“Clooney targets Turkic states in her path to fame,” screamed a headline in AzerNews, an outlet long busy with whitewashing the Azerbaijani government’s human-rights record. “We would like to note that Amal Clooney is an ethnic Armenian and she represented Armenian interests in the European Court for Human Rights,” echoed the hawkish Haqqin.az news service.
Clooney and the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), a British charitable organization, will represent Ismayilova in a case brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over the reporter's extended pre-trial detention, MLDI attorney Nani Jansen emailed in response to a query from EurasiaNet.org. Ismayilova, 39, was detained in December 2014 on charges of allegedly having prompted a co-worker to attempt suicide. She remained in custody even after the co-worker had dropped his charges.
The MLDI also is representing Ismayilova before the ECHR concerning the government's failure to prosecute those involved in a sex-video blackmail attempt against Ismayilova, and the violation of her right to privacy.
As economic anxieties begin escalating into panic across many former Soviet republics, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon has delivered an annual address to parliament brimming with unvarnished optimism.
On the economic front, Rahmon argued in his January 20 speech, that it was all looking pretty good in 2015. Economic growth hit 6 percent, with inflation contained at a very manageable 5 percent. The proportion of the population living in poverty has fallen to 31 percent and gross domestic product per capita has increased by 3.8 percent. Child mortality has dropped by two-and-a-half-fold in the last five years, Rahmon said.
On and on came the figures.
Some claims are embellished, not to speak of outright wrong, while others are stripped of context. That boast of 5 percent growth looks less impressive when you realize that is the fourth consecutive annual drop in the rate of economic expansion. The figures for 2014 is 6.7 percent, and it is 7.4 percent for the year before that.
Without spelling out the details, Rahmon admits to external problems buffeting the economy. Remittances from Russia, where most Tajik migrant laborers work, fell by 65 percent in January-September 2015 ($1.54 billion), compared to the same period in 2014 ($3.16 billion). And that trend looks set to continue.
Leaders in Central Asia are fond of arguing that their plight is caused by the global economic crisis, but it is countries that are reliant on energy and Russia that are really feeling the pinch, as The Economist pointed out in a piece this past week.
Uzbekistan’s foreign minister has begun a round of annual consultations in Washington that happen to follow shortly after Tashkent launched an offensive to recover millions of dollars frozen in a U.S. corruption case involving the Uzbek president’s daughter.
Abdulaziz Komilov began the three-day talks on January 19 with a meeting with Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent said in an e-mailed statement.
Topics for discussion include the usual suspects: security, political developments, human rights and trade. But one onlie Uzbek media outlet is speculating that Komilov may also be raising another thorny topic behind the scenes.
According to documents recently filed with a U.S. court, copies of which have been seen by EurasiaNet.org, Tashkent has begun pressing for the release of $300 million in assets frozen during a bribery investigation involving the president’s daughter, Gulnara Karimova. The last that was heard of Karimova, she was under house arrest in Tashkent.
The funds are allegedly illicit proceeds from “an international conspiracy to launder corrupt payments” made in Uzbekistan’s telecoms sector, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice last summer.
The $300 million – held in Bank of New York Mellon accounts in Belgium, Ireland, and Luxemburg – were frozen by a U.S. Federal Court order in July.
The lawsuit named two Karimova associates, Gayane Avakyan and Rustam Madumarov, as owners of shell companies “beneficially owned by GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL A.”
Azizamo Asadullayeva seen during a visit to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, on January 4, 2016.
While never passing on an opportunity to bash strict Muslims, Tajikistan’s leaders are trying to have their cake and eat it by casting themselves as pious upholders of the faith.
The latest wheeze about to descend upon the Tajik public is a suggestion to endow President Emomali Rahmon’s little-seen wife with the title of “Leader of Muslim Women in Tajikistan.”
That proposal is the brainchild of Abdullo Muhakkik, a religious commentator best known for his broadsides against Salafist movements, who expanded on the idea in a January 19 editorial carried by state news agency Khovar. The idea may be exotic, but its appearance in Khovar makes it more than likely it will come to pass.
Underpinning Azizamo Asadullayeva’s claim to this newly devised titled is the fact that she has become, according to Muhakkik, the first woman from Central Asia ever to enter the Kabaa, the building at the center of Mecca’s most sacred mosque. Asadullayeva was part of the large delegation, headed by Rahmon, that visited Saudi Arabia earlier this month.
“Until now, dozens of Tajik women have performed the hajj, but have not been inside the Kabaa,” Muhakkik noted admiringly.
Muhakkik said this historic event should serve as example to Tajik women, and that Asadullayeva should stand as a role model for the devout.
The Saudi caretakers of Mecca purportedly bestow this honor on a select few, although they have been especially generous with their Tajik guests. Even one of Rahmon’s daughters, Ozoda Emomali, got to pop into the Kabaa.
Human rights campaigners in Kazakhstan are calling for the abolition of two pieces of legislation frequently used against critics of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The appeal comes against the backdrop of an ongoing trial in Almaty of two activists facing charges of incitement — an accusation that their supporters argue is an attempt to muzzle them through the courts.
“There are two articles in our Criminal Code that can – given the desire – be used against inconvenient dissidents and political opponents,” Yevgeniy Zhovtis, the country’s best-known human rights campaigner, told a press conference in Almaty on January 19. “Both are political.”
Zhovtis was referring to the charge of incitement to social, ethnic, tribal, racial, class or religious strife — a statute routinely wielded against political activists and journalists — and the charge of dissemination of false information, which was criminalized last year.
Continued use of these articles “for the persecution of dissidents” risks “turning our country into a police state moving closer to totalitarianism, which is extremely sad,” said Zhovtis.
With international sanctions lifted, Iran is ready to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, senior Iranian officials said Monday.
Iran applied for full membership in the SCO in 2008, but has been blocked by rules in the organization's charter that forbid membership for any country under United Nations sanctions. Those sanctions were lifted on Saturday as a result of Tehran's compliance with its nuclear deal with world powers including the United States, China, and Russia.
The organization has been eager to get Iran on board. "The organization wishes success to Iran in the finalization of efforts related to the nuclear program so that the essential legal procedures leading up to the lifting of sanctions were implemented as soon as possible," said SCO Secretary General Dmitry Mezentsev last month. "I'd like to believe the SCO will take up Iran's request for the status of a full member immediately after that."
And with the sanctions lifted, Iranian officials said that among their priorities would be gaining full SCO membership.
"The lifting of sanctions opens for Iran the opportunity to become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and eliminates other limitations, which the Islamic Republic has been facing in the regional foreign policy," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari told a press conference on Monday.
"For several years Iran has been an observer state in the SCO and is interested in strengthening that organization. The removal of sanctions creates new possibilities for acquiring full membership for Iran in the SCO," wrote Iran's ambassador to Moscow, Mehdi Sanai, on his blog.
Romania is pressing NATO to create a regular Black Sea flotilla in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea, Romanian media have reported.
NATO, and in particular the United States, substantially stepped up their naval patrols in the Black Sea after the Crimean annexation, but thus far it's been done on an ad hoc basis. The Romanian proposal would create a regular "flotilla" reportedly also consisting of ships from Germany, Italy, Turkey and the United States, Romanian television station Digi24 reported.
Warships of countries not on the Black Sea are restricted from spending more than 21 days at a time there by the 1936 Montreux Convention. So if a NATO Black Sea fleet were to come to fruition members other than Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey would have to rotate their ships out regularly.
The increased NATO presence on the Black Sea has already been a major irritant to Russia. At the same time Russian naval vessels' use of the Bosphorus straits, which pass through the middle of Istanbul, to supply the war effort in Syria has become a flashpoint in the Russia-Turkey conflict.
Romania will try to bring the proposal up at the alliance's next summit, in Warsaw in July, Digi24 reported.
Several international media have pounced with fascination on news that Turkmenistan has seemingly slapped a ban on the sale of cigarettes, but the facts are a little less straightforward.
The offensive against tobacco began earlier this month, when President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov demanded “an intensification in the measures being taken to root out smoking.”
To drive his point home, he publicly chastised the head of the state service for the protection of public health, Atadurdy Osmanov and demoted him by one military rank. (The name of Osamov’s agency is a little misleading — although it sounds like a branch of the health service, it is actually the renamed anti-narcotics agency, another strand of the law enforcement structures in effect).
After Osmanov’s dressing down, cigarettes began disappearing from the shops, even though no law had been passed or any official order issued to make their sale illegal. Hardened smokers could still get their fix under the table from shopkeepers, although prices per pack have reportedly shot up from $6 previously to around $12-14.
Dogmatic opposition to smoking among the authorities goes back a long way.
The late President Saparmurat Niyazov, who died of heart failure in late 2006, banned smoking in all public places in 2000. In doing so, he acted with the typical zeal of a former smoker. After being operated on for heart problems, he was told by doctors to give up cigarettes, which is when he decided to try and extend the prohibition to all his subjects.
Similarly, when Berdymukhamedov came to power, he was notably on the chunky side. Since then, he has embarked on an exercise drive that has visibly slimmed him down. Accordingly, he has become an energetic proponent for healthy living.
Except that there may be a little more to the fight against cigarettes than meets the eye.
Oil production is entering a new year of decline this year in Kazakhstan — a dismal omen for a country so heavily reliant on energy exports.
Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik said on January 15 in remarks quoted by the Novosti-Kazakhstan news agency that Kazakhstan expects to pump 77 million tons of oil in 2016, 3.1 percent down on the 79.5 million tons produced last year.
The fall is down to the gradual depletion of the country’s oil fields, most of which have been under development for decades. As the fields dry up, recovering the remaining crude becomes more expensive, and with oil prices now hovering obstinately at $30, drawing Kazakhstan’s deposits is becoming costly.
And this latest government forecast may be too optimistic.
Shkolnik said in September that Kazakhstan would slash its oil output forecast for 2016 to 73 million tons if the oil price hit $30, as it has done this week. He said 77 million tons would be the target if oil stood at $40 per barrel.
The decline has been in train for several years already.
Oil output dropped 1.2 per cent in 2014, to 80.8 million tons, and 1.6 percent last year, to 79.5 million tons.
But it is the disastrously low prices that are taking the toll on the economy. The government announced on January 15 that gross domestic product grew by 1.2 percent last year – a significant slowdown on the previous year’s 4.3 percent.
The government is to meet on January 19 to discuss cuts to this year’s budget in the face of the economic slump.
Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli joined soldiers and their sons to rally for Tbilisi-born NBA player Zaza Pachulia to make it into the All-Stars..
All of Georgia is on a mission to get its most famous basketball player, Zaza Pachulia of the Dallas Mavericks, to play in the National Basketball Association's All-Stars Game. Rarely getting a chance to help nudge one of their own into international stardom, nearly everyone in Georgia, from the president to pensioners, has been tweeting and posting away “#NBAVOTE Zaza Pachulia,” which counts as a vote for the player’s bid for the February 14 event in Toronto.
Much to the surprise of some American basketball wonks, 31-year-old Pachulia now ranks #8 among fan favorites from the NBA’s Western Conference to take part in the All-Stars, an annual show-down between North American professional basketball teams' best players.