24 june 2017
Central Asia news
It has been exactly six months since the new head of Uzbekistan took office. Sadness from the death of the first and beloved leader of an independent country has not yet completely left the hearts of Uzbek people. But the expectations of a bright future under the tutelage of the new leader ease the burden of losing the old one. TV and in newspapers are saying only good things about Islam Karimov, while people, it happens, are swearing and cursing “the father of all Uzbeks” for the fall of the living standard, for stagnation and for the lawless tyranny of those who must monitor the enforcement of the law.
A modern history of independent and neutral Turkmenistan has fixed a tradition: if the government does not succeed, for example, the treasury becomes empty and there is nothing to pay many months of salary debts to civil servants, or the intimidated people are on the verge of displeasure, the power impersonated by the president is frantically looking for scapegoats.
The second largest ethnic group in Kyrgyzstan is Uzbek: according to statistical data of 2015, there are about 900 thousand people, which is almost 15% of the total number of residents. At the same time, there is no opportunity for Uzbek youth to get a high-quality secondary education and even less a higher education.
On 4 June at 12 am in Tashkent, an impromptu public action was held at the entrance to Bobur Park in Tashkent to collect signatures under the petition demanding “To punish those guilty of the death of Ibragimov Jasurbek” - a student of the Tashkent medical college brutally beaten in early May and died a month later in hospital after series of operations. Days before this action the letter of Jasurbek's mother's has been shared in the social networks telling that the names of the alleged killers of her son are known to everyone, however nobody has been brought to justice so far. Moreover, she said the Borovsky Tashkent Medical College management and staff, where Jasurbek studied, cover young criminals in collusion with their parents.
This May brought remarkable events, which will develop during summer vacations and will define how autumn will develop further. Surely, these are activities around presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan clearing and modifying political and media space for the pro-presidential candidate, or Uzbekistan summing its attempts to revive the economy through investment and improving its foreign image. How would Kazakhstan reconsider its economic policy and change its attitude towards rule of law to outrun its main economic rival - Uzbekistan? Whether xenophobia in Russia will die out. How Tajikistan and Turkmenistan will cope with doubts of its public about anti-corruption campaigns in both countries? These questions were raised in May and I will outline them for you.
For the past seven years, the number of convicts for extremism and terrorism in Kyrgyzstan has tripled. In 2009, according to the State Penitentiary Service (SSC), 51 people were convicted for such crimes, whereas today 185 people including 7 women are serving their sentences. Among this category of prisoners 22 people are accused of fighting in Syria, 97 - membership in Hizb-ut-Tahrir, 84 - committed their crimes for the first time. 38 people are kept in high security prisons. Who are these persons? How did they end up in the dock?
In the evening on 27 May 2017 the major television channel of Kyrgyzstan aired an 8-minute report with the speaking name ‘Instigators,’ in which the Bishkek journalist Ulugbek Babakulov was accused of inciting ethnic hatred, and the website of the Fergana News Agency was called ‘biased’ and called to be blocked on the territory of the republic. The reason for the report was an article about nationalistic statements in social networks published by Fergana on 23 May this year. Reporters believe that Fergana ‘disseminates provocative materials,’ trying to present Kyrgyzstan ‘a fascist state, whose population is completely nationalistic.’ The news story of the Public Television and Radio Company (OTRK) contains some fragments of this article, and suggestions of calling to a ‘severe criminal liability,’ as well as comments by ‘experts.’ In their opinion, journalists need ‘to jam the critical moments,’ and not ‘to drag out some sort of analysis of the social networks.’
The recent terror act in the St. Petersburg metro on 3 April, in the organisation of which Russian special services suspect people from Central Asia, exacerbated issues related to migration processes from the countries of this region to Russia. Last week in Moscow, the Sakharov Center jointly with the Yegor Gaidar Foundation organised a discussion during which experts discussed whether there is any ground to say that it is among the migrants that recruitment of terrorists takes place, and if so, what causes migrants to join the ranks of radical Islamists, what role is played by large-scale corruption, typical of most Central Asian countries, and whether it is possible to oppose it.
This April was full of spectacular action-packed detective series of dismissals and arrests of former high-ranking officials of the agency overseeing combating corruption with no precedents in modern history of Tajikistan. Many of them are relatives of high-ranking state officials. The editor-in-chief of the ‘Akhbor.com’ news website Mirzo Salimpur has prepared the material exclusively for Fergana telling what is behind the purge in the anti-corruption agency, and why this large-scale action in one of the most corrupt states of the world began right now.
There will be no economic growth and progress in Uzbekistan in the next ten years, since the new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev continues the path of his predecessor Islam Karimov ‘without political reforms,’ which the country needs as air. They must be carried out first; otherwise any other changes will be useless. It was stated by the Uzbek opposition people's democratic movement ‘Birdamlik’ (‘Solidarity’) leader Bakhodir Choriev.
In Kazakhstan, most of the media owners are hiding behind their formal founders. But, as they say, if the secret is known to three – then everyone knows this. Having talked with experts Fergana News Agency made its own list of the true owners of the Kazakh media.
Activists of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan (PAU) held a traditional action in the centre of Tashkent at the foot of the ‘Courage’ monument on 13 May to commemorate the hundreds of peaceful Andijan residents, who died during the shooting of the rally 12 years ago. To the surprise of the participants, this time the event passed without any interference by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Security Service (SNB).
Every year, the cattle breeders of the border regions of northern Tajikistan face the same problem with the onset of spring. They are puzzled by what pastures to drive out their livestock in the spring-summer period, so that their herds return to them in the same amount that they gave to the shepherds. The matter is that the territories allocated for pastures in these areas are limited, and local residents at their own risk are forced to trust grazing animals to Kyrgyz shepherds.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has been in Uzbekistan since 10 until 12 May 2017. Human rights defenders and civil society activists both at home and abroad were eagerly awaiting this important event. It was the first trip of the UN official to this country and to Central Asia in general. And it should be noted that none of its six predecessors visited Uzbekistan at this high international level before.
This year in March, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karakalpakstan (an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan) upheld the sentence on extending the term of imprisonment to five years for 39-year-old human rights activist Azam Farmonov. Azam Farmonov has been confined in Jaslyk prison for eleven years (since June 2006), which the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture Theo van Boven back in 2002 recommended to close it down because of its location in an ecologically impoverished zone. At a time of unsound optimism about Uzbekistan, and when the new president has begun to talk about the problems accumulated in the country winning universal love, I wish to recall about people who had not been afraid to criticise power at the time of the Karimov swamp, and who still remain in custody.