An international coalition of rights groups is calling on the European Parliament this week to reject a textile trade agreement between the EU and Uzbekistan that they say would fuel the scourge of forced labor in the cotton industry.
A letter address to the European Parliament Committee on International Trade published on Human Rights Watch’s website on November 7 said adopting the textile protocol would be to “ignore strong evidence of the government’s persistent and continued use of forced labour on a massive, nationwide scale in Uzbekistan.”
The European Parliament postponed a decision on the EU-Uzbekistan Textiles Protocol in December 2011 pending further monitoring of labour conditions in Uzbekistan by the International Labor Organization. The parliament acknowledged that the monitoring was intended to address allegations about the use of children and forced labor during the cotton harvest, but it is set to review its decision this week.
That postponement five years ago appeared to have had the requisite effect since the government in Uzbekistan relatively promptly allowed monitoring of its cotton harvests by the ILO.
A draft report in September from the European parliamentary trade committee signaled its satisfaction. It noted approvingly, citing the ILO’s findings from 2015, that “the use of children in the cotton harvest has become rare, sporadic and socially unacceptable, even if ongoing vigilance is needed.”
There is ample evidence, however, that the reduced reliance on child labor has transferred the pressure onto adults. This does not appear to have been reflected in ILO observations.
There is talk afoot that Uzbekistan is planning to rename a town near Samarkand in a tribute to the late President Islam Karimov in what would mark another progression in the leader’s post-death cult of personality.
Russian news agency Sputnik reported that rumors began circulating widely last week among resident of Kattakurgan, some 70 kilometers west of Samarkand, that their hometown of 100,000 people is set to get the name Islamabad.
Kattakurgan is best known in Uzbekistan for being the source of particularly prized Kishmish raisins and the site of an important reservoir.
Yulduz, a 50-year old resident of Kattakurgan, said that information about proposals to rename Kattakurgan in honor of Karimov first surfaced a few weeks ago.
“They are building roads and demolishing dilapidated houses and office buildings along the main road. The theater is being remodeled. A month ago, they fired the head of the city administration and he was replaced by the former mayor of a district of Samarkand,” Yulduz told EurasiaNet.org.
The re-designation of Kattakurgan, if it really happens, would come not a moment too soon. Only one factory there — a fat and oil processing plant — is still running. The cotton refinery, livestock breeding complex, meat and dairy processing plant and brick factory long ago closed shop.
“Unemployment levels are very high and young people go for work to Russia and Kazakhstan. What is more, the city suffers from chronic gas and power shortages,” one local journalist told EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity.
The debate is part of a larger effort by liberal Georgian opposition parties to reinvent themselves after the Georgian Dream nabbed an overwhelming 76.6-percent parliamentary majority in the October polls. Among this crowd, only the United National Movement (UNM) gained a sizable number of seats (27) in the 150-seat legislature.
As the UNM, which ruled Georgia from 2004 to 2012, scrambles to figure out what went wrong, the outspoken, 48-year-old Saakashvili, now a regional Ukrainian governor without Georgian citizenship, has become the chief suspect.
The UNM has been synonymous with “Misha” ever since, as a brash, young political upstart, he led the party to power in the wake of the 2003 Rose Revolution. Four election seasons later, however, many see him as the party’s main drag.
Ahead of the October 8 vote, Saakashvili grandly promised to return to Georgia if the UNM wins, but, clearly, that prospect did nothing to attract additional voters.
By a decision of Uzbekistan’s Central Election Commission on October 20, presidential candidate status was formally granted to Shavkat Mirziyoyev and three others for the upcoming December 4 vote.
Mirziyoyev, whose position as acting president makes him the only viable candidate, is running with backing from the Liberal-Democratic Party, which historically put forward the nominations of the late leader Islam Karimov.
In his first major post-candidacy approval outing, Mirziyoyev spoke on November 1 on three Uzbek television stations in two hour-long programs to set forth his platform.
A day later, his official biography was published on the Liberal-Democratic Party’s website. This is the first time that Mirziyoyev has been made subject of such detailed attention, despite his 13-year stint as prime minister.
One curious nugget regarded the partial naming of his wife, whose identity has heretofore been shrouded in secrecy.
First the more mundane details: “Shavkat Miromonovich Mirziyoyev was born on July 24, 1957, in Zaamin district, Jizzakh region to the family of a doctor. He is Uzbek by ethnicity and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the Tashkent Institute of Engineers of Irrigation and Mechanization of Agriculture in 1981. He is a Candidate of Technical Sciences and an associate professor.”
Mirziyoyev is married and has two daughters and one son, as well as five grandchildren. His wife — Z.M. Hoshimova — is an “economy engineer,” a somewhat unclear professional category. She is now a housewife, according to the biography.
Mirziyoyev has a couple of state awards — “Mehnat Shuhrati” (Labor Glory) and “Fidokorona Hizmatlari Uchun” (For Glories in Labor).
The founders of an independent newspaper in Tajikistan have decided to suspend operations on the eve of the publication’s 10th anniversary following what appears to have been pressure from the authorities.
The Indem think tank, which owned Nigoh newspaper, said in a statement earlier this week that it was halting its print edition because of a “lack of appropriate conditions."
It is evident that the problems do not appear to have been financial since the newspaper has pledged to keep paying its employees until 2017. Nigoh could also boast having no debts to its printing house or outstanding tax liabilities.
“Unfortunately, we can make no further comment,” Indem said in its statement.
EurasiaNet.org has learned, however, that Nigoh’s fate was sealed by a pattern of reporting disliked by the authorities and, most recently, an unfortunately typographical error.
The latest issue featured a piece on the front page about the banned Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT). Authorities have given clear signals to the media to refrain from even alluding to the IRPT, whose leadership was jailed last year amid accusations of involvement in a purported coup plot. Nigoh argued in its article that the closure of the party had simply precipitated an exodus of members from Tajikistan and promoted IRPT’s status to an international party.
Nigoh had previously published critical pieces about the trial against the lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov, who was sentenced to 23 years in jail on fraud charges in what was transparently a reprisal for him agreeing to represent the IRPT.
A perversely trifling solecism in the last issue of Nigoh may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, however.
Kyrgyzstan has introduced new migration rules for visiting foreign citizens that limit unregistered stays in the country from 60 to five days.
The rule is intended to combat illegal migration, although there are concerns that it could harm the country’s fledging tourism sector.
The law, which was proposed by the Interior Ministry in May and received backing from parliament, will come into force on November 4.
Almost all foreigners will be required to register within five days or face a $145 fine. The only country exempt from the rule is Russia, which has signed a bilateral agreement with Kyrgyzstan requiring its citizens to register only for stays longer than 30 days.
It is not yet clear that the government departments responsible for registering foreigners are even going to be able to cope with the sudden increase in foreigners requiring registration given that they already struggle to cope with large amounts of Kyrgyz citizens applying for passports, birth certificates and other local documents.
And of course, there is also serious concern this new situation will simply give rise to more corruption, since many might prefer to part with cash instead dealing with inefficient Kyrgyz bureaucracy.
An explanatory note with the newly adopted regulation explains that the move was prompted by anxieties over illegal migration.
“Foreign citizens open various private companies, joint ventures and other organizations, and bring in their compatriots, violating established procedures,” the note reads. “Foreign citizens working in the republic mostly do so without work permits, therefore they are violating the migration laws of the Kyrgyz Republic.”
Chinese premier Li Keqiang visits the Chinese embassy in Bishkek on November 3, inspecting the reconstruction after it was attacked by a suicide bomber in August. (photo: www.gov.cn)
China's prime minister, on a visit to Bishkek, called the security situation in Central Asia "complicated and severe" and promised to deepen security cooperation with Kyrgyzstan.
The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, made the comments during a prime ministerial meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on November 2. The meeting took place as authorities continue to investigate an August suicide attack on the Chinese embassy in Bishkek, two months on it remains unclear who the organizers were or what were their motives.
The statements by officials from the two countries -- at least as they were reported by Chinese media -- suggested a China who was taking charge, and a Kyrgyzstan which was trying to keep China happy.
"Li expressed his hope that Kyrgyzstan will speed up the investigation and handling of the incident, provide support and assistance, and take necessary measures to ensure the safety of Chinese staff posted in Kyrgyzstan," the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported. Li also visited the embassy to check on the reconstruction.
Kyrgyzstan Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov in turn promised that Bishkek would "take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of the Chinese embassy and its staff" and "enhance cooperation with China in security law enforcement, fight the "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism, and safeguard security and stability of the two countries and the region as a whole," according to Xinhua.
A court in Kazakhstan has taken the rare step of handing down a death sentence on the man found guilty of embarking on a shooting spree that ended with the death of eight policemen and two civilians.
The sentence is particularly remarkable as the death penalty is formally subject to a moratorium passed in 2004.
Ruslan Kulekbayev on November 2 accordingly became the first person to receive the death sentence in the last decade. The last person to receive the same sentence was Rustam Ibragimov, who was found guilty in 2006 of murdering prominent politician Altynbek Sarsenbayev. Ibragimov’s sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
Kulekbayev’s lawyer, Gabit Kusainov, said there are no plans to appeal.
“The defendant himself didn’t want this and stated that it went against his positions, convictions and the beliefs of Salafism,” Kusainov told the court.
Kulekbayev freely admits to the killings during his rampage on July 18 and has told the court he has no regrets. The motivation for the attack, Kulekbayev told the court during the trial, stemmed from his perception that police were mistreating devout Muslims.
Another five accomplices on trial who did not face charges connected to the mass shooting, but were accused of planning to rob a businessman together with Kulekbayev received jail terms ranging from three to 11 years.
Reactions to the sentencing have been mixed, with many favoring it as a reasonable redress for a crime that shocked the population.
Mobile phone operators in Tajikistan have begun the process of re-registering all SIM cards in the country as part of a strategy to combat terrorist threats.
Khovar state news agency this week cited a representative for the government communications agency, Alibek Beknazarov, as saying the policy is intended to uphold security and help investigators solve crimes.
“There are subscribers who have several SIM cards and give them to their relatives, friends, acquaintances, who are sometimes living abroad, to use. So when it becomes necessary to do so, it is difficult to find the real user, since the actual person using it is not the registered party. Moreover, re-registering SIM cards is indispensable because of the dangers of terrorism. This measure will enable us to create a database of genuine users,” Beknazarov said.
Re-registering will require phone users to bring passports and the SIM card to official service centers of the mobile companies. SIM cards will be deactivated within a year in the event of failure to re-register.
Officials say there are already 11 million registered SIM cards in the country — 6 million of those accounts are used regularly. That figure illustrates how many people own several SIM cards that they use strategically to keep the size of their phone bills down.
One point of apparent concern for Tajik officials is the popularity of local SIM cards with users across the border in northern Afghanistan. That point came up during discussions in parliament late last year, when the chamber was considering the rules about requiring mobile phone users to re-register SIM cards.
A lavish wedding in Moscow has drawn gasps of envious amazement even from Russians inured to garish displays of wealth.
Observers of the inner workings of Central Asian politics, however, may be more interested in the identity and background of the bride’s father, of whom little is known publicly.
But to the wedding first. Madina Shokirova has provoked jealously all around with her flowing $600,000 dress designed by British haute couture fashion house Ralph & Russo. As online tabloid life.rureported, the dress was made of several layers of tulle, embroidered with metallic threads and inlayed with silver and several thousand pearls and Swarovski crystals.
As is customary for such events, a number of Russian rent-a-celebrities turned out to entertain the guests.
The man paying for all this was Shokirova’s father, Ilhom Shokirov. His wealth ostensibly stems from his ownership of several hotels — the high-class Grand hotel in the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, and several hotels outside Moscow. life.ru reported that he also has a 65 percent stake in the Demir shopping and entertainment complex in Tashkent.
And there is speculation that there are some dynastic and political dimensions to these nuptials.
A Khujand-based writer for ferghana.ru, Aziz Rustamov, recently reported rumors that Shokirov offered up his daughter in marriage to a relative of the acting president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. It isn’t immediately clear, but it is possible that this was an allusion to the wedding that just took place in Moscow.