Tajikistan has declared an oddly premature victory over HIV/AIDS even as the spread of the disease continues in alarming fashion.
State news agency Khovar elected to mark World AIDS Day on December 1 with an editorial piece entitled “AIDS Sleeping Already: Number of HIV Infections on the Decline.”
Government representatives queried by Khovar praised what they say are the state’s efforts to do everything possible for the ill by providing them with free treatment.
“According to statistics, the number of people infected with HIV in these years have become substantially lower and the measures adopted by the government have returned substantial results,” Kobiljon Mahmudov, the director of the Health Ministry’s Republican Center for Prophylaxis and Combat Against HIV, told Khovar.
While it is impossible to know if Mahmudov is being misquoted, the assertion that HIV infections are declining is disconcertingly inaccurate.
According to the most recent figures provided by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, 5,242 people were living with HIV on December 31, 2014. That figure has grown steadily with every passing year. If there were 29 people with HIV for 100,000 living in Tajikistan in 2010, that number had risen to 64.9 by the end of last year.
In 2012, UNAIDS was compelled to describe the increase of HIV cases as alarming and noted that Tajikistan was among the countries where HIV prevalence had increased by more than 25 percent in the preceding decade.
In fairness to Tajikistan, if the number of infections detected is growing, it is in part because testing has expanded tenfold in the last 10 years.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has signed off on a controversial law regulating the funding of nongovernmental organizations, against the advice of campaigners.
Critics of the bill drew comparisons to a 2012 law adopted in Russia that requires foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents,” although Kazakhstan’s law contains no such wording.
The law, approved on December 2, will establish a single state operator through which funding for NGOs must be channeled.
In October, as the bill was wending its way through Kazakhstan’s rubberstamp parliament, civil society campaigners urged Nazarbayev to veto it.
The legislation would give the state a veto over which NGOs receive funding and for what kind of activities, they argued. They pointed out that the bill’s wording does not include human rights in the list of areas in which NGOs can legitimately operate, though it does not rule the sphere out either.
The law will grant the government “ideological control over NGOs,” activist Amangeldy Shormanbayev said.
Over 60 NGOs signed a petition calling on Nazarbayev to reject the law, charging that it would “seriously restrict human rights,” including the rights to freedom of speech, conscience and association.
The OSCE’s media freedom representative agreed, warning that the law “could pose a clear threat to free media.”
The government has rejected criticisms of the bill.
Tajikistan’s central bank is adopting measures to close all money exchange points as the national currency is driven further to the verge of collapse.
The government order, which is to be published this week, will allow only authorized banks to effect currency exchanges, which will also be limited in amount.
The move is expected to drive money-sellers undergroud and force businesses desperate for cash to rely on an unregulated black market.
The National Bank of Tajikistan has said that its analyses have shown that bureaux de change are speculative hiking rates and profiting from market instability.
It said in a statement that six people have been detained in Dushanbe for allegedly rigging rates, prompting the closure of all the country’s 1,400 exchange offices.
Buying and selling foreign denomination, which is typically dollars in Tajikistan, outside the authorized points will incur criminal prosecution for all parties involved.
“Private person, businessmen, traders and legal entities, enterprises, organizations, companies, trading houses that wish to acquire foreign currencies must go to credit organizations that are able and have to right to provide them with that foreign currency,” the central bank said in a statement on November 30.
The bank noted that similar measures were adopted last December and in January, April and May this year.
Around 800 bureaux de change have been shut down by the government and later re-registered to credit organizations in recent months, the central bank said.
Plenty, for the 99 people who share a full name with the strongman president of Kazakhstan.
This is the number of citizens who have been named in honor of Nursultan Nazarbayev in the 24 years since Kazakhstan gained its independence, statistics released on the occasion of First President’s Day on December 1 show.
The 99 are just the tip of the iceberg. That is the number of children given the president’s first name and his surname too.
But many more share his first name alone — a total of 37,077 children born since 1991 have been named Nursultan, TengriNews reports, citing the Statistics Committee.
The name, combined of the Arabic-origin words “nur” (meaning “light”) and “sultan” (“king” or “ruler”), has long been used by Kazakhs, and the name Nursultan was chosen for Nazarbayev by his paternal grandmother. That factoid is one of 12 offered by state news agency Kazinform, which also informs readers that in his youth Nazarbayev joined in with construction work on his neighbor’s house to raise the funds to buy a harmonica.
A trend for naming children after the president has developed since independence, with parents no doubt hoping that some of Nazarbayev’s luster will rub off on their offspring.
Kazakhstan may be experiencing its toughest economic times in years, but its people have never had it so good.
So says its long-ruling president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who used his state-of-the-nation address on November 30 to issue a rallying cry to his people to tighten their belts and bind together to weather the economic storm battering their oil-rich country.
“We have withstood quite a few tests together, and become hardened and strengthened. We have achieved a pace of economic development unheard of in all our history,” Nazarbayev said in his annual address. “Never before have our people lived as well as they do now. We have achieved a lot.”
Nazarbayev stressed that the economic tribulations are caused by external factors over which Astana has no control — “a global crisis of an all-embracing nature,” as he put it.
Prices for oil prices are and downturns in neighboring Russia and China are hitting Kazakhstan, whose grow is expected to grow by just 1.2 percent this year.
That compares to growth of 4.3 percent last year, which already represented a slowdown for Kazakhstan.
Nazarbayev proposed “de-dollarization" as the key to combating currency woes that have seen the value of the tenge plunge by 40 percent since a move to a free float in August. This has become a buzzword in Astana, but economists say that is easier said than done.
After Nazarbayev’s speech, the central bank announced it would be issuing a new banknote worth 20,000 tenge ($65), twice as much as the largest existing bill.
Kyrgyzstan burst into a frenzy of celebrating on November 26 as news of the birth of the country’s 6 millionth citizen dominated the media.
The birth of Aylin, a baby girl, has been hailed by authorities as a sign of abiding optimism in Kyrgyzstan’s future. Others are more sanguine, however, and wonder whether money splashed out on marking the child’s arrival might not have been better spent elsewhere.
How the government decided Aylin fit the profile was far from arbitrary.
The Health Ministry announced that a group was specially tasked with monitoring information about all the babies born in the 12 hours following 6 p.m. on November 25. According to the group’s findings, 67 boys and 55 girls came into the world over that period.
A typically acerbic AKIpress editorial noted that careful consideration was given to the characteristics of the baby that would bestowed with the title of six millionth Kyrgyz citizen. After deciding on a gender and ethnicity, and place of birth and social status, the government picked Aylin, an ethnic Kyrgyz female born to a military family living in the southern city of Osh. The child is the family’s sixth.
President Almazbek Atambaev ordered that the family be rewarded with an apartment and a 1 million som (roughly $13,600) bank account. Parents of another 10 babies delivered around the same time will get 100,000 som apiece.
“The growth of the population is considered one of the main indicators of a peaceful life, people’s confidence in their future and aspirations toward welfare and prosperity,” said Atambaev.
Kazakhstan’s annual human rights consultations with the European Union took place this week against the backdrop of what activists say is an alarming spike in arrests over social media postings.
Astana is set to upgrade its relations with EU with the signing of an expanded partnership agreement, prompting concerns that Brussels may choose to gloss over rights issues for geopolitical ends.
While tolerance for dissent has always been low in Kazakhstan, authorities appear to have opened a new front by chasing down what they deem to be critical postings on websites like Facebook and Russia’s VKontakte.
Ahead of the human rights consultations, which took place in Astana on November 26, advocacy groups urged Brussels to address the clampdown.
“The EU should insist that the Kazakhstani authorities stop criminally prosecuting individuals who are legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression to voice opinions or share information that may not be to the liking of those in power,” said Brigitte Dufour, director of the Brussels–based International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), in a joint statement with the Almaty-based Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR). “Open debate – both off- and online – is a key element in any society aspiring to be a free and democratic one.”
On November 11, activist Bolatbek Blyalov of the Anti-Heptyl movement, which campaigns against Russia’s use of Kazakhstan’s Baikonur space station, was arrested on charges of inciting ethnic strife in social media postings.
Blogger Yermek Taychibekov is on trial on the same charge over postings in which he argued Kazakhstan should become part of Russia.
A self-styled expert on religious matters in Kyrgyzstan with a penchant for talking up the threat of Islamic radicalism has been attacked by unknown assailants, local outlets have reported.
Kadyr Malikov, who advises government policymakers on all things Islam, was reportedly knifed in the 12th micro-district of the capital, Bishkek, on the evening of November 26.
According to Vesti.kg, citing confirmation from police sources, eyewitnesses saw Malikov running down the street, bloody-faced and screaming “ISIS wants to kill me” following a heated exchange with the driver of a BMW that was blocking his car.
Citing an interview with a doctor, Russian agency Sputnik reported Malikov was being operated on and had suffered deep knife wounds to his face and neck.
Malikov lives in confirmed fear of an attack from the Islamic State group.
The director of the Religion, Law and Politics analytical center, said in January that the Islamic State group was “ready to pour $70 million into Kyrgyzstan to destabilize the situation in the south.”
That figure, which Malikov never substantiated, was repeated this week by a former deputy head of the national security service at a roundtable titled "Extremism and Terrorism in Kyrgyzstan. Tablighi Jamaat: A Threat or Stability for the Future of the Country?"
After being stripped of their right to over a hundred costly new armchairs by an indignant public last month, Kyrgyzstan’s members of parliament have given up their government-issue cars in a shock display of selflessness.
In recent weeks parliamentarians have been outdoing each other in demonstrating willingness to dispense with the perks of the job. Those included a vehicle fueled at the the expense of the state with a personal driver, as well as a small staff of administrative assistants and political consultants. Housing is also provided for deputies without a resident in the capital, Bishkek.
But up until November 25, when a clear majority voted against keeping the parliamentary fleet, it was far from clear they were going to take the plunge.
After a November 24 meeting of a commission on cutting parliamentary expenditures, Altynai Omurbekova, of the opposition Respublika party vented, to Russia’s Sputnik news agency.
“It was decided that the MPs would not refuse [the services of] either their consultants, or their helpers. As previously they will have drivers and cars, while those [MPs] from outside the city will receive housing. In total, nothing was cut or optimized,” she said.
Omurbekova did prove correct about parliamentarians retaining their staff of five assistants per lawmaker, most of whom earn notably more than the parliamentary drivers now out of work, while housing is still there for deputies that need it.
Kazakhstan has issued a diplomatic call for restraint from its allies Russia and Turkey following Ankara’s shooting down of a Russian warplane involved in airstrikes on Syria.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement, issued the day after Turkey downed the Russian fighter jet, that the “tragic incident” on November 24 was cause for regret.
Both sides should exercise restraint and explore “all possible measures and channels of communication for the de-escalation of the situation,” Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said.
The statement follows an ill-tempered war of words between Ankara and Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned what he called “a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists” and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has canceled a planned trip to Ankara.
The standoff between two of Kazakhstan’s allies that have long been at loggerheads over Syria — with the Kremlin backing embattled incumbent Bashar al-Assad with airstrikes targeting rebels and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan seeking his overthrow and backing the militants — is uncomfortable for President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kazakhstan is a staunch ally of Russia and a fellow member of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union, but also has a close partnership with Turkey and is a fellow member of the Ankara-led Turkic Council.
Turkey’s links with Turkic peoples have played a role in the controversy, as the fighter jet crashed in an area of Syria inhabited by ethnic Turkmen, some of whom are believed to be Ankara-backed rebels.
Astana was careful not to apportion blame for the shooting down of the aircraft, in which one pilot died and the other was rescued by Russian special forces.