Two political activists in Kazakhstan learnt to their cost this year that posts on Facebook can spell trouble. And they aren’t the only ones.
News website Pavlodar-Online reported on March 30 that the former head of a chemicals plant is suing a local journalist, Alexander Baranov, for 10 million tenge ($29,000) in libel damages for posts made on the social media platform.
Yerlan Kusanov, the ex-director of Pavlodar-based Neftehim Ltd, said in his complaint that Baranov used his Facebook page to alleged that the executive had left his job following an accident at his company. According to Kusanov’s retelling of the post, Baranov claimed three laborers were killed and that another two received serious burns while working at Neftehim. Baranov is also accused by Kusanov of implying the chemicals company was involved in illegal activity.
Kusanov says he is now unable to find work because of the damage to his reputation caused by Baranov’s posts.
In an initial court hearing, Baranov’s lawyer moved to have screen grabs of the offending posts dismissed as evidence, arguing that there were discrepancies between those and the original version.
Another court hearing is scheduled for April.
Kazakhstan has drawn criticism in the past for what media rights advocates have described as the excessively punitive libel damages sometimes leveled at journalists.
Proponents of stiff libel damages argue, however, that the legislation is intended to protect individuals from potentially harmful defamatory material. It is widely believed that some journalists in Kazakhstan accept illicit payments for writing what amount to hit-jobs against business rivals.
Azerbaijan was welcomed at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC on March 30 as an international energy security and counterterrorism asset, while the country’s repressive ways gained only a faint mention.
US Secretary of State John Kerry thanked Aliyev for making it to the March 31-April 1 summit and praised Azerbaijan’s role in helping Europe meet its energy needs. “Azerbaijan is located in a complex region right now and I think President Aliyev has been very studious and thoughtful about how to respond to some of those needs, particularly with his leadership on the Southern Gas Corridor,” Kerry said.
In his public remarks, Kerry skipped the controversial matter of Azerbaijan’s political prisoners. Only a post-meeting press release took note of Azerbaijan’s “recent positive steps” and urged “further progress” on the human-rights front.
Russia’s migration authorities have announced plans to organize patrols of busy transportation nodes in Moscow as part of a campaign to clamp down on unregistered foreign residents.
In Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, authorities are pushing ahead with efforts to get as many people off Russia’s migration blacklist to ensure as many migrant laborers as possible can leave the country in search of much-needed earnings.
The Federal Migration Service in Russia said in a statement on March 31 that their inspectors will be parked near metro stations in cars equipped with complete databases of foreigners with proper permits.
“It will be possible to use them to run complete checks of foreign citizens on the FMS database, including to establish whether they are in Russia legally. The cars will also be equipped with scanners for fingerprint registration,” the statement said.
Authorities are casting the initiative as one intended to enlighten foreign residents, particularly migrant laborers, about residency rules.
“During the checks, foreign citizens will be able to speak directly to representatives of the migration service, ask them questions and receive first-hand information about things like registration of work permits at migration centers in Moscow and Moscow region,” the FMS statement said.
Whether this is likely to put an end to the regular sight of Moscow police targeting unregistered (and registered) migrant laborers for bribes remains to be seen.
Russia’s economic decline is concentrating thoughts on the need to address the issue of illegal migration, which creates much ill-will among the most deprived sections of the population.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been courting European Union officials in Brussels in the hope of bolstering Kazakhstan’s trade and economic ties with Europe as way of mitigating the funk back home.
In a conveniently timed development, Nazarbayev also talked human rights in Europe just as two activists jailed in Kazakhstan earlier this year were allowed to walk free by a court in Almaty. Many observers interpreted their release under suspended sentences on March 30 as being designed to send a positive message to Brussels.
Meeting Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, Nazarbayev stressed the importance to Kazakhstan of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, which was signed in 2014 and will take full effect in May following ratification by Kazakhstan’s Senate earlier this month. (The agreement is one notch below the Association Agreement signed between the EU and hopeful candidates such as Ukraine and Georgia.)
Astana is counting on the deal to boost trade with and investment from the European Union, its largest overall trading partner. Wooing investors has become a major priority for Kazakhstan as it battles its worst economic crisis in years — brought on largely as a result of low oil prices — and it is seeking to lure them with a package of investment perks and visa-free travel.
Tajikistan’s top prosecutor decided this week to flesh out the official explanation for where the country’s volunteers to militant groups in Middle Eastern war zones are coming from.
As General Prosecutor Yusuf Rahmon explained in an interview to state-owned newspaper Jumuhuriat, some 85 percent of the fighters are former migrant laborers.
Rahmon presented a few anecdotal cases as evidence for his assertion. One story involved a group of Tajik citizens, who the prosecutor named as Abdurasul Ahmadov, A. Sattarov, an imam at a mosque in the northern Sughd region, and D. Tohirov. All of them are said to have come under the sway of an alleged Islamic State group member in Moscow in May.
The prosecutor said the suspected recruiter, who he identified as Ilyos Malaboyev, was not intent on enlisting people to fight in Syria, but rather to join up with other alleged IS militants already inside Tajikistan.
“They returned to the motherland, and at the Abuzari Ghifori mosque in the Jabbar Rasulov district (in Sughd), they tried to lure their countrymen into IS. They were detained and a criminal case has now been initiated against them,” Rahmon said.
As in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, the government of Tajikistan says it is undertaking strenuous outreach initiatives to discourage young people from being led astray. Rahmon is particularly concerned about Salafist movements.
Believers in Salafism do not acknowledge the legitimacy of other forms of Islamic worship, including Shi'ism and Sufism. The current first appeared in Tajikistan in the early 2000s, having been brought back to the country by Tajiks that had taken refuge in Pakistan during the civil war.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev has had two big wins to celebrate in recent times in a part of the country where his popularity is debatable.
Still, he has much to occupy his mind, as the increasing number of arrests of no-name, non-parliamentary opposition figures appears to indicate.
Last week brought good news for the government, dominated by Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), as a week-long border standoff with Uzbekistan came to a conclusion on March 26 with no shots fired.
The following day, SDPK edged out rival parties to claim most of the seats in the the council of the southern city of Osh, the most important of several municipal councils elected Sunday. The party can expect to form a majority with one or more parties.
Both victories should taste sweet. Regarding Uzbekistan, the executive can claim it turned a precarious situation into a diplomatic triumph without publicly losing face. Authorities have noted that the negotiations that led to the drawdown of forces reportedly came at Tashkent’s request and Uzbekistan pulled back its military first.
In the local politics of the country's second-largest city, which saw major ethnic conflict just six years ago, SDPK can be confident of calling the shots. It polled twice as much as any of the other parties, with 30 percent of the vote, while the stalking horse pro-government Kyrgyzstan Party finished second.
But beyond the formalities of border negotiations and local elections, the security services, which are directly controlled by the the president, have been inexplicably busy.
A security crisis in Central Asia has yet again raised questions about the efficacy of Russia's post-Soviet security bloc, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, to maintain peace in the region.
The dispute between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan over an undelimited part of their border was resolved over the weekend without any shots being fired, as both sides pulled back the armored vehicles and troops they had deployed.
But before that happened, Kyrgyzstan called a special session of the CSTO's permanent council in Moscow. (Kyrgyzstan is a member of the organization, while Uzbekistan is not, having dropped out in 2012.) But the response from Moscow was mild: the organization's deputy secretary general was dispatched to Bishkek to monitor the situation.
The CSTO's (and by extension Russia's) relative passivity once again gave ammunition to the critics who say that the organization is focused on phantom threats (like spillover of radical Islam from Afghanistan) or Russia's geopolitical posturing, rather than the real security threats its member states face.
"As tension grows on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border, it must be stated that the CSTO is again remaining indifferent to the security problems of its member states," wrote Belarusian analyst Sergey Ostryna. Ostryna noted that while border problems in Central Asia continue to fester, the CSTO has done nothing to address them.
Security services in Kyrgyzstan say they have neutralized another international terrorist cell, although little to no firm information has been provided.
The State Committee for National Security (GKNB) said in a perfunctory statement on March 29 that the seven-person group was engaged in recruitment for combat activities in war zones, apparently a reference to Syria and Iraq.
The statement also states that the cell was priming for terrorist acts within Kyrgyzstan.
There is more that is not known, however. No names have been provided, for the individuals or the group to which they allegedly belonged. Even the location of the arrest is left vague and given only as “in the territory of one of the republic’s regions.”
This degree of nebulousness has become the trademark of the GKNB and will do little to dispel suspicions that its periodic terror scares are work of officials seeking to keep the public on edge.
In the past few months, the authorities have bestowed the anti-terror operation label on shootouts that appeared more like clashes with regular organized crime groups.
Turkmenistan's armed forces are conducting unprecedented large-scale, unannounced exercises, an indication of the growing importance the country's government is placing on its defense.
The exercises began "in the dead of night" between Friday and Saturday, on a personal command of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov to his senior military and defense officials, according to an account in the official state news agency. They continued through Monday, with no indication when they might end.
Turkmenistan's government tends to be secretive about its military (as it is with most everything else) but there has been an unmistakeable emphasis in the past several years placed on acquiring new weaponry and modernizing its armed forces. Meanwhile, all the navies on the Caspian Sea (including Turkmenistan) have been steadily building up their navies, and Turkmenistan's border with Afghanistan has become increasingly unstable, with repeated skirmishes, incursions, and other bouts of instability on that border over the last three or so years.
All branches of Turkmenistan's military, including land, air, and naval forces, special operations and air defense, are involved in the exercise. The drills carried out included practicing air strikes against "enemy armed groups," anti-tank warfare, surveillance by drones, and naval surface-to-surface and surface-to-air fire "against various targets."
Sixty-one Armenia-bound monkeys were seized in Tanzania last week in the latest manifestation of the South Caucasus country’s role in the exotic-animals trade.
The monkeys were about to take a flight from the Kilimanjaro International Airport on March 25, when local authorities prevented what they described as a large-scale wildlife theft – despite a ban on such exports, plans existed to whisk out of Tanzania a total of 450 monkeys, according to the country’s Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Jumanne Maghembe, the local Daily News reported. Maghembe has fired several senior officials over the scandal.
The Yerevan-based Zoo Fauna Art company told News.am that it had ordered the 61 monkeys and did so in full compliance with Tanzanian law, but it did not claim ownership of the other would-be travelers. The company’s director, Artur Khachatrian, claimed that the two Dutch nationals of Armenian origin whom police arrested in connection with the incident were just friends of his who had decided to use the flight to send some “luggage” to Armenia.
Brothers Artyom and Edward Nalbandian were arrested on smuggling charges. In 2013, Artyom Nalbandian, who owns a private zoo in Armenia, was embroiled in another wildlife scandal, when an investigative report by Hetq.am alleged that he had illegally acquired an endangered bonobo primate.