Russian President Vladimir Putin meets his de facto South Ossetian counterpart Leonid Tibilov in the Kremlin on March 21. (photo: kremlin.ru)
Upcoming elections for the presidency of South Ossetia have been thrown into turmoil after the de facto authorities refused to register former president Eduard Kokoity and his supporters took to the streets to protest.
South Ossetia's Central Election Commission on March 4 said that they would not allow Kokoity to run in the April 9 elections, on the grounds that he fails to satisfy the ten-year residency requirement. He has been living in Russia since leaving office in 2011. The vote will pick a new leader of South Ossetia, which considers itself an independent country, but is recognized as part of Georgia by Tbilisi and most of the rest of the world (with the conspicuous exception of Moscow).
Following the decision, Kokoity rallied his supporters in South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinval (which Georgians call Tskhinvali), to protest. In response, the authorities temporarily closed the center of Tskhinval to motorized traffic and deployed security forces. Not everyone has fond memories of Kokoity's time in power, though, and on March 21, around two thousand people attended a counter demonstration against Kokoity.
Rally organizer and public activist Edil Baisalov, center, marching at a rally in defense of freedom of speech in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on March 18, 2017. (Photo: Danil Usmanov)
Hundreds of people went onto the streets of Kyrgyzstan’s capital over the weekend to demonstrate in support of free speech — only for many of them to be detained by police.
The rally in the center of Bishkek on March 18 was prompted by a wave of libel lawsuits filed on behalf of President Almazbek Atambayev that media rights advocates say are intended to crush independent reporting.
Among those participating were numerous journalists, members of parliament, rights activists and regular members of the public. The MPs were from the opposition Ata-Meken party, whose leader Omurbek Tekebayev is in jail facing charges of corruption. Several of the lawsuits involve the reporting of unproven allegations made by Tekebayev.
One participant in the rally was Alexander Kim, who is facing investigation over alleged financial misdemeanors while he was in control of Kyrgyzstan’s largest newspaper, Vecherniy Bishkek. The newspaper was wrested from his control by court ruling in 2015 and has since tacked to a fiercely pro-government and, accordingly, anti-opposition line. On the eve of the rally, finance police turned up at Kim’s home to detain him, but were foiled when it was found they did not have a warrant.
While the rally began peacefully enough, it was quickly interrupted by police, who said they had a court order to bring the march to a halt. After that, police began detaining participants, including activists Mavlyan Askarbekov, Aibek Myrza and Azamat Attokurov. Ata-Meken MP Kanybek Imanaliyev was held briefly before being released.
Rally organizer and public activist Edil Baisalov confronted the police, stating that the mayor’s office had given its approval. City Hall confirmed this information.
The former owner of Kyrgyzstan’s largest newspaper — which has tacked away from its formerly sparky reporting style since a court-ordered takeover in 2015 — is being targeted for arrest.
After nightfall on March 17, a group of officers with the finance police attempted to forcibly detain 70-year old Alexander Kim at his apartment, but their efforts were foiled following a public uproar.
The move comes against the backdrop of mounting intimidation of independent press and attempts by state prosecutors to seek crippling libel damages from critical outlets, such as Zanoza.kg, which is owned by Kim.
The State Service for Combating Economic Crimes has said it is investigating Kim over suspect financial activity when he was the director of the holding company that owned Vecherniy Bishkek newspaper.
Shortly after the arrival of the finance police squadron at Kim’s apartment, civic society and rights activists rushed to the scene. After a standoff lasting several hours, finance police relented but left a summons for Kim to present himself to the authorities on March 22.
Vecherniy Bishkek, a daily newspaper, has had a complicated and troubled past, having changed beneficiaries repeatedly through nebulous means.
Its current owner, Alexander Ryabushkin, previously had a degree of control over the paper, but argued that it was illegally wrested out of his hands. A court in September 2015 ordered that ownership of the newspaper be transferred from Kim to Ryabushkin.
Kim argued that the court decision was politically motivated and engineered by people close to the presidential administration.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov meets with Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Doha on March 15, 2017. (Photo: Turkmenistan State News Agency)
The president of Turkmenistan embarked on a two-day trip to Qatar this week in the hope of drumming up vital investment, although he does not seem to have come back any with any visible results.
Aside from meeting with Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and attending a banquet of honor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov spent the day in Doha on March 15 holding talks with purse-string holders, like the chief executive of the Qatar Investment Authority. But the only firm outcome of the visit came with the signing of a spate of memoranda of understanding on cooperation in areas like energy, aviation, education and wildlife conservation.
Hopeful talk on energy was naturally at the forefront of Berdymukhamedov’s thoughts.
“Qatari companies have been invited to participate in the building of gas processing plants, and petrochemical and gas chemical plants in Turkmenistan, and to develop [energy] projects on the Turkmen shelf of the Caspian Sea,” the state news agency report on the visit stated.
Another would-be opportunity touted by Berdymukhamedov was for Qatar to sink money into the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline (TAPI), which will be indispensable if Turkmenistan is ever to loosen China’s near-monopoly grip on its energy exports.
Turkmenistan has looked at fellow gas-rich nation Qatar’s recent extravagant forays into foreign investments — which include Qatar Investment Authority’s recent joint purchase of a big chunk of Russian oil giant Rosneft — and must be hoping to get in on the act.
This plan has flaws that will be obvious to seasoned Turkmenistan watchers.
Parliament in Kyrgyzstan has narrowly rejected legislation that would have made it illegal to hunt endangered animals until 2030.
Opponents of the bill, which was defeated 56 to 52, argued that the ban could cost the country money in lost tourist revenue. They also said the legislation would do nothing to solve the problem of poaching.
“We could get a boomerang effect from a moratorium. Besides, we would lose revenue from foreign hunters,” said Isa Omurkulov, a member of parliament with the ruling Social-Democratic Party (SDPK).
The government currently charges 450,000 som ($6,000) for a license to hunt Argali mountain sheep, known locally as Arkhar, the most commonly sought trophy animal for foreign hunters. An all-inclusive hunting expedition to the country can about $15,000-20,000 — likely the lowest rate in the whole region. (Here is footage of a foreigner on a hunt in Kyrgyzstan).
Authorities freely admit that foreigners buying a single license are at liberty to shoot dead as many animals as they care to.
Lawmakers certainly have a point about poaching.
According to official figures, there were 520 instances of illegal hunting recorded in the 2015-16 season, while only 69 licenses were handed out. Indeed, while those lawfully hunting contribute substantial sums of money to the economy, illegal hunters do nothing but cause possibly permanent environmental damage.
Supporters of the moratorium have said they will continue their campaign, however.
“We must continue to protect our ecology, which was religiously cared for by our ancestors,” said lawmaker Zhanar Akayev, who helped draft the bill. “There will always be those that resist major changes, but we must continue to expand the ranks of our supporters.”
A jailed lawyer in Tajikistan has had his lengthy sentence extended by two years for contempt of court for quoting the words of an 11th century Persian philosopher and poet during his original trial.
The ruling handed down on March 16 means Buzurgmehr Yorov now faces 25 years in jail. He was sentenced in October on what his supporters say were trumped-up charges of fraud and inciting hatred and extremism, among other offenses.
Rights advocates argue Yorov was targeted for reprisal because he was one of the few lawyers willing to take up the case of arrested members of the now-banned opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).
During hearings at his trial in October, Yorov quoted Avicenna to say that “society is spoiled by a few ignorant people who believe themselves the wisest; those that would make infidels of all who do not abide by their wishes.” The court was sufficiently offended by the words to file a criminal case of charges of contempt and offending a state representative.
And that isn’t all.
Yorov’s sister, Hosiyat, has told EurasiaNet.org that the Firdavs district court in Dushanbe is now bracing for hearings into yet another case, again on fraud charges, which envision anything up to another 12 years in jail.
In addition to defending the IRPT members, Yorov was the first person to make a public statement about the apparent physical abuse being meted out to the jailed party leadership. That appears to have precipitated in his arrest in September 2015.
State media cast Yorov as a defender of terrorists, which is how the IRPT is now characterized.
“He must be a terrorist himself if he defends terrorists,” one article argued.
Kyrgyz American Foundation co-founder Jonathan Levin performs at Nichols Concert Hall in Chicago on November 5, 2016. The performance, titled “Sounds of Kyrgyzstan in Chicago,” was the Kyrgyz American Foundation’s debut event in the United States. (Photo courtesy of the Kyrgyz American Foundation)
The Kyrgyz American Foundation is staging a concert in New York on March 16, driven by the belief that music, rather than words, can often be more effective in building connections among people.
For the foundation’s co-founders, Azamat Sydykov and Jonathan Levin, the March 16 event, titled “Sounds of Kyrgyzstan in New York,” is not so much a one-time performance as it is the beginning of a long-term endeavor. “Music unites, and art makes us better. Music knows no borders,” Sydykov said.
The concert will bring a colorful celebration of Kyrgyz music to New York’s Merkin Concert Hall; the program features classical and traditional Kyrgyz and American music composed and performed by artists from the two countries. In addition to Sydykov and Levin, both experienced concert pianists, scheduled performers include soprano Nikoleta Rallis, pianists Joel A. Martin and Kairy Koshoeva, cellist Numira Greenberg, as well as Elvira Abdilova and Perizat Kopobaeva on the national instrument of Kyrgyzstan, the komuz.
The Kyrgyz American Foundation aims to build strong and enduring ties between Kyrgyzstan and the United States, Sydykov and Levin told EurasiaNet.org. All too often, the connections between nations are only strategic and political, Sydykov explained, adding that the foundation intends to move Kyrgyz-American relations beyond “temporary things such as Manas Air Base.” While others are focused on building walls, the foundation hopes to use music and culture to show that there are better ways to understand each other, he said.
Child labor in Uzbekistan usually brings cotton fields to mind, but the reality is that work in the countryside accounts for a small part of the problem.
Recent efforts by law enforcement starkly illustrate the issue.
Police in the capital of Uzbekistan have said this week that in the first two months of 2017 they took 1,400 children who moved from the regions to find work in the city off the streets.
The bulk of those children were reportedly engaged in such menial labor as tugging carts at markets or working in carwashes. Officials cited by RFE/RL’s Uzbek service say the children detained in these sweeps have been sent to centers for the support of underage children.
Poverty and unemployment in rural areas forces many families to resort to sending school-age children to look for some form of income in urban areas, where work is more readily available. The perceived advantage of having people so young undertake the task is that they are less susceptible to harassment from the police and usually are not forced to pay bribes. And since many of them do not even have internal passports, even basic document checks are often impossible. In families where the father is living abroad, a child is often the only person in household able to generate any kind of income. Employers are also more likely to take on workers who will agree to the lowest salaries possible.
According to former policeman Aibek Muminov, children often prove highly adaptable and move from one city to another with ease.
The car of a 67-year security guard in the southern Tajikistan city of Qurghonteppa exploded late at night on March 12 in the vicinity of a military prosecutors’ office, prompting official claims of possible terrorism afoot.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the blast was caused by an incendiary device.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported that the prosecutor’s office in the Khatlon region is investigating the incident as a potential terrorist act, but it has provided few specific details. According to a source cited by Ozodi, investigators are considering the possibility that the security guard, Hasanboi Rahmonov, who was the only person killed in the explosion, was also possibly a perpetrator.
Investigators are questioning Rahmonov’s friends and acquaintances for more details on his background, Ozodi reported.
Meanwhile, news website Asia-Plus reported that the rumor mill in Qurghonteppa is insisting that Rahmonov was but an unfortunate bystander, who might just have been carrying a suspect package to the prosecutor’s office. By way of a supporting argument, people point to the fact that his place of work, a technical lyceum, is right next door to the prosecutor’s office.
Officials have declined to comment on this line of speculation, however.
Top representatives of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development traveled to Uzbekistan on March 15 for a visit that could have major repercussions for ongoing intra-elite struggles.
According to official statements, EBRD President Suma Chakrabarti and his team will hold multiple high-level meetings with Uzbek officials over their three-day stay.
The dry language of the press releases disguise the political implications.
“We already see several areas of interest, such as regional connectivity and integration, advisory services and finance for [small and medium enterprises], and the financing of green energy and energy efficiency projects,” Chakrabarti said in a statement.
The EBRD has also said it wants to help in addressing the potentially disastrous remnants of the Soviet-era uranium mining and processing industry.
This trip has been in the woodwork for a few months.
As preparation for the visit, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov on February 6 met with Natalia Khanjenkova, the EBRD’s managing director Central Asia and Russia. Khanjenkova said at the time that the EBRD hoped for long-term cooperation with Uzbekistan.
The EBRD’s representative office in Tashkent was opened in 1993. According to gazeta.ru, the bank carried out 55 projects in its time in Uzbekistan, investing almost 900 million euros ($950 million) into the local economy.