Aleksei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure and a candidate for Moscow mayor, has reached out to the city’s migrant communities, meeting with eight migrant rights activists on August 16, according to the weekly Bolshoy Gorod (“Big City”) Magazine.
News of the meeting so far appears limited to comments by one participant, since the Navalny campaign asked participants not to disclose the contents of the discussion, promising to release a video of the event. (Those comments by Bella Shakhmirza, founder of the Face to Face lecture series on ethnic relations in Russia, give little away. She describes Navalny’s position as “frightening” and “nationalist,” while calling him “charismatic” and characterizing the atmosphere of the meeting as “very good.”)
But given Navalny’s penchant for outright ethnic slurs against people of the Caucasus and Central Asia in the past, the fact that the meeting took place at all appears to be a nod toward the potential influence of Moscow’s migrants – and their sympathizers – in the September 8 vote, which includes regional elections in eight federal entities of Russia and several mayoral races in major cities.
A former lawyer for one of the two students from Kazakhstan implicated in the Boston Marathon bombing has published an impassioned plea for leniency, arguing that the prospect of 25 years in prison for the two teens for exercising “world-class bad judgment under the worst of possible scenarios” would be too harsh a punishment.
Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, both from Kazakhstan, allegedly took and dumped a backpack with emptied fireworks from Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s dorm room after seeing their friend named as a suspect on TV several days after the bombings. On August 13, Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev entered a plea of “not guilty” on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice in Boston’s Federal District Court.
In a commentary for Slate, Harlan Protass, Tazhayakov’s former lawyer, argues that locking up two 19-year-olds till they’ve reached their 30’s or 40’s is not the best way to prevent future tampering with evidence by others. That may be a bit inside baseball if you don’t live in the United States, since it plays into broader American debates about sentencing and prison reform, as well as the power of federal prosecutors.
This just in from the Uzbek Ministry of No Fun: For the remainder of the holy month of Ramadan, government employees, which in authoritarian Uzbekistan includes not only ministry and law enforcement workers, but also those toiling for government-run banks and medical clinics, shall go straight home after work and not consort with anyone.
So reports the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe. Apparently, it is not bad enough that Ramadan, which requires Muslims to fast during the day and eat only after sundown, falls this year during the longest days and hottest part of summer in blistering Central Asia. As part of its continued crackdown on religion, the Uzbek government has decided to put the kibosh on the daily ritual celebrating the day’s end known as Iftar, which involves friends and family gathering for food and relaxation.
It’s not clear who issued the new rule, but it is leading to some predictable absurdities.
According to Radio Ozodliq, via the Russian-language Lenta.ru, for instance, employees of the state-owned Halk Bank have been asked to go straight home after work as per a special decree of the company’s human resources department. Eateries in Tashkent, the report says, have been forbidden from letting the pious break fast on their premises, despite the fact that reservation-takers find it impossible to distinguish those hoping to get a table for Iftar from those simply hoping to stop in for an evening meal.
They carried banners advertising a virtual tweet-march through Moscow, where a real Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Parade was banned in 2012 for the next 100 years, and calling on Westerners to boycott Russian vodka. But, persecuted at home, Russian speakers from the former Soviet Union reveled in the opportunity to celebrate their sexual orientation during New York’s recent Pride Parade.
“I came to be happy and to show that we can have this kind of happiness back home,” commented Anton Krasovksy, a TV journalist who has become a crusader for gay rights in Russia since coming out on national television in January – and promptly losing his job.
“I really want for people in other countries – countries of Central Asia and the former Soviet Union, in Kazakhstan and Belarus, and even in Eastern Europe, where there is discrimination – to see that things can be completely different. It could be not now, but at some point,” added Krasovsky, whose Kontr TV Channel was shut down after his coming out.
Cheered by hundreds of thousands of onlookers as they made their way down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan as part of the 44th annual New York Pride Parade on June 30, many of the 150 Russian-speakers and sympathizers who marched under the banner of RUSA LGBT, New York’s Russian-speaking gay and lesbian association, shared the sentiment.
The Kremlin-aligned Vesti.ru website is reporting that a Turkmen citizen fighting with Islamic militants in Syria has been captured by pro-government forces near Aleppo. The prisoner, identified as Ravshan Gazakov, is supposedly a “commander of suicide bombers in one of the squads” operated by the Al Nursa Front, a militant group affiliated with al Qaeda, the report states.
Gazakov – also known as Abu Abdulla, according to Vesti – was reportedly taken prisoner by the Syrian army as part of “Operation Northern Storm.” In seizing his laptop, the army purportedly found footage of Gazakov instructing a suicide bomber and sending him on his way to blow up a government outpost in Aleppo.
There are lots of holes in the Vesti story: it doesn’t say, for example, exactly when or how Gazakov was taken prisoner, or offer a credible explanation as to why a supposed head of a suicide unit would allow himself to be taken alive. There is also no indication how Vesti’s Evgeniy Poddubnyy, the credited author of the report, obtained his intel. Thus, there’s always a chance that this report is mostly Kremlin disinformation.
But if it’s accurate, a quote attributed to Gazakov, in which he describes his own training, is of particular interest for those who follow Central Asian security matters.
“I went through an initial training near Ashgabat as part of Shaikh Murad’s squad, later was sent to Istanbul,” Gazakov is quoted as saying. “There, our group was met by a [operative] from al Qaeda - I don’t know his name - who sent us to a camp on the border with Syria. There we were taught to make bombs, detonators, to mount explosives. We had different instructors, many from the former USSR, Arabs from Europe, from Jordan and from Qatar. Then we crossed the border and made bombs near Aleppo.”
Four former-Soviet immigrants appear to be at the center of what federal prosecutors in the United States are calling a $6 billion money laundering operation conducted entirely on the internet, according to an indictment made public by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
On May 28, the court announced the arrest of Arthur Belanchuk Budovsky, 39, Vladimir Kats, 41, Mark Marmilev, 33, and Maxim Chukharev, 27, along with a fifth suspect, Azzedine El Amine 46, on May 24 in New York, Spain, and Costa Rica, in connection with a digital money transfer site known as Liberty Reserve. The site, whose domain www.libertyreserve.com has also been seized by authorities, was used to conduct some 55 million transactions to transfer proceeds obtained largely from criminal activity such as “credit card fraud, identity theft, investment fraud, computer hacking, child pornography, and narcotics trafficking,” the indictment alleges.
A festival of films from Central Asia, Turkey, and Central Europe was set to conclude in New York on May 24 with the screening of the highly acclaimed Uzbek film “Parizod.”
The New York Eurasian Film Festival,opened May 20, with a slate of more than 20 shorts and feature-length pictures from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Poland, and Bulgaria. Brooklyn’s St. Francis College hosted the second annual event.
Most of the films in the festival had never previously been shown in the United States, and some had garnered high praise elsewhere. Parizod, for example, won the Grand Prix at Latvia’s Kinoshok festival. Loosely translated as “Heaven – My Abode,” the film, named after the title character, follows the story of a woman with mystical powers who appears out of a cloud of mist only to change the lives of her benefactors, who try to find her a suitable husband.
The Eurasian Film Festival is the brainchild of Hakki Subentekin, a New York-based filmmaker originally from Turkey, and Yuliya Tikhonova, a Moscow-born curator and founder of the Brooklyn House of Kulture -- “an experimental curatorial model created to allow artists to work within communities,” according to Tikhonova’s own online description.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the group responsible for the recent, enormous data dump exposing offshore banking practices, is making its articles available in one online location.
The articles, many of which first appeared in news sources throughout the world, pay special attention to intermediary companies located in tax havens such as Singapore and the Virgin Islands, that set up accounts using fake - sometimes dead - straw man directors and shareholders. Companies, documents show, fail to do due diligence to find out the source of the money, and, often, encourage account holders to withhold real identities.
An update on the story we brought you earlier regarding a possible bicycle ban in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Authorities, it turns out, are introducing an array of new traffic rules in the city – and not just for bicyclists.
The new regulations extend to cart drivers and those riding livestock.
Lenta.ru reports only those older than 14 will now be allowed to “control bicycles, carrier carts, or drive equine animals and livestock.” In addition, those vehicles must stagger themselves in a way that allows faster transport to pass them; and they may use the sidewalk, so long as pedestrian traffic is not impeded.
Finally, bicyclists may not ride with only one hand on the steering or carry passengers.
(Rest assured: we'll keep you posted on any developing news on bike and livestock-driving rules as they arise.)
A band of crooks in Kazakhstan seems to think that a mine is a terrible thing to waste - but authorities see things differently.
Officials in Kazakhstan have announced they charged “several” people involved in a case of illegal gold mining in the western village of Bestyube in Akmol Province, Russia’s Lenta.ru, is reporting. Another suspect, who appears to have been a co-organizer of the illegal operation, remains on the lam and faces an Interpol warrant. The illegal mining operation is believed to have started in 2012, Lenta.ru reported.
In the course of the investigation, police discovered “at least seven” units of drilling and sifting equipment at several addresses, as well as more than six kilos of ore containing gold materials worth about $265,000, according to Lenta.ru. A separate report distributed by the newskaz.ru website stated that several units of processing equipment were discovered at seven addresses. Neither outlet named the suspects. The ore came from mines belonging to the Kazakh nationalized mining agency, Kazakhaltyn.
Several news outlets also reported a sinister-sounding development: one of the suspects is said to be one of the leaders of Bestobe Jaamat, a Salafi Islamist group. While not illegal in Kazakhstan, the movement, which advocates adherence to a pure form of Islam, is considered radical and “non-traditional.” The newskaz.ru report throws in a mention of unregistered weapons being discovered alongside the ore.