With a major international summit approaching, authorities in Uzbekistan’s capital have taken to dismantling satellite dishes and tinted windows along a main city thoroughfare.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization heads of state summit scheduled for June 23-24 has sparked a frenzy of tidying up in Tashkent.
Over the past weekend, brigades of city employees went up and down Prospekt Kosmonavtov, exhorting local residents to take down balcony awnings, chimney stovepipes, satellites dishes or anything else that might offend the view of visiting dignitaries. In some cases, the city workers did the work themselves.
Prospekt Kosmonavtov, or Kosmonavtlar Prospekti to use its Uzbek name, is otherwise known as the “presidential road” and links President Islam Karimov’s city residence, Oskaroy, to his country residence on the outskirts of the city.
Foreign-based news website eltuz.com featured a comment from one disgruntled resident, who identified herself as Sh. Kuryazova, as saying the embellishment works had disrupted her daily routine.
“I came home and switched on the TV and nothing appeared. Without warning, they had taken down the satellite dishes and cable TV connections. They were repaired recently after the heavy rains, and now the SCO has come along!” Kuryazova wrote.
An employee of an office along Prospekt Kosmonavtov told EurasiaNet.org that he and his fellow workers expect to be kept away from their jobs for the duration of the SCO summit.
Being hard of hearing in Kazakhstan is enough in at least one major credit company to ensure you will be denied a loan.
News website Nur.kz has reported on the recent case of a woman with a hearing impairment in the southern city of Kyzylorda who tried, and almost failed, to raise the money to buy a tablet computer worth 55,000 tenge ($164). The woman’s plan was to take out credit and pay the debt off out of her disability benefits.
She was turned down by one bank, so she went instead with a relative, who could communicate through sign language, to a branch of Bank Home Credit, which is one of Kazakhstan’s largest household credit institutions.
While processing the forms, the Bank Home Credit employee hid the fact that the applicant had a disability. The bank worker warned that if a manager from a head office called the customer for further questions, she should avoid mentioning the disability as it could result in a disqualification. In the event, no information about the disability was disclosed and the loan was granted.
Following the furor caused by the story, Bank Home Credit on May 30 had to issue a statement defending its policy of denying loans to disabled customers. The lender said that in order to establish the creditworthiness of an individual, they have to be able to communicate fully with the person, which they said was rendered impossible by impairments in vision, hearing and speech.
The woman in Kyzylorda confessed to being shocked by the bank’s policy. Her loan would have required monthly repayments of 7,000 tenge ($21), a sum that she said even benefit recipients could manage.
As bizarre as it may seem, this kind of discrimination is not unique.
A public commission set up in Kazakhstan as an attempt to defuse tensions over contentious planned land auctions convened for its third session over the weekend, but was overshadowed by an ongoing campaign by prosecutors against anti-reform demonstrators.
Out of the 75 people initially nominated to the commission, which is intended as a platform of discussion between government officials and critics of the land reform, 62 turned up on May 28.
Deputy prime minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev, who moderated the session, said the land commission would work for the next six months to compile public recommendations for submission to parliament. In the coming week, representatives from the commission will travel across the country to sound out public opinion.
The commission has been broken down into four working groups focusing on legal and economic aspects, as well as on how to draw up effective mechanisms for informing the public about, and enhancing transparency of, eventual land sales. The working groups met for the first time on May 25 to generate suggestions that will eventually be pooled at plenary sessions of the commission in Astana.
The primary area of discussion this past weekend was the thorny topic of renting land to foreigners. The semi-formal exchange of views lasted around four hours and drew contributions from around 30 or so of the commission’s members. Many others, however, could be seen uninterestedly perusing their smartphones at length.
One of the more practical suggestions was to create a publicly available land ownership database.
Russian officials have said that they want to deploy new missiles in Belarus in response to American missile defense deployments in Romania and Poland, a new test for Minsk's precarious balancing act between Russia and the West.
The United States's new missile defense site in Romania officially became operational earlier this month, and Russians (justifiably) see the new facility as targeted towards their country. Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised "strong countermeasures" to respond. There have been no official suggestions about what that might entail, but anonymous Russian officials have been saying that one measure could be to deploy Iskander-M missiles in Belarus.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Minsk on May 16 and that proposal was reportedly on the agenda. A source "close to the Russian defense ministry" told the newspaper Kommersant that deploying Iskander-Ms to Belarus would be a "logical response" to the American missile defense installation and other NATO activity close to Russia's western borders.
During Lavrov's visit, his Belarusian counterpart Uladzimer Makey criticized the American missile-defense deployment and said that Belarus and Russia agreed to discuss taking "appropriate countermeasures together."
An image of Ismayilova emerging from prison on May 25 with a smile and a here-I-am gesture spread online as a symbol of a collective victory over the powerful political machine that tried to silence her. "That's how you leave prison, smiling, [like] you've been to a nice vacation in Italy," said Keti Abashidze, South Caucasus coordinator for the Human Rights House Foundation. Abashidze along with several other of Ismayilova's friends, colleagues and supporters gathered in Tbilisi, Georgia on the reporter's 40th birthday, May 27.
They recalled that it was with that same smile that Ismayilova in late 2014 dismissed friends' pleas not to return from Strasbourg to Baku, where she was to face certain arrest. "Even the prison officials were asking me why I'm smiling all the time," Ismayilova said in videoed comments to RFE/RL, one of the outlets for which she worked.
Her globally acclaimed work and the positive attitude she has kept through her ordeal, which included blackmail with a sex tape, turned her into an international investigative journalism icon. As various celebrities and public figures spoke up for her, her imprisonment became an embarrassment for the international-spotlight-seeking Azerbaijani state.
Authorities in Kazakhstan are categorical about what they believe was the ultimate goal of last weekend’s protests against land reforms — to seize power by sowing unrest and ethnic hatred.
In a statement published on May 27, the General Prosecutor’s Office laid out a stark declaration of intent on how it intends to proceed against future displays of antigovernment activity.
The prosecutor’s office is attempting to cast the government as the reasonable party, arguing that it invited people that had announced their intent to take part in the unsanctioned May 21 rallies to engage in “clarificatory activities.” That term is typically a euphemism for preventative summons issued to individuals suspected of planning to participate in anti-government demonstrations.
“Despite that, certain people tried to ignore the law on meetings and to provoke people into taking part in illegal actions,” the prosecutor’s statement said. “Their final goal was not to hold peaceful meetings and to seek changes to the land code, but to destabilize to social and political situation, to incite ethnic hatred and to seize power.”
The General Prosecutor’s Office certainly seems to adopt a loose definition what clarification constitutes. In several cases, it consisted of jailing people for intent to rally. For what it’s worth (not much as it turns out), Kazakhstan is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which grants citizens the right to protest peacefully. Laws on public assembly in Kazakhstan severely curtail that privilege, however, so the prosecutors are in effect on formally legitimate grounds when they formulate their accusations.
Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan have provoked outrage in some quarters by rejecting proposals to change the criminal code that would have outlawed the religious consecration of marriage rites for minors.
The phenomenon of the very young entering into marriages in Kyrgyzstan is not unusual. The National Statistics Commission estimates that 15 percent of married women between the ages of 25 and 49 sealed their nuptials before turning 18 — 1 percent did it under the age of 15.
The changes to the law rejected by parliament on May 26 specifically related to religious marriage rites (nikah), 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.
The broader ambition of the amendments proposed by Ata-Meken party deputy Aida Salyanova were to criminalize the forcible imposition of religious marriage rites before their official registration.
“The religious consecration of marriages before registration with authorized bodies is a crude violation of human rights. It is inimical to development and substantially increases the likelihood of a woman becoming a victim of (domestic) violence,” Salyanova was cited as saying by Zanoza.kg in a report on parliament’s vote.
By way of a regional comparison, Islamic authorities in neighboring Kazakhstan have as recently as last year issued orders for mosques to desist from performing religious marriage rites without a state-issued marriage certificate, but many have reportedly flouted that edict.
Kyrgyzstan’s largest foreign investor is in hot water again and has been ordered to pay out 6.7 billion som ($98 million) in fines for claimed environmental violations.
24.kg news agency reported that a judge at the Inter-District Court of Bishkek on May 25 ruled in favor of the penalty as part of a handful of lawsuits filed against Kumtor Operating Company by the State Ecology and Technical Inspection Agency.
Kumtor’s parent company, Toronto-based Center Gold, said in a statement that the award was related to accusations that the miner placed waste rock on dumps “subject to tariffs that are normally applicable to industrial or domestic waste.”
Local media has cited authorities as saying waste rock was placed too close to waterways, which risked contaminating rivers and and would eventually require the construction of water purification facilities downstream.
The longer-term concern surrounds the major glaciers alongside which the Kumtor mine is located. Kyrgyz officials, as well international environmentalists, worry that the practice of piling excess amount of waste rock on top of glaciers is causing them irreparable damage. Kumtor, meanwhile, has engaged its own independent expertise to evaluate the impact of its operations on the glaciers and apparently found the threat to be “insignificant.”
On May 24, the Inter-District Court of Bishkek fined Kumtor another $10,000 after it found it guilty of failing to record waste being expelled from the concession’s sewage treatment facility.
With the referendum out of the way, Tajikistan is back to usual business: banning things.
On May 24, Education and Science Minister Nuriddin Said issued a decree abolishing the cherished tradition of the “final bell,” wherein graduating secondary school students celebrate their last day of class.
Terms ends this year on June 7, but instead of the usual merriment, students will simply attend class and then presumably be expected to forlornly file home.
According to Said, failure to enforce this new order will result in punitive measures against education ministry officials and headmasters.
Unaccountable as it may seem for a country’s whose educational system is so riddled with shortcomings, the final bell has become something of an obsession. Every year has brought new amendments and restrictions.
In 2007, the name of the final day was changed from “final bell,” as it is known across most of the former Soviet space, to “bell of maturity” and the date pushed back from May 25 to June 6. That provision was intended to dampen the ardor of revelry and was accompanied by a ban on parties in restaurants, whip-rounds for graduating students, gift-giving and mass outdoor gatherings.
Typically, the day begins at 8 a.m. with a 45-minute assembly at students bring balloons, dance and sing. Diplomas, medals and awards are handed out.
The ban on grand last-day celebrations is based in part, it would seem, on concerns that some parties can on occasion get out of control. Some students mark the day by riding in cars, often recklessly and great speed, around their neighborhoods and on occasion cause fatal accidents.
The harvest for Uzbekistan’s perhaps most famous export, silkworm cocoons, has begun in earnest and with the usual concern for rights violations that the ancient industry brings with it.
Silkworm breeders gather vast amounts of cocoons every year — as much 26,000 tons in 2015, according to official figures. That puts Uzbekistan in third place in global silkworm cocoon production, behind China and India.
Some aspects of the harvest season are reported upon in earnest by state media. UzA news agency carried a report from one of the main sources of the commodity, in the Bukhara region.
“Silkworm breeders in the Jondor district of Bukhara region plan to harvest 419 tons of this valuable material,” UzA reported on May 24.
The main official in charge of a raw silk gathering facility, Naim Sodikov, said supply agreements have been signed with 290 farming enterprises.
But as the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights revealed in a recent report on the silk industry in Uzbekistan, the business relies on forced labor that often deprives farmers of deserved levels of income.
“The central government establishes cocoon production policy, prices, and annual silk production targets, and requires regional- and district-level officials to ensure targets are met. Local officials use coercion, including threatening farmers that they will lose their land, to force farmers and public-sector institutions to fulfill annual silk quotas,” the report stated. “Farmers, in turn, oblige family members, including children, or pay local laborers to assist in the cultivation of silkworm cocoons to meet required production quotas and avoid penalties.”