Penalties for swearing and drinking alcohol in public places in Kyrgyzstan have been stiffened as officials pursue a morality agenda aimed squarely at the nation’s youth.
Changes to the law approved by President Almazbek Atambayev on January 23 will see an increase in the fine for cursing in public places to 1,500 som ($21.50) from 300 som. The fine for drinking in improper locations, including the workplace, will rise tenfold to 1,000 som ($14).
The revised law will come into effect in early February.
Curiously, as Kloop.kg notes, the backers of the law from the Respublika-Ata-Jurt faction in parliament, were unable to specify which words in particular would fall foul of the swearing law. As to the drinking, police will be permitted to mount raids on apartment courtyards as they seek out offenders loitering in doorways and children’s playgrounds brews in hand.
One aspect of the changes to the law addresses the matter of underage drinking. Parents of minors found consuming intoxicating beverages will also now face much greater penalties. Fines for antisocial behaviour involving minors are also been made more severe.
A brawl broke out in a contested section of the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over the weekend — the latest of many such incidents caused by failure to forge a solution on joint use of the area.
As usual, the picture has been muddled by duelling accounts of precisely what happened.
On January 21, the head of Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region, Kenesh Salikhov, told media that a representative of the Tajik police came informed him that some villagers from the Kyrgyz village of Kok-Tash had assaulted a citizen of Tajikistan. Despite the nominal border, the two communities have homes side by side, in what is sometimes described as a chessboard configuration, so dust-ups can break out apparently trivial matters.
Salikhov said that his information led him to disbelieve the Tajik police account.
“Later, we found out this person was not assaulted by our citizens and the Tajik police had no case to make, but on the next day, the victim summoned about 15-20 people and came to our village for a showdown,” he told Zanoza.kg.
The bout of verbal sparring from both sides then escalated into stone-throwing. As a result, the informal village leader of Kok-Tash, Raziya Osorova, was injured and had to be taken to a hospital for severe head injuries.
Turmush.kg news website reported this dispute involved around 20 residents from the Kyrgyz village and nearly 100 residents of the Tajik side. Witness accounts of such events, however, should be treated with caution since either side typically inflates the size of opponent contingents in the interests of their narrative. One house and four cars are said to have been damaged in the fighting.
Pink protest hats were not the only piece of clothing to mark US President Donald Trump’s January 20 inauguration. He did, in fact, receive a chokha, a traditional wool coat from the Caucasus for men, usually worn with a dagger.
Little suggests that Trump will soon cut a dash in the bandoliered, cinched-at-the-waist costume from a Tbilisi apparel shop. But its offering symbolizes the regional hope that he will not overlook the Caucasus.
Even before Trump’s calls for “America First,” local analysts believe that American foreign policy had become introverted under Barack Obama, with the Caucasus fading fast on Washington’s radar.
So far, expectations are not high that Trump will reverse that trend. Aside from two defunct hotel projects, he has never shown a personal interest in this geostrategic crossroads.
Nonetheless, mulling the Trump future and the Obama past, the South Caucasus closely watched the new American leader’s swearing-in. Some in Tbilisi even opted to take part in a local Women’s March.
Yet Trump’s divisive flamboyance is not what counts in this part of the world. What does is Washington’s actual role in global and regional affairs.
In Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, some observers say that Obama was the least concerned with post-Soviet affairs of any US president in memory. And when the US takes a step back, it can only mean one thing in these parts: Russia steps in.
A court in Kazakhstan has upheld a five-year jail sentence for two activists serving time for their role in organizing protest rallies in opposition to a proposed land privatization scheme.
The Atyrau court on January 20 ruled to leave Maks Bokayev and Talgat Ayan in prison at the end of a week of hearings marred by procedural irregularities. While a handful of supporters of the pair claimed that they were systematically denied the ability to attend the hearings, around 50 people did make it to the courtroom daily.
Bokayev and Ayan refused to attend the hearings in person, calling the proceedings unjust, but initially gave testimony via videoconference. From January 18 onward, they declined to participate altogether.
The appeal reexamined the basic core of the state’s argument against the two activists, which was that they were instrumental in inciting social unrest in mid-April last year by spreading unfounded rumors about the proposal to sell off swathes of land. Prosecutors argued that Bokayev and Ayan were the primary organizers of the protests in Atyrau, although their supporters have argued the rallies snowballed organically and that the pair played a peripheral role.
Independent Atyrau-based newspaper Ak Zhaiyk cited Bokayev’s sister, Zhanargul Bokayeva, who also acted as public defender for the jailed pair, as saying that on the day of the largest rally, April 24, there was already a large crowd on the main square in Atyrau by mid-afternoon, which is when Bokayev arrived. The crowd also included regional and city officials, who attempted to cool moods in the crowd.
The rally proceeded peacefully and without incident — an achievement that Bokayeva argued was partly down to her brother.
Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry has claimed that the country’s security agencies managed to thwart 36 terrorist attacks in 2016 and stopped around 50 people from mounting attacks on government buildings.
Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda provided no details of specific alleged plots at his press conference on January 20, although there have been sporadic reports of would-be attacks. One circulated in the local media involved some kind of strike on residents of the capital, Dushanbe, during the May 9 Victory Day celebrations.
To believe Rahimzoda, the achievements of the Tajik security agencies in combating terrorism are little short of miraculous.
More than 400 people were detained last year in Tajikistan on suspicion of belonging to various terrorist groups, Rahimzoda said. Over the same period, 40 people joined Islamic State, he claimed.
If anything, the minister lamented that, with the odd exception, foreign partners are failing to take sufficient advantage of Tajikistan’s terrorist-busting abilities.
Rahimzoda boasted it was his ministry’s information that led to a terrorist group comprising 11 natives of Central Asia being rounded up in Russia. The alleged militants were purportedly members of the Islamic State group and were planning to blow up buildings in St. Petersburg, according to Russian officials.
Authorities in Kazakhstan are stepping up efforts to tighten control on information by granting the security services power to sever internet and phone connections without having to apply for a court order.
Independent newspaper Ak-Zhaiyk reported on January 20 that the authority to disconnect telecommunications has been granted to the National Security Committee, or KNB, at all levels, down to local branches.
The stated aim of the measure is to combat terrorism.
As lawyer Jokhar Utebekov has noted on his Facebook account, the fact that the KNB will be able to act directly in blocking websites, disconnecting mobile phone links, disabling messenger apps or suspending internet connections without having to go through service providers would appear to indicate that it already possesses the technical means to do so.
The KNB will be able to carry out any of those actions at the request of the police, the anti-corruption agency, the economic crimes service and several other security bodies, in effect giving it authority previously wielded only by the General Prosecutor’s Office.
The changes to the law that have brought about these changes are, incidentally, part of the same contentious legislative package that required citizens to register with local authorities in the event that they settle in a location for more than one month.
Be it as it may, the adjustment to the law will change little in reality and will only formalize an already existing pattern of censorship.
A protest by oil sector workers in the western Kazakhstan city of Aktau has entered its third week as authorities appear unwilling to reconsider a decision to withdraw the registration of an independent trade union.
This dispute flared when the Specialized Inter-District Economic Court of South Kazakhstan Region ruled on January 4 to shutter the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPK in its Russian initials), which had around 1,600 members, over technicalities to do with its registration. The following day, laborers with the Atyrau-based Oil Construction Company, or OCC, filed an official motion to initiate a hunger strike.
In an echo of the industrial dispute that culminated in bloodshed in the oil town of Zhanaozen in 2011, national media have almost entirely ignored the standoff. But for tireless reporting from correspondents at RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyq, possibly nothing would be known at all about what is taking place. With the number of workers taking part in protest actions growing — to around 400 people, according to Radio Azattyq — officials may possibly begin to take more notice.
Moscow-based website ferghana.ru cited a workers representative at OCC, Nurbek Kushakbayev, as saying that operations had not been halted by the industrial dispute.
“Work continues, we have not stopped work. The workers are working, but they have simply stopped eating. There are threats from the authorities, they keep on saying this is illegal. But there is nothing illegal about this. To eat or not to eat is for every individual to decide,” Kushakbayev toldferghana.ru.
A mobile phone operator in Tajikistan has said it is appealing what it considers an illegal tax claim for around $19.5 million.
Tcell, which is controlled by a company that is in turn 60 percent owned by Scandinavian telecommunications giant Telia Company AB, said on January 19 that the claim is based on inexistent revenues. (Telia Company is currently going through the process of divesting itself of its interests in Tcell).
Failure to successfully appeal the claim will place a “very severe financial strain on Tcell,” the company said.
“We are very concerned with the situation which we believe is totally unacceptable,” Emil Nilsson, head of the Eurasia business region at Telia Company, said in a statement.
Telia Company said the claim for 155 million somoni follows a tax audit for the period May 2015 through June 2016 and is equivalent to Tcell earnings for the entirety of 2015.
That the Tajik government is trying to sting a foreign investor for a suspiciously implausible windfall should come as no surprise to anybody familiar with the state of the country's beleaguered telecommunications sector.
Indeed, according to EuriasaNet.org sources, Tcell is not the only one to getting this treatment. Telia Company should consider themselves lucky.
Informed sources have said that Megafon-Tajikistan, another top mobile phone service provider and daughter company of Russia’s Megafon, is being hit up for 300 million somoni. And Beeline, the brand of the local affiliate of Russia’s Vimpelcom, is said to be facing a fine of around 350 million somoni.
A South Ossetian tank trains at the Tarskoe training grounds. (photo: MoD South Ossetia)
South Ossetia's armed forces will become part of the Russian armed forces but will retain separate units, the self-declared republic's authorities have announced. The plan appears to be a compromise worked out between the de facto leadership in Tskhinvali and their patrons in Moscow.
The fate of South Ossetia's modest military (numbering about 800 troops) has been at the center of negotiations on the level of autonomy that the small territory will retain. Most of the world considers South Ossetia to be part of Georgia, but Russia recognized it as an independent state in 2008 and has been cementing its control since then.
In 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his de facto South Ossetian counterpart Leonid Tibilov signed an agreement on "alliance and integration" which included a provision calling for "certain units of the armed forces of South Ossetia to enter the structure" of the Russian military.
But the specific implementation of that "entering the structure" remained unclear. Controversy broke out last year when some forces in parliament put forth a proposal to dissolve South Ossetia's armed forces and fold them into Russia's. Then some months later the de facto president, Leonid Tibilov, said that wouldn't happen and that South Ossetia would keep control of its armed forces, implying that they wouldn't be folded into Russia's.
The new arrangement seems to be a compromise between those two proposals, and was laid out by the de facto defense minister, Ibragim Gassayev, at an event in Tskhinvali on January 12.
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.