An image of Ismayilova emerging from prison on May 25 with a smile and a here-I-am gesture spread online as a symbol of a collective victory over the powerful political machine that tried to silence her. "That's how you leave prison, smiling, [like] you've been to a nice vacation in Italy," said Keti Abashidze, South Caucasus coordinator for the Human Rights House Foundation. Abashidze along with several other of Ismayilova's friends, colleagues and supporters gathered in Tbilisi, Georgia on the reporter's 40th birthday, May 27.
They recalled that it was with that same smile that Ismayilova in late 2014 dismissed friends' pleas not to return from Strasbourg to Baku, where she was to face certain arrest. "Even the prison officials were asking me why I'm smiling all the time," Ismayilova said in videoed comments to RFE/RL, one of the outlets for which she worked.
Her globally acclaimed work and the positive attitude she has kept through her ordeal, which included blackmail with a sex tape, turned her into an international investigative journalism icon. As various celebrities and public figures spoke up for her, her imprisonment became an embarrassment for the international-spotlight-seeking Azerbaijani state.
Authorities in Kazakhstan are categorical about what they believe was the ultimate goal of last weekend’s protests against land reforms — to seize power by sowing unrest and ethnic hatred.
In a statement published on May 27, the General Prosecutor’s Office laid out a stark declaration of intent on how it intends to proceed against future displays of antigovernment activity.
The prosecutor’s office is attempting to cast the government as the reasonable party, arguing that it invited people that had announced their intent to take part in the unsanctioned May 21 rallies to engage in “clarificatory activities.” That term is typically a euphemism for preventative summons issued to individuals suspected of planning to participate in anti-government demonstrations.
“Despite that, certain people tried to ignore the law on meetings and to provoke people into taking part in illegal actions,” the prosecutor’s statement said. “Their final goal was not to hold peaceful meetings and to seek changes to the land code, but to destabilize to social and political situation, to incite ethnic hatred and to seize power.”
The General Prosecutor’s Office certainly seems to adopt a loose definition what clarification constitutes. In several cases, it consisted of jailing people for intent to rally. For what it’s worth (not much as it turns out), Kazakhstan is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which grants citizens the right to protest peacefully. Laws on public assembly in Kazakhstan severely curtail that privilege, however, so the prosecutors are in effect on formally legitimate grounds when they formulate their accusations.
Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan have provoked outrage in some quarters by rejecting proposals to change the criminal code that would have outlawed the religious consecration of marriage rites for minors.
The phenomenon of the very young entering into marriages in Kyrgyzstan is not unusual. The National Statistics Commission estimates that 15 percent of married women between the ages of 25 and 49 sealed their nuptials before turning 18 — 1 percent did it under the age of 15.
The changes to the law rejected by parliament on May 26 specifically related to religious marriage rites (nikah), as opposed to nuptials registered with the state. The legal age of marriage in Kyrgyzstan is 18, although that can be lowered by special dispensation.
The broader ambition of the amendments proposed by Ata-Meken party deputy Aida Salyanova were to criminalize the forcible imposition of religious marriage rites before their official registration.
“The religious consecration of marriages before registration with authorized bodies is a crude violation of human rights. It is inimical to development and substantially increases the likelihood of a woman becoming a victim of (domestic) violence,” Salyanova was cited as saying by Zanoza.kg in a report on parliament’s vote.
By way of a regional comparison, Islamic authorities in neighboring Kazakhstan have as recently as last year issued orders for mosques to desist from performing religious marriage rites without a state-issued marriage certificate, but many have reportedly flouted that edict.
Kyrgyzstan’s largest foreign investor is in hot water again and has been ordered to pay out 6.7 billion som ($98 million) in fines for claimed environmental violations.
24.kg news agency reported that a judge at the Inter-District Court of Bishkek on May 25 ruled in favor of the penalty as part of a handful of lawsuits filed against Kumtor Operating Company by the State Ecology and Technical Inspection Agency.
Kumtor’s parent company, Toronto-based Center Gold, said in a statement that the award was related to accusations that the miner placed waste rock on dumps “subject to tariffs that are normally applicable to industrial or domestic waste.”
Local media has cited authorities as saying waste rock was placed too close to waterways, which risked contaminating rivers and and would eventually require the construction of water purification facilities downstream.
The longer-term concern surrounds the major glaciers alongside which the Kumtor mine is located. Kyrgyz officials, as well international environmentalists, worry that the practice of piling excess amount of waste rock on top of glaciers is causing them irreparable damage. Kumtor, meanwhile, has engaged its own independent expertise to evaluate the impact of its operations on the glaciers and apparently found the threat to be “insignificant.”
On May 24, the Inter-District Court of Bishkek fined Kumtor another $10,000 after it found it guilty of failing to record waste being expelled from the concession’s sewage treatment facility.
With the referendum out of the way, Tajikistan is back to usual business: banning things.
On May 24, Education and Science Minister Nuriddin Said issued a decree abolishing the cherished tradition of the “final bell,” wherein graduating secondary school students celebrate their last day of class.
Terms ends this year on June 7, but instead of the usual merriment, students will simply attend class and then presumably be expected to forlornly file home.
According to Said, failure to enforce this new order will result in punitive measures against education ministry officials and headmasters.
Unaccountable as it may seem for a country’s whose educational system is so riddled with shortcomings, the final bell has become something of an obsession. Every year has brought new amendments and restrictions.
In 2007, the name of the final day was changed from “final bell,” as it is known across most of the former Soviet space, to “bell of maturity” and the date pushed back from May 25 to June 6. That provision was intended to dampen the ardor of revelry and was accompanied by a ban on parties in restaurants, whip-rounds for graduating students, gift-giving and mass outdoor gatherings.
Typically, the day begins at 8 a.m. with a 45-minute assembly at students bring balloons, dance and sing. Diplomas, medals and awards are handed out.
The ban on grand last-day celebrations is based in part, it would seem, on concerns that some parties can on occasion get out of control. Some students mark the day by riding in cars, often recklessly and great speed, around their neighborhoods and on occasion cause fatal accidents.
The harvest for Uzbekistan’s perhaps most famous export, silkworm cocoons, has begun in earnest and with the usual concern for rights violations that the ancient industry brings with it.
Silkworm breeders gather vast amounts of cocoons every year — as much 26,000 tons in 2015, according to official figures. That puts Uzbekistan in third place in global silkworm cocoon production, behind China and India.
Some aspects of the harvest season are reported upon in earnest by state media. UzA news agency carried a report from one of the main sources of the commodity, in the Bukhara region.
“Silkworm breeders in the Jondor district of Bukhara region plan to harvest 419 tons of this valuable material,” UzA reported on May 24.
The main official in charge of a raw silk gathering facility, Naim Sodikov, said supply agreements have been signed with 290 farming enterprises.
But as the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights revealed in a recent report on the silk industry in Uzbekistan, the business relies on forced labor that often deprives farmers of deserved levels of income.
“The central government establishes cocoon production policy, prices, and annual silk production targets, and requires regional- and district-level officials to ensure targets are met. Local officials use coercion, including threatening farmers that they will lose their land, to force farmers and public-sector institutions to fulfill annual silk quotas,” the report stated. “Farmers, in turn, oblige family members, including children, or pay local laborers to assist in the cultivation of silkworm cocoons to meet required production quotas and avoid penalties.”
An accident at a metals mining-and-processing complex in a northern Kazakhstan town is sparking alarm about a possible unfolding environmental disaster.
Residents in the town of Ridder spoke of their shock when they saw that a nearby, previously pristine river had turned a dirty grey as a result of a spill whose causes have yet to be fully explained.
One eyewitness, Konstantin Pimenov, posted pictures of the results of the accident on his Facebook page.
“Shock — that’s what I felt when I saw the river in Ridder. The water isn’t just cloudy. It looks like what is flowing past is thick cement. We all get mad when somebody throws a cigarette stub out of a passing car, and that is indubitably swinish behaviour that should be condemned. But here we are seeing how every second, tons (of water) are polluting the river and soil,” Pimenov wrote on May 25.
State broadcaster Khabar reported that a spill from a dump for ore residues overflowed into the nearby Filippovka River.
Officials have said environmental experts are now assessing the scale of the damage caused by the incident. Prosecutors dealing with environmental protection are also investigating the cause of the spill.
The processing plant owned by Kazzinc, which is in turn controlled by Swiss-based commodity trading and mining monolith Glencore, has for the time being halted operations.
Kazzinc has said that it will provide compensation for the damage caused by the accident in full accordance with the law. Company spokesman Andrei Lazarev was adamant that the accident posed no risk.
Election season in Georgia can only mean one thing: a slugfest. Four years ago the nation did witness its first peaceful, post-Soviet handover of power by elections, but it has yet to experience an electoral process that does not involve broken noses. A recent brawlduring municipal council by-elections came as a troubling theatrical trailer for this fall’s main attraction, a parliamentary vote.
On May 19, outside a polling station in the western village of Kortskheli, able-bodied supporters of the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, the flagship party in the country’s ruling coalition, brutally beat key figures from the party’s main political antagonist, the United National Movement (UNM). UNM leaders such as Giga Bokeria, an ex-national security chief and key political strategist for former President Mikheil Saakashvili, suffered beatings. The police have launched an investigation.
The UNM still managed to prevail in that particular district, for a total of two wins overall, according to preliminary results.
The party released a list of alleged attackers, among whom were recognized martial arts professionals, including Olympic athlete Vladimer Gegeshidze, a member of the national Greco-Roman wrestling team and a European wrestling championship medalist. How these individuals happened to be in the village at the time has not been clarified.
A draft bill in Kyrgyzstan aimed at marginalizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual communities has once again hit the buffers, raising faint hopes of a reprieve for the country’s embattled sexual minorities.
On May 24, a parliamentary subcommittee proposed holding up the bill for a fresh second reading — an unusual move since progress to a third and final review for legislation is typically a formality.
Kyrgyzstan’s anti-LGBT bill was first proposed in May 2014 and closely mirrored a law approved by Russia’s State Duma the year before. But in addition to the fine for the dissemination of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” envisioned by the Russian law, the Kyrgyz bill also proposed jail terms of up to one year for those who “promote homosexual relations” through the media or among children.
The head of the committee on rule of law, order and fighting crime, Janybek Bakchiev, said that although the bill had already passed through two readings in the previous session of parliament, another second-tier examination was required.
“Considering that this [new session of] parliament has not yet discussed this bill — and I think this is a very ambiguous issue important for society — it deserves to be discussed by the MPs of the current parliament,” Bakchiev told the committee. His suggestion was unanimously approved by the committee.
Bakchiev did not elaborate on the specific motivations for further scrutiny, however.
College students in some of Uzbekistan’s largest cities will start their holidays early this year.
Staff at colleges in Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarkand and Urgench were told this week that summer holidays will start from June 9 to make way for preparations ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization heads of state summit scheduled for June 23-24. Semesters normally finish on June 30.
In order to make up for the lost time, courses will be accelerated and graduate theses have to be handed in early. Exams are also being brought forward, which means there will be a lot of cramming to do.
“Students that have not already finished their thesis will have to be helped by the lecturers. By June 10, students from the regions will be required to vacate their institutes. This means we will have to work through the weekends,” a lecturer at a pedagogical institute in Tashkent told EurasiaNet.org.
Students appear to be taking the news in their stride and some are even happy since this means they will get to go home earlier. Discount tariffs on train and plane tickets are being provided for students having to return home.
This situation will affect most of the country’s 74 institutes of higher learning — 34 of which are in Tashkent.
The government is working flat out to prepare for the SCO summit.
An employee with a bank in Tashkent told EurasiaNet.org that since Uzbekistan is experiencing a period of liquid shortages, the bulk available ready cash has been going toward completion of roads and other infrastructure in preparation of the summit. Tashkent has been seized by a flurry of reparation works and tree- and flower-planting to prepare for the event.