A court in Tajikistan has sentenced a former minister and fledgling opposition leader to 26 years in prison on charges his supporters say are politically motivated.
The Supreme Court found Zaid Saidov, 55, guilty of fraud, corruption, statutory rape and polygamy, local media reported. In a closed session on December 25, the court ruled that Saidov’s property should be confiscated.
Many saw in the ordeal a blatant attempt to silence a charming reformist, while seizing the assets – involving construction, textiles and real estate – of one of Tajikistan’s wealthiest businessmen. For certain, the case gaged Saidov before the carefully stage-managed presidential election in November, which President Emomali Rakhmon went on to contest without rivals. The OSCE monitoring mission described “a lack of pluralism and genuine choice,” noting "serious problems" with ballot box stuffing, interfering authorities, and a count that "often lacked transparency."
Similar charges are often leveled against Tajikistan’s courts.
Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon has appointed his son to head the country’s Customs Service, the president’s website reported today. Many have long believed Rakhmon is grooming the 26-year-old Rustam Emomali to be his successor; today’s announcement will certainly cement those views.
Rakhmon held the first meeting of his new cabinet on November 30. The strongman, in his 21st year in power, dismissed the government earlier this month after winning a fourth term in a poll widely derided as farcical. Rakhmon regularly reshuffles senior leaders in a process that ensures few others gain significant power or build strong patronage networks.
For almost three years, the younger Emomali had been deputy head of the Customs Service in charge of combatting smuggling. He has also served on the capital’s city council, worked at the State Committee for Investments and State Property Management and as deputy head of the national football federation, according to Asia-Plus. He is also a founder and part owner of Dushanbe’s Istiqlol Football Club.
The world’s largest aluminum company says it has won $275 million in damages from Tajikistan’s largest enterprise.
Moscow-based Rusal said in an emailed statement on October 16 that a Swiss tribunal had found the Tajik Aluminum Company (TALCO) in breach of two 2003 agreements with Rusal subsidiary Hamer Investing, Ltd. Under those agreements, Hamer had supplied TALCO raw materials for which the state-run Tajik company had failed to pay. The tribunal ordered TALCO to pay damages in excess of $112 million, approximately $147 million in interest, and almost $15 million in legal fees, the Rusal statement said.
The statement also said the tribunal had thrown out TALCO's $400 million counterclaim, in which the company argued that Hamer’s original contracts should be deemed invalid as they had been won by corrupt means.
Rusal “intends to make every effort to enforce the award in all relevant jurisdictions in the event that TALCO does not voluntarily comply with the award,” the statement said.
TALCO spokesman Igor Sattarov said the Russian giant had broken a confidentiality agreement. In comments carried by the Asia-Plus news agency on October 16, he suggested that TALCO could appeal since, “according to international norms, the [legal] procedure is quite long and provides for a few more stages” – including a hearing in a Tajik court.
Dushanbe hosted a conference on water this week, attended by some 900 representatives from over 70 countries and organizations. Despite a heartening appearance by a delegation from Tajikistan’s archrival, Uzbekistan, the conference didn’t appear to do much to help end one of the region’s most pernicious conflicts.
Discussing water-related cooperation in Dushanbe seems like a good idea considering the long-running friction over water in the region. Upstream, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are planning giant hydropower dams to harness the potential of their mountain rivers. Downstream, agriculture-dependent Uzbekistan is vehemently opposed, using economic blockades to prevent Tajikistan proceeding. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has even suggested the projects – Rogun in Tajikistan and Kambara-Ata in Kyrgyzstan – could spark war.
So the biggest surprise is that Uzbekistan sent a delegation at all. Tashkent and Dushanbe hardly speak these days, largely thanks to the Rogun project, which, at a planned 335 meters, would be the tallest in the world.
It’s been another bad week for critics of Tajikistan’s long-serving strongman, Emomali Rahmon.
On July 18, police announced they had found a body appearing to be that of Salim Shamsiddinov, the missing leader of the Uzbek minority in Tajikistan, downstream in Uzbekistan. Shamsiddinov, 58, vanished without a trace during a regular morning run in his hometown of Qurghonteppa on March 16. A consistent critic of Dushanbe’s policies towards its one-million-plus Uzbek community, many, including Amnesty International, suspected his disappearance was related to his political activities. Shamsiddinov had previously been beaten outside the local offices of the security services, the GKNB, in broad daylight. From our March story:
One prominent analyst in Dushanbe sees two possibilities behind Shamsiddinov’s disappearance. On the one hand, he says the GKNB – which regularly faces allegations of intimidation, kidnappings, torture and extra-judicial executions – is a likely culprit. The GKNB, this popular theory goes, wanted to silence Shamsiddinov because he had been cavorting with one of Rakhmon’s political rivals ahead of presidential elections scheduled for November.
The analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of provoking the powerful GKNB, also points out, however, that Shamsiddinov had problems within the Society of Uzbeks, especially since his Millat interview, and his disappearance could be related to power struggles within the organization.
Reports about Jennifer Lopez’s weekend birthday tribute to Turkmenistan’s president have mostly focused on her apparent lack of concern for the country’s staggering human rights abuses and systemic repression – her pleas of ignorance notwithstanding.
But The Wall Street Journal probes why it was China’s state-run gas company that paid for J.Lo to sing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” at 56-year-old Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s glittery birthday bash on June 29.
Good question. And the answer, in part, lies in the multiplier effect of an opaque, cronyistic, energy-hungry economic powerhouse doing business in an opaque, cronyistic, energy-rich dictatorship.
Turkmenistan, home to the world’s fourth-largest gas reserves, is integral to China’s energy plans. As analyst Alexandros Petersen wrote recently, Beijing has made Turkmenistan “the spoke at the center of its regional wheel of energy infrastructure” by building the 6,000-mile Central Asia-China gas pipeline, which opened in 2009. The pipeline is expected to carry 60 billion cubic meters a year, and connects to one of the world’s largest gas fields, Galkynysh, which is slated to come online this fall during a visit to Turkmenistan by the Chinese president.
Importantly for Berdymukhamedov, the pipeline helps him diversify: Previously most of Turkmenistan’s gas infrastructure pointed toward Russia, where it was bought at discount rates.
UPDATE: The publicist for J.Lo (or J-Low, as she's being called on Twitter) has effectively admitted not knowing how to use Google: "Had there been knowledge of human rights issues [of] any kind, Jennifer would not have attended," the Associated Press quoted her representative as saying.
Pop star Jennifer Lopez performed at a glitzy birthday bash for the dictator of totalitarian, gas-rich Turkmenistan on Saturday, AFP reported, prompting fury from human rights activists.
Held at President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s multi-billion-dollar Avaza resort on the Caspian Sea, the party was a gift from the China National Petroleum Corporation, a company representative told AFP. In 2009 CNPC opened a pipeline carrying Turkmen natural gas to China.
Dressed in a clingy outfit, the singer danced with half-naked backing dancers and shook her famous behind in a rare performance for the Muslim country, watched by ministers, ambassadors and chief executives of state-owned companies, all of whom applauded enthusiastically.
She later appeared in a traditional Turkmen dress to sing "Happy birthday, Mr President" along with stars from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and China.
Berdymukhamedov's 56th birthday bash at the glitzy resort in Avaza, which means "land of singing waves", is officially tied to Turkmen cultural week, which culminated on Saturday with the opening of a yacht club at the resort and a firework display which lasted 20 minutes.
It turns out the rumors are true: Emomali Rakhmon of Tajikistan can boogie. (And maybe he likes a tipple.)
Videos that appeared online this week shows the Tajik strongman moving gracefully around a gilded ballroom, arms outstretched, wrists flicking, as he performs some fast-footed local dance moves.
In one video, the president belts out a duet (some might encourage him to stick to dancing) as the powerful Dushanbe mayor and potential rival Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloyev drifts in and out of the frame clapping his hands. In the background, Rakhmon’s eldest son stands stone-faced, hand over chest, with a veiled bride.
The videos were shot, says CA-news.org, in June 2009 at the wedding of Rustam Emomali, Rakhmon’s son and presumed heir. Coincidence, or perhaps not, this week YouTube was blocked again in Tajikistan. Users report the video-sharing site is down for the third time in the past year.
The head of Tajikistan’s Association of Internet Providers, Asomiddin Atoev, told RIA Novosti that the order to block the site came from the state communications agency. As is customary, the communications agency is not disclosing its reasoning. Over the past year the agency has regularly blocked YouTube and Facebook, as well as a host of critical news sites, often with enigmatic explanations: for example, claiming the site needs “prophylactic maintenance.” If the YouTube ban is indeed related the wedding videos, it is still unclear whether the move would have been ordered by Rakhmon himself or some over-cautious sycophants.
Behind closed doors, this week a Tajik court ruled in a controversial libel case. To no one’s surprise the plaintiff – the son of a high-ranking government official – won. That Tajikistan’s rich and powerful use courts to bully the media is nothing new, but, this time, the process has exposed Tajiks’ apparently widespread hatred for their country’s judiciary.
In 2010, Rustam Khukumov was sentenced to almost 10 years in a Russian prison, charged, along with three other Tajik nationals, with possessing nine kilos of heroin.
Khukumov is the son of the powerful head of Tajikistan’s railway boss, Amonullo Khukumov. The senior Khukumov is an ally and relative of the Tajik strongman, President Emomali Rakhmon (Khukumov is father-in-law to Rakhmon’s daughter). Could that have anything to do with why the Khukumov scion was released early, under murky circumstances, only a year into his jail term?
For asking that question, the weekly “Imruz News” now owes Khukumov over $10,500 in “moral damages,” a Dushanbe court ruled on February 25. The paper vows to appeal, which means more embarrassing attention on Khukumov.
Thousands of migrant workers, many from Central Asia and the Caucasus, are toiling in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi to help stage the most expensive Olympic Games in history. Many are abused and exploited, working in miserable conditions for little or no pay, Human Rights Watch said today.
Released a year before the games kick off, the 67-page report, entitled “Race to the Bottom: Exploitation of Migrant Workers Ahead of Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi,” documents gross violations of Russian and international law, as well as the Olympic spirit.
Tens of thousands of workers, including an estimated 16,000 workers from outside Russia, are helping prepare Sochi for the showcase games, which open next February 7. Human Rights Watch (HRW) focused on these migrant laborers because, compared with Russian workers, they are particularly vulnerable to abuse. Researchers interviewed 66 construction workers from Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Serbia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine.
Migrant workers said employers subjected them to a range of abuses and exploitation, including: failing to pay full wages, excessively delaying payment of wages, and in some cases failing to pay any wages at all; withholding identity documents, such as passports and work permits; failing to provide employment contracts, or failure to respect terms of a contract; and requiring excessive working hours and providing little time off. […] In several cases documented by Human Rights Watch, employers retaliated against foreign migrant workers who protested against abuses by denouncing them to the authorities, resulting in the workers’ expulsion from Russia.
Authorities and construction companies interviewed by HRW deny the allegations.