Accessibility links

Central Asia Report: June 30, 2005

30 June 2005, Volume 5, Number 24

WEEK AT A GLANCE (20-26 June 2005). In Kazakhstan, Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev urged the upper chamber of parliament to reject new legislation on NGOs, arguing that the bills' provisions would negatively impact the activities of such organizations as UNESCO and the OSCE in Kazakhstan. The legislation has drawn criticism from NGOs, which charge that it will tighten state control over civil society. For their part, legislators debated the date of the upcoming presidential election, with several parliamentarians speaking in favor of December 2005. The head of the Central Election Commission and the justice minister have said that, according to the Kazakh Constitution, the election should take place in December 2006. But parliament sets the date, and President Nursultan Nazarbaev's current term expires in January 2006. President Nazarbaev attended a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan) in Moscow. And Foreign Minister Toqaev visited China, where Chinese officials offered to send Chinese instructors to Kazakhstan to train police.

The fate of over 400 asylum seekers who fled violence in Uzbekistan on 13 May and are now housed in a camp in Kyrgyzstan's Jalalabad Province continued to raise questions. Uzbekistan formally requested the extradition of at least 13 asylum seekers, and Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov subsequently said that 29 would be returned to Uzbekistan, prompting an expression of concern from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Kyrgyz authorities quickly backtracked, saying that no asylum seekers would be extradited without consulting international organizations. At week's end, more than 400 asylum seekers remained in the camp, while 29 were detained in Osh on information provided by Uzbek authorities. Former President Askar Akaev, currently in Moscow, refused to meet with Kyrgyz investigators over corruption allegations. Back in Kyrgyzstan, prosecutors opened two criminal cases against his son, Aidar Akaev, and Prosecutor-Beknazarov asked parliament to strip the younger Akaev of the immunity from prosecution he gained when he won a seat in spring parliamentary elections. And in the wake of the CSTO meeting in Moscow, acting Kyrgyz Defense Minister Ismail Isakov said that the CSTO will consider opening another base in Kyrgyzstan, which already hosts a Russian base under the aegis of the CSTO.

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov told a meeting of the CIS Defense Ministers Council in Dushanbe that the Shanghai Security Organization (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) should create rapid-deployment forces like the ones the CSTO has already set up in the region. Russian military sources said that Russia's 201st Motorized Infantry Division, which has been deployed in Tajikistan since the breakup of the Soviet Union, will gain de jure status as a military base in September. The World Bank announced $50 million in new projects in Tajikistan, including $28 million in grants. And the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan expressed concern at the extradition of Tajik Democratic Party head Muhammadruzi Iskandarov from Moscow in April and his subsequent detention.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov voiced extreme displeasure at Ukraine, which he accused of running up nearly $600 million in debts for gas shipments in 2004 and 2005. The debts came from Ukraine's failure to deliver goods under a contract that had Turkmenistan shipping gas to Ukraine at $58 per 1,000 cubic meters paid half in cash and half in kind (the price had been $44 in 2004). By week's end, Ukraine had agreed to pay $44 per 1,000 cubic meters, all in cash, beginning on 1 July and to make up the missed shipments of goods for past debts. Experts said that the net result was a price hike from a "real price" of roughly $40 per 1,000 cubic meters (under the half cash, half kind deal) to $44. Ukraine is contracted to buy 36 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan this year. Amid the gas row, Niyazov appointed Geldy Mukhammedov chairman of the national oil and gas company Turkmenneftegaz, canning Ilyas Charyev "for serious deficiencies in his work."

The OSCE repeated its call for an independent inquiry into the violence in Andijon on 13 May as it released a report with numerous eyewitness accounts concluding that "force was used repeatedly against unarmed civilians" in Andijon that day. Uzbekistan's National Security Service destroyed 596 kilograms of confiscated drugs as officials warned of a growing problem in light of Afghanistan's burgeoning opium cultivation. And the cell phone sector attracted investments, with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development agreeing to a $30 million loan to the owner of second-place Uzbek cellular provider Until and Russia's Mobile TeleSystems announcing plans to pump $50 million into boosting its networks in Uzbekistan.


By Bruce Pannier

Tough new legislation on nongovernmental organizations in Kazakhstan has run up against unexpected opposition. After the bill on NGOs moved from the Mazhilis to the upper house of Kazakhstan�s parliament, it seemed like only a formality that it would pass and go to President Nursultan Nazarbaev for his signature.

Surprisingly, however, the bill encountered resistance in the Senate.

The debate was sufficiently fierce that it caught the attention of Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev. Toqaev has served as either Kazakhstan's foreign minister or prime minister for more than a decade.

On 20 June, he chose to make his views on the NGO bill known. "There should be mutual understanding," Toqaev said. "If this law is under discussion so many times, and there is no consensus, surely this law will damage Kazakhstan�s image."

The controversial proposal would allow the financing of foreign or local NGOs only with government approval. NGOs would be required to inform the authorities about the amount of such financing and how the money is intended to be spent. Tax inspectors would have the right to seize banking information to obtain data on NGO funding.

Foreign and international NGOs also would be required to re-register within three months of the bill becoming law. That has raised concern that the authorities could reject the applications of organizations that have been critical of the regime or helpful to its opposition.

One member of the Mazhilis, Toktarkhan Nurkhamet, told RFE/RL�s Kazakh Service that some NGOs in Kazakhstan have a clear bias. "We are not calling for shutting down all NGOs," Nurkhamet said. "We are not saying they work against the state. But there are some [NGOs] using foreign money who are working against us. And that is why we undertook this measure."

The role of NGOs in the "colored" revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan is still being debated. Some believe NGOs -- particularly Western-funded NGOs -- actively assisted opposition movements topple the governments in those countries.

As have other governments in the region, the authorities in Kazakhstan have paid heed to such views.

Another member of parliament, Serik Abdrakhmanov, argued that for most organizations working in Kazakhstan, the new law will not change anything.

"According to international standards, the United Nations, and similar organizations are working in accordance with their charters, and we cannot interfere in their activities. That is why the law we are discussing will not destroy the international agreements signed between them and Kazakhstan. Only the activities of the other, foreign noncommercial organizations will be restricted," Abdrakhmanov said.

One of the bill�s opponents in the Senate is opposition deputy Zauresh Batalova. She said the law would conflict with Kazakhstan�s international agreements. "Many points [of the law] are against international standards and the standards of our country," Batalova said. "That is why it would never do to adopt such a law."

Batalova said the problems with the bill should have been obvious when it was being debated in the Mazhilis.

"We don�t have the right to even discuss this law," she said. "I�m sure that in the Mazhilis, there were several mistakes when the law was discussed. I mean procedural mistakes. The law was proposed by five deputies [eds: the Mazhilis has 77 seats], but on 15 May, deputy Erasyl Abukasymov withdrew himself from this group, and there were only four deputies left [to introduce and support the bill]."

Zharqinbek Seitimbek, a branch chief for the organization Kazakhstan�s Independent Observers, believes the new law would be bad for Kazakhs.

"I think that if the law is adopted, the social activity of our citizens will suffer. Even now, our citizens are reluctant to participate in the activities of NGOs. They are very hesitant to be involved in social discussions. Imagine if tomorrow the local authorities demand that they register in order to be able to do social work legally? They would surely refuse to take part in it anymore," Seitimbek said.

The bill is going back to the Mazhilis for further review. (Merhat Sharipzhan and Julduz Toleu of RFE/RL�s Kazakh Service contributed to this report. Originally published on 28 June 2005.)


By Gulnoza Saidazimova

On 26 June, Uzbek police detained a group of opposition activists, as well as an RFE/RL correspondent in Andijon, amid a continuing crackdown in the eastern Uzbek city. Isroil Holdorov and Sadirohun Sufiev, of the banned Erk Democratic Party, were being interviewed by RFE/RL correspondent Gofur Yuldoshev in the Caravan teahouse in Andijon's Yangibozor bazaar.

Yuldoshev recounted what happened next: "I met Isroil Holdorov of the Erk party in Yangibozor and we went to the Caravan teahouse to have tea. As we walked in, a young police sergeant followed us. He introduced himself as Abdushukur. Then he left the building. Three to five minutes later, eight people entered. Some were in police uniform, others in civilian clothes. They started searching us. I said, 'Hey, I am a correspondent'. They said, 'Don't move, don't move'. They searched my pockets as I was sitting."

Other men were also searched in the teahouse. Yuldoshev said policemen in the teahouse used their radios to call for backup.

After a while, all the men were taken to a police station. Holdorov recalled how events unfolded: "They [policemen] had weapons, they shouted, 'Don't move, don't move, don't move!' They surrounded us and walked us from the Caravan teahouse located inside the bazaar to the main road. I asked them if I could buy cigarettes or matches, they said, 'No, you are not allowed'. By doing that, I wanted to let someone know what was happening to us. On the main road, there was a patrol car and a lot of policemen. They acted as if they had caught a group of criminals."

The detainees were taken to the Interior Ministry's city department. Yuldoshev said they were repeatedly searched and questioned. He said the policemen did not identify themselves.

"As we entered, they searched us again. They took my equipment. I told them it was my recorder. They told to shut up and took my recorder, microphone and everything away. We entered a second room and were searched there again. We were taken to a third room and were searched once more. None of them identified themselves. I asked them: 'Can you identify yourselves?' They asked us lots of questions, filled in many documents, but never identified themselves," Yuldoshev said.

Opposition activist Isroil Holdorov said some of his belongings, mostly documents and computer diskettes, were taken away without a proper confiscation protocol. He said that among the confiscated documents were notes from the trial of 23 local businessmen that precipitated the recent deadly clashes in Andijon.

"I participated in the trial of the [alleged] Akramiya members and I had testimonies of all of those I spoke to with me," Holdorov told RFE/RL. "They were unique documents, because they included names and testimonies of the 23 businessmen on the last day of trial, 11 May. Some of them were written testimonies, others told them orally and I wrote everything down. That's what I had."

A trial of the 23 local businessmen accused of belonging to the banned Islamic group called "Akramiya" preceded the clash between government troops and protesters in Andijon on 13 May that killed hundreds of civilians. The businessmen as well as their relatives who organized protests outside the local courthouse for several weeks, denied the charges against them and demanded a fair trial.

Holdorov said he knew the police confiscation of his material was illegal. But he said he felt compelled to stop demanding the return of his diskettes when threatened by the officers who detained him.

"They were shouting at me, pressuring me a lot. They were very harsh toward me. They said: 'We can do anything we want with you. For us, it is enough to have a person. Charging him with a crime is not a problem.' You know, I have children, so I got scared. Not too much, just little. We fight for justice and we didn't want to be imprisoned based on slander," Holdorov said.

An older man who identified himself as Muhammadjon told RFE/RL he was detained together with the opposition activists. Muhammadjon says he is 70 years old. He went to the bazaar to buy medicine for his ailing grandson. On the way, he met several acquaintances at the local teahouse and joined them.

"My grandson had food poisoning. I went to buy manganese crystals for him. I was sitting there [in the teahouse]. They came, asked for our documents, searched us. They detained us and held us for three-four hours. I was sitting with crossed legs, when the deputy head of the police station came in and kicked my legs. He didn't even consider that I am 70 years old. He just said I shouldn't cross my legs," Muhammadjon said.

Muhammadjon heads a local group that works on media freedom.

Human right groups say dozens of people, mostly opposition members and human rights activists, have been detained in Andijon since the massacre last month. (RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report. Originally published on 27 June 2005.)


By Nikola Krastev

The United Nation's refugee agency, the UNHCR, is calling for hundreds of Uzbek asylum seekers in Kyrgyzstan to be relocated to third countries as soon as possible. It says the move is necessary because the safety of the refugees cannot be guaranteed. The call comes amid mounting international concern over the forced deportation of some of the asylum seekers, who fled violence in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon on 13 May. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he has been assured by acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev that Bishkek will in future strictly apply international laws regarding the more than 400 refugees.

The plea of one elderly Uzbek man living in the Suzak refugee camp in Kyrgyzstan's southern Jalalabat region epitomizes the plight of many who fled violence in eastern Uzbekistan in mid-May.

"You can shoot me if you want, but don't send me out of here," he told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. "I lost my eldest son, My four grandchildren are left orphans. My son was shot dead. What can I do now? What? Where can I go?"

At least four Uzbek asylum seekers were forcibly handed over to Uzbek authorities on 9 June under pressure from Tashkent. Their fate remains unknown despite refugee and rights groups' requests for information from Uzbek authorities.

The UN's top official for refugees, former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres, has reaffirmed his agency's determination not to let any more Uzbek asylum seekers in Kyrgyzstan be forcibly returned.

"I'd like to make an appeal to the Kyrgyz government not to [repatriate] the 29 detainees which are now being subjected to a refugee status examination [by the UNHCR]," Guterres said. "I appeal to all governments to face the situations abiding to international law, giving a chance for refugee status examination, and acting according to the rules of which we, as UNHCR, are supposed to be the guardians."

Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov has threatened to hand the 29 asylum seekers over to Uzbek authorities. Tashkent accuses them of participating in the uprising in Andijon last month. Uzbekistan has not allowed an independent inquiry into those charges, however.

Some local residents in southern Kyrgyzstan said they believe the refugees pose a security threat. Correspondent Elmurod Yusupaliev of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service spoke to one such resident, a young Kyrgyz man who said he would like to see the refugees returned to Uzbekistan.

"They are bad people," said the young man. "Maybe they want to settle down here and then overthrow Kyrgyzstan, too. If they go back [to Uzbekistan], they are going to be imprisoned. We should make them go, even by using force."

UN Secretary-General Annan said on 27 June that he has received assurances from acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev that all remaining Uzbek refugees will be treated in accordance with the 1951 UN convention on the status of refugees:

"I also spoke to the president of Kyrgyzstan, who gave me the indication that he would want to settle the issue with respect for the international law and the [UN refugee] convention, and he was looking toward working out a solution with Kamel Morjane, the deputy high commissioner for refugees within Kyrgyzstan today," Annan said.

Kyrgyzstan is a signatory of the UN convention on refugees. The convention states that no refugee should be forcibly returned to his or her country of origin if there is a sufficient ground to believe they will be subjected to torture, imprisonment, or death.

The UN's deputy commissioner for refugees, Kamel Morjane, ended a three-day visit to Kyrgyzstan on 27 June. At a news conference in Bishkek, he pledged to support the Kyrgyz government's efforts, but warned that further violations of international law -- such as the 9 June forced repatriations -- will not be tolerated.

Guterres on 27 June also said there is a "red line" the Kyrgyz authorities should not cross.

He also touted his agency's qualifications and experience in examining the status of refugees:

"If there is something in which we, I think, have clear experience and a clear capacity, [it] is in refugee-status examination, which means dealing with it in the most different circumstances," Guterres said. "But let me be very clear. We have to make sure that protection is given according to the [UN refugee] convention. And protection given according to the convention, of course, as you know, the exception in situations in which someone has committed serious crimes before entering in the country of asylum."

There have been reports that Uzbek security agents have been allowed into Kyrgyzstan to search for asylum seekers. The UN says Uzbek authorities have also transported relatives of asylum seekers from Uzbekistan into Kyrgyzstan in an effort to convince their family members to return.

Guterres said these reports are causing great concern and that his agency will seek to resettle those exposed to the greatest risks to third countries after their refugee status is determined:

"I am extremely worried, and one of the things that we should try in the next few days is to see after the refugee status examination [is concluded] to find a resettlement solution for the most threatened groups," he said.

The UNHCR says talks are being held on the subject with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. (Originally published on 27 June 2005.)


By Bruce Pannier

Tajikistan's opposition says it is being harassed by the authorities. Last week, the U.S. government complained about the treatment of Tajik opposition leader Mahmudruzi Iskandarov. Iskandarov, the leader of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, is in custody pending his trial on terrorism and other charges. He has not been allowed to see his lawyers or family for weeks. He is not the only opposition figure facing problems in Tajikistan. Some see a connection to next year's presidential election.

Mahmudruzi Iskandarov was first detained in Russia in December on a warrant from the Tajik prosecutor's office.

The Tajik authorities accused Iskandarov of organizing an attack against an Interior Ministry and local prosecutor's office in the eastern region of Tajikabad in August 2004.

He was also accused of embezzlement. Iskandarov rejected the charges as "ridiculous."

The Russian authorities released Iskandarov in April, after four months in custody. But two weeks later, he mysteriously disappeared from Moscow only to turn up under arrest in Tajikistan. He has been in custody there since.

On 20 June, U.S. Embassy official John Chamberlain reminded the Tajik authorities about their legal obligations to Iskandarov.

"The United States calls on the Tajik authorities to permit Mr. Iskandarov's access to his legal counsel in accordance with Tajikistan's own laws and international standards," Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain joined a growing chorus of criticism over Iskandarov's case. This month, in a statement to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Stephan Minikes said Iskandarov "has been denied regular and unobserved access to his legal council and his family has been unable to meet with him."

Ambassadors from European Union countries accredited in Tajikistan sent a note to the Foreign Ministry at the beginning of the month demanding a meeting with Iskandarov, as a representative of an opposition political party. They have not yet seen Iskandarov, but reportedly his sister was allowed to visit on 26 June.

The Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), another opposition party, is now claiming that it too is the victim of a campaign aimed at tarnishing its image.

Two IRP members were arrested in Khatlon province recently. The IRP claims the two were detained because they did not answer an "invitation" from the local prosecutor's office. Local IRP leader Hoja Kalandar Saddriddinzda questioned the entire case surrounding the two men.

"[IRP member] Saifiddin Faizov, resident of Bokhtar, and another Islamic Renaissance Party member were detained for hooliganism," Saddriddinzda told RFE/RL. "Also the prosecutor's office had asked them several times to come in for questioning. The Islamists say such an 'invitation' without concrete questions or a case aims to cast the party's image in a bad light."

The charge of hooliganism appears to stem from allegations that Faizov was using foul language in a mosque. In majority-Muslim Tajikistan that accusation certainly won't help the IRP.

Two members of yet another opposition group, the Social-Democrat Party (SDP), were also jailed last week in the northern Soghd region.

The SDP leader from Soghd's Mastcho District, Nizomiddin Begmatov, received one year in jail and Nasim Shukurov got 18 months for hooliganism. The SDP claims the two were imprisoned because on 27 February, parliamentary election day, they brought protests over the conduct of the poll to the district court head. The court official did not accept the protests.

"This verdict of the court is wrong and baseless and is made just because of an order from the [Soghd] provincial administration and the republic's government and the reason for this is only my attempt to be a deputy of Majlisi Namoyandagon," Begmatov said, shortly after his verdict was delivered. "They did not let us."

SDP leader Rahmatullo Zoirov said the party will appeal to a higher court.

In another sign of a government crackdown against the opposition, the unregistered Tarraqiyot (Development) Party has experienced more difficulties recently. The closed-door trial of the party's deputy chairman, Rustam Faiziyev, started last week. Faiziyev is charged with "insulting the president of the country" and inciting interethnic and regional hatred. Party leader Sultan Quvvatov was detained on the same charges at the start of the year. (Iskander Aliyev of RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report. Originally published on 27 June 2005.)


By Daniel Kimmage

Forty days have passed since the bloody events of 13 May in Andijon. The 40th day after a funeral is traditionally a time for grieving and remembrance. But, as RFE/RL reports, the living mourn the dead uneasily in Andijon today.

RFE/RL was able to speak to several Andijon residents on the condition of anonymity. Outwardly, life goes on, with people filling the streets as they go about their daily business. But soldiers still man checkpoints on the roads into the city. And fear is a constant presence.

"We're afraid to talk," one man told RFE/RL. "The neighborhood committee and the police keep track of everything. In Andijon today, neighbor spies on neighbor. It's been 40 days since the events in Andijon, and informers are at work in all of the city's neighborhoods. When the police come to homes where someone was killed, they interrogate family members and call them Wahhabis or some other kind of religious extremist. I myself was called in by the police and interrogated."

"Wherever you go, the police block your path," a second man told RFE/RL. "It's bad everywhere. The police don't let anyone open their mouth. If you say one word, they'll say, 'Do you realize who you're trying to argue with?' Troops come into people's homes. They have no compassion. In the Boghishamol neighborhood, 15 of them burst into a house. They trampled everything and searched through everything, took the people away, and beat them up. I have a younger brother who has a car. He was taking five or six people to the old city in his car when the police stopped them. They impounded the car and took him into custody. They beat him for 15 days."

Information is scarce, and rumor has stepped in to fill the vacuum. "I can't say with any confidence that Andijon has returned to normal," one woman said. "These days, you sometimes hear rumors that unnerve people. Then these rumors turn out to be partially true. Today we heard that top police officials had closed up their offices and gone out to neighborhood committees. There were security services officers and commanders on our street. This made people nervous. Instead of a gradual return to calm, we have military vehicles driving all over the place. Eleven days after the events, tanks were still going around and frightening people."

A man who lives outside Andijon said that the roots of unrest in the region lie in difficult economic conditions. "We keep saying that we wish the best for our leader," the man said. "Everyone here is poor and hungry. One of our neighbors gets a [monthly] pension of 6,000 sums [$6]. What can you buy with that? It's not enough for anything. The collective farm got a 6 million-sum [$6,000] loan from the state. Its land is in a hilly area. Each hose that pumps water to the fields costs 50,000 sums a day. There are 20 or 30 of these hoses. The debt for this runs into the millions. People keep working even though they don't get their salaries. All the money goes down the hose."

"You reap what you sow," the same man added. "President [Islam] Karimov talks about religious extremism and groups like Hizbullah and the Wahhabis to prove to the international community that he's pursuing the right policy. There were never any extremists here. He says there are Chechens, Afghans, Kyrgyz. There's no one like that here. It's all a lie. The supporters and relatives of the 23 people the government calls members of the 'Akramiya' movement held protests in the streets for several days. Everyone saw it. I saw it myself. Why lie like this? Karimov can tell lies and engage in deception. But we, the people of Andijon, saw this with our own eyes. He said that nine people were killed. But they can't get their numbers straight. Now they say 174 people. A bit later [Prosecutor-General] Rashid Qodirov will probably add another three or four people."

"Everything has good and bad sides to it," yet another Andijon resident told RFE/RL. "What happened here opened people's eyes. People saw the true face of a government that had been deceiving them. The worst thing is that there is no more faith in the government. There was plenty of deceit before. But there was no bloodshed on such a large scale. If the situation keeps on as it is, if the repression continues, if the government stays as nervous as it is, the people will be just as tense. This will bring about another terrible event somewhere and the blood of innocent people will be shed." (Originally published on 25 June 2005.)