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 (KNPRK in its Russian initials) 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.
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.