A court in the western Kazakhstan city of Atyrau is currently hearing an appeal in the case of two activists jailed last year for organizing rallies against land privatization plans.
In a string of suspicious episodes that echoes previous such high-profile court cases in Kazakhstan, supporters of the pair trying to travel to Atyrau have been prevented in various ways from attending. Meanwhile, Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayan, who were found guilty in November of inciting social unrest, spreading false information and disrupting public order and sentenced to five and half years in jail, failed to attend their own appeal.
Rights activist Amangeldy Shormanbayev said that on the day that appeal hearings began, on January 16, as he was heading to the airport in Almaty, where he lives, he was detained by police for having fake license plates on his car. Shormanbayev said on his Facebook account that somebody appeared to have switched his plates overnight and that the police refused to investigate the matter any further.
“I was at the auto impound lot for five hours while I sorted this out. Naturally, I was late for my flight, and it turns out that I was not alone,” Shormanbayev wrote.
Rysbek Sarsenbaiuly, chief editor of Zhas Alash newspaper, said he also missed his Atyrau flight from Almaty after he received a phone call from somebody posing as a representative with the airline informing him of a delay. Bek Air, the carrier in question, denied it had made any calls, RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service reported.
The government in Kazakhstan plans to force internet users to register on websites with their mobile phones if they wish to post comments, the deputy head of the communications and information technology committee, Mikhail Komissarov, has told media.
KazTAG news agency cited Komissarov as saying that law is to be changed to reflect these requirements. Under the changes under consideration, websites will be obliged to create the technical means to enter one’s phone number and receive an SMS so as to be able to complete the authentication process.
The aim of this regulation is purportedly to combat what Komissarov referred to as “information war.”
“We are all witnesses to how certain articles, which do not always have an unambiguous meaning, can be interpreted ambiguously by the public, and then in the comments section information wars will break out, often taking on uncivilized forms and leading to the incitement of inter-ethnic and religious hatred,” Komissarov said.
Introduction of this type of authentication will, Komissarov believes, lower the temperature of online discussions.
“A person that has registered will think three time before writing a message that could incite somebody to something,” he argued.
Ironically and predictably enough, internet users immediately rushed to the comment boards of news article to let Komissarov know what they thought of his idea. Readers of news website Nur.kz likened the proposed rule to something out of North Korea. Others said they were seizing the final opportunity to speak from their hearts while they still had the opportunity.
Anger is mounting in Kazakhstan at a strict new residency registration law after two people dropped dead at government service centers processing the permits.
The recently implemented rules require people living anywhere for more than one month to register with the local authorities or face fines, which has led to massive crowds forming at government offices ill-equipped to handle the demand. Several hours of waiting to be served is reportedly the norm.
On January 16, 53-year old Zharas Kuntakov collapsed at an overcrowded Civilian Service Center (TsON in its Russian initials) in Almaty. The man was at the center with his father and wife and was seeking to register at his father’s home.
A witness who gave his name as Khalelkhan told Nur.kz news website that the man fell to the ground before his very eyes.
“I called the ambulance. He died five minutes later. His heart failed. The medics only arrived after an hour. Later they had to take him out through the back entrance,” Khalelkhan said.
The Government for Citizens, a state corporation created to handle the provision of government services, was swift to downplay the notion that the crowds caused by the registration drive were to blame for Kuntakov’s death and said there were few people around at the time of his collapse anyhow. Photos and video footage of the service center, however, tell another story.
Just for safe measure, Government for Citizens has advised anybody with chronic illnesses to refrain from visiting service centers at peak hours.
The head of Turkmenistan’s state gas company Turkmengaz has been fired as the government remains mired in an debt dispute with Iran over historic gas deliveries.
At a government meeting on January 13, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov announced that Ashirguly Begliyev was being moved to another unspecified post to be replaced by his deputy, Maksat Babayev.
Addressing deputy prime minister Yashigeldy Kakayev, who oversees the country’s energy sector, Berdymukhamedov complained that his “managers do not meet current requirement, and that is why I have taken this decision.”
In an organisational rearrangement whose significance it is still too early to fully divine, Berdymukhamedov said the head of Turkmengaz will have a ministerial rank. Accordingly, Babayev will now be designated a state minister and chairman of Turkmengaz state concern.
Begliyev had occupied his post since January 2015 — a relatively short tenure, but not one whose brevity is out of the norm for Turkmenistan.
As so many other Turkmen officials, the new Turkmengaz chief, Babayev, has almost nothing by way of a public profile. He was named deputy head of the company in April 2012. Within a year he had already earned a reprimand from Berdymukhamedov, officially for “allowing shortcomings during construction of a gas compressor station at the Malai field.” But after that, he seems to have managed to evade complete attention, other than from his intermittent appearances at the regular energy conferences in Turkmenistan.
A movie hitting the big screens in Uzbekistan this week is a fresh attempt at driving home the risks of terrorism and religious extremism.
Speaking at a preview of his movie, “Dadam Betob" (“Dad is Sick”) director and screenwriter Zulfikar Musakov told reporters he had presented the idea to state-run film company Uzbekfilm five years ago.
“My script only got the green light last year. This is my personal statement on the theme of religious extremism. I wanted to make a movie about the people that I love and that I don’t love,” he was cited as saying by news website Podrobno.uz.
At the center of the movie is Aziza, a mother to several children who decides that to raise funds to pay off the medical bills of her ill husband she must go work as a cab driver for a day. Her final customer of the day turns out to be Pokiza, who the film shows as having embraced religious extremism. Needless to say, it all ends in tears, kidnappings, gas pipelines being blown up and declarations of jihad.
The trailer for the movie — set most oddly to the music of Tanita Tikaram’s 1988 hit Twist in My Sobriety — indicates filmgoers are in for a deeply melodramatic affair.
Film critic Aziz Matyabulov told EurasiaNet.org that Uzbek cinema rarely touches on the issue of religious extremism, so this should be considered something of a rare event.
“Movies like these have a good budget from the state and are filmed with professional actors, unlike [privately funded] movies,” he told EurasiaNet.org.
Then again, while films about religious extremism might be rare, “Dadam Betob" is the second on the theme made in 2016 alone.
A crusade in Kazakhstan against the leaking of state secrets has claimed another scalp in the shape of former deputy head of the presidential administration, Baglan Mailybayev.
The Committee for National Security, or KNB in its Russian initials, said in a statement on January 16 that Mailybayev has been placed under arrest for 2 months on suspicion of illegally gathering and disseminating state secrets.
Another former top official in the presidential administration, the ex-deputy head of the internal policy department Nikolai Galikhin, has also been arrested in connection with the same case.
The KNB said it is searching the two men’s homes for evidence and that further details will be provided once investigations are concluded.
Mailybayev was fired on January 12 from the post he had held since October 2011. He was replaced by old hand and arch-loyalist Marat Tazhin.
Mailybayev has made steady and swift progress through the ranks. From June 2009 he worked as Nazarbayev’s press secretary and had previously served in various positions in the culture ministry. Galikhin, meanwhile, was as recently as December bestowed the Kurmet state award.
Political analyst Dosym Satpayev has noted that the return of Tazhin suggests President Nursultan Nazarbayev is losing faith with some of the younger cadres coming through he system and decided to put his faith in tried-and-tested figures.
Then again, the veterans aren’t having a better time of it either.
A Turkish cargo plane crashed outside the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, early on January 16, killing at least 37 people and destroying dozens of homes.
According to preliminary and unconfirmed information, the Boeing 747-400F crashed on a cluster of homes in the Dacha-Suu complex next to Manas International Airport at around 7:29 a.m. as it was coming in to land.
Officials said 37 people have been killed, but with recovery work still ongoing it will be some time before a final figure is confirmed. There are believed to be several children among the dead.
Deputy Prime Minister Muhammetkaly Abulgaziyev has said that the accident may have been caused by pilot error and that 11 airplanes had landed safely in the past day despite heavy fog. Abulgaziyev said that the plane tried to land on two occasions and at one stage damaged the landing strip illumination.
“This crew has flown [to Manas airport] 3-4 times. They know the landing strip at Manas airport. The visibility was 400 meters. That is why the flight controller at Kyrgyzaeronavigatsiya gave them clearance to land. The conditions were suitable for landing. So the provisional explanation is that the crash was due to crew error,” Abulgaziyev was quoted as saying by local media.
While officials have said the conditions were good enough for the cargo plane to land, an aircraft carrying President Almazbek Atambayev to Bishkek from China on January 15 was diverted to the small Tamchy airport in the Issyk-Kul region because of the weather. Motorists driving around Bishkek on the eve of the crash reported being able to see only a few meters ahead because of the fog.
Georgia's Father Frost pours acid on a dead Santa Claus in New Studio's controversial online video.
Murdered in an online video and framed for an armed robbery, Santa Claus had a tough holiday season in Georgia this year.
His troubles began with what seemed at first like just another one of those cuddly Christmas commercials.
As a jingle plays, a bespectacled Santa, fresh from the chimney, checks out the room, helps himself to candy and starts placing presents under a glittering Christmas tree. Suddenly, a menacing voice rasps: “Real men come in through the door.” Santa turns around to see his Georgian counterpart, Tovlis Papa (Father Frost), sporting his traditional gear and an unusual bad mood. While grudgingly watching his Western rival, Tovlis Papa has been using his dagger to whittle a piece of wood into the Georgian version of a Christmas tree, a chichilaki.
The next scene shows a trail of blood, leading to the bathroom. Santa’s leg is sticking out of the bathtub. Tovlis Papa, changed into protective coveralls and glasses, is getting ready to pour acid into the tub when a little boy walks in. After a suspenseful moment, the kid, with an approving nod from Tovlis Papa, drags off the dead Santa’s bag of gifts.
For many Georgians, the art-video, produced by a Tbilisi studio known for its edgy TV ads, hit a raw nerve with its allusion to friction between nationalism and Westernization.
Interpretations vary widely about whether the intention was to support or mock the tendency of being jealously protective of traditional Georgian ways against “corrupting” Western influences.
Picture of the recently inaugurated Ashgabat international airport. (Picture of the recently inaugurated Ashgabat international airport.
With characteristic pomp, Turkmenistan unveiled an idiosyncratic new airport terminal in the capital shaped like a falcon thrusting through desert air, to acclaim last year.
And now, if a report in RFE/RL’s Turkmen service Radio Azatlyk is to believed, the $2.3 billion building in Ashgabat is slowly sinking into the sand.
Azatlyk reported on January 13 that representatives from Turkish construction company Polimeks, which built the terminal, have been summoned to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov to answer for themselves. And, perhaps more importantly, to explain how this news got into the media in the first place.
Azatlyk cited its source as saying that a special commission has been set up to study the subsidence and come up with ways of resolving the issue. French construction giant Bouygues, which was also involved in building the terminal, has been drafted to effect repairs.
Problems apparently began to appear in December, when sheets of glass fell out of place and communication cables began to fail.
The airport was built in preparation for the 2nd edition of the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games — a 10-day event due to take place in September. A website dedicated to the games is up and going and counting down the seconds to the event kicking off.
These multiple transgressions might ordinarily lead to firing galore, but with the presidential elections due on February 12, it is more likely that Berdymukhamedov will keep his powder dry until then and then reshuffle the Cabinet. Either way, somebody will have to pay.
President-elect Donald Trump's nominees for his top foreign policy, defense, and intelligence posts testified before Congress this week, and expressed hardline positions on Russia that contrast markedly with their boss's more ambiguous opinions.
Trump's views on Russia, NATO, and associated issues have received substantial scrutiny, given that they are fairly far from the mainstream in Washington. But other than a personal admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a skepticism -- supposedly rooted in his busisnessman's dealmaking instincts -- of the U.S.'s alliances, Trump hasn't been very detailed about what he will actually do when in power.
So the Senate confirmation hearings for Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, and Mike Pompeo -- to head the State Department, Pentagon, and CIA, respectively -- were highly anticipated events, as senators can grill Trump's lieutenants in detail about the administration's foreign policy direction.
And what emerged was that their opinions on Russia and its neighborhood are far more conventional than their boss's. All described Russia as a threat rather than as a partner (as Trump has), expressed trust in the U.S.'s allies (Trump has suggested they weigh the U.S. down), and said they took seriously allegations that Russia meddled in the presidential elections (Trump has repeatedly played down the accusations).
Of particular interest was Tillerson's testimony: as CEO of Exxon/Mobil he had done substantial business in Russia, worked personally with Putin, and got the Order of Friendship award from Russia. All that made many in the U.S. and Russia suspect that he may be a pro-Russia voice in the administration.