As the world winces at allegations Tajik authorities tortured a BBC journalist, a new cache of Wikileaked US diplomatic cables provides insight into the challenge of even discussing human rights in Tajikistan.
Several of the dispatches date back to an episode in late 2005, when US diplomats tried to organize a roundtable with university students to mark the UN’s Human Rights Day. Why students? Because this is a touchy topic their “government brethren smile at politely and ignore,” then-Ambassador Richard Hoagland writes in a cable, “The Grinch Who Stole Human Rights Day.”
When it comes time to hold the event, behind the scenes officials do everything they can to thwart it. At one university venue, and then the next, Tajik and Russian diplomats used “fabricated excuses that canceled the planned discussions.”
Once Tajikistan’s image is at stake, however, the official tone changes, a cable entitled “The Grinch Changes His Mind” explains. Astutely appealing to authorities’ vanity, an American diplomat dropped word at the MFA that the US embassy was drafting its annual human rights report and “this current development would not reflect at all well in Tajikistan's evaluation.” The Americans were allowed to proceed with their “lecture” – as one Tajik official described it.
“In Tajikistan, we are increasingly convinced that the grade-school lesson of how to react to playground bullies is pertinent: give them an inch and they'll continue to take ten miles,” Hoagland writes.
Life for Tajikistan’s conscripts manning the drug-infested Afghanistan border is dismal. Frequent reports tell us they are cold, hungry and untrained (“recruits fire only nine shots over a 40-day” Russian-led training). But life for their dogs may be even worse, we now have learned thanks to Wikileaked American embassy cables.
Now gold producers will be forbidden from shipping gold ore out of Kyrgyzstan, according to a report by the KyrTAG news agency. Starting next year, gold is only to be processed in-country, an official from the Ministry of Economic Regulation says. Exporters of gold concentrate, a purer mix than ore, will have to pay an extra tax before taking the material out.
Kyrgyzstan doesn’t have the facilities to process gold, admits the head of the ministry’s Department for Large Businesses, Emil Orozbekov. But how are investors supposed to read this? Should they start building processing facilities? Or give up?
"Some companies export gold ore and concentrates to process them in other countries, for example Kazakhstan and Russia. Kyrgyzstan has imposed a ban on the export of ore and increased export duties for gold concentrates from 2012," Orozbekov said. Kyrgyzstan does not have the experience processing ore and concentrates, “that is why many businessmen take the raw material abroad. In this way, we lose profits from the added value," he continued.
There are times in Central Asia when one feels like every day is April Fools’.
Consider the news, reported on several Tajik news sites, that President Emomali Rakhmon has been awarded the title of “Leader of the 21st Century.”
The honorific comes courtesy of an obscure think-tank, the European Council on International Relations (not to be confused with the European Council on Foreign Relations).
As Anton Caragea, the president and possibly the only member of the ECIR, explains, the “title is seldom awarded and only after a very carefully examination, as the receivers are leaders of the century, there work all thou concentrated in a year is reflecting decades of actions and achievements with positive influence over peoples and countries [sic sic sic].”
So what is it that Rakhmon has done to earn this title, the awarding of which has been trumpeted prominently on Tajikistan’s state television?
The Academic Committee of the European Council on International Relations, presided by Caragea, helpfully provides a list. A lightly edited couple of points follow:
- Combating corruption and promoting respect for human dignity, clean governance and free media and supporting the construction of the edifice of democracy in Tajikistan with human rights, assured liberties and social justice and protection programs.
- Constructing sustainable economic growth in Tajikistan, rapid economic development and a solid free market economy based on even income distribution.
Eighty-three. That’s the number of men and women who have declared their candidacy for Kyrgyzstan’s presidency. The skeptic might say Bishkek, scene of near-daily protests since ushering out President Kurmanbek Bakiyev last year, is drowning in democracy. And that would not be far from the truth. But Kyrgyzstan is also possibly holding the first presidential election in Central Asian history where the outcome is uncertain.
Registration for aspirants wishing to compete in the October 30 polls ended August 16. Parties nominated only 16 candidates. The rest -- from the “temporarily unemployed” to former military officers and recycled political hacks -- nominated themselves.
Most of us will never learn half their names. A majority of the 83 is expected to drop out before September 25, when campaigning officially begins and candidates must hand over 100,000 soms ($2,250) and 30,000 supporting signatures. All candidates must also pass a live, televised Kyrgyz-language exam.
Observers doubt fresh leadership will emerge from the contest. The most prominent contestants have all enjoyed various stints in recent governments. But for many in Kyrgyzstan, a larger concern is the country’s salient north-south political divide. Exacerbated by Bakiyev’s bloody ouster, that rift is likely to grow wider during elections. Several of the most prominent candidates enjoy strong regional followings and it is unlikely any one can win broad support across the whole country.
Attacks on journalists are common in Kyrgyzstan. Attacks on Uzbeks are also common. Ergo, there is nothing surprising about an attack on an Uzbek journalist.
Shokhrukh Saipov was violently attacked in broad daylight on August 10. Saipov, 26, publishes UZpress.kg, which has reported on simmering ethnic tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan since violence last year left over 400 people, mostly Uzbeks, dead.
Shokhrukh is the younger brother of the late Alisher Saipov, a journalist murdered outside his Osh office in 2007.
“Half his face was missing,” Shokhrukh’s father, Avas, said, in comments carried by Uznews.net. Avas fears his son did not receive adequate medical care because of his ethnicity, the report said. That is a legitimate concern given the rise of aggressive Kyrgyz nationalism since the ethnic violence.
Russian government data shows there were 9.9 million foreign nationals living in Russia as of July 8, the Rossii'skaia Gazeta newspaper reported on August 2.
Most newcomers arrived from former Soviet republics and fell into the category of labor migrants. Not surprisingly, the Moscow Region was the most popular destination for labor migrants. The largest overall share of foreigners (21.8 percent) came from Ukraine, while Uzbek citizens comprised 15.6 percent. Other shares of Central Asian nationals were as follows: Kazakhstan, 9.6 percent; Tajikistan, 7.6 percent; and Kyrgyzstan, 3.67 percent
More than 83.2 billion rubles (roughly $2.83 billion) were transferred abroad from Russia during the first four months of 2011, according to a July 11 report in Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti. That figure represented 34 percent increase in remittances in comparison with the same period in 2010. Labor migrants from former Soviet republics were responsible for making the majority of money transfers.
On the receiving end of the cash flow, Kyrgyz National Bank statistics showed that in 2010 Kyrgyz labor migrants in Russia sent the equivalent of $1.6 billion back home, Nezavisimaia Gazeta reported on July 29. The amount of remittances increased between roughly 30 percent during the first half of 2011, compared with the same period the previous year.
Police in southern Kyrgyzstan continue their systematic persecution of minority ethnic Uzbeks, extorting, torturing and killing with impunity, says a prominent human rights group, citing the latest example of police beating an Uzbek to death.
It’s bad enough Uzbeks are being forbidden from rebuilding in Osh, after suffering the worst of the ethnic clashes last summer that left many of their neighborhoods smoldering ruins. Targeted police violence continues and few, if any, officials have been prosecuted. From Human Rights Watch’s latest news release:
The policemen allegedly tortured Khalmurzaev for several hours, trying to extort money from him in exchange for his release. He told his wife that as soon as he was taken into the station, the police put a gas mask on him and started punching him. When he fell down, one of the operatives, using his knees, jumped on Khalmurzaev’s chest two or three times. Khalmurzaev said he lost consciousness.
When he regained consciousness, he told his wife, the police threatened that if he did not pay, they would frame him on charges of involvement in an attack during the June 2010 violence. They finally agreed to accept $680, which his family brought, and he was released at about 8 p.m., his wife said. Police told him they would harm his family if he told anyone what had happened.
Some might find the timing a little offensive. On the second day of the holy month of Ramadan, Tajikistan’s president has banned children from entering mosques.
Ignoring resistance from the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), human rights groups and the United States, Rakhmon signed the law -- which breezed through Tajikistan’s two rubber-stamp chambers of parliament -- on August 2, Dushanbe’s Asia-Plus news agency reported.
Rakhmon has overseen a risky set of measures to stem the rising influence of Islam lately. As The Economist recently argued, “driving believers underground” is not the most logical way to combat faith:
Late last year Mr Rakhmon’s government stepped up a campaign to close unregistered mosques, while making it almost impossible for new mosques to register, even though government officials write the sermons. Then he ordered thousands of students of Islam abroad to return home, without offering them an alternative once they arrived. This spring police took to harassing bearded men on the streets. A professional footballer was told to shave or get off the team.
Just how hazardous is it to report in Afghanistan? A graphic new picture of the sometimes lethal dangers facing journalists, mostly Afghan, over the past ten years details what we’ve all expected – it’s bad and getting worse.
The interactive map -- which highlights cases of harassment, beatings, kidnappings and other dangers, including murder – was just released by Nai, a media development organization based in Kabul. Nai collected the data on the 266 security incidents recorded (so far).
Each event includes a suspect: On May 27, 2006, for example, a male journalist from Aina TV was beaten on his way to parliament in Kabul, allegedly by the “president’s security officers.” In fact, sundry government officials are accused of carrying out a majority of the physical attacks, and issuing the most threats, the data shows.
“This interactive map enables us to tell the story of the struggles journalists face daily in Afghanistan, reaching potentially millions of people across the world - at a glance!” said Mujeeb Khalvatgar, Director of Nai. “Prior to this our detailed records of threats against journalists were published in reports and through radio, but could not convey the message so simply and succinctly,” said Khalvatgar.
Mousing over the map, for example, gives users the historical trend for a particular area where an attack has occurred. Data can be filtered by year, and viewed by province. The site also provides easily accessible information on the number of attacks, the media organization and gender of those targeted, and a safety index.