As of January 20, mobile phone operators in Tajikistan will have to increase the cost of outgoing calls to Russia by 20 percent, up to 1.20 somoni ($0.15) per minute. Only four months ago, the cost of a call to Russia per minute was only 0.69 somoni.
The price increase comes by order of the antimonopoly service and at the suggestion of the state communications agency and stands to adversely affect both mobile phone companies and people wishing to keep in touch with their relatives working abroad.
Mobile phone companies have noted on their official websites that the additional cost has been incurred by the fact that calls are now rerouted through the Unified Electronic Communications Switching Center, a network gateway run by state-owned telecommunications company Tojiktelecom, which is in turn owned by the state communications agency.
The aim behind creating the gateway, which is known by its Russian abbreviation EKTs, was said last year to be that of “ensuring national and information security.” In cruder terms, the system theoretically gives authorities complete monitoring powers over internet and mobile phone traffic.
The state communications agency is run by the notorious Beg Zukhurov, a relative of President Emomali Rahmon by marriage.
The lawyer for a prominent journalist arrested last year on charges of fraud said on January 11 that his client had admitted his guilt and returned funds he is accused of earning through intimidation.
Bigeldi Gabdullin, the 61-year old chief editor of the Central Asia Monitor newspaper and the executive director of Radiotochka.kz news website, was detained in mid-November on what authorities said was suspicion of using media under his control to intimidate officials into paying him money to avoid negative coverage.
The officials targeted in this scheme allegedly lobbied for Gabdullin to receive government contracts through a system of media subsidies known as the state order. The objects of the claimed blackmail operation later had positive articles about them appear in the media, investigators claimed at the time of Gabdullin’s arrest.
Gabdullin’s lawyer, Amanzhol Muhadmedyarov, said at a pre-trial court hearing on January 11 that his client was cooperating with the investigation and helping to clarify the circumstances of his alleged crime. The journalist has compensated the injured parties to tune of 20.6 million tenge ($62,000) and pleaded to be spared prosecution in exchange for repenting for his offense, Muhadmedyarov said.
One of the people allegedly targeted for extortion by Gabdullin spoke in court to confirm that he had received the compensation and said he wished to drop charges.
Anti-corruption investigators have reportedly detained recently dismissed National Economy Minister Kuandyk Bishimbayev on suspicion of taking bribes.
Tengri news website on January 10 cited the Agency for Civil Service Affairs and Anti-Corruption as saying Bishimbayev has been taken into custody and is being held at an Interior Ministry pre-trial facility in Astana pending investigations.
Bishimbayev was fired by presidential decree on December 28 and replaced by Timur Suleimenov.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev later hinted during a government meeting on December 30 that personnel changes at the National Economy Ministry stemmed from ongoing investigations into Bishimbayev and his dealings with the state-owned Baiterek holding company.
Dark clouds have for a while been gathering over Baiterek, or more specifically its daughter company Baiterek Development, which has been under investigation since mid-November.
On November 21, a number of executives at the company were arrested on suspicion of taking bribes from lobbyists for companies seeking contracts as part of the state’s ambitious Nurly Zhol infrastructure development program. According to the Kazakhstan edition of Forbes magazine, the amount of bribes taken amounted to 288 million tenge, around $900,000.
A brouhaha between Azerbaijan and Armenia is threatening to hamper the operations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in multiple member nations, including Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
OSCE country mandates are the responsibility of the organization’s permanent council, which deals with all the OSCE day-to-day business and is comprised of representatives of all 57 member states. But as the OSCE told EurasiaNet.org “participating states have not yet reached consensus on extension of mandates of a number of OSCE field operations.”
“The Chairmanship continues to lead negotiations on this with the aim of early agreement,” an OSCE press officer said in an email
A source familiar with the situation has said the holdup is down to a battle of wills between Azerbaijan and Armenia over budgets for certain security-related programs. The standoff between the two foes has precipitated a veto from Armenia on the normally automatic extension of field office mandates.
The OSCE has said that its field operations will, this impasse notwithstanding, remain open and continue administrative and non-mandate-related work pending agreement on this issue.
Meanwhile, Moscow-based news website ferghana.ru has cited its own sources as saying the existing situation has had a negative impact of moods within the staff and fostered much disillusionment about the organization’s inability to fulfill its stated missions.
“There is growing disappointment over the nature and purpose of the OSCE, which is supposed to prevent conflicts and yet is powerless when it comes to pursuing consensus, even in such basic matters as the extension of mandates,” the source told the website.
If the hidden camera investigation of an amateur sleuth is anything to go by, there is a sex palace buried in the bowels of Kyrgyzstan’s national Sports Palace, the venue of many a prestigious tournament.
On January 9, news website Zanoza.kg posted videos and photos it said it received from an anonymous source who took an unsavory tour of the bathing section of the state-owned facility.
Among other things, the photos and footage clearly show a used condom on the ground within flinging distance of a grubby-looking bed. A warm sauna adjacent to this “resting room” is in a terrible-looking state and seems to have long ago ceased to be the main attraction. The video also features a conversation with a female attendant who says that while the Sports Palace does not provide prostitutes for clients, it doesn’t stop them from dropping by.
“Most of our clients are sportsmen, who do not use the services of prostitutes,” she clarified sniffily.
Reactions to the article were understandably couched in outrage.
One reader, posting under the name Ashki Bala, said: “Well just take a look at what our ‘controllers’ have done! We cannot let this slide. Let's keep on this and bring the matter to a close. They ruined our only Olympic swimming pool, sell [things] off and do whatever they want. It is a shame on our sport and this wonderful palace.”
Kazakhstan has adopted a law requiring citizens traveling within the country to register with local authorities if they remain in one locality for more than one month. Anybody found in violation of the law will first receive a written warning and then, if found to be committing the same offense within a year, a fine of around 30,000 tenge ($90).
Landlords renting out property to people without temporary registration will also face prosecution and fines of around 22,500 tenge, Nur.kz reported, citing the Interior Ministry press department.
The law enters into force on January 7 and is intended, according to its backers, to combat terrorism by keeping closer tabs of people’s movements.
Police have fended off criticism, saying the law brings Kazakhstan in line with accepted international practice.
The deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s migration department, Galina Sarsenova, has said the system would, in addition to providing another tool against terrorism, allow for an enhanced ability to monitor internal migration processes. That way, the authorities will be able to better understand where to concentrate efforts on developing labor markets, school, hospitals and other core utilities, Sarsenova said.
Kazakhstan already has a system of permanent registration — the propiska inherited from Soviet rulers and, before that, Tsarist Russia — but this incoming arrangement will be applied for relatively short-term stays.
A court in Kyrgyzstan has set a precedent alarming to freedom of speech advocates by ruling against a political activist in a defamation suit for a post he wrote on Facebook.
Bishkek’s Oktyabrsky district court on January 5 ruled that Mavlyan Askarbekov should publish an apology on his Facebook page to member of parliament Dastan Bekeshev and leave it online for the duration of one month.
The start of this episode dates back to July, when Askarbekov penned an attack against the visually impaired MP for what he said was his undue interference in the activities of the Kyrgyz Association for Blind and Deaf People.
“When I spoke [at an association meeting], Bekeshev started insulting me and had me kicked out. He did not respond to my questions about the legitimacy of his actions and did not let me say a word,” Askarbekov wrote in his original post.
Askarbekov is a well-known figure in youth nationalist circles and first came to prominence in the wake of the April 2010 uprising.
In August, Bekeshev filed a defamation suit against Askarbekov, saying the activist needed to be “reined in” over his false accusations.
Opposition activist Adil Turdukulov called the court’s ruling unlawful.
“This [lawsuit] is a continuation of a systemic policy of suppression of freedom of speech. It is no accident that it was Bekeshev who the filed lawsuit, when it was he that previously proposed bringing in additional controls over online media and social networks,” Turdukulov said.
The exodus of Tajikistan’s best minds has reached record levels, according to figures coming out of Russia.
In 2016, 14,000 Tajik family units filed residency applications withs Russia’s Interior Ministry under a state resettlement program designed for former citizens of the Soviet Union.
The number of applications marks a notable increase from 13,000 in 2015 and 10,000 in 2014.
Of those, in 2015, 1,200 families received residence permits, and that figure rose to 1,850 in 2016.
The Russian Interior Ministry’s representative for migration affairs in Tajikistan, Vladislav Makarevich, noted that preference is given to highly qualified applicants.
“First of all education and work experience are considered. Almost everybody who takes part in the program has higher or at least basic education. We are talking about medics, teachers, accountants, entrepreneurs,” Makarevich told Asia-Plus website.
Among all former Soviet nations, Tajikistan generates the greatest number of applications to relocate to Russia.
Russia’s gain naturally translates into Tajikistan’s loss, which continues in a climate of enduring economic stagnation to struggle in holding onto its qualified workforce.
Once families decided to relocate, the move is typically permanent.
The number of Tajik citizens that has received Russian citizenship in the past two deacdes is by some estimates placed at anywhere between 300,000 and 500,000. Arriving at an exact number is complicated by the fact that some people move to Russia for work and only apply for citizenship for several years after residing there.
Part of an apartment building collapsed in a central Kazakhstan town overnight on January 1, killing at least nine people, including three children.
Authorities have said preliminary investigations suggest the accident may have been caused by the explosion of a heating boiler. These kind of heating units are crucial to survival in towns like Shakhan, in the Karaganda region, where temperatures in winter can drop to minus 40 degrees Celsius.
Officials say that part of the apartment blocked destroyed in the collapse was home to 25 people.
Homes in Shakhan, a town of around 8,000 people, were at some stage provided with heating from a central boiler, but that has broken down and not been replaced by the government. Committees managing apartment buildings are in such situations compelled to install basements with autonomous heating systems, which are fueled with coal, wood or paper and can pose significant risks to residents, as in this case.
The deputy Karaganda regional governor Andrei Lyapunov told media that he had appealed to the National Economy Ministry for funds to resolve the heating problem in Shakhan, but that progress was hindered by money shortages.
“A project blueprint was developed. It was examined by state experts. The budget was about 2.8 billion tenge in 2014 [NB. $15 million at mid-2014 rates and $8.3 million now],” Lyapunov said.
But that money was not enough to finance a project to provide heating to around 100 apartment blocks, he said.
“This cannot be done quickly. Especially as the the town has a very distended heating grid and homes are very distant from one another. This is why building a [central] boiler takes a certain amount of time,” Lyapunov said.
The former head of Kazakhstan’s security services, a long-time associate of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been detained on suspicion of leaking state secrets and abuse of office.
Nartay Dutbayev presided over the National Security Committee, or KNB, from December 2001 to February 2006 — a period that saw the murder of two prominent opposition figures that government critics have routinely lain at the feet of the security services.
Dutbayev is a hardy survivor on Kazakhstan’s political scene, so his arrest is nothing short of startling. He and at least two other individuals, named as a Nurlan Hasen and Yerlan Nurtayev, were detained and placed in a KNB holding cells on December 26. News of the detentions was announced two days later.
Nothing is known about the details of the offenses that Dutbayev is suspected of having committed, so journalists and commentators have indulged in a frenzy of speculation.
Political analyst Daniyar Ashimbayev told Sputnik Kazakhstan that the clearance for going after Dutbayev could only have been granted at the highest levels.
“The issue was most likely agreed upon in the higher echelons — at the very least, in the presidential administration,” Ashimbayev said.