Authorities in Tajikistan are now targeting family members of the crushed opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) in their determination to stamp out all dissent.
Muhammadjon Kabirov, a relative of the party leader Muhiddin Kabiri, told CATV News on December 16 that security service agents descended on their home village and detained people en masse, including the 95-year old family patriarch.
Other family members detained included Kabiri’s brother, 54-year old Safar, and his 60-year old sister Saida.
Ozodagon news website reported on December 17 that all have since been released after giving statements.
“According to a source close to the Kabiri family, they demanded of everybody, including the 95-year old father, that they urge young people not to join in with provocative actions abroad. The interrogations were recorded on videocamera,” Ozodagon reported.
The actions abroad are a reference to the pickets mounted by IRPT supporters in a range of countries, including Turkey, Austria and Germany.
The detentions drew swift condemnation from Washington-based advocacy group Freedom House.
“Using family members as hostages to intimidate and silence government critics violates fundamental human rights and spotlights the government's intolerance of dissent,” Freedom House executive vice president Daniel Calingaert said in a statement. "The government of Tajikistan should end its harassment of opposition and civic activists, human rights defenders, and their family members.”
The IRPT was a vaguely tolerated nominal opposition force until this summer, but authorities seized on the opportunity of what it claimed was an uprising by disaffected former defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda to finally crush the party. Prosecutors claimed the party was involved in the alleged revolt and designated it a terrorist organization.
A member of the public supervisory board at Kyrgyzstan’s state mining agency has sent local media into a spin by claiming work at the giant Kumtor gold mine could grind to a halt January 1.
Eldar Tadjibayev, also chair of one of the local mining industry’s biggest trade unions, bases his claim on the fact that the license to operate the mine has not been renewed because of a hold-up in parliament .
Even temporary stoppages at the mine, which accounts for about one-tenth of the struggling nation’s economy, could portend calamity.
“Kumtor’s fate is in the hands of the newly elected parliament,” Tadjibayev told journalists on December 16.
The companies directly affected appear confident matters will be settled in good time. Kumtor Gold, which is the local affiliate of Toronto-listed Centerra Gold and operates the giant mine, has called the delay an “ordinary process.”
The hitch owes much to the disarray in the former parliament and negligence in the present one. The main problem, as a Centerra press release in June noted, is the local environmental agency’s “interpretation of the water code.”
The plan for Russia’s state media to advance its narrative across friendly former Soviet nations in Central Asia has run into trouble in Tajikistan.
Rossiya Segodnya, the holding company that controls the notoriously anti-Western outlet Sputnik, has let go several of its Dushanbe staff, according to a December 15 report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi.
Ozodi speculates that economic troubles in Russia may be to blame, but there is a strong indication there is more at play.
Although the governments of Russia and Tajikistan are close partners, Rossiya Segodnya has failed for unknown reasons to obtain registration in Tajikistan.
Sputnik is typically uncritical of Russia-friendly nations, so it is hard to imagine that Dushanbe feared the presence of another critical voice.
The head of Rossiya Segodnya’s Dushanbe office, Dmitry Pisarenko, was last month recalled to Moscow, reportedly for his failure to obtain authorization during his year in post.
Ozodi reports that 10 out of the 15 people that worked in Sputnik’s Dushanbe bureau are to be let go before the end of the year.
It all started so promisingly.
The Rossiya Segodnya media holding — not to be confused with the unrelated, but also state-run television station RT, formerly Russia Today — was created in December 2013 to replace RIA-Novosti news agency, which was suspected in some quarters of harboring insufficiently patriotic elements. RIA-Novosti still operates in greatly reduced form as part of Rossiya Segodnya.
The goal set for Rossiya Segodnya, whose head is notoriously inflammatory television news anchor Dmitry Kiselyov, was to represent Russia’s political stance and values across the world.
After momentarily humbling the country’s parliament, the slacktivist community in Kyrgyzstan has now set its sights on dolphin wranglers.
Online indignation began brewing and spilling onto all major news outlets after a mobile dolphinarium cropped up in the snowy outskirts of the capital, Bishkek.
Animal lovers say the whole business is a cruel travesty — organizers are dismissive, insisting that the marine animals will actually enjoy their sojourn in the chilly landlocked nation.
Backers of the dolphinarium in the Mayor’s office have said it will run from later this month into May and that visitors will be able to swim with the creatures.
Traveling dolphinariums are banned in many places in the world, with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Indonesia and Russia proving active exceptions, according to one advocacy group. Other countries like Kyrgyzstan lack legislation either regulating or outlawing them.
Given the ex-Soviet region’s sad zoos and old-fashioned approach to circus animals, opponents of the new facility in Bishkek say they have no reason to believe the quartet of dolphins and one whale will be well looked after.
"All dolphinariums are exploitation, non-dependent on size and comfort. Dolphins should live in the ocean!" boomed one Facebook commentator.
In one of the greatest falls from grace in the post-independence history of Kazakhstan, a court in the industrial city of Karaganda on December 11 sentenced former prime minister Serik Akhmetov to 10 years in jail for corruption.
The severity of the punishment has set tongues wagging about ulterior motives and show trials, especially since corruption is rife and cases of abuse of office have abounded in recent years, but rarely with such severe outcomes.
Akhmetov was arrested on charges of grave corruption on November 18, 2014, less than one month after being removed from his post as defense minister. Rumors immediately began circulating of infighting among Kazakhstan’s notoriously fractious elites.
According to prosecutors, Akhmetov, who was prime minister for 18 months until his resignation in April 2014, took bribes of $2.4 million and embezzled large amounts of a state resources.
Another 20 officials from the Karaganda city and region were also in the dock in the broad-ranging and lengthy trial, which reviewed material contained in 338 volumes of evidence.
Prosecutors had asked for a 12 year sentence. Although the sentence passed was milder, it also included provisions for the confiscation of Akhmetov’s property.
Akhmetov, who had until his arrest been a figure whose work experience suggested unusually close ties to President Nursultan Nazarbayev, appealed in vain for clemency before being convicted.
“I sincerely ask forgiveness of Nursultan Abishevich for failing to live up to his trust. I understand that I bear moral responsibility for the fact that, among other things, such an atmosphere has been created in Karaganda. And that the head of state has been forced to think and worry about these things,” Akhmetov said.
Kyrgyzstan has endured nothing short of a plague of Islamist-inspired terrorism in 2015, if the authorities are to be believed.
In the latest apparent blow against militants, the security services announced on December 11 that they killed two dangerous terrorist suspects during a special operation in the capital, Bishkek.
Officials have said the men were guilty of the murder of a police officer on November 19. According to their account, the suspects shot Aktilek Abduvaliyev three times from a 9 millimeter Makarov pistol.
The alleged perpetrators turned out to be hardened criminals perviously convicted for robbery, illegal arms possession and inciting interethnic and religious hatred.
Four Makarov pistols, a grenade, the makings of an improvised explosive device and several mobile phones were found on the men, according to the state security service.
Following a pattern established after other recent shootouts with purported terrorists, the authorities claimed that the suspects were planning attacks in Bishkek and the surrounding Chui region.
In a curious detail, authorities pointed out that the pair used bicycles to move around. Equally strangely, the now-dead suspects are said to be members of a group called Jaysh al-Mahdi.
Government guidance on this organization describes it as arising from the eponymous Shia militia that came to prominence in Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Kyrgyzstan is an overwhelming majority Sunni Muslim country, making the claims of an active Shia armed group troublesome to square.
Indeed, the security services appear to be having trouble recalling whom they have accused of belonging to which terrorist organization. The two men killed this week are said to have been operating under the command of organized crime boss Tariel Djumagulov.
One of Kazakhstan’s wealthiest men, Kenges Rakishev, has made a foray into the country’s media business by buying up television station Sedmoi Kanal (Channel Seven), Tengri News has reported.
The purchase will cement the channel’s transition to an all-entertainment outlet following a decision to discontinue news programming that came into effect in June.
Sedmoi Kanal is one of the slicker stations in Kazakhstan, but has struggled to compete with other private television channels like KTK and Channel 31.
Like KTK, Sedmoi Kanal produced reasonably high-quality news programming sometimes critical of authorities, albeit typically ones operating at a local level. According to widely circulated rumors in journalist circles, the channel was one of several media outlets ultimately controlled by Prime Minister Karim Masimov.
A piece published last year by Respublika, a news website with strongly antigovernment positions, suggested that the country’s media scene is effectively divided three ways. Masimov is said to control outlets including Sedmoi Kanal and, more importantly, Tengri News.
Another key figure, according to Respublika, is President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s daughter, Dariga, who is said to own KTK and Pervy Kanal Evrasia, which is 20 percent controlled by the Russian government. Nazarbayeva is also believed to control several other radio stations and websites.
Nazarbayeva, 52, has a well-established interest in the media and was behind the creation of the annual Eurasian Media Forum, which is an event intended to discuss trends in the industry.
A jailed opposition leader in Kazakhstan whose case has drawn expressions of concern from Washington and Europe is to remain behind bars after his parole bid was rejected.
Vladimir Kozlov’s application for release from custody was rejected on December 8 at a hearing in the jail outside Almaty where he is being held, his lawyer Aiman Umarova said in postings on her Facebook page. Umarova complained in her post of the judge’s “negative attitude” to Kozlov during the hearing.
Kozlov had exercised his legal right to file for parole after serving half of his seven-and-a-half-year jail term on charges of inciting violence in the western oil town of Zhanaozen in 2011.
He was also found guilty of seeking to use the unrest in Zhanaozen to overthrow President Nursultan Nazarbayev in the capital, Astana, some 2,600 kilometers away.
Speaking at the parole hearing, to which journalists and human rights campaigners were not admitted, Kozlov denied committing any crimes.
He argued, as he always has, that his only link to the Zhanaozen violence — which spiraled out of an oil-sector strike that the government acknowledged mishandling — was his legitimate political activity.
“I have not committed any crimes,” he said in a speech posted by his lawyer on Facebook. “I headed a political party, and when the oil workers of Zhanaozen came and asked for support in their economic and social dispute with employers, we decided to offer them informational, legal and consultative support.”
As oil prices sink to impressive new lows, Kazakhstan is declaring, once again, that its giant Kashagan field will begin working at the end of 2016.
That was one of a range of hopeful and optimistic forecasts for the energy industry laid out by National Economy minister Yerbolat Dosayev at a government meeting on December 8.
The ultimate goal is to produce more, export more and eventually refine more.
If the government’s hopes are met, Kashagan will be able to churn out 13 million tons oil in 2020.
In April, work will begin on expanding Tengizchevroil, a joint venture between Chevron (50 percent), ExxonMobil (25 percent), Kazakhstan state oil and gas comeny KazMunaiGaz (25 percent) and Russia’s LukArco (5 percent).
Tengizchevroil develops the Tengiz and Korolev fields, which are estimated to hold up to 1.1 billion tons worth of recoverable crude in total.
Deputy Energy Minister Mazgum Mirzagaliyev said while overall output will drop from 79 million tons to 77 million tons in 2016, the blip is only temporary. With Kashagan online, that figure should rise to 92 million tons by 2020 and then again to 95-96 million tons by 2025.
With those kinds of figure, thoughts have also been devoted to how the oil is to be carried.
Dosayev set a December 2016 date for the completion to expansion works on the 1,500-kilometer CPC transportation system, which carries oil from western Kazakhstan to the Russian port of Novorossiysk, where the crude is then loaded onto tankers. Once that is done, the pipeline’s annual capacity will increase from 35 million tons to 67 million tons, doubling revenue.
As if Kazakhstan’s beleaguered saiga antelope population doesn’t have enough to cope with already, hunters are still trying to kill them for their horns.
A moratorium on hunting the animal is in place until 2021, but that has not deterred the most determined poachers.
Officials say that they have registered 21 saiga poaching cases this year in the southern Kyzylorda region alone, according to the state-run 24.kz television station.
Overall, 309 cases of illegal hunting were recorded in the region this year.
In the most recent case, police stopped a Toyota Land Cruiser in an area 20 kilometers from the Kumkol oil field and found the bodies of several saiga antelope in the trunk.
“During the search of the car, five bodies of saiga were found — horns, heads. Also unregistered 12-gauge shotguns, about 100 rounds of ammunition, a saw and a knife, which were seized as evidence,” Kyzylorda province police press officers Guljahan Kairbergenova told 24.kz. Two residents of the village of Karaozen are facing criminal charges.
Cases of saiga poaching have also been reported recently in the Akmola region, further north.
24.kz reported on December 3 that the bodies of six saiga with their horns sawn off were found on the grounds of an agricultural company called TOO Baumanskoe. Spent cartridges were found nearby.
The number of dead animals are highly conservative given the cataclysmic scale of die-offs registered among saiga earlier this year.
Prospects for the saiga look profoundly grim.