Tajikistan’s General Prosecutor is considering prosecution for a Russian journalist for “inciting ethnic hatred” over an article that mocked the country and its president.
Sergei Ponomaryov’s piece in Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda about a visit to Tajikistan was published last month and featured numerous crude stereotypes. The article has already led to the shuttering of the local edition of the newspaper, which had a circulation of 5,000 in Tajikistan.
Likely most troubling for authorities in Dushanbe, however, was the fact that the article reveled among other things in ribald observations about President Emomali Rahmon. A concerted exercise in personality cult building has made Rahmon, who is alluded to exclusively in state media as the “Leader of the Nation,” off-limits to any critics.
Asia-Plus website cites General Prosecutor Yusuf Rahmon as saying Ponomaryov’s article, which was sarcastically titled “Tajikistan: Out of the Soviet Waste to a Bright Future,” will be studied for evidence of incitement to interethnic hatred.
The piece was certainly patronizing and insulting. Ponomaryov bases some of his caustic observations on a pair of Tajik characters from a popular Russian sketch show, Nasha Russia.
“On the plane from Moscow to the ancient city of Khujand, the capital of northern Tajikistan and the second city in the country, mine was the only Slavic countenance. The rest was straight-up Ravshan and Jamshuds,” he wrote.
The Nasha Russia characters are a pair of Tajik migrant laborers distinctive for their primitiveness and stupidity.
A court in Kazakhstan has ordered the release on parole of jailed opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis wrote on his Facebook on August 4.
Kozlov, the former leader of the banned Alga! opposition party, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for his supposed involvement whipping up unrest in the town of Zhanaozen in December 2011.
Zhovtis wrote of his relief at the news of Kozlov’s imminent release.
“It is true that another 15 days will pass before the decision comes into force, but at last…” he wrote.
Kozlov has appealed for early release on previous occasions without success. On the contrary, the politician appears to have been singled out for particularly harsh punishment by prison authorities for allegedly violating rules.
Last July, officials at Kozlov’s prison colony in Zarechniy in south-eastern Kazakhstan transferred him “to a strict-regime cellblock,” purportedly for offenses that included “speaking ill of the country’s president.” Kozlov was reportedly transferred away from the strict-regime cellblock on August 1.
Kozlov was not present in Zhanaozen at the time of the disturbances, but the government claims he was whipping up strikers with the ultimate aim of overthrowing Nazarbayev. The politician has always steadfastly denied any involvment in the violence and argued at the time that he wished to serve as a negotiator between the government and striking oil workers in the town.
Ever the optimist, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon is again pleading with the global Islamic community for financial assistance to develop his country.
Speaking at the 12th World Islamic Economic Forum in Indonesia this week, Rahmon appealed to prosperous Muslim countries to give a helping hand to struggling Muslim nations, including his own.
Rahmon proposed changing banking procedures to simplify the transfer of grants and lowering interest rates for loans.
“In our view, with a view to lowering the impact of global crises and other current issues in the developing Islamic world, especially among countries that do not have an outlet to the sea, it is necessary to create a specialized bank or a financial support fund,” he said. “I am certain that this would to a great extent enable the successful resolution of current problems before us, as well as strengthen the unity of the Islamic umma on the trajectory toward peace and stability,”
The Tajik government suggests electricity infrastructure like the proposed CASA-1000 grid, mineral exploration, farming and tourism could be promising targets for investment.
Rahmon said conditions were highly favorable in his country for investment and that reforms had been enacted to promote private enterprise. This will come as a surprise to the business community in Tajikistan, which has become used to operations in conditions of rampant corruption and cronyism.
Since the start of the year, Rahmon has been doing the rounds in monied Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the hope of drumming up investment for his cash-strapped country. Those efforts have yielded few notable results, however.
Rumors about the rape of a little girl has sparked mass unrest along ethnic lines in villages in southern Kazakhstan, culminating in dozens of arrests.
Interior Ministry official Syrym Abdullayev said on August 1 that trouble in the Maktaraal district, in the South Kazakhstan region, began when word spread that an eight-year old girl had been sexually assaulted by a local 15-year old boy.
The ensuing unrest centered on an area inhabited by large numbers of ethnic Tajiks. One clash involving dozens of people ended up with windows of a shop being smashed and three people injured. Tengri News reported that 170 police officers were dispatched to the scene to restore calm.
Reports are piecemeal, but it seems the disturbances spread across several villages in the area, which borders Uzbekistan. Overnight on August 1, a group of men set light to two houses and a car in the village of Dikhan.
RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Azattyq, reported that the local Tajik community pleaded with authorities to provide them with protection.
“Around 100 young people came shouting, so we escaped with our children. In the space of 10-15 minutes, they burned down the house and destroyed the car,” Makhmutzhan Arzimuratov, owner of a damaged house in Dikhan, told Azattyq, recalling the late-night attack.
A shop in the village of Muratbayev was also target of an arson attack.
In his latest marathon press conference, Kyrgyzstan’s president spoke in favor of proposed constitutional reforms, lashed out at criticism from Turkey and had yet another pop at the United States.
Almazbek Atambayev has taken a leaf out of his Russian counterpart’s books by holding regular hours-long meetings with the press in which he rarely fails to jar some sensibilities.
The focus this year was on wide-ranging constitutional reforms that would if approved bolster the role of the executive — the prime minister’s office, in other words. The plan is to eventually submit the changes to a national referendum. Suggestions that the constitution is to be modified are particularly contentious as previous changes made in 2010 included provisions for the document to remain untouched at least until 2020.
Speculation is that Atambayev may seek to extend his rule by slotting in the prime minister’s seat, but he offered less than emphatic reassurances on that front.
“If I wanted to stay in power, I would have done it without parliament. I would have had no trouble doing it through a referendum by popular initiative,” he said.
On the contrary, he suggested, the intent behind modifying the constitution was to prevent his successor for grabbing too much power.
“With the current constitution the next president could easily become a dragon,” Atambayev said, speaking about a constitution he himself ushered into being. “In order for there to be no dragon with 120 heads [the number of members of parliament], we need to change the constitution.”
Much discussion has been aroused by the suggestion to have the constitution recognize the supreme value of “love for the motherland,” “respect for the elderly” and “honor and dignity” — juridically vague if not meaningless terms that might stand to trump the current constitutional supremacy of individual human rights.
Tajikistan’s anticorruption agency says it has uncovered an alleged embezzlement scheme at state bank Amonatbank, suggesting the crisis gripping the country’s lending sectors extends beyond just the lack of liquidity.
The deputy chairman of the Agency for State Financial Control and Combating Corruption, Davlatbek Hairzoda, said last week that the scheme has cost the government 31.6 million somoni ($4 million). Four bank employees are under investigation.
The timing is unfortunate since dwindling faith in the country’s private banks in Tajikistan has been driving many people to move their money to an institution perceived as being underpinned by state support.
Amonatbank chief executive Ruhullo Hakimzoda revealed last month that the banking crisis has compelled many state and private enterprises to move their business to his bank.
In the first half of 2016, Amonatbank’s client base for salary payments and bank card services increased by 20 percent, Hakimzoda said. No surprise there since workers whose wage packets are serviced by banks like troubled private lender Tojiksodirotbank have experienced severe complications in getting hold of any of their cash.
“Besides that, Amonatbank has seen an 11.8 percent increase in deposits, which is mostly accounted for by an outflow from other banks,” Hakimzoda said.
More customers has not translated into profits. Hakimzoda said losses in the first six months of the year came in at 6 million somoni ($760,000).
With the presidential election coming into view in Kyrgyzstan, parliament is bracing to effect new changes to the constitution — the eighth round of amendments since the country earned independence.
Speculation about possible tinkering with the founding law has been brewing since 2014. President Almazbek Atambayev stoked talk of imminent action at an end-of-year press conference in December, when he argued constitutional changes were necessary to successfully implement judicial reform.
“Sooner or later, the amendments are needed. If we want normal courts, we will have to change the constitution. Of course, the essence of it cannot be changed, we have to follow the path we chose,” Atambayev said.
Atambayev has repeatedly stated he has no plans to change the constitution to remain in power or become the prime minister after his term ends in 2017, so that remains off the table for now.
The latest constitutional initiative has ostensibly been spearheaded by members of parliament, who insist the consideration of their package of changes should be considered this fall. The MPs comes from four parliamentary factions: the Atambayev-linked Social Democratic Party (SDPK), the Kyrgyzstan Party, Onuguu-Progress and the Respublika-Ata Jurt opposition party.
There are about 30 amendments in play touching on areas including human rights and the authority of parliament, the judiciary, the president and the prime minister.
Around 200 oil laborers in the western Kazakhstan city of Zhanozen mounted five straight days of strike actions last week in protest at their employers’ plan to reduce working hours and cut salaries.
Memories are still raw in the city of events in December 2011, when a lengthy sit-in by striking oil workers culminated with unrest that was crushed with force by police, leaving more than a dozen dead.
The protest by employees of drilling company Burgylau took the form of them dropping tools for two hours daily. Notably, some of this news is being reported by loyal to the government, which represents a stark difference to 2011, when state media largely ignored industrial unrest in Zhanaozen.
One of the workers’ complaints is related to a string of what they are unfounded dismissals. Around 60 people have been fired in recent times, protesters said.
There is also unhappiness about the performance of trade unions. Workers have said the union has failed to address their complaints and they are demanding a change to the leadership. Unions in Kazakhstan are typically largely toothless bodies that do the companies’ bidding. Employees at Burgylau have said they want transparent reports on how their monthly 2,000 tenge dues to the body are being spent.
The union has defended itself from criticism, saying the strikes are unfounded and that rumors of unlawful dismissal were little more than rumors. It also said that it has received no reports that complaining workers are facing intimidation from the company, as has been claimed.
The organizers of the second edition of the World Nomad Games, to be held in Kyrgyzstan in September, have released a handsomely promotional video that is likely to whet the appetite of lovers of traditional sports.
The promo makes ample use of Kyrgyzstan’s remarkable natural beauty and draws on some familiar motifs, from the horseback archer to lashings of kumys.
This is Culture Ministry’s second attempt at a promotional campaign. A video released in May came under sustained criticism after internet sleuths discovered some footage had been filched from other filmmakers. This time around, the producers have outdone themselves and created a brief video that could just as well serve as an advertisement for Kyrgyzstan’s tourist board.
The World Nomad Games run from September 3 through to September 8 and will be held on the Issyk-Kul Lake resort town of Cholpon-Ata. The competition includes 23 types of sports and a variety of other cultural events intended to celebrate the heritage of nomadic culture. Organizers say competitors from more than 40 countries will participate.
The inaugural edition of the games, also held at Cholpon-Ata, took place in 2014 and drew contestants from 19 countries, including all the ex-Soviet Central Asian nations, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Turkey, Russia and some other less likely suspects like Brazil, Sweden and South Korea. (Some sources put the number of participating countries quite a bit lower, but who’s counting?)
The only suspect in the recent spate of shootings in Kazakhstan’s business capital, Almaty, has told investigators his only targets were people involved in the law enforcement system and that he avoided attacking civilians.
Ruslan Kulekbayev told his interrogators, according to transcripts obtained by Vremya newspaper and published on July 27, that his motivation was revenge and that although he is a devout Muslim, his actions were not religiously inspired.
“I wanted to take revenge on judges, prosecutors and police officers because I consider my (previous) convictions unfair. First I went to the Almaly district court, but I saw nobody in uniform there. From there I went to the Almaly police precinct and the first person I saw was the guy who came through the security checkpoint,” Kulekbayev reportedly told interrogators.
The Vremya profile of the suspected 26-year old attacker is highly detailed and describes a serial recidivist whose background shares features with the typical violent radical extremist as described Kazakhstan’s authorities, although distinct in some respects.
Kulekbayev first criminal conviction came in 2010, when he received a three-year suspended sentence for robbing a jeweler. In February 2012, he was detained at the railway station in his native city of Kyzylorda in possession of a pistol and religious literature. Kulekbayev said that although he prayed, he had no link to extremist groups.