Gay men are not welcome in Kazakhstan’s military on the grounds that the state classifies homosexuality as a “disorder,” Defense Minister Adilbek Dzhaksybekov has declared.
Asked by a visitor to his official blog if gay men are called up for Kazakhstan's mandatory army service, Dzhaksybekov ruled this out on the grounds that homosexuality is a “disorder of sexual desire” that prevents “entry into military service in the armed forces, other forces and military formations of the Republic of Kazakhstan.”
Citing the health requirements soldiers have to meet by law (which do not explicitly rule out such “disorders” but establish mental health standards), Dzhaksybekov said that homosexuality is determined through psychiatric checks.
This attitude harks back to Soviet times, when homosexuality was classed as a mental disorder and sodomy was punishable by law (most former Soviet countries, including Kazakhstan, have now decriminalized it).
The question of whether homosexuals can serve in Kazakhstan’s military has not featured prominently on the agenda in the past, but the defense minister’s remarks place Kazakhstan among countries that explicitly ban them from serving.
The policy is at odds with practice in neighboring Russia, where gay men and women are allowed to serve. The United States has relaxed its policy in recent years, abandoning its “don’t ask don’t tell” strategy -- which barred openly gay people from serving -- last year.
UPDATE: On June 14 Asia-Plus reported, and local users confirm, the site is again available in Tajikistan.
Authorities in Tajikistan blocked access on June 12 to a widely read, independent online news service.
Dushanbe-based Asia-Plus is still publishing at news.tj with the help of proxy servers, but the content is not available to Internet users in Tajikistan. Users can, however, continue to access the site’s content on Asia-Plus’ Facebook page or through widely available proxy servers.
The head of the state agency in charge of IT and telecommunications, Beg Zukhurov, reportedly told Asia-Plus that the site was blocked because editors refused to pull comments that included slander and insults aimed at high-placed officials.
The website took down one comment Zukhurov found objectionable and he promised the site would be unblocked soon.
Asia-Plus regularly publishes material critical of the government of President Emomali Rakhmon, who has been in office since 1992. While the government jams some foreign news sites, it has not yet blocked such a prominent local source of news. The comments section of Asia-Plus is often full of wild innuendo and libelous anonymous commentary, as are comments sections on news sites around the world. Perhaps a reader wrote something that struck a particular nerve?
As southern Kyrgyzstan marks the second anniversary of ethnic clashes between its Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities, local and international rights activists are concerned about wounds that continue to fester, and what they describe as ongoing discrimination against the Uzbek minority.
Amnesty International released a report June 8 that it says “outlines the failure of the Kyrgyzstani authorities to fairly and effectively investigate the June 2010 violence,” which killed hundreds and displaced hundreds of thousands.
“There are wounds that time will not heal. Truth, accountability and justice are the only tools that will mend the bridges between the two ethnic communities,” Maisy Weicherding of Amnesty said in a statement.
As Amnesty pointed out, during the June 10-14 violence in 2010, both the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities were involved in “killings, looting and rampaging” in and around Osh, but most injuries and deaths were suffered by ethnic Uzbeks.
An internationally led inquiry found that 470 people were killed, 74 percent of whom were Uzbeks. Nevertheless, the inquiry said ethnic Uzbeks were accused of murder over 30 times more often than members of the Kyrgyz community. Bishkek subsequently rejected the findings of that inquiry.
It’s a high-stakes time of the year in Kazakhstan as graduating high school students head into the make-or-break final exam that will determine their future prospects. Some are leaving nothing to chance, local media report.
Invigilators in Karaganda were surprised to see one girl sitting the test with an enormous beehive hairdo – only 60 years out of date. Exploring her fluffy 'do, they discovered that she hadn’t suddenly developed a taste for 1950s fashion. No, she’d deliberately cultivated her beehive to conceal a cellphone to cheat in the exam.
The girl was allowed to sit the test after the telephone was painstakingly untangled from her hair, presumably in recognition of the amusement value her prank had caused.
The lengths she went in order to cheat seem miniscule in comparison to the efforts of a student in Ridder in northern Kazakhstan: This high school senior went to the trouble of typing out a crib sheet that stretched to an astonishing 11 meters and contained 25,000 answers, reports local website YK-news.kz.
Despite security checks, the enterprising student managed to smuggle it into the exam hall folded into sections. But there his luck ended: It was confiscated by officers from the domestic intelligence service, the KNB, who were conducting checks.
Every year the ENT national standardized exam brings new controversies: over the exam’s multi-choice format, which critics say fails to test critical-thinking skills; and over cheating, with irrepressible students trying new tricks each spring.
American airmen at the Manas Transit Center outside of Bishkek could be smuggling drugs on their military planes, says a senior Kyrgyz official, and their cargoes should be subject to inspection by Kyrgyz authorities.
The recommendation came from the head of Kyrgyzstan’s drug control agency, Vitaly Orozaliyev, who was speaking before a parliamentary committee on June 5, 24.kg reported.
According to Orozaliyev, under current agreements neither the cargo that comes to Manas, nor its workers, are subject to searches. “Yes, there’s been information about narcotics. We have held talks with our Russian and American colleagues about this and believe it would be right to raise the issue of searching cargo shipments coming into the transit center.”
It’s been known to happen elsewhere.
Maybe Orozaliyev has seen “American Gangster,” the 2007 Ridley Scott film based on the true story of Frank Lucas. Lucas collaborated with American troops in Vietnam to ship home high-quality heroin (in coffins of dead servicemen) and build a narcotics empire in New York in the 1970s.
Since then, the heart of the heroin industry has shifted from Southeast Asia to Afghanistan, which now produces over 90 percent of the world’s opiates. And the trade in Afghan heroin through Central Asia is worth billions of dollars. So at the tail end of another disastrous war in an opium-rich region, it’s not hard to follow Orozaliyev’s logic.
China’s top military officer, Gen. Chen Bingde, is making an extended visit to Central Asia in advance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Beijing.
Chen’s first stop on his Central Asian swing was Uzbekistan, where he held talks on May 31 with Uzbek Defense Minister Kabul Berdiev. "Uzbekistan firmly sticks to the one-China policy and supports China's stance on issues related to Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet," the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reported. During meetings with other Uzbek military officials, Chen expressed a desire for an expansion of “pragmatic cooperation” between Beijing and Tashkent, according to a separate Xinhua report.
Also on Chen’s itinerary are stops in Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. While in Tajikistan, Chen, who serves as the chief of People’s Liberation Army’s general staff, will attend a meeting of SCO military chiefs on June 7 in Tajikistan, according to the People’s Daily online. He is also slated to attend a SCO-sponsored counter-terrorism exercise in Tajikistan that will run from June 8-14.
Meanwhile, Tajik President Imomali Rahmon, is wrapping up a five-day visit to China that began on June 1. Following the bilateral portion of his trip, Rahmon will attend the Beijing SCO summit on June 6-7.
It’s rare the West has anything nice to say about the state of press freedom in Tajikistan. But this week, Dushanbe got some deserved praise.
On May 31, the lower house of parliament unanimously approved the president’s March proposal to remove libel and insult from the criminal code, and make them administrative offenses carrying fines but no jail time. The senate and the president must still approve the change.
“I welcome President Emomali Rakhmon’s initiative and the Parliament’s subsequent steps to decriminalize defamation. Once implemented, they will help safeguard freedom of expression and freedom of the media in Tajikistan,” said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatović.
Tajik prosecutors regularly use libel charges to silence critical journalists, selectively interpreting legal provisions as necessary, says Freedom House. “Independent journalism has been marginalized” under Rakhmon, the watchdog wrote in its latest report on press freedom in Tajikistan. Moreover, “journalists who criticize authorities or expose government corruption continue to report threats and intimidation.” Last month, a television presenter in Dushanbe was attacked and hospitalized shortly after announcing a new project to report on cronyism and corruption.
Twelve border guards have been found dead at a frontier post in southeastern Kazakhstan, local media report.
A top Border Service official confirmed on May 31 that an investigation was under way after the “charred remains of 13 people” had been discovered in a burnt-out border post the previous day.
The bodies of 12 border guards and one national park ranger have so far been found at the Argkankergen post on the Chinese frontier and the search continues for others, Turganbek Stambekov, first deputy director of the Border Service (which comes under the jurisdiction of Kazakhstan’s domestic intelligence service, the KNB), said. He did not specify if the fire was the cause of death.
Fuelling media suspicions of foul play, Stambekov said the border post is usually staffed by 15 guards in the summer, but gave no indication of the whereabouts of the missing three.
Speculating about what might be behind this unusual incident, local reports suggested an attack on the border detachment (though the possible motive is unclear) or hazing -- it is common in post-Soviet military units for senior soldiers to ritually harass and bully their juniors.
Initial reports that the frontier guards’ weapons were missing were not true, a Border Service source told the Kazinform state news agency. The source said the weapons had been found and sent for tests to see if they had been fired.
Five police officers have received prison sentences for shooting protestors in Zhanaozen during unrest last December in which at least 16 protestors died, media in Kazakhstan are reporting.
The officers, who denied the charges they abused their office, were sentenced on May 28 to between five and seven years for the December 16 shootings.
State prosecutors alleged that the officers fired on protestors when they could have used non-lethal force. Prosecutors showed the court video of police shooting fleeing demonstrators in the back.
Kabdygali Utegaliyev, former deputy police chief of Mangystau Region, received seven years, the longest sentence. Three other officers (Yerlan Bakytkaliuly, deputy police chief of Zhanaozen; Rinat Zholdybayev, senior operations officer; and Bekzhan Bagdabayev, head of the department for combating extremism) were sentenced to six years. Nurlan Yesbergenov, a senior interrogator, got five years.
The sentencing brings the number of police officers who have received jail terms over the deaths to six: The former head of Zhanaozen’s remand center received a five-year sentence over the death of a detainee in police custody.
German troops in Afghanistan may soon have to go without mustard for their weisswurst. According to Russian media reports, a resupply truck convoy carrying food for German soldiers is experiencing a major delay at the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.
According to Zakir Tilenov, chief of the Kyrgyz Border Guard Service, the resupply trucks bound for the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif cannot pass through the Karamyk crossing into Tajikistan due to an existing bilateral treaty provision that allows only Kyrgyz and Tajik carriers to use that particular route. The trucks have been stuck for more than a week now.
The Interfax News Agency reports that the German Embassy in Bishkek sent an official letter to the Kyrgyz Parliament asking for help in resolving the issue. Tokon Mamytov, the chairman of parliament’s Committee on Defense and Security, has expressed support for amending the treaty to enable freight carriers involved in the Afghan War resupply effort to use the crossing. In the meantime, Mamytov and other members of the Defense Committee want the government to take action.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan participate in the Northern Distribution Network, a web of air, road and rail links in Central Asia and have emerged as the primary resupply line for US and NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan. Using the Karamyk checkpoint could cut up to 200 miles off a transit route for NDN-related, Afghan-bound haulers that passes through Tajikistan, according to a report in the Russian newspaper Vzglyad.