In their intent to marginalize the role of Islam in public life, authorities in Tajikistan are reportedly prohibiting government employees from attending Friday prayers.
Independent news website Asia-Plus based its October 12 report on the ban on testimonies from unnamed civil servants.
The prohibition fits into a broader pattern of pressure against public displays of piety. An informal ban against young men wearing beards is eagerly enforced, while women with veils covering the face can expect to be hauled off the streets by police.
That intimidation is coupled with an ongoing crackdown of what was Central Asia’s only legal Islamic political party – the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan – until it was banned this summer. Almost the entire party leadership is now behind bars pending trials on flimsy claims of involvement in an alleged insurgency.
Moves against government workers attending Friday prayers at the mosque appear to be a recent development and began after the Eid al-Adha holiday, better known as Idi Qurbon in Tajikistan, which was marked this year on September 23.
“Over the last two weeks, after Idi Qurbon, our management forbade us from leaving work to attend Friday prayers,” one unnamed government employee told Asia-Plus.
The website said that the report had been confirmed by the state Committee for Religious Affairs and the Regulation of Traditions and Customs.
France’s prime minister has ruled that a Kazakhstani oligarch who has been fighting a mammoth extradition battle with the French justice system for two years should be handed over to Russia to face fraud charges.
The ruling deals Mukhtar Ablyazov a major setback in his battle not to be extradited to a state that might then hand him over to his home country of Kazakhstan, which he says is pursuing him for political reasons.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls signed the extradition order on September 17. Ablyazov’s lawyer Peter Sahlas told AFP on October 12 that his client was informed of the decision last week.
Ablyazov will contest the ruling at the Conseil d’Etat, France’s supreme court of appeals in administrative cases, Sahlas said.
If he loses, he will be handed over to Russia to face charges of fraud and embezzlement in a convoluted case brought against him by Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, which charges that he stole at least $6 billion from the financial institution, which he once ran and owned through an undeclared stake.
Ablyazov has always contested that the case was politically motivated, spearheaded behind the scenes by the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev because of Ablyazov’s support for the opposition.
Kyrgyzstan has been gripped by a fresh wave of security anxieties after nine men belonging to a banned radical Islamist group broke out of a prison near the capital, killing three guards during their escape.
Authorities said five of the fugitives, who were members of the group, were captured in a nearby village after the escape, which occurred on the night of October 11.
All had been convicted on terrorism and extremism charges.
In an alarming indicator of security provisions at the detention facility in the village of Nizhny Norus, the escape appears to have been made possible by a power failure. Brownouts are a commonplace occurrence in Kyrgyzstan and their frequency tends to increase in the winter months.
The head of the prison service, Salamat Abdiyev, told reporters that the power was down for half an hour and that the electricity is frequently turned off due to weather conditions.
“We have a diesel generator, but that is to supply power to the [prison] perimeter,” he said in comments reported by AKIpress.
Adding confusion to the account, however, power company Severelectro later denied electricity supplies to the prison had gone down.
Abdiyev said the surveillance cameras had not been working for two weeks.
The fugitives, seven of whom were serving life sentences, escaped in the vehicle of one of the guards killed during the breakout. Abdiyev said the fleeing prisoners had not managed to seize any weapons or ammunition.
Abdul Rashid Dostum and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu meet in Moscow. (photo: Dostum's facebook page)
After the Taliban took over the city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, Russia has responded by taking a number of measures aimed at shoring up security in the region, strengthening both their own and partner armed forces.
Taliban forces seized Kunduz at the end of September, marking the first time the group has controlled a major city since being driven out of power in 2001. Afghan government forces retook the town days later, but the episode nevertheless highlighted the deteriorating security situation in the northern part of the country.
While the Taliban's goals still appear limited to Afghanistan's borders, their growing strength in the region has worried Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, which lie just over Afghanistan's northern border. And Russia, in spite of already being militarily engaged on multiple fronts, is trying to increase its engagement in Central Asia, as well.
First, Russia announced that it would bolster its military base in Tajikistan with a new air group and additional Mi-24P attack and Mi-8 MTV transport helicopters. (This announcement, incidentally, let us learn a little more about the murky situation around the Ayni air force base outside the capital of Dushanbe. Russia has reportedly been trying to gain control of the base, but this week the Tajikistan's Ministry of Defense issued a statement clarifying that they owned the base and were merely allowing Russia to use it.)
Georgia will seek a firm membership commitment from NATO at the alliance’s next summit in Warsaw in 2016, Georgian Parliament Speaker Davit Usupashvili said during a visit to London.
At NATO’s summit in April 2008, the alliance issued a statement assuring Georgia that it could join NATO once certain requirements were met. Speaking at Chatham House on October 6, Usapashvili said NATO’s promise should be kept.
“The Bucharest summit in April (2008) heard how Georgia would become a NATO member and in August [of that same year], there was a war,” Usapashvili said. “Some say that NATO was quite aggressive going forward with Georgia; others say that NATO was not clear enough and the statement was not accompanied by anything concrete, which gave Russia the momentum to act.
“We do not want a repeat of Bucharest when the NATO summit only had nice words,” he added.
A survey by Georgia’s National Democracy Institute (NDI) this year found support for NATO membership among Georgians remains strong at 65 percent. However, only 9 percent of Georgians said being in NATO was the most important political issue for them.
EurasiaNet.org asked Usapashvili whether there would be any political fallout if Georgia did not receive a firm commitment from NATO in 2016. Georgia is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in 2016. He said that such a non-decision would do more to undermine regional security than domestic stability.
“It would be much more toxic internationally because this would send a message not only to the Georgian people but to Russia,” Usapashvili said.
A human rights campaigner who alleges that she was tortured, gang-raped and forcibly sterilized while in custody in Uzbekistan has won a landmark United Nations ruling ordering Tashkent to investigate and prosecute those responsible for her ordeal.
The UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) found there had been “multiple violations” of the rights of Mutabar Tadjibayeva, an activist who now lives in exile in Paris, a press release issued by three human rights groups on October 8 said.
These include her rights “to be free from torture and ill-treatment; to liberty and security; to a fair trial; to freedom of expression; and to be protected against discrimination on the grounds of sex and opinion,” the press release from Tadjibayeva’s own group, the Fiery Hearts Club, and two international groups supporting her, London-based Redress and Paris-based FIDH.
“I hope this decision adds to the struggle against impunity in Uzbekistan and serves to put an end to the many indignities committed against human rights defenders by its repressive regime,” Tadjibayeva said in response to the UNHRC ruling, issued on October 6.
Tadjibayeva alleged in a complaint filed with the UN in 2012 that she was tortured, gang-raped and forcibly sterilized (a practice the government denies but which has been documented by the BBC) while in custody in Uzbekistan, where she was jailed in 2005 shortly after a bout of fatal unrest in her hometown of Andijan.
A court in the southern Kyrgyzstan town of Kara-Suu has sentenced a popular local imam to five years in prison on charges of inciting religious hatred and distributing extremist material.
The verdict delivered on the evening of October 7 marked the culmination of a four-month trial that Rashot Kamalov's lawyers regularly complained was marred by irregularities.
While accusations of extremism are not unusual in Kyrgyzstan, Kamalov has been the most prominent and influential religious to date to face prosecution for the offense. The imam's standing rests in great part on the reputation of his father, Rafik, a widely admired religious leader from Kara-Suu who was killed by Kyrgyz security forces in 2006.
Kamalov's defense team say they will appeal.
The imam was arrested on February 9 following a raid on his home by armed special operations forces. Police found a disk during their search that contained a video recording of a sermon delivered by Kamalov at Kara-Suu's As-Sarakhsi Mosque during Friday prayers on July 4, 2014.
Prosecutors said the sermon contained an exhortation to create a caliphate.
Against the backdrop of unrest in the Middle East provoked in part by the military campaigns of the Islamic State radical group, which claims to have founded a modern-day caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, the accusations were incendiary.
But throughout his trial, Kamalov repeatedly denied he was seeking to whip up unrest and said his sermon was only explanatory in nature. The imam has also been a public critic of Islamic State and is on record as telling people in Kara-Suu to prevent their children from going to Syria to fight.
Screenshot of Russian MoD-produced video of strikes against Syrian targets fired from ships on the Caspian Sea.
Russian cruise missiles launched from ships on the Caspian Sea have struck targets inside Syria, adding a dramatic exclamation to what had been a slow, quiet militarization of the sea.
The strikes took place Monday and Tuesday and were announced with great fanfare on Wednesday, including comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin and a slickly produced video detailing the strike.
In total, 26 missiles were fired against 11 targets inside Syria from four ships from Russia's Caspian Flotilla. The 3M14 Kalibr missiles were used in combat for the first time, Russian defense industry sources told news site Lenta.ru. They flew over Iranian and Iraqi airspace en route to Syria, and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu emphasized that Russia had gotten permission beforehand from those "partners."
Putin's comments praised the soldiers and military staff involved the strikes, but also Russia's defense industry. "The fact that these strikes were carried out using high-precision weapons launched from the Caspian Sea’s waters, around 1,500 kilometres away, and all of the planned targets were destroyed is evidence of our defence industry’s good preparation," Putin said. The strikes, and the large amount of publicity they were given, likely served two interests: demonstrating the Russian military's ability to strike from a long distance, and demonstrating the ability of Russian weaponry -- a key element in Russia's strategy for economic recovery -- to carry out such strikes.
Not content to sit back and let the men grab all the European football glory, Kazakhstan's top women's team has made its mark by holding Spain's Barcelona to a draw in the knockout stage of the UEFA Women's Champions League.
Last week, FC Astana made history by becoming the first team from Kazakhstan to gain a point in the Champions League group stage with a 2-2 draw with Turkey's Galatasaray, but the women's team BIIT-Kazygurt, based in Shymkent, southern Kazakhstan, is no stranger to European competition.
The team has been a regular in the knockout stages of the Women's Champions League since the competition was founded in 2009, but has never progressed beyond the round of 32 teams.
BIIK-Kazygurt fielded a cosmopolitan line-up against Barcelona with the teams defensive core hailing from Kazakhstan, and the rest of the team from the United States, Nigeria, Norway, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Barcelona took the lead after 57 minutes before BIIK-Kazygurt's Norwegian star Lisa-Marie Woods got the equaliser after 82 minutes.
Kazakhstan has had a women's football league since 2004, with BIIK-Kazygurt, then based in the commercial capital Almaty and known as Alma-KTZh, a founder member. The team relocated to Shymkent in 2010.
The league now consists of five teams – two from Shymkent, and one apiece from Almaty, Kokshetau and Aktobe. BIIK-Kazygurt were the runaway winners of this years league with a 100 percent record. Next week, the team makes the 4,300-mile trip to Spain for the return leg as it vies with FC Astana to bring European football glory to Kazakhstan.
Legislation approved last month by Kazakhstan’s parliament is creating onerous rules on how nongovernmental organizations are funded and sparking alarm among activists of a fresh crackdown on civil society.
Critics of the bill have drawn comparisons to a 2012 law adopted in Russia that requires foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents,” a label with toxic Cold War-era associations.
Although the wording of the bill in Kazakhstan is different, many fear the results may be similar.
The law will grant the government “ideological control over NGOs,” activist Amangeldy Shormanbayev warned on October 6.
Over 60 NGOs have signed an appeal for President Nursultan Nazarbayev to veto the bill, which was approved by the lower house of parliament on September 23 and is now awaiting a vote in the Senate.
The petition warns that “if this draft law is adopted, it will seriously restrict human rights,” including the rights to freedom of speech, conscience and association.
Since the constitution guarantees those rights, the law is anti-constitutional and also breaches international human rights commitments to which Astana subscribes, the appeal said.
The law will establish a single state operator through which funding for NGOs must be channeled. Activists believe that will give the state a veto over which NGOs receive funding, and for what kind of activities.
The law “contradicts the principles of open civil society, because NGOs cannot be 100 percent dependent on the state,” Shormanbayev, a representative from the International Legal Initiative, a nongovernmental foundation offering legal advice, told a news conference in Almaty on October 6.