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Central Asia Report: December 16, 2005

16 December 2005, Volume 5, Number 47

WEEK AT A GLANCE (5-11 December 2005). The political fallout from President Nursultan Nazarbaev's 90-percent-plus reelection dominated the news in Kazakhstan. Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev disputed the OSCE's critical report on the election but vowed not to "dramatize" the situation in light of his country's stated desire to chair the organization in 2009. Darigha Nazarbaeva, the president's daughter, told journalists that while she doesn't rule out her own presidential bid in 2012, her father will have "the final say" on choosing a successor. Meanwhile, Ermukhamet Ertysbaev, an adviser to the president, said that if per capita GDP rises to $9,000-$10,000 by 2012, "maybe we'll amend the constitution and the president will run again at 72." Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the defeated opposition candidate of the bloc For a Just Kazakhstan, charged "unprecedented violations" in the election, while several members of For a Just Kazakhstan faced criminal charges over an allegedly forged document they displayed at an 8 December press conference.

In other news, PetroKazakhstan, the Canadian-registered company recently acquired by China National Petroleum Corporation, said that it has appealed a recent decision by a Kazakh court fining the company over $700 million.

The Kyrgyz independent television station Pyramid sustained an unsuccessful forcible takeover bid on the night of 9 December, as 15 men tried to force their way onto the station's premises only to be warded off by employees, parliamentary deputies, and human rights activists. The channel's journalists charged that Maksim Bakiev, the son of President Kurmanbek Bakiev, was behind the takeover attempt, a charge denied by a spokesman for the president. For his part, the president issued a decree removing Osh Province Governor Anvar Artykov and replacing him with Adam Zakirov, who had been deputy head of the Management Academy. A news agency reported that the president formally rebuked Zamira Sydykova, Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to the United States, for making unauthorized statements about Kyrgyz-U.S. negotiations over payments for the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan. And the Asian Development Bank announced that it plans to loan Kyrgyzstan $90 million over the next three years.

The anticorruption department of the Tajik Prosecutor-General's Office announced that all officials will have to make their sources of income public starting 1 January. President Imomali Rakhmonov said that his country plans to export electrical power to Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the Supreme Court ruled to uphold a prior ruling ordering the release of jailed journalist Jumaboy Tolibov, who was finally released on 16 December.

Aleksei Miller, the head of Russia's Gazprom, failed to reach an agreement with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on the price of Turkmenistan's 2006 gas shipments to Russia. Turkmenistan wants to raise the current price of $44 per 1,000 cubic meters to $60. Deputy Prime Minister Atamurat Berdiev reported back to the president and cabinet on his recent visit to China, announcing that China is prepared to extend Turkmenistan a preferential loan of $80 million for communication-sector projects. He added that China is interested in participating in the reconstruction of Turkmenistan's Seidi refinery and in securing shipments of Turkmen natural gas to China.

Germany and Uzbekistan signed an agreement allowing Germany to keep its contingent of roughly 300 troops at a base in Termez, Uzbekistan. The agreement leaves Germany as the lone NATO outpost in Uzbekistan after Tashkent's recent decision to evict the U.S. from a base at Karshi-Khanabad. Earlier in the week, the German office of Amnesty International asked German prosecutors to investigate, and possibly arrest, Uzbek Interior Minister Zokir Almatov, who is reportedly undergoing medical treatment in Germany. Almatov is on a list of Uzbek officials banned from the European Union, but German officials have said that his presence is allowed on humanitarian grounds. Elsewhere, Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of President Islam Karimov, told a conference in Tashkent that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) could "consolidate its experience in fighting terrorism and create a common foundation, principles, and cooperation for oil and gas markets." Finally, Orifjon Oydin, the husband of Uzbek opposition leader Nigora Hidoyatova, died in a hospital in southern Kazakhstan. He had suffered a gunshot wound to the head in an attack by unknown assailants on 28 November that Hidoyatova described as politically motivated.

UZBEKISTAN: ANDIJON RESIDENTS SPEAK ABOUT THE TRIALS. On 14 December, Uzbekistan's Supreme Court announced the beginning of the first trial of Uzbek officials in connection with the bloodshed in Andijon in May, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. In a stark reminder of the gulf that now separates Uzbekistan from Western countries, which have called for an independent investigation of eyewitness accounts that Uzbek security services perpetrated a massacre in Andijon, the officials face charges not of employing excessive force, but rather of negligence in the performance of their duties.

On trial are 10 police officers, two prison medics, five prison guards, and 19 soldiers. One of the police on trial is Dilmurod Oqmirzaev, former head of the Interior Ministry's Andijon section.

Most of the accused face charges of negligence on 12-13 May, when a group of armed men in Andijon carried out attacks on a local prison and army post before seizing the government administration building in the city center. The medics testified at an earlier trial that they supplied a mobile phone and relayed messages to Akram Yoldoshev, the jailed leader of the so-called Akramiya movement who Uzbek authorities have charged was behind the violence in Andijon. Elsewhere in Uzbekistan, 78 people are on trial for alleged direct involvement in the violence.

Behind Closed Doors

All of the trials are closed to the public, journalists, and human rights activists. In its statement, the Supreme Court said the measure was necessary to safeguard "state secrets in the criminal cases" and to guarantee "the security of victims, witnesses, and other trial participants."

The first Andijon trial, which began on 20 September with guilty pleas from all 15 defendants and ended on 14 November with prison terms of 14-20 years, received heavy coverage from the international press. But as Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted in a 30 November press release on the organization's website, the Uzbek government has blocked access to subsequent trials. Allison Gill, HRW's representative in Tashkent, told RFE/RL why she thinks the authorities decided to clamp down.

"The government used the first trial as a theatrical spectacle to convey its version of events to the Uzbek people and the international community," Gill said. "The trial was covered every day in detail by Uzbekistan's state television channels, and foreign observers and correspondents were given permission to attend. But because the trial absolutely failed to meet fair-trial standards, it evoked very negative reactions. In order to prevent mounting criticism, the government decided to hold all further trials on the Andijon events behind closed doors. Moreover, there is the possibility, however small, that witnesses or defendants could open their mouths and say things that depart from the government's script. This is why the trials are closed."

'Eliminate The Witnesses'

In Andijon itself, residents had their own reactions to the latest trial. "In the first place, the people on trial were witnesses to the events of 13 May," one Andijon resident told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. "The most important task for Uzbekistan's president today is to eliminate such witnesses because they could talk at some point in the future." The resident said he was personally acquainted with defendant Dilmurod Oqmirzaev, the former head of the Interior Ministry section in Andijon Province. "It's now clear that evil, heartless men are coming to take the place of good police officers like Oqimirzaev," the local said. "This is what they're doing now to keep the people of Andijon in fear."

Police Not To Blame

Asked about the actions of police on 13 May, the resident replied: "On 13 May, there were a lot of police in civilian dress and with white armbands. You could see on the faces of many police that they were being forced to do their work." The individual said that some police showed a desire to join the demonstrators who gathered in the center of Andijon on 13 May, while others shouted at the protestors and threatened them with their weapons. He summed up, "Now the good police officers are on trial, while the ones who threatened the people with weapons are still doing their jobs."

An elderly resident of Andijon told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that police conducted themselves honorably during the demonstrations that took place in Andijon before 13 May as a verdict neared in the trial of 23 businesspeople accused of membership of the Akramiya movement. "When our children were on trial, the police and their commanding officers were in the area," she said. "We didn't see them do anything bad."

The woman asserted that the police were not responsible for the shooting on 13 May. "On 13 May in Andijon, it wasn't the police, but the soldiers who shot at us," she said. "The soldiers shot at us in Chulpon Street and in the village of Teshiktosh. We didn't see any police or police commanders."

Dilshodbek Tullakhujaev, the head of the Democratic Initiative Center in Andijon Province, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that if any officials should be charged with dereliction of duty in connection with the events of 12-13 May, they should be from the National Security Service (SNB).

"When the attack began [on the night of 12 May], there were no commanders or officers on duty at the army post," the man said. "As a result, they should be tried. But the heads of the provincial Interior Ministry section weren't at fault. In my view, the main fault lies with the SNB. Now, the main job of the SNB is fighting against rights activists and democrats."

UZBEKISTAN: EXPERTS AT ROUNDTABLE QUESTION EXTREMIST VIEWS OF ANDIJON ACCUSED. As the criminal trials of people accused of involvement in Uzbekistan's Andijon uprising continue behind closed doors, international experts on religious freedom say there is no evidence the alleged organizers were religious extremists. The ongoing trials and the topic of religious freedom in the region were discussed at a roundtable held at RFE/RL's headquarters in Washington on 13 December.

A series of closed criminal trials are taking place across Uzbekistan of dozens of people allegedly involved in the Andijon uprising.

The Uzbek Supreme Court announced last week that 25 people were convicted in two separate closed trials. The defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 12 to 22 years. Last month, the court jailed 15 people accused of involvement to similar prison terms.

That case, which was held in open court, took almost two months to complete, while not one of the more recent closed proceedings -- in cities such as Yangibozor, Tuytepa, and Yangier -- has lasted more than two weeks. Dozens of people remain in custody, awaiting trial.

Those jailed in connection with Andijon have been accused of crimes including murder, terrorism, attempting to overthrow the government, and belonging to outlawed Islamic groups. But with the proceedings closed, the exact nature of the accused's religious affiliation remains shrouded in mystery. The Uzbek government has cited the need to ensure the safety of victims and witnesses as its rationale for the secret trials.

It's a fear that the leaders have -- a fear of societies and institutions within society -- that they cannot control. They do not understand religion quite often. They don't know what it is all about. And they know that if people believe in a god who is higher than humankind, well, where's the president in all this -- especially where there is a huge and enormous cult of personality?" -- Felix Corley

John Kinahan is an editor for the Forum 18 News Service, which tracks religious freedom around the world. He spoke at a roundtable yesterday at RFE/RL headquarters in Washington. According to Kinahan, those accused of involvement in the Andijon uprising are Muslims, but there is no evidence they held extremist views.

"It's clear that the businessmen who were on trial were devout Muslims following Islamic charitable practice in relations to their employees and others. [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov is very fond of talking about religious extremism, arms, recruits. The overtones are, I think, all too familiar to us. But nobody has actually found any credible evidence of that. The [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights interviewed refugees from Andijon within a month of the uprising. They found no evidence in their interviews of such terroristically inclined religious extremism," Kinahan said.

Human rights groups say hundreds of people, mostly civilians, were killed in the May uprising. The Uzbek government says 187 people died, mostly Islamic militants, and denies that troops fired on unarmed civilians.

Another Forum 18 editor, Felix Corley, said that while the Uzbek authorities are promoting the bogeyman of Islamic extremism, religion in any form has always proven frightening for authoritarian political leaders. According to Corley, they fear religion because it is something they cannot control or understand.

"In the Soviet period, you could only worship within the four walls of a registered building," Corley said. "They still have this idea that you must have registration to act. You must meet only in a registered venue and that you do not stray outside your own ethnic religion. All Russians are Orthodox. All Uzbeks or Turkmen or Kazakhs are Muslim -- this type of thing. It's a fear that the leaders have -- a fear of societies and institutions within society -- that they cannot control. They do not understand religion quite often. They don't know what it is all about. And they know that if people believe in a god who is higher than humankind, well, where's the president in all this -- especially where there is a huge and enormous cult of personality?"

Both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan escaped inclusion on the U.S. State Department's annual list of serious violators of religious freedom last month. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom had recommended earlier this year that the State Department cite Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan as "countries of particular concern."

But Uzbekistan may yet make it on the list. Catherine Cosman, senior policy analyst for the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, told RFE/RL: "A country can be named a CPC [country of particular concern] at any time during the year. People in the State Department who are involved in this process have indicated that it's possible that another country will be named. The speculation is that that country may be Uzbekistan."

Like Cosman, Kinahan and Corley believe that the situation regarding religious freedom in both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan has worsened in the past year. Controls on religious groups, particularly Muslims, are tighter than they were a year ago.

"I think it should be said in the aftermath of Andijon that peaceful Muslims across Uzbekistan were called in for questioning by the authorities and were asked to sign declarations that they would not join extremist -- undefined -- organizations," Kinahan said. "I think when one hears phraseology about extremism, one has to be aware that very frequently this is undefined and is used in very, very loose sense."

While designating Uzbekistan as a "country of particular concern" is one way to pressure Tashkent, Corley and Kinahan suggested an alternative exists. OSCE member governments, they said, could pressure both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to observe the agreement they freely entered into with the OSCE regarding human rights. The right to religious freedom is one of a bundle of rights that both governments agreed to uphold.

The OSCE has called on Uzbekistan's government to allow international observers to attend the Andijon trials. (Originally published on 14 December 2005.) (By Julie Corwin)

KYRGYZSTAN: PYRAMID TV EMPLOYEES QUESTION SOURCE OF TAKEOVER ATTEMPT. An attempt appears to have been made on 10 December to assume control of the offices of Kyrgyzstan's independent television station Pyramid. Apparently, the station has new owners who want to make changes. But any change in ownership is news to the station's employees, who are demanding an investigation. Station employees are threatening to stage a hunger strike, supporters are vowing to demonstrate, and the country's president is trying to keep his name out of the fiasco.

The future of Pyramid television remains a mystery, as do details about the station's apparent new owners, and how they acquired a 50 percent stake in the company.

What is clear is that between 15 and 25 people claiming to be representatives of the new management entered the station early on 10 December and attempted to seize control. The arrival of government officials and ordinary citizens repelled the attempt, and the intruders left.

One of those who arrived at the station that morning was Kabai Karabekov, a member of parliament. "People from the [Kyrgyz] White House came and said, 'Now, this is our company.' They came in the name of [President Kurmanbek] Bakiev. The whole company, the editorial staff, [said] that now the company belonged to a new family," Karabekov told RFE/RL.

Employees of the station say the new owners have told them they want to change the channel's format from mainly news and information programs to light entertainment, such as music and drama.

Offending The Government?

Pyramid chief Yelena Chernyavskaya, who says she's still in charge, at least as of 14 December, believes the incident is related to the station's critical coverage of Bakiev, who came to power in late March after protests chased longtime leader Askar Akaev from power.

Some organizations support Chernyavskaya's view that the new government in Kyrgyzstan is interfering with independent media critical of government policies. But presidential press secretary Nadyr Momunov denied that in comments to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

"You know, the TV company Pyramid is a private enterprise. There is no state share in the company. There is no direct or indirect connection of [Bakiev] to this conflict," Momunov said.

Others believe the ownership problem originated in the Akaev regime. Last year, while Akaev was still president, a company called Aeropag loaned Pyramid money. Pyramid put up a 50 percent stake in the company as collateral. Chernyavskaya says the loan was not due to be paid off for two years. Aeropag has been linked to Aidar Akaev, the son of the former president. Aeropag apparently sold off this 50 percent share to a subsidiary Kyrgyz company called Media Invest earlier this month.

Just Business

Ilarion Adamyan, a representative of Media Invest, said Pyramid belongs to Media Invest and denied there is any political maneuvering behind the acquisition, describing it as a simple and legal business deal. "We state that all accusations against our company are empty words. We also state that all activities of our company are done absolutely within the laws of the Kyrgyz Republic," he said.

Adamyan said that Media Invest is prepared to defend its financial interests in the television station in court. He declined to talk more about the company or its other holdings.

Who To Trust?

On 12 December, President Bakiev ordered Deputy Prime Minister Adakhan Madumarov to investigate the events surrounding the station.

Pyramid TV staff say they do not believe Madumarov will conduct such an investigation fairly. Some 20 employees of the station demonstrated outside the parliament building in protest.

Some wore bandages over their mouths, symbolic of what they say is an attempt by the government to silence its critics. Station employees are demanding to know more about the deal, which has apparently left half of Pyramid in the hands of Media Invest. They also want to know more about Media Invest itself.

Bakiev has vowed to cut state support for the country's media outlets and to make all Kyrgyz media independent. The recent experiences of the already independent Pyramid TV indicate such efforts are likely to be fraught with problems.

(By Bruce Pannier. Aidanbek Tashkenbaev of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report. Originally published on 14 December 2005.)

ROUNDTABLE: ACTIVISTS DISCUSS HUMAN RIGHTS IN CENTRAL ASIA. On 10 December, RFE/RL's Tajik Service hosted a roundtable discussion on human rights in Central Asia. Roundtable participants included Tursunbek Akun, chairman of the Kyrgyz Presidential Human Rights Commission; Yevgenii Zhovitis, a leading human rights activist in Kazakhstan; Surat Ikromov, a leading human rights activist in Uzbekistan; and Shokirjon Hakimov, a Tajik lawyer and parliamentarian from the Social-Democratic Party. The roundtable was moderated by RFE/RL Tajik Service Deputy Director Normohamad Kholov.

RFE/RL: The human rights situation in Central Asian countries is characterized by instability. Every year, these issues come up in reports by international human rights organizations. These reports particularly emphasize freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and limitations on the activity of opposition political parties. There are still reports of human trafficking.

To discuss these and other issues, we have in our studio, via telephone, several human rights activists from Almaty, Bishkek, Dushanbe, and Tashkent. I will now introduce the participants in today's discussion: Surat Ikromov, a human rights activist in Uzbekistan; Yevgenii Zhovitis, a human rights activist in Kazakhstan; Shokirjon Hakimov, a lawyer in Tajikistan; and Tursunbek Akun, a human rights activist in Kyrgyzstan.

Freedom of speech and freedom of press are some of the basic principles in a democratic society. Mr. Hakimov, let's start with Tajikistan. There is growing popularity of so-called �independent newspapers� in your country. However, according to reports by Human Rights Watch, the persecution of independent newspapers and opposition journalists remains a problem. There has been, however, a decline in the number of physical attacks compared with last year. Should we interpret this as an improvement in conditions? Or is this simply a more careful approach to limiting freedom of speech in Tajikistan?

Hakimov: Although we have some 200 media organizations -- newspapers, magazines, and electronic media -- there is still little real freedom. Despite the fact that there are about 10 independent sources of information, there are still no editorials. There is no mention of important issues like corruption. There is no investigative journalism. Political parties and representatives of political groups do not have the ability to express their opinions through the media -- even the independent media. Every time important political changes or reforms approach -- referendums, constitutional reforms, elections to local representative bodies or higher legislative bodies, or presidential elections -- measures are taken by the executive powers to limit the freedom of speech as much as possible. As a result, the media are unable to fulfill their social task in the formation of new political thought, which is necessary for the establishment of democratic institutions and the formation of civil society in Tajikistan.

RFE/RL: This year some publishing houses have expressed the desire to print independent works.

Hakimov: Indeed, we are quite surprised. Although some independent printing houses have been created -- thanks to financial support from various international bodies -- they still refuse to publish certain popular newspapers and magazines. Censorship has been abolished in our country because it contradicts democratic values, but it still exists on an unofficial level. These independent publishers seek to make a profit, but collaborating with the independent press -- especially that which belongs to the opposition -- negatively impacts their state of affairs, so they try to not associate themselves with that press.

RFE/RL: Let's compare this with Uzbekistan. Mr. Ikromov, how would you characterize the situation with freedom of speech, or freedom of press in Uzbekistan?

Ikromov: Even if we only look at the recent period, we can see that some publications have been shut down. Literally, a few days ago, they closed the popular newspaper �Advokat press,� which is considered a branch of the bar association. This happened only because serious issues were discussed there. Recently, they shut down the BBC office in Tashkent for six months. So, clearly, the situation is getting worse every day in terms of freedom of speech. Or let's look at the recent trials that took place. The government does not announce in the press who is being tried where in connection with the events in Andijon. Human Rights Watch has been trying to obtain access to these trials, as have other international organizations, including representatives from various embassies. They have all been denied access. The government doesn't even tell them where the trials are taking place.

RFE/RL: Mr. Akun, could one say that after the March events [in which the regime of Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev was overthrown], the human rights situation has changed in terms of freedom of speech and freedom of press?

Akun: I should say that after the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, we started seeing more and more events like the takeover of coalfields, civil unrest, pickets, demonstrations, and so on. Many negative things came out of it. After the revolution, the peoples' consciousness awoke, and they began to experience a sense of freedom and, consequently, the capacity for various excesses. The only positive achievement of the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan is freedom of speech. Before, many journalists underwent �peoples' trials� and many newspapers were being shut down. These problems no longer exist in Kyrgyzstan. We want to show that the revolution in Kyrgyzstan should be the impulse for other countries to strive toward the freedoms that we have been able to achieve.

RFE/RL: Mr. Zhovitis, on 5 December, after his victory in the elections, [Kazkakh President] Nursultan Nazarbaev, declared that there are no restrictions on the rights of opposition parties in Kazakhstan, and he wants to have what he calls an opposition. Does this mean that there is actual democracy in Kazakhstan?

Zhovitis: We should look at the situation concerning freedom of speech in the context of the opposition. Freedom of speech, per se, exists. People are not persecuted for what they say, for the speeches that they deliver at conferences, and for what they write. These things are not prohibited or persecuted.

There is a far greater problem with the media. First of all, in my opinion, Kazakhstan has no independent television or radio. There is, of course, private television and radio -- 80 percent of all networks, actually -- but the fact that they are private does not mean that they are independent. All these channels either are controlled by the government in some way or another, or take their cues from the government, or indulge in self-censorship. As for the press, the situation here is different. There are, indeed, several newspapers of an oppositional nature that publish very critical materials and don't indulge in self-censorship. But these newspapers are under constant pressure. They are shut down and they have to reopen under different name. Their offices are burned, and their print runs are confiscated. In other words, there is significant pressure exerted on them.

RFE/RL: What is the reason?

Zhovitis: The reason is political. The government sees independent media as an instrument of propaganda and fears that the emergence of independent television channels, like Channel 5 in Ukraine or Rustavi-2 in Georgia, will provoke some sort of revolution or will work to somehow influence the voters. It's a means of control, just like they control the post and the telegraph.

RFE/RL: Mr. Hakimov, after the Tajik parliament adopted an amendment to the constitution concerning presidential elections, the deputy chairman of the Democratic Party, Rakhmatulo Valiev, said on multiple occasions that the president always uses amendments to the constitution and to the to law codes to his own advantage. What do you think of this? What is your reaction to the words of Mr. Valiev?

Hakimov: Indeed, the chairman of the Social-Democratic Party of Tajikistan disseminated this statement. He was then joined by the Democratic and Socialist parties and later the Islamic Party. These four parties demanded that a new constitutional law be passed concerning the election of the president of the Republic of Tajikistan.

In addition, they demanded that laws be passed permitting -- and making it necessary -- to have elections monitored and to ensure that the Central Election Committee remains independent on all levels. They also called for laws specifying the process of putting forth nominees for the post of president, because according to our current laws, not only parties, but also trade unions have this right, which is nonsense. In our current political system, we have eight parties, and our trade unions are very pro-government and are not concerned with any reform. They are completely under the control of the government and support anything it initiates, including its socioeconomic policy.

Although the Justice Ministry officially recognizes about 90 youth organizations, only one of has the right to nominate a candidate, because the leader of this organization is, at the same time, the chairman of the Committee for Youth Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan.

After the candidates are selected, they have to gather signatures of support from at least 5 percent of the population. According to our estimates, this makes approximately 170,000 people. These signatures must be approved by local administrators, who are the president's nomenclature.

Since 1994, we have passed two constitutional reforms, and every time, the parliament had one year to accordingly modify and create laws. This did not happen. There are other important issues in the process by which the president of the republic is elected, but they are not taken into account. Therefore, we cannot be sure that our next elections will be free, democratic and fair; that they will respect the current principles of international law, particularly those adopted by the UN and by OSCE, and which Tajikistan has ratified.

RFE/RL: Mr. Zhovitis, do you think that following the end of the new term of Mr. Nazarbaev's presidency, he will also change the election law, or do you think he will take another path?

Zhovitis: It is difficult to say, because the technologies of power maintenance used in post-Soviet countries vary. Some change the constitution and so prolong their term. Some change election laws. Others say that according to changes made in the constitution, the previous term does not count, so everything starts over again. I still hope the president's current term will, in accordance with the constitution, be his last and that no steps will be taken in imitation of Turkmenbashi [Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov] to instate life-long presidency. I don't think the constitution will be amended in this regard, but instead �Operation Heir� will take place, like it did with [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin. Therefore, we will not have Mr. Nazarbaev, but rather his heir, if the elections take place in 2013.

RFE/RL: What about Uzbekistan, Mr. Ikromov?

Ikromov: As far as I know, we are supposed to hold elections toward the end of 2007. Concerning whether the president will run again, no statement has been made yet, so we cannot know. I think President [Islam] Karimov will run again for another seven years.

RFE/RL: You know, this year the events in Andijon were an example of the brutal violation of human rights in Uzbekistan. The government used force against the demonstrators and the international community condemned this approach. What do you think of government's approach concerning the investigation?

Ikromov: After 13 May, when all this happened, they used force, there were executions, and many died. The government greatly underreports the number of dead. They say that 180 people were killed, but in reality, eyewitnesses, journalists, and human rights activists who were there report thousands of casualties. In this number, they also include people gone missing. This means that it is necessary to have an international, independent investigation.

Unfortunately, from the start, the government said there would be no investigation. This very fact shows that the government doesn't want the global community to know what really happened there. I hope that eventually we will be able to investigate. The way things stand now, many politicians, democratic countries, and organizations are demanding an investigation. This is good, but only if the pressure is maintained.

It is also necessary to demand punishment for these crimes. I say crimes because the fact in itself that weapons and force were used against peaceful demonstrators is criminal. There were other means of stopping the demonstrators, like spraying them with water hoses. There were also theaters and other buildings burning, which the government didn't bother to extinguish. So many questions will remain unanswered until an international investigation has taken place. I must emphasize how necessary this is.

RFE/RL: Mr. Akun, after the May events in Andijon, many sought refuge in Kyrgyzstan. What is the situation in the refugee camps right now? Are there still refugees there or has the UN immigration service sent them to other countries?

Akun: More than 400 refugees were held for some 4 months in our country. We are grateful to international organizations like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for their enormous help. It was very difficult for us to take care of these people. We had to feed, clothe, and shelter them. In accordance with our international agreements, we provided them with aid and, through the assistance of the UN refugee committee, they were sent to Romania. However, 15 refugees remained. Some officials wanted to send them back to Uzbekistan, but our Presidential Human Rights Committee issued a categorical statement, in which it dismissed any further discussion of this. Several officials spoke out, refusing to turn over the individuals to the Uzbek president.

Kyrgyzstan strictly followed its obligations concerning refugees. Our president listened to us and supported our refusal to turn over the refugees. Nevertheless, we failed in one case, and four of the refugees were turned over. This was a harsh move on the part of Kyrgyzstan. The prime minister of the republic spoke out about this, condemning these actions and saying he did not know how it happened. He underwent serious scrutiny.

RFE/RL: Was there an opportunity to return these refugees to Uzbekistan?

Akun: Of course. There not only was the opportunity, there was an outright attack. Uzbekistan's legal authorities came. They worked in several regions in the country, making threats and trying to influence our government and local officials. However, our political parties did not want Kyrgyzstan to lose the respect of the international community and we strictly followed our obligations toward the refugees.

RFE/RL: Mr. Akun, do you think that Islam Karimov used the events in Andijon to attack his political opponents?

Akun: The actions of President Karimov are not supported by our organization. I believe that the events in Andijon were indeed a peaceful demonstration, based on the constitutional right to hold public meetings. I believe that the demonstrators wanted, just like people in other regions, to come out and put forth their constitutional demands, but unfortunately, they were violently put down. This tells that there is no real democracy in Uzbekistan; that there is no freedom of speech; and that the peaceful demonstration received a harsh punishment. This shows that Islam Karimov and his entourage are trying to sustain their authoritarian regime for years to come.

RFE/RL: Mr. Ikromov, what is your opinion on this matter?

Ikromov: I would like to use this occasion to express my gratitude to the human rights activists of Kyrzyzstan, including Tursunbek Akun. We have reports that there were many refugees, especially in May and June. Mr. Akun and his colleagues worked hard to defend their rights. Unfortunately, at the present moment the UN has to deal with many refugees. Half an hour before this program, I met with five of them. They recently received citizenship in other countries and were getting ready to leave. I also know that there are many refugees, both in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The majority of them are in the regions of Jalalabad and Osh. As far as I know, their number is constantly increasing, but Uzbek forces are going around capturing or arresting them, even though they already have political asylum granted by the UN. This is still happening.

In general, I think the flow of refugees from Uzbekistan is growing. Some groups are still arriving, looking for asylum through the UN in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Russia. Some groups are being persecuted. Uzbek special forces are pursuing them, capturing some. You may have heard that nine Muslims, who were forced to immigrate to Kazakhstan, were recently arrested. The same is happening in Kyrgyzstan.

RFE/RL: Mr. Zhovitis, on 26 November, on the eve of the election day, a large number of foreigners were deported from Kazakhstan. Among them were 43 citizens of Tajikistan, citizens of Kyrgyzstan, and six Ukrainians. How do you interpret this measure taken by the government?

Zhovitis: Our government periodically conducts these operations, capturing so-called 'illegal immigrants' or 'illegal work immigrants' who work in Kazakhstan. It is no secret that a number of citizens from neighboring countries, including Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan come to Kazakhstan to make money. The economic situation here is slightly better. There are more job opportunities compared to those countries, and they have an opportunity to make money and feed their families back home. Periodically, the government turns a blind eye to this, and sometimes it performs these operations.

So far, unfortunately, in terms of intergovernmental agreements, these issues have not been discussed. Most commonly, these deportations take place without any prior judicial proceedings, which is unfortunate, because some of those deported are actually legitimate businesspeople. For example, some of the Kyrgyz citizens who were recently deported were not illegal immigrants, but businesspeople who traded legally imported goods. Their registration periods were shortened and thus they were kicked out.

For the most part, this concerns citizens of Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan and is part of a policy of immigration �cleansing,' by which the government tries to avoid the spreading of the �Orange Revolution virus'. Allegedly, an employee of the Interior Ministry told a Ukrainian citizen that he had received an order to deport citizens of Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrzyzstan. In the case of three Ukrainians, their five-day visas were reduced to one day and they were expelled. As the basis for shortening their period of stay in Kazakhstan, they were told that they were collecting information about the elections without being registered with the Central Election Committee. Obviously, this was not a legitimate reason, because, in fact, no registration is necessary for this kind of activity.

RFE/RL: Citizens of Tajikistan are not only being deported from Central Asian countries, but often from Russia as well. Mr. Hakimov, how do you interpret this situation? Is it the lack of knowledge of laws on the part of Tajik immigrants or is there some other issue?

Hakimov: There are several reasons. First of all, our citizens have a fairly low level of legal awareness. Another reason is our low living standards and the inefficacy of socioeconomic reforms that are being conducted in the Republic of Tajikistan, resulting in high unemployment. All this forms a whole complex of reasons why our citizens leave the country as work immigrants. At the same time, it is important to note that as part of Commonwealth of Independent States and the Central Asian commonwealth, we strive toward integration. As part of this process, there must be mutual legal consensus and understanding on all sides.

RFE/RL: Mr. Akun, for a long time laws permitting capital punishment in Kyrgyzstan have been a subject of concern in the international community. This has been discussed by the UN human rights committee as a potential violation of the International Pact concerning civil and political rights. What is the new Kyrgyz government doing in order to remedy this situation?

Akun: First of all, I would like to add to the words of my colleague from Tajikistan. We consider the deportation of the citizens of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan from Kazakhstan a severe violation of the international agreement on civil rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the constitution of our republic. Every citizen has the right to move freely from one place to another, including the crossing of borders.

As far as capital punishment is concerned, human rights activists in Kyrgyzstan are against it. Reforms are currently being discussed, including an amendment to the constitution. Under influence from the Presidential Human Rights Committee, as well as the country's highest human rights authority, the president has agreed to abolish capital punishment, and this will be reflected in the new draft of the constitution. If this constitution is adopted, we will become the first country in Central Asia to abolish capital punishment, which will be a big step forward. (Originally published on 12 December 2005.)