A brawl broke out in a contested section of the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over the weekend — the latest of many such incidents caused by failure to forge a solution on joint use of the area.
As usual, the picture has been muddled by duelling accounts of precisely what happened.
On January 21, the head of Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region, Kenesh Salikhov, told media that a representative of the Tajik police came informed him that some villagers from the Kyrgyz village of Kok-Tash had assaulted a citizen of Tajikistan. Despite the nominal border, the two communities have homes side by side, in what is sometimes described as a chessboard configuration, so dust-ups can break out apparently trivial matters.
Salikhov said that his information led him to disbelieve the Tajik police account.
“Later, we found out this person was not assaulted by our citizens and the Tajik police had no case to make, but on the next day, the victim summoned about 15-20 people and came to our village for a showdown,” he told Zanoza.kg.
The bout of verbal sparring from both sides then escalated into stone-throwing. As a result, the informal village leader of Kok-Tash, Raziya Osorova, was injured and had to be taken to a hospital for severe head injuries.
Turmush.kg news website reported this dispute involved around 20 residents from the Kyrgyz village and nearly 100 residents of the Tajik side. Witness accounts of such events, however, should be treated with caution since either side typically inflates the size of opponent contingents in the interests of their narrative. One house and four cars are said to have been damaged in the fighting.
A court in Kazakhstan has upheld a five-year jail sentence for two activists serving time for their role in organizing protest rallies in opposition to a proposed land privatization scheme.
The Atyrau court on January 20 ruled to leave Maks Bokayev and Talgat Ayan in prison at the end of a week of hearings marred by procedural irregularities. While a handful of supporters of the pair claimed that they were systematically denied the ability to attend the hearings, around 50 people did make it to the courtroom daily.
Bokayev and Ayan refused to attend the hearings in person, calling the proceedings unjust, but initially gave testimony via videoconference. From January 18 onward, they declined to participate altogether.
The appeal reexamined the basic core of the state’s argument against the two activists, which was that they were instrumental in inciting social unrest in mid-April last year by spreading unfounded rumors about the proposal to sell off swathes of land. Prosecutors argued that Bokayev and Ayan were the primary organizers of the protests in Atyrau, although their supporters have argued the rallies snowballed organically and that the pair played a peripheral role.
Independent Atyrau-based newspaper Ak Zhaiyk cited Bokayev’s sister, Zhanargul Bokayeva, who also acted as public defender for the jailed pair, as saying that on the day of the largest rally, April 24, there was already a large crowd on the main square in Atyrau by mid-afternoon, which is when Bokayev arrived. The crowd also included regional and city officials, who attempted to cool moods in the crowd.
The rally proceeded peacefully and without incident — an achievement that Bokayeva argued was partly down to her brother.
Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry has claimed that the country’s security agencies managed to thwart 36 terrorist attacks in 2016 and stopped around 50 people from mounting attacks on government buildings.
Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda provided no details of specific alleged plots at his press conference on January 20, although there have been sporadic reports of would-be attacks. One circulated in the local media involved some kind of strike on residents of the capital, Dushanbe, during the May 9 Victory Day celebrations.
To believe Rahimzoda, the achievements of the Tajik security agencies in combating terrorism are little short of miraculous.
More than 400 people were detained last year in Tajikistan on suspicion of belonging to various terrorist groups, Rahimzoda said. Over the same period, 40 people joined Islamic State, he claimed.
If anything, the minister lamented that, with the odd exception, foreign partners are failing to take sufficient advantage of Tajikistan’s terrorist-busting abilities.
Rahimzoda boasted it was his ministry’s information that led to a terrorist group comprising 11 natives of Central Asia being rounded up in Russia. The alleged militants were purportedly members of the Islamic State group and were planning to blow up buildings in St. Petersburg, according to Russian officials.
Authorities in Kazakhstan are stepping up efforts to tighten control on information by granting the security services power to sever internet and phone connections without having to apply for a court order.
Independent newspaper Ak-Zhaiyk reported on January 20 that the authority to disconnect telecommunications has been granted to the National Security Committee, or KNB, at all levels, down to local branches.
The stated aim of the measure is to combat terrorism.
As lawyer Jokhar Utebekov has noted on his Facebook account, the fact that the KNB will be able to act directly in blocking websites, disconnecting mobile phone links, disabling messenger apps or suspending internet connections without having to go through service providers would appear to indicate that it already possesses the technical means to do so.
The KNB will be able to carry out any of those actions at the request of the police, the anti-corruption agency, the economic crimes service and several other security bodies, in effect giving it authority previously wielded only by the General Prosecutor’s Office.
The changes to the law that have brought about these changes are, incidentally, part of the same contentious legislative package that required citizens to register with local authorities in the event that they settle in a location for more than one month.
Be it as it may, the adjustment to the law will change little in reality and will only formalize an already existing pattern of censorship.
A protest by oil sector workers in the western Kazakhstan city of Aktau has entered its third week as authorities appear unwilling to reconsider a decision to withdraw the registration of an independent trade union.
This dispute flared when the Specialized Inter-District Economic Court of South Kazakhstan Region ruled on January 4 to shutter the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK in its Russian initials) over technicalities to do with its registration. The following day, laborers with the Atyrau-based Oil Construction Company, or OCC, filed an official motion to initiate a hunger strike.
In an echo of the industrial dispute that culminated in bloodshed in the oil town of Zhanaozen in 2011, national media have almost entirely ignored the standoff. But for tireless reporting from correspondents at RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyq, possibly nothing would be known at all about what is taking place. With the number of workers taking part in protest actions growing — to around 400 people, according to Radio Azattyq — officials may possibly begin to take more notice.
Moscow-based website ferghana.ru cited a workers representative at OCC, Nurbek Kushakbayev, as saying that operations had not been halted by the industrial dispute.
“Work continues, we have not stopped work. The workers are working, but they have simply stopped eating. There are threats from the authorities, they keep on saying this is illegal. But there is nothing illegal about this. To eat or not to eat is for every individual to decide,” Kushakbayev toldferghana.ru.
A mobile phone operator in Tajikistan has said it is appealing what it considers an illegal tax claim for around $19.5 million.
Tcell, which is controlled by a company that is in turn 60 percent owned by Scandinavian telecommunications giant Telia Company AB, said on January 19 that the claim is based on inexistent revenues. (Telia Company is currently going through the process of divesting itself of its interests in Tcell).
Failure to successfully appeal the claim will place a “very severe financial strain on Tcell,” the company said.
“We are very concerned with the situation which we believe is totally unacceptable,” Emil Nilsson, head of the Eurasia business region at Telia Company, said in a statement.
Telia Company said the claim for 155 million somoni follows a tax audit for the period May 2015 through June 2016 and is equivalent to Tcell earnings for the entirety of 2015.
That the Tajik government is trying to sting a foreign investor for a suspiciously implausible windfall should come as no surprise to anybody familiar with the state of the country's beleaguered telecommunications sector.
Indeed, according to EuriasaNet.org sources, Tcell is not the only one to getting this treatment. Telia Company should consider themselves lucky.
Informed sources have said that Megafon-Tajikistan, another top mobile phone service provider and daughter company of Russia’s Megafon, is being hit up for 300 million somoni. And Beeline, the brand of the local affiliate of Russia’s Vimpelcom, is said to be facing a fine of around 350 million somoni.
A court in the western Kazakhstan city of Atyrau is currently hearing an appeal in the case of two activists jailed last year for organizing rallies against land privatization plans.
In a string of suspicious episodes that echoes previous such high-profile court cases in Kazakhstan, supporters of the pair trying to travel to Atyrau have been prevented in various ways from attending. Meanwhile, Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayan, who were found guilty in November of inciting social unrest, spreading false information and disrupting public order and sentenced to five and half years in jail, failed to attend their own appeal.
Rights activist Amangeldy Shormanbayev said that on the day that appeal hearings began, on January 16, as he was heading to the airport in Almaty, where he lives, he was detained by police for having fake license plates on his car. Shormanbayev said on his Facebook account that somebody appeared to have switched his plates overnight and that the police refused to investigate the matter any further.
“I was at the auto impound lot for five hours while I sorted this out. Naturally, I was late for my flight, and it turns out that I was not alone,” Shormanbayev wrote.
Rysbek Sarsenbaiuly, chief editor of Zhas Alash newspaper, said he also missed his Atyrau flight from Almaty after he received a phone call from somebody posing as a representative with the airline informing him of a delay. Bek Air, the carrier in question, denied it had made any calls, RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service reported.
The government in Kazakhstan plans to force internet users to register on websites with their mobile phones if they wish to post comments, the deputy head of the communications and information technology committee, Mikhail Komissarov, has told media.
KazTAG news agency cited Komissarov as saying that law is to be changed to reflect these requirements. Under the changes under consideration, websites will be obliged to create the technical means to enter one’s phone number and receive an SMS so as to be able to complete the authentication process.
The aim of this regulation is purportedly to combat what Komissarov referred to as “information war.”
“We are all witnesses to how certain articles, which do not always have an unambiguous meaning, can be interpreted ambiguously by the public, and then in the comments section information wars will break out, often taking on uncivilized forms and leading to the incitement of inter-ethnic and religious hatred,” Komissarov said.
Introduction of this type of authentication will, Komissarov believes, lower the temperature of online discussions.
“A person that has registered will think three time before writing a message that could incite somebody to something,” he argued.
Ironically and predictably enough, internet users immediately rushed to the comment boards of news article to let Komissarov know what they thought of his idea. Readers of news website Nur.kz likened the proposed rule to something out of North Korea. Others said they were seizing the final opportunity to speak from their hearts while they still had the opportunity.
Anger is mounting in Kazakhstan at a strict new residency registration law after two people dropped dead at government service centers processing the permits.
The recently implemented rules require people living anywhere for more than one month to register with the local authorities or face fines, which has led to massive crowds forming at government offices ill-equipped to handle the demand. Several hours of waiting to be served is reportedly the norm.
On January 16, 53-year old Zharas Kuntakov collapsed at an overcrowded Civilian Service Center (TsON in its Russian initials) in Almaty. The man was at the center with his father and wife and was seeking to register at his father’s home.
A witness who gave his name as Khalelkhan told Nur.kz news website that the man fell to the ground before his very eyes.
“I called the ambulance. He died five minutes later. His heart failed. The medics only arrived after an hour. Later they had to take him out through the back entrance,” Khalelkhan said.
The Government for Citizens, a state corporation created to handle the provision of government services, was swift to downplay the notion that the crowds caused by the registration drive were to blame for Kuntakov’s death and said there were few people around at the time of his collapse anyhow. Photos and video footage of the service center, however, tell another story.
Just for safe measure, Government for Citizens has advised anybody with chronic illnesses to refrain from visiting service centers at peak hours.
A crusade in Kazakhstan against the leaking of state secrets has claimed another scalp in the shape of former deputy head of the presidential administration, Baglan Mailybayev.
The Committee for National Security, or KNB in its Russian initials, said in a statement on January 16 that Mailybayev has been placed under arrest for 2 months on suspicion of illegally gathering and disseminating state secrets.
Another former top official in the presidential administration, the ex-deputy head of the internal policy department Nikolai Galikhin, has also been arrested in connection with the same case.
The KNB said it is searching the two men’s homes for evidence and that further details will be provided once investigations are concluded.
Mailybayev was fired on January 12 from the post he had held since October 2011. He was replaced by old hand and arch-loyalist Marat Tazhin.
Mailybayev has made steady and swift progress through the ranks. From June 2009 he worked as Nazarbayev’s press secretary and had previously served in various positions in the culture ministry. Galikhin, meanwhile, was as recently as December bestowed the Kurmet state award.
Political analyst Dosym Satpayev has noted that the return of Tazhin suggests President Nursultan Nazarbayev is losing faith with some of the younger cadres coming through he system and decided to put his faith in tried-and-tested figures.
Then again, the veterans aren’t having a better time of it either.