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Like many other countries, Kazakhstan has shown a tendency to equate violent acts where deadly force is used to terrorism.

Kazakhstan has an article in its Criminal Code -- Article 174 to be exact -- that outlaws actions that foment social, national, tribal, racial, class, or religious hatred and actions that insult national honor or dignity or the religious feelings of citizens.

The article is sufficiently vague that it has allowed broad interpretation by Kazakhstan's courts, which have on several recent occasions found journalists, bloggers, civic activists, and others guilty of violating the article. Rights groups have decried such use of Article 174 to silence government critics.

A proposed major addition to the Criminal Code is being debated, and some believe this article would also be open to broad interpretation and potential abuse.

Article 184-1 seeks to punish those who have caused "great harm to the vitally important interests" of Kazakhstan. Conviction on this charge could carry the death penalty.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, known locally as Azattyq, quoted Deputy Justice Minister Zauresh Baymoldina as saying the "vitally important interests" would include actions that "compromise the territorial integrity of the state, the stability of the constitutional structure, social, or political stability, [or] defensive capabilities and security."

It seems to be a response to terrorism, though there are clearly other actions that would fall under this article.

Proposed penalties for violators of Article 184-1 include prison terms of 15 to 25 years. Loss of citizenship is another penalty that was already recently added to the books.

Kazakhstan still officially allows for the death penalty, although there has been a moratorium on its use for nearly 20 years.

So far, there is only one specific offense under the draft article that is punishable by death: any attempt to kill the first president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbaev "with the goal of hindering his legal activities or in revenge for [his] activities."

Veteran Kazakh civic activist Yevgeny Zhovtis has told Azattyq that Article 184-1 is a modern adaptation of the Soviet Criminal Code concerning "anti-Soviet" activities.

He is among those who fear the article will be used to punish government opponents. "It only remains to wait a little while until 'enemies of the people' and 'undesirable elements' appear...[including] opposition figures, independent journalists, or activists," Zhovtis told Azattyq.

For that reason, attorney Ayman Umarov told Azattyq that the authorities must concretely define what is "vitally important" for the country. Umarov agreed the article seemed to target terrorists. But he said, for example, large-scale embezzlement of state funds is vitally important for the state and the people.

Blogger Miras Nurmukhanbetov wrote that the Criminal Code "is turning into a stick to be used against those who think differently [than the authorities]."

Defining 'Terrorism'

There have been very few incidents in Kazakhstan since 1991 independence that would qualify as acts of terrorism.

But like many other countries, Kazakhstan has shown a tendency to equate violent acts where deadly force is used to terrorist acts.

The violence in the western city of Aqtobe in early June was branded a terrorist attack. In that incident, a group of some two dozen mostly young men robbed a gun shop and then went on a bizarre spree where they hijacked a bus and, after first allowing all the passengers to leave, drove to a military facility and launched an ineffective attack that was quickly repelled and in which most of the attackers were killed.

No extremist or terrorist group ever claimed the attackers were part of their group, although Kazakh officials explained the young men were inspired to violence after listening to Islamic extremist radio broadcasts.

Another incident in Almaty in July 2016 was labeled terrorism, though it involved one ex-convict who confessed he had killed several policemen (he purportedly wanted to kill some judges but couldn't find any) out of vengeance for being put it jail.

Some Kazakh citizens have gone to conflict areas such as Syria or Iraq -- not many, probably only several hundred -- enough that the Kazakh government does have a legitimate concern but possibly not so many that the Criminal Code has to be greatly overhauled to deal with the as-yet-quite-small problem of terrorism in the country.

Which brings us back to Yevgeny Zhovtis's concern that a law meant to punish a specific group of individuals who represent a genuine threat will end up being used to punish people who challenge the authorities.

Azattyq's Yerzhan Karabek contributed to this report. The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
Yashygeldi Kakaev has been one of the top figures in Turkmenistan’s oil-and-gas industry for more than a decade.

In a surprise move, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has sacked the head of the country’s oil-and-gas sector, Yashygeldi Kakaev.

Berdymukhammedov presided over an April 5 government session where ministers reported on results for the first quarter of 2017.

Kakaev reported increases in the production of oil, gas condensate, and refined petroleum products. He said production of natural gas was at approximately the same levels as last year. And he added that investment in the oil-and-gas sector increased by 16.5 percent in the first three months of this year.

Turkmenistan’s government website Golden Age reported, "Having listened to the report, the head of state, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, said there had been a weakening over control of realizing the program for development of Turkmenistan's oil-and-gas industry for the period up to 2030."

The Turkmen president then dismissed Kakaev and replaced him with Maksat Babaev, head of the state gas company Turkmengaz, also a veteran figure in Turkmenistan’s oil-and-gas sector.

Kakaev has been one of the top figures in Turkmenistan’s oil-and-gas industry for more than a decade, and for most of those years that sector was the driving force behind double-digit economic growth in Turkmenistan.

For approximately the last three years, the opposite has been true, though Kakaev could hardly be blamed.

The price of gas is about half of what it was at the start of 2014. Turkmenistan’s insistence on maintaining prices as close to pre-2014 levels as possible, a decision in which Berdymukhammedov undoubtedly played some part, has led to Turkmenistan losing Russia and Iran as customers since the start of 2016.

Luca Anceschi, a professor of Central Asian studies at Glasgow University, said, "Kakaev’s dismissal certifies the ultimate failure of Berdymukhammedov’s energy policy."

Anceschi added, "It is a sign of regime denial, as Kakaev’s failures are not attributable to personal shortcomings. They relate most directly to the implementation of a policy course that was flawed at its very onset."

John Roberts, a nonresident senior fellow at the U.S.-based Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Center, has met Kakaev several times.

Roberts describes Kakaev as "extremely dutiful" and "very conscientious about his work." Roberts said, though, that Kakaev had "the toughest job in Turkmenistan, after the presidency," in trying to get Turkmenistan’s gas sector back on track despite enormous challenges, most of which were far outside the ability of anyone in Turkmenistan to control.

Kakaev was not cast out in shame. He moves over to head the Galkynysh gas field, which Roberts reminded is "the world’s biggest onshore gas field."

Despite Kakaev retaining a key position, the decision to relieve him of his duties as head of Turkmenistan’s oil-and-gas sector appears to be the same sort of reshuffling Berdymukhammedov has resorted to numerous times in the last couple of years to reinvigorate the country’s moribund economy, which is dependent on gas exports for revenue.

These reshuffles do not appear to have produced any noticeably positive results to date, and the transfer of an experienced oil-and-gas sector official such as Kakaev is not likely to help the situation either.

Thanks to Laurent Ruseckas, senior adviser at IHS Energy, for the headline.
The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

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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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