The third month of 2021 in Central Asia was remembered for the rapid increase in the incidence of coronavirus, the strengthening of quarantine measures, the purchase of vaccines, start of vaccination, the state visits of Sadyr Japarov to neighboring countries, active negotiations on border issues and the detention of bloggers in different countries.
The analytical platform CABAR.asia presents a brief overview of the major events in the region over the past month.
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General epidemiological situation
In Kazakhstan, in March, there is an increase in the incidence of coronavirus by 1.5 times. According to the country’s chief state sanitary doctor, Yerlan Kiyasov, this was facilitated by the general relaxation of restrictive measures. The largest number of cases occurs in the cities of Almaty and Nur-Sultan.
Since the beginning of March, 9,525 cases of coronavirus have been reported. The increase in March is the highest compared to January and February this year. The largest percentage of cases falls on people working in individual entrepreneurship or LLP, as well as the non-working population.
Since March 21, quarantine has been tightened in Almaty for a week. A little later, the strengthening of quarantine was extended until April 12. In Nur-Sultan, new restrictive measures were introduced in relation to catering points from March 30 to April 11.
According to the matrix for assessing the epidemiological situation in the regions of Kazakhstan as of April 1, in the “red” zone: Nur-Sultan, Almaty city, Atyrau, Aktobe, Almaty and West Kazakhstan regions. In the “yellow” zone: Shymkent and Karaganda region. All other regions are in the green zone.
As of March 31, more than 173 thousand people in Kazakhstan were vaccinated with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. First of all, doctors, police officers, teachers – those who are in contact with a large number of people, were vaccinated.
The Kazakh authorities plan to intensify the vaccination campaign and promise that in April 600 thousand people will receive vaccinations, and by the end of the year – six million people. However, experts and MPs are skeptical about the plan of the Ministry of Health.
Since April, the government of Kazakhstan is preparing to immunize the population with the domestic medicine QazCovid-in. In addition, the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan reported that negotiations are underway to purchase a vaccine, which is jointly produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.
According to the authorities, in April the Karaganda pharmaceutical complex will release one million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. In the same month, the country will receive from Russia 2.5-3 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. In addition, the Kazakh government mentioned that it would receive three million doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine in April (Beijing stated that the vaccine is 70 percent effective).
Informal Summit of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States
On March 31, an informal summit of the Turkic Council (Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States) was held. It was attended by political leaders of seven Turkic countries. Due to the difficult epidemiological situation in the world, the meeting was held online, although earlier the meeting was planned to be held in the Kazakh city of Turkestan.
As a result of the unofficial summit of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States, the Turkestan Declaration was adopted.
The next summit of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States will be held on November 12, 2021 in Istanbul.
National Development Plan of Kazakhstan until 2025 has been approved
In accordance with the decree of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the National Development Plan of the country until 2025 was approved in March.
The National Development Plan of the country until 2025 defines the main tasks and parameters of the country’s new economic course. The document reflects the strategic vision of the development of the most important industries, guidelines for improving key policies aimed at leveling the consequences of the coronavirus crisis and ensuring sustainable, inclusive and high-quality economic development in the context of the new economic reality and current global trends.
This document was developed on behalf of the President by the Ministry of National Economy in conjunction with the Agency for Strategic Planning and Reforms.
Negotiations between the prime ministers of Russia and Kazakhstan
As part of a working trip to Moscow, Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Askar Mamin held negotiations on March 23 with Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Mikhail Mishustin.
The heads of government discussed questions of further building up Kazakh-Russian cooperation in trade, economic, financial and investment, energy and space spheres, as well as projects within the framework of industrial cooperation. Topical issues of interaction in the format of the Eurasian Economic Union were considered.
Particular attention was paid to joint measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 and leveling the consequences of the pandemic for the economies of the two countries. An agreement was reached on the additional supply of 4 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to Kazakhstan.
US Department of State report points to human rights problems in Kazakhstan
The report lists “significant human rights issues”. These are, as noted in the document, “unlawful or arbitrary killings by or on behalf of the authorities”; “Torture committed by and on behalf of the authorities”; political prisoners; problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions on freedom of speech, press and freedom on the Internet; infringement of the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; corruption; human trafficking; restrictions on freedom of association of workers.
In a report compiled annually, the United States notes that in 2020, the human rights situation has deteriorated in many countries.
On March 27, a sanctioned rally was held in Almaty under anti-Chinese slogans. According to various sources, from 150 to 300 people have gathered.
Zhanbolat Mamai, the leader of the unregistered Democratic Party, and Mukhtar Ablyazov, an opposition politician living abroad and leader of the unregistered Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement, which the Kazakh authorities declared an “extremist organization”, called for the rallies. At the rally of Mamai’s supporters, which was agreed with the akimat, in particular, they opposed the “Chinese expansion” and for the release of political prisoners.
At the event, the police detained at least seven people. The activists tried to block the police car that was taking the detainees away but were unable to free the comrades-in-arms who intended to participate in the rally agreed with the akimat.
The protest actions announced by the opposition in other cities did not take place and participants were detained.
Kazakhstani DJ Imanbek won a Grammy award
The music award “Grammy” in the category “Best Remix” was awarded to the DJ from Kazakhstan Imanbek Zeykenov, known under the pseudonym Imanbek. This was announced at the 63rd awards ceremony, which took place on Monday night, March 15.
Zeykenov received this award for the remix of the Saint JHN song “Roses”. The recording has garnered over 100 million views on YouTube and has been included in Billboard magazine’s 100 Most Popular Music Compositions. It has also become one of the most wanted ringtones on the Shazam app.
In total, five compositions were nominated for the title of the best track in the Best remixed recording nomination.
General epidemiological situation
In Kyrgyzstan, the number of cases of coronavirus has been growing steadily since March. On the morning of April 1, 164 new cases of COVID were detected in Kyrgyzstan. This is the highest figure since January 8, when 165 cases were recorded.
The greatest spread of the virus is in Bishkek and sanitary control has been strengthened in the city. The mayor’s office of the capital has increased the number of inspections of business entities by mobile teams, urging citizens to comply with the prescribed sanitary requirements.
Restrictive measures in Kyrgyzstan will not be introduced yet, but sanitary safety standards will be strengthened in crowded places. In particular, citizens are required to wear masks in public places.
First Deputy Prime Minister Artem Novikov mentioned that further measures will be applied by local authorities depending on the level of the epidemiological situation in the region.
On March 18, the Ministry of Health and Social Development of Kyrgyzstan announced that if the epidemiological situation deteriorates, stocks of medicines and personal protective equipment (PPE) will be enough for health workers for two months.
On March 19, China donated 150,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine to the republic as humanitarian aid. It is also expected to receive 500 thousand doses of the Russian vaccine.
Prior to that, it was planned that Kyrgyzstan will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine under the COVAX program. However, on March 18, the Minister of Health and Social Development Alymkadyr Beishenaliev explained that following the facts of fatal complications after receiving this medication were revealed in European countries, the vaccine supplies were temporarily suspended pending the results of studies on the causal relationship.
On March 29, the country launched the first stage of vaccination against the new type of coronavirus COVID-19 with the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm. The first vaccination was made by the head of the Ministry of Health and Social Development Alymkadyr Beishenaliev. In general, on the first day of vaccination against a new type of coronavirus / COVID-19 / about 100 people were vaccinated. At the first stage, doctors of intensive care units, infectious diseases hospitals, ambulances, as well as teachers, border guards, customs officers, law enforcement and security officials will be vaccinated.
Kyrgyzstan was one of the last to start vaccination against coronavirus in Central Asia. Kazakhstan was the first to start it in February and in mid-March, vaccination began in Tajikistan. In Uzbekistan, the campaign is expected to start on April 1.
Sadyr Japarov’s visit to Kazakhstan
President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov paid a state visit to the Republic of Kazakhstan on March 2-3. The state visit began with an official meeting with the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
The heads of state negotiated in narrow and expanded formats, discussed topical issues of bilateral and multilateral cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, as well as further prospects for joint interaction.
As part of the state visit, a number of documents were signed aimed at further deepening Kyrgyz-Kazakh bilateral cooperation, including a joint statement.
At the same time, President Sadyr Japarov met with the First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, Chairman of the Mazhilis of Parliament Nurlan Nigmatulin and Prime Minister Askar Mamin.
Japarov also visited the museum of the First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev and laid a wreath at the Monument of the Defenders of the Fatherland in Nur-Sultan.
The second day of the state visit of President Sadyr Japarov began with meeting the business community and representatives of the business circles of Kazakhstan.
In addition, Japarov presented a state award – the Order of Dostuk – to Bayangali Alimzhanov, the only manaschi in Kazakhstan.
Sadyr Japarov’s visit to Uzbekistan
On March 11-12, President of the Kyrgyz Republic Sadyr Japarov paid a state visit to the Republic of Uzbekistan. The state visit began with the laying of flowers at the monument of “Independence and Humanism” on the “Mustakillik” square in Tashkent.
After that, the official meeting ceremony of President Sadyr Japarov and President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev took place at the Kuksaroy residence, after which the heads of state held bilateral negotiations in a narrow and expanded format.
Following the negotiations, the presidents of the two countries adopted a Joint Statement, which noted the usefulness of the negotiations, which took place in an open, friendly and constructive atmosphere.
In addition, more than twenty bilateral documents were signed aimed at deepening cooperation, including the Agreement between the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Government of the Republic of Uzbekistan on the Kyrgyz Uzbek Development Fund.
As part of the state visit of the President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov to Uzbekistan, the countries agreed to create a joint investment fund, open flights to Sokh and resolve the disputed area of Unkur-Too, allocate 100 grant places for Kyrgyz citizens in Uzbek universities, prepare a project for the construction of the Kambarata HPP-1 and others. Shavkat Mirziyoyev mentioned that “there has never been such a historic meeting between the countries before”.
Liberation of a crime leader
At the beginning of March 2021, the authorities of Kyrgyzstan released from the pre-trial detention center (under the written pledge not to leave country) the criminal leader, “code bound criminal” Kamchybek Kolbaev.
Kolbaev was arrested in October 2020 and an investigation was launched under the article on creating a criminal organization. The detention was carried out by the State Committee for National Security (SCNS). Soon after being placed in a pre-trial detention center, for health reasons, he was first transferred to a hospital at a correctional colony, and then allowed to go home.
Kolbaev’s detention was the first in a series of high-profile arrests that followed the change of power in Kyrgyzstan as a result of the October protests and the appointment of a new head of the State Committee for National Security, Kamchybek Tashiev. He is the closest associate of the country’s new president, Sadyr Japarov, and has promised to cleanse Kyrgyzstan of crime.
Soon after Kolbaev’s release, the US Embassy in Kyrgyzstan expressed concern about his release and announced a 5 million USD reward for information that would help defeat Kolbaev’s criminal group. Washington considers Kolbaev to be one of the leaders of the brothers’ circle and a major drug lord. The brothers’ circle is an international criminal group that includes several Eurasian organized crime groups. According to US law enforcement officials, it is involved in arms and drug trafficking, as well as human trafficking and extortion.
Earlier in 2012, the US government blacklisted Kolbaev as one of the seven largest drug lords. The US Department of State has pledged a reward of up to a 1 million USD for information “that would disrupt Kolbaev’s financial mechanisms.” The US Treasury Department added Kolbaev’s name to the “blacklist” together with other 10 criminal leaders from the countries of the former USSR.
Recently, in Kyrgyzstan, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and the State Committee for National Security have been detaining members of criminal groups one after another. However, the detainees are quickly released, which raises questions from the public.
Resolving cross-border issues
The head of the government delegation on delimitation and demarcation of the Kyrgyz Uzbek border (concurrently head of the State Committee for National Security) Kamchybek Tashiev paid a two-day visit to Tashkent on March 24-25, where government negotiations on the delimitation and demarcation of the border were held. The Uzbek delegation was headed by the Prime Minister of the Republic Abdulla Aripov.
After the negotiations, Tashiev announced the resolution of border issues with Uzbekistan. Now there are no disputed areas between the countries. All questions on the remaining sections of the Kyrgyz Uzbek state border went through the description procedure on the principle of exchange of territories. The parties also agreed to open the checkpoints Kaitpas and Otukchu for the movement of persons, cars, and minibuses (up to 20 seats) from April 1 of the current year.
The agreement has so far been adopted at the protocol level, which the parties intend to consider and adopt within three months. Also, local authorities will carry out explanatory work among the population.
The length of the border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is 1,378 km. After negotiations in 2017, 85% of the borders were reported to have been agreed, 15% remained controversial.
Negotiations concerning the borders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are being held less effectively. The meeting of the government delegations of the two countries on the delimitation and demarcation of the state border was held on March 18 in Tajikistan.
The total length of the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is 972 kilometers, of which only 520 kilometers have been agreed at the government level and 77 kilometers at the level of working groups. More than 370 kilometers remain undocumented. An indefinite border line causes frequent conflicts in border settlements – over land, water, illegal border crossings.
Various goods (agricultural products, fuels, and lubricants, etc.) go through the Kyrgyz-Tajik border legally and illegally. Drugs and fuels and lubricants also cross the border illegally. Smuggling from Kyrgyzstan even reaches the markets of Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan, in turn, depends on agricultural products from Tajikistan. Smuggling has a negative impact on resolving the issue of border delimitation and demarcation
The main stumbling block at the current stage of negotiations is the Tajik enclave Vorukh, located in the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan. The country’s authorities offered Tajikistan to transfer the Vorukh enclave to them and in return receive 12 thousand hectares in other districts of the Batken region.
Yet another negotiation of the government delegations of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan on the delimitation and demarcation of the state border will be held in Bishkek. With what response to the proposal of the Kyrgyz side the Tajik delegation will go is still unknown.
Kyrgyzstan returns 79 children from Iraq to their homeland
As part of the humanitarian mission “Meerim”, 79 (children) citizens of Kyrgyzstan have been returned to their homeland . On March 16, a special plane from Iraq arrived in the country. The humanitarian mission aimed at rescuing children in an extremely dangerous situation for life and health and who have the right to protection from the state – is the first repatriation event of this nature and scale.
It is worth noting that this is the first humanitarian mission of the Kyrgyz side to remove children from war zones.
Earlier, the special services of Kyrgyzstan reported that about 800 Kyrgyzstanis left for the combat zone in Syria and Iraq. More than 200 of them had died.
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan agree on mutual supplies of electricity
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have agreed on mutual supplies of electricity in the amount of up to 750 million kWh.
The supply of electricity from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan will be carried out from March to October 2021 and in March-April 2022, with the subsequent return of this amount of electricity to Uzbekistan in the period from June to August 2021-2023.
Such an agreement was reached to accumulate water in the Toktogul reservoir and provide irrigation water to agricultural consumers in Uzbekistan during the growing season 2021-2023, the message says.
The issue of supplying electricity from Uzbekistan was discussed during the recent visit of Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov to Tashkent.
U.S. Department of State Report on Human Rights in Kyrgyzstan for 2020
The U.S. Department of State has published the 2020 Kyrgyz Republic Human Rights Report.
The US embassy in Bishkek stated on March 31 that this year’s report highlighted a worrying setback in the Kyrgyz government’s efforts to protect human rights.
The Department of State attributed the following to serious concerns:
- the death of a prominent political prisoner, Azimzhan Askarov, despite UN calls for his release.
- Alleged torture and subsequent extradition of an Uzbek journalist, contrary to the Kyrgyz Republic’s non-refoulement obligations.
- Unpunished attacks by ultranationalist groups on civil society.
- Harassment of civil society and the media by security services.
- Lack of accountability for reported torture by security forces.
The US government calls on the Kyrgyz government to investigate the incidents detailed in the Human Rights Report and take effective measures to address these issues.
General epidemiological situation
Back in January of the current year, the president of the republic mentioned that there was no more coronavirus in Tajikistan, and according to official statistics for March, no new infected were detected .
On March 17, the media announced the lifting of all restrictive measures to counter the spread of coronavirus, except for restrictions on wedding celebrations. Already on March 29, it was announced that the republican headquarters for strengthening anti-epidemic measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 allowed inviting up to 100 people to weddings (instead of 40).
Moreover, while neighboring countries strengthen quarantine measures and canceled (or limited) mass festivities on Navruz, in Tajikistan the holiday was greeted with magnificent decorations, concerts, fairs and traditional horse races.
On the night of March 8, as part of the COVAX mechanism, Tajikistan received the first batch of coronavirus vaccines containing 192 thousand doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and produced in India. By May 2021, Tajikistan will receive 624,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine under COVAX , and the project will supply 732,000 doses of the same vaccine to the country. The first to be vaccinated will be medical workers, workers in strategic sectors of the economy, people over 60 years old, people with chronic non-communicable diseases, workers in science and education.
On March 18, at a press conference in the Ministry of Health of Tajikistan, Deputy Minister of Health of the country Samariddin Alizoda noted that AstraZeneca is already registered in Tajikistan, and now work is underway to register the Russian Sputnik vaccine and the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine. According to Alizoda, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are helping Tajikistan get vaccine from Russia and China, so citizens will be able to choose which vaccine to take.
The vaccination process itself started on March 22. The first to be vaccinated were Minister of Health Jamoliddin Abdullozoda, his deputy – Samariddin Alizoda and UNICEF representative in Tajikistan Osama Makkawi Kogali.
Resumption of flights between Tajikistan and Russia
From April 1, 2021, regular flights on the Dushanbe – Moscow – Dushanbe route will be resumed between Tajikistan and Russia. All citizens will be able to fly these flights if they have a negative coronavirus test received no later than 72 hours before departure.
The first regular flight will be operated by UtAir on Friday, April 2. In total, it is planned to perform two flights a week – on Fridays, the airline “UtAir” will fly, and on Tuesdays, “Somon Air”. According to the head of the civil aviation agency Ikrom Subkhonzoda, domestic and foreign airlines were warned about the need to keep prices for air tickets within their cost price and it was decided that tickets to and from Moscow should not exceed 500 USD. At the same time, land borders remain closed, and charter flights will continue to fly as before.
Visit of the President of Afghanistan to Dushanbe
On March 29, the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan arrived in Dushanbe on an official visit. The Afghan President met with Emomali Rahmon and signed a joint declaration providing for the development of relations at a qualitatively new level, taking into account modern realities.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, Dushanbe, March 29, 2021. Photo: press service of the President of the Republic of Tajikistan
The parties agreed to support each other’s candidacies for non-permanent members of the UN Security Council in different years, to strengthen the legal framework of relations, to promote the activities of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic, Trade, Social and Technical Cooperation and to support cooperation in various fields.
It was also decided that Tajikistan will increase the number of scholarships for training Afghan citizens in higher educational institutions of the republic and a Permanent Council of Entrepreneurs of Tajikistan and Afghanistan will be created under the auspices of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of the two states. The negotiations between the heads of the two states will continue in the framework of the ninth conference “Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process”.
President’s working trip
On March 24, President of the country Emomali Rahmon went on a working trip to the cities and districts of Khatlon. In the city of Bokhtar, the administrative center of the region, he put into operation the building of the innovative medical college of OJSC “Saodat”, launched the work of the plant for the production of bicycles, LLC “Somoni Rasul”, opened the slate shop “Bokhtar Shifer”, met with 200 orphans and visited farmland of the resident Furkat Kosimov.
On March 25, in the Jaloliddini Balkhi district, the President took part in the opening of the Navruz shopping center, got acquainted with the activities of the Ismoil medical and diagnostic center, opened a new restaurant and hotel and visited one of the oldest farms in the district – the greenhouse of the Safar Jumaev cooperative. Also in the Balkhi region, Rahmon visited his older half-sister and listened to poems performed by the children of the family.
On March 26, the president visited the Yavan region and took part in the opening of the Marmari meat livestock complex, a road bridge in the regional center, a kindergarten, commissioned the reception, cardiology and trauma departments of the Central Regional Hospital after repairs, and got acquainted with the projects of the enterprise for the production drywall “Mokhir”, “State Flag Square of the Republic of Tajikistan” and “Monument to Ismoil Somoni”.
Detention of Izzat Amon: Punishment for Fraud or a Message to Critics of the Authority?
On March 27, a well-known Tajik human rights activist, and head of the Center for Tajiks Izzat Amon (Kholov Izatullo Amonovich) was deported from Moscow and detained at the Dushanbe airport. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tajikistan, Izzat Amon was deported according to the decision of the Tver court for violating the rules of stay on the territory of the Russian Federation and illegally obtaining Russian citizenship, and the Tajik authorities accuse him of fraud under Article 247 Part 4 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Tajikistan.
Earlier on March 25, a video message to Vladimir Putin was released on Amon’s YouTube channel, in which the human rights activist spoke about the illegal cancellation of his passport and the surveillance established for him. Amon also noted that if the President of the Russian Federation watches the published video, it means he is no longer in Russia and called on Putin to help him restore his citizenship and protect his rights.
The son of Izzat Amon mentioned that he learned about the detention of his father from the media, although according to the law, the relatives of the detainee must be immediately notified, however, they still do not know where he is. Relatives and colleagues are sure that the human rights defender was detained not for fraud, but for his criticism of the policy of Tajikistan, and experts see this as a message (warning) to other critics of the post-Soviet space.
On March 16-17, in the city of Guliston, Sughd region, a regular meeting of the government delegations of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan was held on the issues of delimitation and demarcation of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. The Tajik side in the negotiations was represented by the head of the State Committee for National Security, Saimumin Yatimov, and the Kyrgyz delegation was headed by the head of the State Committee for National Security of Kyrgyzstan, Kamchybek Tashiev.
On March 26, at a press conference in Bishkek, the head of the State Committee for National Security of Kyrgyzstan mentioned that the issue of demarcation and delimitation of borders has not yet been resolved, but the Kyrgyz side proposed two options for solving this problem. According to him, Kyrgyzstan is ready to give the way to the enclave bypassing the village of Ak-Sai, or to exchange Vorukh with an area of 12 thousand hectares for territory in other districts of the Batken region. The official position of Tajikistan on this matter is still unknown, while the Tajik citizens began to express their dissatisfaction through social networks with the hashtag #Vorukhnotforexchange.
Manizha at Eurovision 2021
At the international song contest “Eurovision – 2021” Russia will be represented by a Russian singer of Tajik origin Manizha (Manizha Sangin). The singer was selected based on the results of the audience vote, which took place on the air of the First Channel and will perform with the song “Russian Woman”.
Meanwhile, many Russian citizens are unhappy with the fact that the country is represented by a singer of non-Russian origin. State Duma deputy Vitaly Milonov put a bet of 400 thousand RUB on the loss of Manizha in this contest, noting that she “does not in any way represent what we consider our culture” and there is “no need to import people who will sing instead of Russians.”
Tajikistan and the world
On March 11, the foreign-policy establishment services of Tajikistan and Japan held the third round of political consultations via videoconference . During the consultations, the state and prospects for the development of friendly relations and multifaceted cooperation between the countries were discussed, the progressive and purposeful development of bilateral relations was noted, and the importance of projects implemented by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Tajikistan was emphasized.
On March 18, Emomali Rahmon spoke at a UN conference on the topic “Implementing the goals and objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Water Resources”. In his speech, the President of Tajikistan noted that over the past two decades, Tajikistan has been making great efforts to solve water problems outlined in the world development program and spoke about the republic’s readiness for further development at all levels of water issues.
On March 23, mayor of Tashkent Jakhongir Artykhodjaev arrived in Dushanbe with a working trip. Artykkhodzhaev met with the mayor of Dushanbe Rustam Emomali, and discussed issues of expanding mutually beneficial relations between Tashkent and Dushanbe, imposing a regular dialogue to exchange experience in the development of municipalities and infrastructure.
On March 24, Dushanbe hosted a meeting of the Director of the Department for Tourism Development of the city of Tashkent Sanzhar Tadzhiev and representatives of the tourism sector of Tajikistan. During the negotiations, proposals were made to open a green corridor for citizens of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and to simplify border crossing for buses plying between the two countries.
General epidemiological situation
According to the official authorities, not a single case of coronavirus infection has yet been registered in Turkmenistan , and since March 1, the country has begun to lift some of the restrictions imposed earlier in connection with the pandemic. Thus, the Turkmenavtotransport agency partially resumed intercity bus communication, and the Turkmen Railways launched trains on the Ashgabat-Turkmenabat-Ashgabat route.
At this time, there are strict restrictions on movement between regions, entered for COVID-19 prophylaxis but cafes, bars, restaurants and shopping centers are resuming work. Moreover, on the Navruz holiday, mass festivities and concerts were organized in Turkmenistan, and if we judge by the footage of the Turkmen television, participants of the events did not wear masks.
Meanwhile, in the Lebap velayat, the construction of the fourth quarantine zone has begun, as the existing zones in the east of Turkmenabat are overcrowded, and citizens who remain abroad continue to return to the country. According to media reports, due to a lack of seats, the authorities are limiting the number of arrivals in the country, therefore, they plan to increase the number of quarantine places up to 7000.
On March 10, vaccination against coronavirus began in the Dashoguz region. The first to be vaccinated were medical workers and police officers. Following on March 12, the first stage of vaccination began in Ashgabat.
First of all, citizens over 70 years old were invited to the polyclinics. Officially, the country recorded only two Russian vaccine “Satellite V” and “EpiVakKorona”, but according to media reports, people are being vaccinated by unregistered Chinese vaccine of Sinopharm company – Vero Cell. At the same time, only those who have not been ill with coronavirus and do not have antibodies receive the vaccine, and since many residents were treated at home, it is necessary to take a blood test before vaccination.
The official authorities do not comment on the progress of vaccination of the population against coronavirus, nor do they explain how antibodies can be detected in the population of a country that does not officially recognize the presence of COVID-19.
Elections to the upper house of parliament
On March 28, Turkmenistan held the first ever elections to the upper house of parliament, the Khalk Maslakhaty. Eleven candidates participated in the voting, and their legality was monitored by 440 national observers.
On March 29, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov chaired a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan following the results of the previous elections. At this meeting, it was announced that Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was elected as a member of the Khalk Maslakhaty Milli Gengesh (National Council). This was not prevented by the fact that according to article 73 of the new edition of the Constitution of Turkmenistan adopted in September 2020, the president cannot be a member or deputy of the Milli Gengesh of Turkmenistan.
At the beginning of the month, VPN applications that are used by most of the country’s Internet users began to malfunction in Turkmenistan. The authorities do not explain the reason for the slow Internet, and representatives of the only Internet provider, Turkmentelecom, do not officially comment on the problems with Internet access. Although blocking VPN hosting in the country has become commonplace for a long time, recently it has been done much faster. Experts believe that this is similar to the work of some kind of automated system. The list of blocked sites is also growing in the country, and this month the video conferencing service Zoom and the Paypal payment system got there as well.
Turkmen activist seeks political asylum
On March 2, at the Moscow Sheremetyevo airport, a Turkmen student Rozgeldi Choliev was detained, and accused by the Turkmen authorities of “Internet terrorism” for criticizing the authorities. For a whole week, the activist was in the airport building and during this time he repeatedly tried to apply for political asylum, as provided for by the Russian Law on Refugees. He also recorded a video message to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking for assistance in obtaining asylum.
On the evening of March 11, officers of the Russian migration service informed Choliev that they were ready to accept his application for political asylum, but only for two months while his case was being considered.
On March 4, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov took part in the XIV Summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), held online. Berdimuhamedov told the Summit participants about the priority areas of work during the presidency of Turkmenistan in the Organization and called the expansion of partnership within the ECO as a strategic task.
On March 9, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov met with the head of the ARETI International Group of Companies, a member of the steering committee of the Union Cyclist International (UCI) Igor Makarov and discussed preparations for the World Track Cycling Championship, which is scheduled for October 13-17.
On March 17, a delegation led by the mayor of Tashkent Jahongir Artykhodjaev paid a working visit to Ashgabat. During the meeting with the Mayor of Ashgabat Yaztagan Gylyzhov, the members of the delegation got acquainted with the project of the Tashkent park, which is planned to be built in the capital of Turkmenistan. According to Gylydzhov, the Tashkent Park will be built in the historical center of Ashgabat, on a 3-hectare site on Makhtumkuli Street.
On the same day, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov held an online meeting with OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid. Issues on maintaining security in the region were discussed, including the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, and human trafficking. Moreover, the parties considered the results of cooperation in the field of promotion and protection of human rights, gender equality, and Turkmenistan proposed to hold a regional conference on combating the financing of terrorism and against transnational organized crime.
On March 25, an online meeting of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov with the chairman of the Turkmen Japanese Committee for Economic Cooperation, Managing Director of Itochu Corporation Hiroyuki Tsubai took place. The parties discussed the supply of Japanese-made earthmoving and automotive equipment to Turkmenistan, joint projects, and the possibility of holding the 14th meeting of the Turkmen Japanese Committee for Economic Cooperation in Tokyo.
Hurricane in Lebap Vilayat
On Friday, March 19, a stormy wind hit Turkmenabat, about which the country’s authorities did not warn the population. Residents of the city were not ready for the natural disaster. Many were on the streets, but the media did not report the victims. The city was cut off electricity, water and gas, and many buildings were seriously damaged. According to locals, people have not yet had time to rebuild their homes from the effects of last year’s hurricane, since many simply do not have the funds for this. Discontent among the population was caused by the fact that the authorities not only do not support the victims, but also do not report the onset of a hurricane.
On March 22, Deputy Prime Minister, Head of the Supreme Control Chamber Serdar Berdimuhamedov arrived in Turkmenabat. Due to the visit of Berdymukhamedov Jr., bazaars were closed , which led to a sharp jump in food prices in stores.
Censorship of cartoons
In kindergartens of Turkmenistan, it was forbidden to show Turkish cartoons and programs. The reason for this was the fact that while watching Turkish cartoons, children learn new words and phrases in Turkish and use them in their speech. District police officers were obliged to visit kindergartens 2-3 times a week to check the execution of instructions. If a Turkish TV channel is turned on during the police raids, the manager, educator, or nanny could face dismissal. Moreover, the heads of preschool education were instructed to conduct explanatory conversations with the parents of the wards and urge them to limit the time of children watching TV.
General epidemiological situation
In March, Uzbekistan, similar to neighboring countries, also saw a surge in coronavirus infections. The number of daily cases of coronavirus officially registered in Uzbekistan at the end of March approached 200. Until March 13, this figure was less than 100 cases per day.
Of the total, 214 cases were recorded in the regions of the country, the remaining 776 in the capital. The highest increase among the regions is observed in the Tashkent region – 93 people.
A special republican commission decided to take a number of restrictive measures from April 1 this year to prevent an outbreak of the epidemiological situation.
Since April 1, by the decision of the commission on the territory of Uzbekistan, sanitary and epidemiological control over compliance with sanitary and hygienic rules during weddings, funerals and other family events is being strengthened and the number of participants in these events is limited to 100 people.
In addition, when organizing theater, cinema (cinema) and concert programs, it is instructed to ensure the wearing of masks by spectators and service personnel visiting the places where the performances take place.
On March 27, a batch of 1 million doses of the Chinese Uzbek vaccine against coronavirus ZF-UZ-VAC2001 was delivered to Uzbekistan. The ZF-UZ-VAC2001 vaccine was registered in Uzbekistan on March 1. On March 17, the country received 660,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. A million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine are also expected to be delivered .
On April 1, the process of vaccination of the population against coronavirus began in Uzbekistan. At the first stage, the vaccine will be provided free of charge to citizens over 65 and health workers at risk of COVID-19 infection.
From April, it is proposed to start mass vaccination in the following order:
- in April, it is planned to make 142.3 thousand vaccinations at 219 vaccination points in Tashkent, Nukus, and regional centers, primarily to persons over 65 years of age and medical workers who are in a group with a high level of risk of contracting coronavirus.
- In May, it is planned to make 674 thousand vaccinations at 1037 vaccination points, including those located in cities and regional centers.
- From June, vaccination against COVID-19 is planned to be carried out in all points prepared for vaccination.
Criminal liability for public calling for riot
Uzbekistan’s Criminal Code has been supplemented with sanctions for publicly calling for riots and violence against citizens. The corresponding amendments were introduced by the law , which was signed by the President of Uzbekistan on March 20.
The changes, in particular, affected Article 244 (riots), which currently provides for punishment directly for organizing mass riots.
According to the amendments, a public call for riots and violence against citizens is punishable by a fine of 100 to 300 base estimates or correctional labor up to 2 years, or restraint of liberty from 3 to 5 years, or imprisonment from 3 to 5 years.
The same actions committed by prior conspiracy by a group of persons or using the media, telecommunication networks and the Internet, as well as print or other methods of reproduction of text, are punishable by a fine from 300 to 400 base calculated values or correctional labor from 2 to 3 years or imprisonment from 5 to 10 years old. The document entered into force on March 31.
The law was developed by the Milliy Tiklanish and Adolat parties. The document also provides for the introduction of criminal penalties for insulting the President of Uzbekistan on the Internet and for publicly calling for non-compliance or violation of the law that poses a threat to public order.
Opening of the road connecting Rishtan and Sokh districts
On April 1, on the border of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the opening ceremony of the checkpoint and the road from Rishtan to Sokh region took place. Traffic on it is allowed for pedestrians and cars.
Agreements on the opening of checkpoints between the Fergana region of Uzbekistan and the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan were reached during negotiations between the presidents of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Zhaparov on March 11-12 in Tashkent.
The Sokh-Rishtan road, opened in August 2019, closed two days later. Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov explained this with the requirements of the Eurasian Economic Cooperation Organization. The length of the bypass road from Sokh to Fergana region or Vuadil is 80 km.
At the end of March, following the visit of the government delegation of Kyrgyzstan to Tashkent, the chairman of the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security, Kamchybek Tashiev, mentioned that all disputed areas on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border had been resolved and told on what terms the parties had come to an agreement.
Railway Uzbekistan – China
Uzbekistan expressed its readiness to take part in the design and construction of sections of the railway to China via Kyrgyzstan.
This became known at an expanded meeting of the joint intergovernmental commission on bilateral cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
The Uzbek side expressed its readiness to participate in the design and construction of individual sections of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, as well as to consider the issue of co-financing as soon as the feasibility study of the project is ready.
The parties agreed to create favorable conditions for rail transportation by providing tariff preferences on a reciprocal basis.
Riots in downtown Tashkent and beaten LGBT rights defender
LGBT rights defender Miraziz Bazarov was brutally attacked by unidentified persons. The 29-year-old government critic sustained multiple injuries to internal organs and lower limbs, including an open fracture of his left leg and a concussion. According to doctors, Bazarov’s condition is very serious, he will be transferred to another hospital, where he may need brain surgery. On the evening of March 28, three masked men attacked Bazarov near his house, one of them holding a baseball bat.
Earlier that day, a crowd of several dozen men, positioning themselves as devout Muslims, marched through the center of Tashkent, shouting “Allahu Akbar.” The rally was an aggressive show of power against what they call a wave of LGBT rights activism. In connection with the march, about ten people were detained, but it is not yet clear whether any of them will be charged.
These events unfolded against the backdrop of an ongoing public debate about whether the new version of the criminal code should abolish the punishment for consensual sexual relations between men.
The authorities intend to keep the article, which has been in force since Soviet times, which provides for punishment for such relations. While these plans ostensibly reflect widespread conservative mores in the country, rights groups argue that they run counter to Uzbekistan’s obligations to respect basic human rights.
Bazarov, now 30, has repeatedly – and often bluntly- voiced objections on his Telegram and TikTok accounts to the government’s refusal to annul criminal liability for same-sex relationships by mutual consent. He also reported last weekend that a smear campaign was launched against him because of his views.Фото: Agnieszka Pikulicka / Twitter
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan released a five-minute video stating that blogger Miraziz Bazarov, who called for the removal of the clause on “homosexuality” from the criminal code, is to blame for the fact that he was beaten.
According to an official statement from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Miraziz Bazarov has called on social media to hold mass demonstrations in front of the Khazrati Imam (Khast Imam) mosque in Tashkent and on Amir Temur Avenue by people with non-traditional sexual views.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs also said that earlier Bazarov “deliberately ignored” the rules of behavior in society, distributing videos, atypical for the Uzbek nation, and “showing the public his perverse behavior.”
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.