Concerns are growing about the fate of a BBC journalist detained in northern Tajikistan. Urinboy Usmonov, who has worked with the BBC Central Asian Service for ten years, was arrested on June 13, accused of being a member of a banned Islamic movement. Media rights activists say he has not had access to a lawyer and believe he has been beaten in custody. Usmonov, 59, is diabetic and suffers from high blood pressure.
Authorities told the AP that Usmonov is suspected of membership in Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an Islamic movement banned throughout Central Asia, but which operates legally in some western countries and has never been tied to violence.
Journalists who know Usmonov say he has reported on Hizb-ut-Tahrir, but that he is a secular man. If he had copies of banned material, they said, it was simply so he could do his job.
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has voted unanimously to ban the independent news website fergananews.com (formerly Ferghana.ru).
After weeks of heated debate over the causes of last summer’s ethnic violence, lawmakers cast votes on a resolution including the ban, and blaming Uzbek “separatist” leaders for organizing the clashes. Ninety-five approved; none opposed.
The resolution instructed the Ministry of Culture and Information, the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor General's Office “to take steps to block the site Ferghana.ru in the information space of the republic.”
Moscow-based Ferghana.ru – singled out for offering alternatives to the nationalist narrative that Uzbek separatists are to blame for the tragedy – has been blocked in Kyrgyzstan in the past, just before periods of intense political upheaval, such as immediately preceding the ousters of both Askar Akayev in 2005 and Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010.
Editor Daniil Kislov called on authorities to act based on the law, not “emotional hostility.”
“It would be very sad to see post-revolutionary Kyrgyzstan on a par with other states that are Internet enemies,” Kislov said in a story on the website.
In the same article, the head of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, Dinara Oshurahunova, said the resolution was a violation of the law, as the legislature has no authority to determine guilt, which is the province of the courts. She also pointed out that the blocking of websites helped precipitate the events that led to Bakiyev’s bloody ouster last year.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit June 2011, Astana
Bruce Pannier, blogging for Chaikhana at Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, caught the rumors that before the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana this week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stopped in Tashkent for a visit and supposedly urged long-time dictator Uzbek President Islam Karimov to step down voluntarily and ensure a peaceful transition of leadership in his country.
The story is based on speculation from a Russian expert on Central Asia who spoke on Kommersant FM, a commercial Russian radio show, on the eve of the SCO summit.
As we can see from the transcript, Sergei Zatsepilov, general director of the Center for A Just Foreign Policy in Moscow, was theorizing about Medvedev's plans before he headed off for a meeting with Karimov, which he believed involved an offer to leave peacefully:
Site of Future Bundyokor Stadium, Tashkent, June 2010
When we last tuned into the ambitious plan to build a new stadium for Bundyokor, Uzbekistan's premier soccer team, it seemed like construction was halted and weeds were growing over the lot. When Zeromax, the Swiss-registered state conglomerate went bust, the stadium seemed to be among a number of projects that lost financing with the declaration of bankruptcy. Last November, it emerged that German investors were left with a €130 million bill after a Zeromax building spree; despite a $469 million trade turnover last year, relations have soured lately with the collapse of such projects.
Bundyokor seemed to fall on hard times, having to let go its highly-paid Brazilian soccer coach Luiz Felipe Scolari last year.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit has concluded, doing little to dispel perceptions that it is an anti-Western talk shop. The two pieces of news that have gotten the most attention from the summit are the statement opposing U.S. missile defense plans, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling on the group to form a new world order to replace the current one that is "managed and run by slavers and colonizers of the past." There was also some pointed commentary on the "Arab Spring," with the suggestion that Arab countries develop democracy "in accordance with their own history and cultural traditions."
But there were some substantive developments as well. As expected, the group made a step toward admitting India, Pakistan and Iran as new members. Those three countries are currently all observer states of the SCO, along with Mongolia, which appears not to have taken this step -- on which more in an upcoming post. There was talk of Afghanistan joining as an observer during this summit, though that appears not to have happened.
And the SCO signed an agreement on cooperation on drug trafficking with the United Nations, signaling the group's increasing legitimacy among established international organizations.
And although there doesn't seem to have been much specific action taken in the economic realm, there seems to have been a lot of discussion of greater economic cooperation among SCO states. From China Daily:
But there's been some back-peddling on just how close the EU has been to the president's controversial daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, who has once again been in the news with a sensational libel trial in Paris against a French journalist she has accused of libel for calling her father "a dictator" and questioning her philanthropic activities.
“Providing aid to Uzbekistan does not mean we support the regime or Karimov's daughter,” an unnamed spokeswoman from the EU told the European Voice. She did not elaborate on how the EU expected to transfer funds independently to aid projects -- unlikely in a country where grants and non-profit activity are entirely under government control.
The European Commission, which oversees programs in Uzbekistan of €36 million euro, is now denying directly giving €3.7 million to the state-controlled charity headed by the president's daughter.
Yet there are still questions to be asked, given that Europa House, the EU representation in Tashkent, hastily removed a page from its website, still in Google's cache, which seems to imply that the €3.7 million were in fact slated for disbursement through the National Center for the Social Adaptation of Children (NCSAC), chaired by Karimova-Tillyaeva.
After a long exchange with legislators (supposedly touching on "lawmaking practices and perspectives for the country's development," according to parliamentary spokesperson Inna Gabarayeva), the Kokoity fans finally left, but some news outlets described the incident as an attempt at a power grab. Several parliamentarians resigned in protest.
Kokoity distanced himself from the group and called on prosecutors to investigate the incident. Calling on South Ossetians not to overdramatize the situation, he asked his supporters to stop twisting his arm about running for a third term.
“Such manifestations of popular love for the president and support for his course create tensions among various groups in our society and lead to destabilization of the situation,” Kokoity said in a statement. “There will be no third term.”
As the lobbying war between the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev heats up again in Washington, at home there’s a new twist in the endless tale of Kazakhstan’s Public Enemy Number One.
Aliyev’s now facing murder charges, over four years after two bankers he’s alleged to have slain – Zholdas Timraliyev and Aybar Khasenov – disappeared.
Evidence “irrefutably proving” their murder by Aliyev and his associates has emerged, Prosecutor-General Askhat Daulbayev said on June 15 in remarks quoted by KazTAG.
He said the men had been tortured, suffocated, put in barrels and hidden in the Remizov Gorge outside Almaty, where their bodies were finally found this May.
Daulbayev didn’t explain why it took over four years to locate the bankers' bodies, or why law-enforcers ignored the pleas of their relatives, who pointed to a business dispute with Aliyev as the key to the mystery.
As EurasiaNet.org reported at the time: “Timraliyev's wife, Armangul Kapasheva, alleges that prior to his disappearance, Timraliyev was kidnapped and subjected to violence and intimidation in an attempt to force him to ensure that management of a lucrative business center in Almaty, Kazakhstan's financial capital, passed to the president's son-in-law.”
About 50 people gathered to protest the razing of residential buildings in Ashgabat, and were quickly dispersed by police.
The last time people in the capital had protested the government's destruction of homes to make way for new government palaces was back in the 1990s. In the provincial city of Dashoguz last November, merchants staged a sit-in to protest the bulldozing of the popular Bay Bazaar, where many local people made a living selling fruits and vegetables.
In February, citing a failure to gain proper permits, authorities decreed the demolition of some Soviet-era two-story apartment buildings. They were supposed to find new homes for people displaced, but some were forgotten and began appealing to the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights for help.
The protesters likely chose the five-star €270 million Oguzkent Hotel, built by the French construction firm Bouygues, because it is known to be the Ashgabat residence of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, and symbolizes the pompous building projects he has decreed since coming to power in 2007.
It appears that Kazakhstan has gotten cold feet about its proposed deployment of four officers to Afghanistan. Last week, the upper house of the parliament rejected the bill authorizing their deployment, but that move seemed like it could have been a bit of political theater. Now the lower house of parliament -- which approved the bill a month ago -- has now said it won't support the bill. RIA Novosti quotes one member of the lower house, Nurtai Sabilyanov:
"Given the opinion of the senate and the public, the Majilis [lower house] will return the agreement to the government and it will have no legal effect because of the non-ratification by parliament," Sabilyanov said.
Majilis ratified the agreement with NATO on May 18 but the upper house turned the bill down on June 9 pending a decision from a joint parliamentary session.
"We must not send [our] military to Afghanistan, it is clear to all," he said.
Another MP, Tasbay Simambayev, wrote in the government newspaper Liter that senators "breathed a sigh of relief" when the bill was voted down: "Our country should not be dragged into someone else's wars." His piece (not online, via BBC Monitoring) focused on the threat of terror that Kazakhstan would expose itself to. But there also was an intriguing reference to "ambiguous reaction from our close partners":
Many arguments were voiced in favour of the need to increase the Kazakh military's combat experience, that we need a closer cooperation with the North Atlantic alliance, that we are bound by agreements and so on. But the point is that no international, foreign policy activity should harm Kazakhstan's reputation and security.