The president of Tajikistan this week granted a rare reprieve to a jailed member of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party.
As Zarafo Rahmoni told RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, on September 7, the politician was not released as part of an amnesty but is being pardoned outright.
Rahmoni was one — the only female — among the IRPT leadership jailed in 2015 on charges of involvement in an alleged attempted coup last September.
“A few months ago, I wrote a letter to the president of Tajikistan and I was certain that he would listen to the requests of a woman. And so he has pardoned me, for which I am grateful,” the 44-year old Rahmoni said.
Rahmoni said she was in good health but would need some time to recover from her experience in detention. Her activities in the IRPT focused on legal affairs, and she stood for parliament on three occasions.
She was sentenced to two-and-half years in jail for failure to disclose information to the authorities. But in May, news website Tojnews claimed Rahmoni was the only arrested IRPT member to provide evidence against fellow party members. Rahmoni is reported to have stated that she was forced into becoming an IRPT member through threats of violence and that the party was plotting violent acts of insurgency.
In the absence of concrete evidence underpinning such claims, it is unwise to give them excessive credence. It is however important to note that Tajik police and investigators are widely accused by rights groups of using torture, intimidation tactics and threats against family members as ways of extorting confessions. Female suspects are said to face threats of rape while in custody.
Uzbekistan has landed more police helicopters at the disputed Ungar-Too mountain on the border with Kyrgyzstan in a sign of Tashkent looking to cement its position in an ongoing standoff.
Kyrgyzstan’s border service said that on September 2 that the helicopter brought drinking water for around 15 to 20 Uzbek policemen stationed at the mountain, which is the site of a relay station for Kyrgyz communications companies.
An Mi-8 helicopter carrying Uzbek policemen first landed on Ungar-Too on August 22. The police officers shortly afterward detained four Kyrgyz citizens working at the relay facility, accusing them of being there illegally.
Kyrgyzstan says it has sent reinforcements to the area in a bid to pressure the Uzbek police to leave the site, but to no avail. Uzbekistan is reportedly holding firm until Kyrgyzstan removes its checkpoints to Kasan-Sai reservoir. That facility is a few kilometers inside Kyrgyzstan but is claimed by the Uzbeks, who point to the fact that they built the reservoir in Soviet times and continued to maintain it ever since as grounds for their position. Water from the reservoir is used to irrigate crops in villages in Uzbekistan’s crowded Fergana Valley.
The continued stalemate — particularly around the fate of the four jailed Kyrgyz men — is provoking much distress among activists and politicians inside Kyrgyzstan.
The Committee for Civic Control, a coalition 70 nongovernment groups, has appealed to the government to intensify its search for a solution to “avoid any self-initiated acts by citizens that could lead to an even greater escalation on the border.”
An announcement on the death of Uzbekistan’s president appears imminent as a host of signs suggest funeral preparations are afoot in Islam Karimov’s native Samarkand.
Reuters news agency on September 3 cited three diplomatic sources as saying Karimov had died of a stroke, the strongest confirmation so far of a fact that Uzbekistan’s government has been staunchly denying.
More subtle hints have been coming out of Samarkand. Residents in that city have told EurasiaNet.org that the city, and particularly the central and historic Registan square, is being cleaned and prepared for some major event. The word has also been put around that city’s men should have their white shirts, black suits and tyubeteika skull caps on standby. The expectation is that a funeral will take place on September 3.
Uzbekistan’s state media still perversely sticks to its line that Karimov is ill, although government newspaper Halk Suzi noted in its September 2 issue that the leader was in a “critical condition.”
In another certain giveaway, Reuters cited a source in Kazakhstan’s government as saying President Nursultan Nazarbayev is preparing to go to Uzbekistan on September 3, cutting short a trip to China. The Chinese visit was meant to last from September 1 through September 5.
Kyrgyzstan’s president struck a sour and far from statesmanlike note during independence day celebrations on August 31 by using a public address to condemn his critics and promote contentious changes to the constitution.
In a series of vitriolic verbal broadsides delivered on a stage in the center of Bishkek, Almazbek Atambayev found time to lash out at a number of the erstwhile political allies with whom he helped grab power from former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in the 2010 revolution. He reserved particular animus for Roza Otunbayeva, who served as interim president after Bakiyev’s overthrow, prompting her to storm off the stage in disgust.
The president’s choleric disposition was brought on by a statement issued on the eve of independence day by the members of the 2010 interim government that pleaded with the government to desist from pursuing amendments to the constitution. Plans currently taking shape envision a referendum in the fall on the amendments, which would see the office of the prime minister broaden its powers — a measure that many suspect is designed to bolster the position of elites surrounding the one-term president. Another particularly controversial change would enshrine vaguely defined “supreme state values” that critics fear would dilute the value of individual human rights in deference to concepts like “love of the Motherland,” “respect for the elderly” and “the accommodation of tradition and progress.”
Atambayev spared no bile for the members of the interim government, which Otunbayeva led.
A car packed with explosives was rammed into China’s Embassy in Kyrgyzstan on August 30 in what appears to be an unprecedented terrorist attack.
Authorities have reported that one person, the attacker, was killed and three embassy employees were injured.
Police said that at around 9:33 am, a Mitsubishi-Delica smashed through the embassy and that an explosion was set off inside the grounds of the mission.
Deputy Prime Minister Zhenish Razzakov told reporters that the bomber “rammed the gate, kept going for 40 or 50 meters, and then detonated the car.” According to preliminary estimates, the blast had a TNT equivalent of 100 kilograms of TNT.
Police say the attacker was the only person killed. The alleged bomber’s identity has not been established.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Elena Bayalinova wrote on her Facebook page that the two of the injured embassy workers sustained concussions and fragment wounds, but that their condition was satisfactory. Another injured embassy employee traveled to the hospital under her own steam.
Residents in the south of Bishkek reported hearing a massive blast.
"At 9.35 am today, a loud blast nearly shook me off my chair at home. I went to the window and saw a mushroom of dust over the Chinese embassy. The loudest sound I've ever encountered, it was a scary experience”, wrote Facebook user Usha Rajak, who published a picture of the aftermath of the explosion from her apartment block nearby.
Photos of the aftermath show scenes of utter destruction from the Chinese Embassy building. Debris is scattered all around the grounds of the embassy. Some nearby residents reported shards from the embassy blast landing on their property.
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan declared August 29 a day of mourning for 14 citizens of the country killed in a blaze at warehouse in Moscow over the weekend.
At least 17 people died in total as a result of the fire caused by a short circuit at the Pechatny Express printing house on Altufevo Shosse in Moscow.
The tragedy has provoked much shock inside Kyrgyzstan, where people are once again reflecting on the high price paid by people forced by economic hardship to work in dangerous conditions abroad.
Most of those killed were women, many of them in their late teens. One was reportedly pregnant. Witnesses said how people trapped in their building cried for help as the flames spread.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that exits out of the warehouse were blocked and that during the fire, rescue workers had to smash an entrance through the wall.
But some witnesses have criticized rescue workers, accusing them of failing to act promptly. One Kyrgyz woman interviewed by Russian television station REN Tv said that firefighters made no real effort to put out the blaze or assist people trapped in the building.
It is the same woman’s closing words that have generated most clamor inside Kyrgyzstan, however, directed as they were at the government.
“I want to talk to our corrupt leaders. If our country was normal, we would not even have had to come here, we would have worked at home. You’re idiots, you know!” she sobbed, her voice broken with anger.
Kyrgyzstan was quick in organizing assistance for relatives of the victims of the fire. A government task force to deal with the fallout of the tragedy has been headed by deputy prime minister Gulmira Kudauberdiyeva.
Uzbekistan’s control over a communications relay station on a disputed mountain on the border with Kyrgyzstan leaves the latter vulnerable to being cut off from mobile, internet and broadcasting services.
Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for Information Technology and Communication sought to reassure the public on August 25, however, with a statement saying that transmission of radio and television stations had not been disrupted by the situation at Kerben station on Ungar-Too mountain.
An Mi-8 helicopter carrying seven Uzbek policemen landed on Ungar-Too on August 22. The police officers shortly afterward detained four Kyrgyz citizens working at the relay facility, accusing them of being there illegally.
The Kyrgyz communications agency met with representatives from major telephony and broadcasting companies to coordinate on the fallout of the standoff.
“According to information given by communications providers, at 1500 hours [on August 25] telephone, mobile, internet, as well as state television and radio transmissions, in analogue and digital formats, at Kerben were being carried out as normal,” the agency said in its statement.
That is only half reassuring though, since the Uzbeks could presumably suspend signals being relayed by Kerben at will. There is no immediately available public information about the reach of territory covered by retransmission services at the Kerben station.
Civil society in Kyrgyzstan has begun a counter-offensive against proposed tinkering to the constitution that critics of the amendments suspect constitutes a move to consolidate the power of the current ruling elite.
The Committee for Civic Control, a coalition 70 nongovernment groups, issued a passionate statement on August 24 urging President Almazbek Atambayev to avoid an attempt to make the same mistakes as his two deposed predecessors, Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Talk of constitutional reform have been in the air from some time, despite provisions incorporated in 2010 in the last adopted constitution that prohibited any changes before 2020. Atambayev himself spoke for the need to change the basic law as prerequisite for improvements to the justice system.
But the Committee for Civic Control argued that any constitutional amendments would be the thin end of the edge.
“The entire history of independent Kyrgyzstan shows the negative experiences of any changes to the constitution that have been initiated from above. These have always led only to the usurpation of power by those who proposed the changes,” the committee said in a statement.
There are many proposed changes, but the most significant involve a recasting of the state’s obligations toward upholding human rights and enhancing the office of the prime minister.
The language on rights issues signals a marked lurch toward nationalist conservatism
Local authorities in Kazakhstan’s business capital, Almaty, have begun demolition work on a building used to host press conferences for political activists and independent journalists.
The building was also home to KazTAG, a news agency run by two prominent media figures — father and son, Seytkazy and Aset Matayev — facing trial on charges of defrauding the state of nearly $1 million.
The official reason given for the demolition of the National Press Center is that the 300-square meter, two-story building does not correspond to earthquake standards and is therefore illegal.
The Matayevs are currently facing trial in the capital, Astana. Prosecutors have ruled out any link between the trial and the fate of the building, which is situated on a valuable piece of real estate in central Almaty. Media observers and rights activists are a little more skeptical, however, suggesting that the Matayevs have fallen victim to a crude attempt at a property grab.
Tamara Kaleyeva, head of the Adil Soz press advocacy group, told Channel 31 that she believes the charges of fraud against Matayevs are without foundation and that the situation surrounding the National Press Center headquarters can hardly be considered a coincidence.
Representatives of the National Press Center have said a second story was added to their building 10 years with all the necessary permits from the city administration. Despite that, in February, just as the charges were being level at the Matayevs, a note was delivered to the center declaring the building unfit. Appeals to reverse that decision were rejected.
Police from Uzbekistan have detained four citizens of Kyrgyzstan in a contested border zone, threatening to unleash a new wave of tension between the two nations.
Kyrgyzstan’s border service said on August 24 that Uzbekistan deployed a group of police officers to the disputed Ungar-Too mountain, site of a Kyrgyz-run television relay station, and took four men into custody.
The mountain and surrounding areas were object of a testy standoff in March that culminated with Uzbekistan deploying several armored personnel carriers. The situation was resolved peaceably after negotiations.
RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service reported about an Mi-8 helicopter carrying seven Uzbek policemen landing on Ungar-Too on August 22, but news of the detentions only emerged later.
“According to Uzbek side, four Kyrgyz citizens working at relay station were taken to Yangikurgan police department in Uzbekistan for procedural measures. According to the Uzbek border service, there is no cause for concern about the detained Kyrgyz citizens,” Kyrgyzstan’s border service said in its statement.
As happened earlier this year, this dispute is centering around disagreement over which country can post which law enforcement and military personnel where. Kyrgyzstan says it is in talks with Uzbekistan to have it remove its forces from the disputed mountain. Uzbekistan is in turn demanding that Kyrgyzstan in turn remove its police checkpoints leading to another disputed facility — the Kasan-Sai reservoir, whose water is used to irrigate fields in Uzbekistan.
This latest standoff has been brewing for almost two weeks. Kyrgyz border guards had earlier reported that Uzbek policeman was detained after allegedly illegally crossing the border on August 13.