans to introduce tests for virginity, but that has not come to pass.
Kazakhstan’s lower house of parliament called for a snap election on January 13, setting the stage for a vexed vote against the backdrop of chronic economic uncertainty.
The early dissolution of the Mazhilis had been widely predicted as President Nursultan Nazarbayev seeks to refresh the mandate for his ruling Nur Otan party.
“The Mazhilis has fulfilled its historic mission, creating the legislative basis for the implementation of the Plan of the Nation,” Vladislav Kosarev of the pro-government Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan said in a statement read out in parliament and quoted by Kazinform news agency.
He was referring to a reform agenda unveiled by Nazarbayev last year that is intended to reverse an economic slowdown provoked in large part by the slump in the price for oil.
“Now that a new historic period is getting under way and the large-scale modernization of the country and practical implementation of presidential reforms in all areas are beginning, it is important that parties receive a new mandate of trust from voters,” Kosarev said.
Kosarev said that “broad social consolidation” was required to implement anti-crisis measures, since “only unity and coordinated actions will allow us to withstand fresh economic blows.”
The snap vote must be approved by Nazarbayev, which is expected to be a formality, and is expected in spring. Under the current schedule, the election had been due to take place in early 2017.
Despite talk of a fresh mandate, it is likely the authorities are also motivated by a desire to complete the electoral process ahead of time to head off any discontent provoked by the economic downturn.