Kazakhstan’s Culture Minister caused a diplomatic row with Kyrgyzstan earlier this year after unwittingly insulting Kyrgyz citizens working in Russia.
Now, Arystanbek Mukhamediyuly is facing accusations of sexual harassment and corruption.
The charge was advanced by a former student of the Kazakhstan National Academy of Arts (KazNAI), Enlik Sydykova, in a YouTube video posted on October 9. The young woman said that in 2011 she had been hoping to sit an entrance exam for the college but did not make it in time. Mukhamediyuly, who was rector of the institute at the time, offered to assist in resolving the problem against a $3,000 bribe, Sydykova claimed. But when she said she did not have that kind of cash at her disposal, Mukhamediyuly proposed an alternative arrangement, Sydykova accused.
“Mukhamediyuly said to me: ‘You can come over to my place, we can drink wine, dance, chat and have fun.’ I was shocked. I did not expect to hear such things from such an upstanding figure,” Sydykova said in her video account.
Despite refusing the then-rector’s alleged advances, Sydykova made it into KazNAI all the same. At a later juncture, according to Sydykova, Mukhamediyuly entered a lecture hall in an inebriated stated and forced female students to sing before him. Sydykova said she was not the only student to face harassment from Mukhamediyuly.
After a week of hearings, the trial in Kazakhstan of two antigovernment activists charged with organizing unsanctioned protests has revealed numerous cracks in the state’s case, although it is unlikely this will make a guilty verdict any less probable.
Hearings in the case of Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayan began on October 12 and stem from a wave of unprecedented land reform protests in the spring that saw several thousand people hitting the streets of Atyrau in April.
One of the prosecutors’ most explosive charges is that Bokayev and Ayan were acting on the pay of a power-hungry tycoon from the southern city of Shykment, Tohtar Tuleshov, who authorities claim was looking to sow instability as a prelude to seizing power. Tuleshov is also in jail and facing trial separately in behind-closed doors proceedings in the capital, Astana.
Tuleshov gave testimony by video conference to the Atyrau court as witness for the prosecution on October 18. It is alleged Tuleshov gave Ayan $100,000 to finance the protests.
The state’s version of events is that Tuleshov hoped to sow the conditions for the creation of a vice presidential post, which does not now exist, presumably to set the stage for him to eventually take over the reins from 76-year old Nursultan Nazarbayev. This initiative would have come about by an engineered grass roots movement, prosecutors suggest.
In his testimony, Tuleshov admitted as much, although his account does not bear too much scrutiny.
How important can a constitution be when you cannot even find the original document?
That is the question that authorities in Kyrgyzstan appear to be asking as a ruse to downplay concerns over planned changes to the basic law.
The constitution in its current form was approved by referendum in June 2010 and ushered in a form of government intended to dilute the power of the presidency and hand more authority to parliament.
But a query by members of parliament about the location of the original copy of the document on October 19 has thrown up a bizarre mystery.
Justice Minister Jyldyz Mambetalieva responded that her office has a copy of 2010 constitution, but that the original is held by the presidential administration.
That was contradicted by Moldakun Abdyldayev, the presidential administration’s liaison to parliament.
“We assumed that it was with the Justice Ministry. Now the minister is confirming that there is no original. That raises the question: where is the original?” Abdyldayev told parliament.
Abdyldasev said he has seen an archived decree on the constitution — signed by Roza Otunbayeva, who served briefly as an interim president following the April 2010 revolution — and a draft of the document that was later adopted by referendum. But not an actual signed version of the constitution itself.
As confounding as it might seem, this means that none of the arguing parties in the constitutional debate can quite agree on what it is that is being subjected to amendment.
The trial began in the western Kazakhstan city of Aktobe on October 18 in the case of a mass shooting by a group of local men suspected of links to Islamic extremism.
The 29 men on trial face numerous charges, including terrorism, for the unrest that unfolded on June 5, when eight people, including three soldiers, were shot dead by a group of attackers that had seized weapons from shops stocking hunting supplies.
Proceedings at Aktobe’s specialized inter-district criminal court are taking place under an intense cover of security. News websites have shown images of snipers posted on roofs of building surrounding the court.
The case of the prosecution is vast and comprises 201 volumes of evidence. Almost 50 witnesses are expected to take the stand.
Of the 29 men on trial, nine are accused of direct involvement in the attacks, another 18 are said to have failed to report information about preparations for the violence, while another two are accused of harboring suspected criminals. Eighteen of the attackers were killed in the clashes.
It seems all but certain that the trial will culminate in guilty verdicts — state media has taken to referring to the defendants as “probable terrorists” — but authorities are taking additional measures to convey the impression of transparency, at least at the outset.
While reporters have not been allowed into the courtroom itself for the preliminary hearings, they were able to follow proceedings from a nearby room through a video feed. Almost two dozen cameras were installed inside the courtroom, including some trained on the defendants, to ensure everything is done above board.
A court in Tajikistan has doubled down of the hunt on the country’s banned Islamic party by sentencing two of its lawyers to more 20 years in jail in a startlingly draconian and unfounded punishment.
The Dushanbe court on October 6 ruled that Buzurgmehr Yorov and Nuriddin Makhamov should serve 23 and 21 years in a penal colony, respectively, after being found guilty of flagrantly trumped-up charges of fraud, inciting hatred and extremism, among other things. Both men will be barred from working as lawyers for five years after their release.
New York-based Human Rights Watch called the trial against the two lawyers, who had attracted the authorities attention after taking up the case of jailed members of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), “politically motivated.”
“The Tajik government is tightening the screws on lawyers it deems trouble, locking up those who represent the opposition, and even those who represent the ones who represent them,” Marius Fossum, Regional Representative at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, said in a statement distributed by Human Rights Watch. “Each day these lawyers spend behind bars is a disgrace and brings shame on Tajikistan’s judicial system.”
Yorov and Makhkamov took up the cause of representing 13 leading members of the IRPT, whose entire leadership has since been convicted on charges of attempting to topple the government, when no other colleagues had the temerity to take the same risk.
In the days after the arrest of the IRPT leaders, in September 2015, Yorov public complained that one of the jailed men, party deputy leader Saidumar Khusaini had been tortured while in detention.
“At first they offered him a [position in government], but after he refused, they put a bag over his head and started to beat him,” Yorov said.
That kind of vocal representation on behalf of the IRPT did Yorov no favors.
An oil strike that started in late September in the western Kazakhstan town of Zhanaozen – the scene of fatal industrial unrest in 2011 – has ended after the company caved in to strikers’ demands.
In contrast with that industrial dispute five years ago, company officials and authorities were quick to pursue mediation, in a reflection of the sensitivities that surround signs of public discontent against a background of broader economic stagnation.
The Zhanaozen standoff ended late on October 5, after private drilling company Burgylau agreed, with mediation from the authorities, to concessions, one striker told EurasiaNet.org.
“All the demands have been meet,” said Askar, a driller speaking under a pseudonym by telephone from Zhanaozen on October 6. “We’re satisfied. We’re already back at work today.”
The 2,300 or so strikers had downed their tools for six days running in pursuit of two goals: changes to the salary calculation system that would result in a pay rise and an end to what they described as intimidation of their choice of union leader.
The company agreed to review the way salaries are calculated, Alik Aydarbayev, the regional governor, said in remarks reported by Tengri News.
Strikers had been demanding that Burgylau switch to the salary calculation system used by KazMunayGaz, the main state employer in Kazakhstan’s oil industry. The company agreed instead to install a similar system that should see salaries go up by an unspecified amount.
The company had argued that it could not afford to raise salaries, which are already around double the national average, owing to the knock-on effect of low global oil prices.
It will take some time before a satisfactory line is drawn under the shock attack on the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan’s capital last August in which a suspected suicide bomber died and three embassy officials were injured.
At least three people named as suspects by Kyrgyz security services are claiming they had nothing to do with the attack.
Mubarak Turganbayev, who the State Committee National Security (GKNB) believes financed the attack, returned to Kyrgyzstan from Turkey voluntarily on October 4 and was subsequently taken into custody.
Turganbayev, who works for an Istanbul-based firm that arranges the delivery of cargo and cash between Turkey and Central Asia, has protested his innocence since September 7, when he gave an explanation on Facebook as to how he may have been caught up in the web of the investigation.
“A man called Burkhan, who has a restaurant business in Turkey asked to transfer $5,000 to a certain Iskender in Bishkek. The mobile phone number 0709-66-87-40 was indicated. Our staff transferred him the money. I want to say I have not participated in a terror act. A warrant was issued for my arrest without anyone making an attempt to contact me for questioning. I did not flee anywhere, and I am in close contact with the consul of Kyrgyzstan in Istanbul. I do not have and never have had links with terrorists,” Turganbayev wrote.
Burkhaniddin Zhantoraev (presumably the Burkhan in Turganbayev’s account) subsequently declared his innocence, again via Facebook, on September 20, as did Ilyas Sabirov, another Kyrgyz citizen reportedly working at the same firm as Turganbayev.
Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan narrowly passed a draft law on October 5 to criminalize the religious consecration of marriage rites for minors.
If the legislation is approved by President Almazbek Atambayev, clerics officiating such ceremonies could face jail terms of between three and five years, as could parents of the couple.
The vote in parliament marks a volte-face by MPs, who had provoked outrage in May when they rejected proposals to criminalize a ritual known as ‘nikah.’ The changes to the law specifically relate to religious marriage rites, as opposed to nuptials registered with the state. The legal age of marriage in Kyrgyzstan is 18, although that can be lowered by special dispensation.
Supporters of the new law in parliament did not mince their words.
“Let’s call things by their names and not hide behind nice words about national traditions and rites. People under the age of 18 are considered children according to our legislation, so forcing them into marriage or other actions is pedophilia. I ask each man in this room to imagine their daughters while voting. But while you can defend [your daughters] from early marriages, many of our children from poor families don’t have such an opportunity,” Natalia Nikitenko, a member of parliament with the Ata-Meken party, said during a discussion of the bill.
But some MPs resisted the bill on the grounds that it is against what they say is the spirit of Kyrgyz traditions, others questioned whether the law would help bring offending clerics to heel. Social-Democratic Party MP Dastan Bekeshev argued that it would be impossible to find evidence of the illegal rite taking place.
In what looks like a move to tighten the screws yet further in Tajikistan, government officials wishing to travel outside the country are reportedly being required to first seek permission from the presidential administration.
The administration happens to be run by one of President Emomali Rahmon’s daughters, Ozoda Rahmon.
This new rule, which has been reported by news website Tojnews, extends to civil servants in the armed services, diplomats and journalists with state media, among others.
“These instructions were sent to departments in a letter from the office of the president of Tajikistan. The decree requires heads of department to coordinate all their staff’s trips with the presidential apparatus. For this, it is necessary to send a request to the presidential apparatus, and a response will be issued within five days,” Tojnews reported.
Previously, civil servants were granted clearance to leave Tajikistan by the Foreign Ministry. This new arrangement reportedly applies to work and leisure trips alike.
Many Tajik citizens already experience limitations on their right to travel.
For the last couple of years, Tajik students wishing to go abroad could only do so with express permission from the Education Ministry and the security services. The restriction is understood to be a reaction by the authorities to the perception of increased recruitment by terrorist organizations like the Islamic State group. Back in 2015, Rahmon stated that 18 students from Tajikistan had joined Islamic State. No more up-to-date figures are available on the purported recruitment by terror groups.
Any student leaving the country without proper authorization these days runs the risk of expulsion from their place of learning.
A court in Kyrgyzstan’s Chui region held a hearing on October 4 on whether the case of jailed activist Azimjan Askarov should be reopened for fresh investigations.
Once again defying the demands of a UN Human Rights Committee, the court rejected pleas to release Askarov from custody pending further developments.
Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was given a life sentence in September 2010 after being found guilty of inciting a crowd to murder police officers on June 13 that year during deadly inter-communal riots in the southern Kyrgyzstan town of Bazar-Korgon. He has always steadfastly maintained his innocence and pleaded in court to be subjected to a lie detector examination.
The case has grown increasingly toxic over the years and has placed authorities in the impossible position of having to either placate the international community — much of which has argued Askarov was unjustly jailed in a marred trail — or risk stirring the ire of ferociously nationalistic sections of the population.
As in all previous court procedures involving the Askarov case, relatives and colleagues of a policeman purportedly killed at the activist’s instigation were present, angrily raising objections at numerous stages. Askarov too was present in the court, looking weary and sporting a white beard.
In his opening argument, a lawyer for Askarov, Nurbek Toktakunov, said the court should abide by a UN Human Rights Committee request for Askarov to be released. The committee argued in April that Kyrgyzstan had grossly flouted the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights in its treatment of Askarov and said the activist was denied the right to properly prepare for his trial and criticized the manner of his initial detention.
“The collegium of Chui regional court has a superb opportunity to fulfill the decision of he UN committee and let Askarov,” Toktakunov said.