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Qishloq Ovozi

A Kazakh policeman votes during parliamentary elections in Baikonur on March 20.

The results of Kazakhstan's lackluster parliamentary elections are in and they show that three parties will have seats in the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament. The ruling Nur-Otan party took nearly 81 percent of the vote; Ak Zhol, 7.47 percent; and the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan, 7.19 percent.

Wait a minute. My mistake. I am so sorry. Those are the results from the 2012 parliamentary elections.

The results of the March 20, 2016, parliamentary elections show, too, that three parties will have seats in the Mazhilis. Nur-Otan got 82.15 percent of the vote; Ak Zhol, 7.18 percent; and the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan took 7.14 percent.

Not sure how I could have confused the two polls.

But no biggie -- after spending the equivalent of some $10.7 million preparing for these latest elections, which authorities said were critical for Kazakhstan to combat the effects of the country's worst economic downturn in some 20 years, the composition of parliament is essentially the same as that of the previous Mazhilis.

Officially, 77.1 percent of voters cast ballots in the March 20 poll, though reports and photographs from polling stations around Kazakhstan seemed to indicate little interest on the part of the electorate.

The Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) provided its preliminary assessment on March 21, which cited an absence of real political choice for voters and an absence of diversity. While ODIHR monitors did notice some progress, the preliminary assessment said: "It is clear that Kazakhstan still has a long way to go towards fulfilling its election commitments…."

And remember, Kazakhstan held the OSCE rotating chairmanship in 2010.

'Friendly' Observers

Six parties competed in the Mazhilis elections, of which only the the Nationwide Social Democratic Party (OSDP) could be said to be a genuine opposition party. The OSDP received 1.18 percent of the vote.

The usual group of monitors from "friendly" countries and organizations were present also and they turned in their typical glowing assessments on March 21.

Yevgeny Serebrennikov was a member of the election observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States. Serebrennikov, who is also the first deputy chairman of the defense and security committee of Russia's Federation Council, said: "The preparations and the organization of these elections can be practically called a model for the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States."

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which groups Kazakhstan, China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, also sent election monitors. The head of the SCO monitoring mission, Aziz Nasirov, said: "The elections were open, free and democratic," adding that "no violations of the electoral legislation were registered."

The justification for conducting early parliamentary elections was the need for parliamentarians with a fresh five-year mandate to confront the challenges the country faces. Kazakhstan is dependent on oil exports for the bulk of the state's revenue and, as the price of oil has dropped on world markets, Kazakhstan's once bright future has clouded as well.

The country's currency -- the tenge -- has dropped in value from 182 tenge to $1 in July 2015, to about 345 tenge to $1 just ahead of Mazhilis elections. Kazakhstan's government spent nearly a half billion dollars in February to keep the rate up amidst rising discontent from a population that had grown accustomed to improving standards of living over the previous decade. The Economist Intelligence Unit is forecasting that Kazakhstan will enter recession this year for the first time since 1998.

And the result of the early Mazhilis elections served merely to preserve the composition of the previous parliament that was deemed ill-suited to bring the country out of crisis.

With contributions from RFE/RL's Kazakh Service
The current situation is so bad that even the president has come out to criticize the lawlessness of police.

The tales are appalling.

Surprise, unexplained vehicle checks by armed men. Masked men appearing at sunrise to take people away, not to be seen again until their corpses are delivered to relatives. A man slain and his body chopped up -- parts of it burned, others thrown into a river.

Terror thrives in Uzbekistan, and it is the representatives of state law enforcement agencies who are responsible.

Uzbekistan has long had a bad reputation owing to the ill-treatment of people taken into custody by law enforcement agencies. It reputedly is a place where prisoners can be boiled alive. (That's actually unfair. Only one has been allegedly boiled alive, although countless others who have died in Uzbek prisons are believed to have been subjected to physical and mental abuse lasting for weeks, months, or sometimes years before they succumbed to their injuries and despair.)

But lately the country's police, security forces, and prison guards seem to have become even more brutal than usual, for reasons that are not clear.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, has been following the trail of apparently extrajudicial, and criminal, punishment meted out by representatives of law enforcement organizations.

Ozodlik reported on March 9 about a businessman in the Besharyk district of Uzbekistan's eastern Ferghana Province who was killed and his body taken to a field where the head was cut off, placed in plastic bag, and thrown into a nearby river. The rest of the body was burned and put in a shallow grave.

The alleged perpetrator was a senior police lieutenant who had detained the businessman, then for some reason shot the suspect dead in the police car and fled to the secluded field to dispose of the body.

A farmer spotted the policeman, who was wearing his uniform, as the lieutenant was leaving the scene. The lieutenant told the farmer he was burying a dead sheep in the field. The police officer then went to town, bought a sheep, came back to the field where he proceeded to kill the sheep, dig up the remains of the businessman and throw them into the river, and bury the dead sheep in the grave.

The police lieutenant was arrested and charged on March 6.

Beaten, Tortured To Death

Then there is 44-year-old Bukhara businessman Ilhom Ibodov and his 48-year-old brother Rahim. The two owned an automobile sales business. They were arrested by the National Security Service (SNB) in August 2015 on charges of illegal financial activities.

Their mother, Hursand Rajabova, told Ozodlik at the beginning of March that less than one month after their arrest, she was told Ilhom had died of a heart attack. Rajabova has photos that she says are pictures of her son's body and which indicate Ilhom was beaten before he died. Older brother Rahim was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Younger sister Dilfuza Ibodova told Ozodlik Rahim told her the jailors would bring them both to the same room and beat one while the other was forced to watch.

Qishloq Ovozi also recently reported that the body of 34-year-old Sharof Nasibov, who sold car parts in Bukhara, was delivered to his family in January. Nasibov and his brother had been detained in December 2015 for tax evasion, a charge the Nasibov brothers denied. Relatives said Sharof Nasibov's body showed signs of torture, including having had his fingernails torn out.

In February there were reports that the body of 42-year-old Mahmujon Hasanov was delivered to his relatives in Andijon Province. A hastily arranged funeral was held under the watchful eye of security agents. No cause of death was given. Hasanov was serving a nine-year term in the notorious Navoi prison for being a member of the banned group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Ozodlik learned at the start of March that armed men wearing black masks and clothing staged raids in the Altyaryq district of Ferghana Province on February 16. Starting at 6 a.m., as the faithful were heading to morning prayers, the masked men arrived and over the course of a few hours arrested 11 men, between the ages of 25 and 34, most in the village of Tynchlyk ("peaceful" in Uzbek].

The suspects were taken from their homes with hoods over their heads to waiting vehicles. It was unclear exactly who the masked men were -- police or SNB -- but Ozodlik learned from sources in the area that the 11 were charged with membership in the banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Rumors Are King

There have been lesser incidents, such as the sudden interest in "damas" vans in the southern city of Termez, on the Afghan border. These vans are used as minibuses in the city. Ozodlik reported on March 11 that people in Termez said damas vans were regularly being stopped at roadside checkpoints in and around Termez, the vehicles searched, and documents of passengers checked.

One person told Ozodlik that no explanation was being given to the public about why this is happening. The source said that, in the absence of information, rumors were circulating around Termez that it's part of a counterterrorist operation; that people have already been arrested; and that police are looking for explosives that might have been planted in the vans.

A source with local law enforcement told Ozodlik that none of this was true and police were searching for the driver of a damas van who hit a pedestrian and fled the scene.

Ozodlik received a video on March 2 that showed police in Samarkand trying to force a woman into the trunk of a police vehicle. The video clip lasts only 14 seconds -- the person recording the incident on their mobile phone was worried about being seen by the police. But the person said they later heard that the woman, carrying a child, was walking around begging for money and police had come and taken her child from her, which caused the woman to become agitated.

The Uzbek authorities have meted out some tough justice in the past. There are many, many allegations of abuse, failure to observe due process of law, convictions based on flimsy evidence, coerced confessions, false witnesses, false charges, and so forth. Some periods have been worse than others.

But this latest round of brutality comes after President Islam Karimov, in an address marking Constitution Day in early December, voiced rare criticism of the police.

"Our people can tolerate all kinds of difficulties, but they cannot tolerate injustice," Karimov said. "It is no secret that in our daily life...one can often notice such facts as nonobservance [of laws] and gross violation, in practice, of norms and provisions of the legislation and of the principle of justice, as well as callous attitude of law enforcement and supervising bodies to their duties, which leads to unlawful actions."

Based on material from Ozodlik

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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