International freedom of speech campaigners have penned an appeal to Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev to guarantee the safety of jailed journalist Zhanbolat Mamay and to ensure an impartial investigation into his case.
Mamay’s supporters say his arrest was a politically motivated reprisal for his criticism of the government.
The campaigners expressed their “profound concern about the arrest and continued persecution” of Mamay in their appeal, which was released on March 27. Signatories include 29 Kazakhstani and international human rights groups and freedom of speech watchdogs, including Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Index on Censorship and Article 19.
Mamay, the editor of what was until recently one of Kazakhstan’s last surviving independent newspapers, Tribuna, was arrested last month on suspicion of using the outlet as a channel for money-laundering. Investigators have accused him of using the newspaper to launder the sum of $110,000 on behalf of Mukhtar Ablyazov, a Kazakhstani businessman and political opponent of Nazarbayev’s.
“We have concerns about his security,” Inga Imanbay, a Tribuna journalist and Mamay’s wife, told EurasiaNet.org. “This is a political case and we understand that he might receive a jail term, but the most important thing for us right now is that he should come out alive and well.”
The public appeal to Nazarbayev comes after Mamay went public last month with claims that he had been beaten up by fellow prisoners, which Imanbay said was an attempt to pressure him to confess.
A man attending a rally in support of detained opposition politician Sadyr Japarov being dragged away by a police officer on March 25, 2017. (Photo: Danil Usmanov)
A self-exiled and wanted opposition politician returned to Kyrgyzstan on March 25 to face questioning by the security services, sparking a rowdy demonstration by his indignant supporters that degenerated into ugly scuffles with police.
The Interior Ministry said 68 people were detained following the clashes.
This episode of unrest has further ratcheted up unease in a decisive election year as authorities step up pressure against the opposition and independent media.
Sadyr Japarov, a member of the nationalist Ata-Jurt party, returned to Kyrgyzstan after spending four years in neighboring Kazakhstan, where he was evading arrest for his alleged involvement in whipping up disturbances in a regional town in 2013.
After Japarov arrived the Bishkek headquarters of State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, where he was taken after being detained at the land border with Kazakhstan, several hundred people — mostly young men — identifying as his supporters, mustered at the building. Some chanted: “Free Japarov!”
A lawyer for Japarov, Sharadidin Toktosunov, said the detention of his client was illegal, as he was initially summoned only as a witness, but was now being subjected to questioning.
Investigators accuse Japarov of funding the organization of violent protests in October 2013 in the Issyk-Kul region — ostensibly in favor of nationalizing the economically vital Kumtor gold field — with a view to sowing political unrest. During those protests in the town of Karakol, crowds reportedly took Issyk-Kul governoror Emil Kaptagayev hostage. According to some accounts, Kaptagayev’s captors at one stage doused him in petrol and threatened to set him alight.
The GKNB accuses Japarov of directing that alleged kidnapping.
One of the youngest and most active members of Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has been expelled from the pro-presidential Social-Democratic Party (SDPK).
The SDPK’s political council explained on March 24 that the views of Zhanar Akayev, 31, had drifted too far from its official platform.
The speculation is that the decision was taken following Akayev’s decision to participate in a march last weekend in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, in defense of media outlets being sued by the General Prosecutor’s Office on behalf of President Almazbek Atamabayev.
Akayev has said that he is not taking the expulsion to heart and that his colleagues were most likely “fulfilling an order” — implying the instruction was handed down by the president’s office.
“A person that tells the truth but who finds himself among liars and sycophants will always be considered an extremist,” he said.
In a previous life, Akayev worked for RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, Radio Azattyk, which is one of the outlets facing the libel lawsuits. He has regularly spoken in defense of his old employer despite Atambayev’s recurring criticism.
Commenting on the situation, Atambayev questioned how it was that Akayev even got into parliament in the first place.
“At the next parliamentary elections we will find out whether it was the people that picked him or whether he got in thanks to SDPK,” Atambayev said.
Akayev will remain in parliament and has said that he has no immediate intention to join the ranks of any of the opposition parties.
Atambayev’s brand is indelibly associated with that of the SDPK, although as president he is in theory not permitted to be involved in party political activity. Occasional remarks, like those on Akayev, however, appear to give lie to his claims that he no longer retains operation influence over the party.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev meets with Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Astana on March 23. (Photo by Kazakhstani Presidential Press Services)
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev has hailed what he described as the fall of barriers dividing his nation and Uzbekistan since the ascent to power of Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
The two met for high-spirited talks in Astana on March 23 that focused as much as anything on mutual admiration.
“Only in the last five months, or the fourth quarter of last year, trade turnover between our nations increased by 30 percent on both sides, and that includes new goods. Four trading houses have opened, there is 30 percent more grain, and Uzbek fruit and vegetables deliveries have increased by 25 percent,” Nazarbayev was cited as saying by Tengri News. “This is thanks to how the new leadership in Uzbekistan has opened all opportunities to trade and lifted barriers.”
Nazarbayev could barely contain his ebullience.
“There are no unresolved issues between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan — not territorial, not with the borders, not with politics or the economy. We are free, like a blank page that is to be filled with good deeds that will benefit our nations,” he said.
It is worth recalling that Nazarbayev was an early champion of regional integration in Central Asia — an instinct sniffily mistrusted by Mirziyoyev’s late predecessor, Islam Karimov. Historians of the region may remember that in the wake of the Soviet disintegration, in 1994, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan formed the Central Asian Union, which later became the Central Asian Economic Union (1998) and then the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (2001). In no form did the grouping ever become anything more than a talking shop, as Annette Bohr explained in a May 2004 paper.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s daughter, Ana Margvelashvili, has accused the police of fabricating evidence of illegal-drug possession against her friends and family members in possible retaliation against her father’s refusal to side with the ruling party.
In a March 21 TV interview, the First Daughter alleged that police had planted 18 pills of Subutex, a synthetic opioid, on her close friend, Mikheil Tatarashvili, while other friends and her brother-in-law, Mindia Gogochuri, had been threatened with the same scenario.
Her proof hinges on what she says are eyewitness accounts and a cell-phone video of plainclothes police officers charging into a regional restaurant to search members of the group, and haul off Tatarashvili. He has been charged with possession of large quantities of illegal narcotics.
“When family and friends of a man who has a different perspective are being persecuted like this, there is probably some kind of connection,” Margvelashvili, 24, commented to Rustavi2, a station critical of the government.
Interior Minister Giorgi Mghebrishvili dismissed her allegations, saying that “nobody is planting anything.” He underlined that being “someone’s daughter” or holding a government office will not provide immunity against criminal prosecution.
Screenshot from a video released by Armenia's National Security Service, purporting to show an Igla missile smuggled by Samvel Babayan, a former security forces leader and key member of an opposition bloc.
The Armenian parliamentary election campaign took an unexpected turn on March 22, when agents from the National Security Service arrested Samvel Babayan, a former de facto defense minister of Nagorno Karabakh and a key ally of Seyran Ohanyan, one of the leading candidates. The NSS accused Babayan and two other Armenian citizens of smuggling a surface-to-air shoulder-fired Igla missile system from Georgia. A video released by NSS showed what appeared to be a missile packaged neatly and stacked behind some boxes in a garage.
Babayan is a member of the pre-election bloc led by Ohanyan, who replaced Babayan as Nagorno Karabakh’s defense minister in 1999 before serving as Armenia’s defense minister from 2008 until last October. The arrest comes amid increased tensions between the Ohanyan bloc and allies of President Serzh Sargsyan, suggesting that the arrest may be politically motivated.
Last week, the Ohanyan bloc held a campaign event in the village of Jrarat in Armenia’s Armavir province. The village chief attempted to call off the rally, brandishing a handgun, but was disarmed and roughed up, ending up at the hospital. Adding to the intrigue, this wasn’t just any village mayor, but a brother of General Levon Yeranosyan, the commander of Armenia’s police forces and known for his rough-and-tumble style when it comes to critics of the president.
A court in Kyrgyzstan has frozen the bank accounts of two media outlets facing libel lawsuits mounted on behalf of the president by the General Prosecutor’s Office.
Bishkek city court on March 22 ruled that assets belonging to RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, Radio Azattyq, and news website Zanoza.kg should be frozen pending hearings over their alleged “spread of dishonest information” about President Almazbek Atambayev.
Zanoza.kg chief editor Dina Maslova told EurasiaNet.org that the decision has put the operations of her outlet at risk.
“These are the funds we use to pay taxes, the salaries of our employees and our rent. Now we need to look into different options — opening another outlet, another website or just use social media. And there could be problems with advertisers,” she said.
Maslova said the website will appeal the ruling.
She and others have argued that the government is trying to force Zanoza.kg into refraining from critical reporting by filing unwarrantedly large lawsuits — Maslova has said her outlet is being sued for more than $140,000.
“We consider this a form of pressure. If the authorities wanted to get to the truth, then they would have settled this matter before going to court. They would have called, told us of their indignation, there would have been meetings. None of this happened. They want to ruin us from the outset, because what Kyrgyz outlet has this kind of money?” she said.
The court justified its ruling by saying that in the event of the lawsuit going the way of the General Prosecutor’s Office, it could directly levy the amount from the accounts.
But Maslova said the amount in question was not even on the accounts in the first place.
Chinese authorities are on high alert in western Xinjiang Province after the appearance of an Islamic State propaganda video featuring militants from China’s Uighur ethnic minority group.
In the 30-minute video, released in late February by the Al-Furat Province division of the Islamic State (IS) in western Iraq, heavily armed fighters and children give speeches, pray, and even kill “informants.”
One Uighur fighter is filmed saying, “Oh, you Chinese who do not understand what people say. We are the soldiers of the Caliphate, and we will come to you to clarify to you with the tongues of our weapons, to shed blood like rivers and avenge the oppressed.”
Chinese officials are taking this threat seriously. In early March, a spokesperson from China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing was ready to work with the international community to combat terrorism. Normally, China has dealt with security issues on its own, or has worked with other states within the framework of regional groupings, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS).
Beijing has long worried that disaffected ethnic Uighurs — a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority in Xinjiang and in neighboring Central Asian states, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan — would attract the attention of, and support from, Islamic State.
The United States and Romanian navies practiced storming the beaches of the Black Sea, a relatively rare example of practicing an attack in the region that Russia considers its own and where it increasingly feels under siege.
The USS Carter Hall, an amphibious dock landing ship, exited the Black Sea on March 22 after taking part in the exercises, Spring Storm 2017. U.S. or NATO exercises in the Black Sea have become fairly dog-bites-man news -- and NATO has promised to conduct them even more frequently -- but these are novel in that they are practicing an explicitly offensive scenario.
The U.S. Navy didn't say much about the goals of the exercises, except that they were " to enhance tactical unit and staff interoperability between Romanian and U.S. naval forces." But images and video of the exercise depicted U.S. Marines and Romanian troops storming the beach with amphibious armored vehicles and hovercraft known as LCACs, Landing Craft Air Cushion. They were accompanied by air support.
"We're going to conduct an assault from ship to shore and attack their position," explained one unidentified Marine in the video.
Russia has been relatively quiet officially about these particular exercises, particularly considering their potentially provocative scenario. "Of course we're following them and we're ready for any developments," one anonymous source in Russia's Black Sea Fleet told Pravda.
An earlier version of this story offered a regrettably inaccurate snapshot of the state of remittances paid by migrant laborers from Russia to Central Asia in 2016.
Contrary to what was asserted in that report, remittances have not been rising but mostly falling.
As stated before, the Russian Central Bank did note this week that money transfers by individuals to Uzbekistan had hit $2.74 billion in 2016, but this actually represented a drop not a rise, since the figure for 2015 was $3 billion.
Second place among cash transfers made from Russia to former Soviet states is taken by Tajikistan. The figure for remittances in 2016 was $1.9 billion — a global figure smaller than Uzbekistan, but one that accounts for a far greater proportion of the nation’s economy as a whole. This is a fall from the previous year, when it was $2.2 billion.
In third place in Kyrgyzstan, with $1.7 billion. Now, this is an improvement, from the $1.5 billion recorded in 2015
This picture affects the prior evaluation of the figures somewhat, and indeed in a way that makes more sense.
One obvious takeaway is that Kyrgyzstan’s decision to join the European Economic Union may indeed be starting to bear some scanty fruit, since the uptick in the inflow of remittances is likely connected to the greater ease with which Kyrgyz workers can now settle in Russia for employment.