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Month in Review: Central Asia in November 2019

In November 2019, Central Asia was remembered by the CSTO summit in Bishkek and the Consultative Meeting of Regional Leaders in Tashkent, the first state visit of Tokayev to Kyrgyzstan, an attack on a border post in Tajikistan, an anti-corruption rally, and the start of an election campaign in Uzbekistan. The analytical platform CABAR.asia provides a brief overview of the most significant events of the region over the past month.

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State visit of the president of Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan

Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, who took office in 2019, during his one-day visit,[1] first held a personal meeting with his Kyrgyz counterpart Sooronbai Jeenbekov, and then attended the V meeting of the Supreme Interstate Council of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. In total, nine documents were signed following the results of the negotiations.

Photo: president.kg

Kassym-Zhomart Tokaev arrived in Kyrgyzstan for the second time as president. In June last year in this status, he took part in the summit of the heads of the SCO countries. However, this is the first state visit to the Kyrgyz Republic as the country’s president.

Mayor of Taraz fired after a resonant rape of a schoolgirl

After the resonant rape of a schoolgirl during a lesson in Taraz, Kazakh President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev ordered the akim of the Zhambyl region to relieve the mayor of the city Kairat Dosayev from his post.[2]

The incident occurred in a street toilet in the territory of the Taraz school. The victim was a seventh-grade student who asked to go to the toilet from the lesson. The suspect is detained and taken into custody.

Following this event, five teachers were dismissed from the school, including the director and deputy director for educational work. Strict reprimands were made to various police chiefs, the senior inspector for organizing the work of the juvenile police, and the school inspector was fired from the internal affairs bodies.

The Ministry of Education and Science of Kazakhstan instructed the regional education departments to provide all educational organizations with video surveillance systems and heated restrooms. Now schools are trying to gradually provide sports halls and heated toilets, this is laid down in the draft of the new State program for the development of education and science of the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2020-2025.

Famous Sinologist’s deprivation of citizenship has been cancelled

On November 28, the Chamber for Criminal Cases of the Almaty City Court partially changed the verdict to the Sinologist Konstantin Syroezhkin,[3] who was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison on charges of “high treason”. The Chamber, having examined the complaint of Syroezhkin, and canceled additional penalties in the form of deprivation of citizenship of Kazakhstan, his expulsion from the country and a ban on entry into Kazakhstan. The rest of the sentence had been upheld.

Kazakhstan took to safety 14 children from Iraq as part of “humanitarian action”

At the end of November, authorities of Kazakhstan evacuated 14 Kazakhstani children from Iraq.[4]

The evacuation, named by the authorities as “humanitarian action” was carried out at the request of mothers and relatives of the children.

Since the beginning of this year, the Kazakh authorities have stated that they have been evacuating their citizens from Syria and Iraq. According to the National Security Committee (NSC) data, presented in November, 277 adults (57 men, 220 women) and 547 children were returned from Syria and Iraq to Kazakhstan. According to the NSC, there may be about 100 citizens of Kazakhstan in the conflict zones of the Middle East, not counting children.


CSTO Summit in Bishkek

On November 28, a meeting of the CSTO Collective Security Council was held under the chairmanship of Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek.

The Presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and the Prime Minister of Armenia attended the CSTO Summit in Bishkek.

The meeting raised issues of developing the military potential of the organization, including the information security field, and also discussed an action plan to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War.

In total, 21 questions were included in the agenda of the CSTO Collective Security Council session. The main political document of the meeting was the statement of the CSTO Collective Security Council regarding the strengthening of international interaction and cooperation with the purpose of enhancing global and regional security.

Photo: president.kg

Participants of the summit exchanged views on “international and regional security”, adopted the organization’s budget for the next year and signed a number of documents aimed at regulating the “financial and organizational activities of the statutory bodies” of the CSTO.

Following the session of the CSTO Collective Security Council a number of documents were signed.

Rally against corruption

On November 25, a peaceful rally against corruption called #ReAction (#ReАкция)[5] was held on the central square in Bishkek. Its participants demanded the authorities to eradicate customs corruption and implement real reforms. Hundreds of people were holding leaflets and posters demanding the rule of law in the country.

Photo: Sputnik / Tabyldy Kadyrbekov

The impetus for carrying out the rally was a journalistic investigation which was done by media publications Kloop, Azattyk and OCCRP on corruption schemes at the customs. Residents of Kyrgyzstan are outraged that the authorities do not have enough facts to stop the activities of corrupt officials and bring them to punishment.

Among the participants of the action, famous artists, filmmakers, representatives of small business, creative intelligentsia, civic activists, and many young people were noticed.

Read further detailed material of CABAR.asia about the rally #ReAction by following the link.

Sapar Isakov was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment  

Sverdlovsk District Court sentenced former Prime Minister Sapar Isakov to 15 years in prison with confiscation of property. However, he did not plead guilty.[6]

The former director of the National Energy Holding Aybek Kaliyev in the same case was also sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Zhantoro Satybaldiev, who served as Prime Minister in 2012-2014, – was sentenced to 7 years 6 months of imprisonment.

The corruption case during the modernization of the Central Heating and Power Plant (HPP) was opened after a major accident that occurred at the HPP in January 2018.[7] Several boiler units failed, the temperature in the apartments of Bishkek residents dropped to 8-10 degrees above zero for several days. Law enforcement agencies came to the conclusion that during the modernization of the HPP, costing $ 386 million, cases of theft have been occurred.

Isakov was dismissed from his post as prime minister in April 2018, and in May he was charged with the HPP case. In June, the former prime minister was taken into custody. He called his persecution political. Then, in 2018, relations between the former president Almazbek Atambayev and his successor Sooronbay Jeenbekov began to deteriorate. Isakov was called the “right hand” of Atambayev. He remained the highest-ranking supporter of the ex-president who had been resigned and prosecuted until Atambayev himself was taken into custody in August 2019 on several criminal cases.

Detention of the popular Facebook-page administrator

In November, employees of the State Committee for National Security of the Kyrgyz Republic detained the administrator of the popular Facebook page (Bespredel.kg) Avtandil Zhorobekov.[8] According to the SCNS, Zhorobekov repeatedly distributed to users of social networks publications that contained deliberately false and provocative information that aroused negative emotions among the masses of people, prompting citizens to illegal and violent actions, which ultimately led to a feeling of hatred for each other in the form inciting inter-regional hostility.

Most experts and users of social networks do not agree with the decision of the security forces. Kyrgyzstanis stood up for the rights of detainee and launched an action in support of Zhorobekov.

Atambayev was charged once again

Former President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev has been charged once again under the “Preventing Investigation” article of the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic in the release case of the “crime boss” Aziz Batukaev from prison.[9] After the events of August 7-8 in the village of Koy-Tash, Alamudun district, when Atambayev was arrested, a number of charges were brought against him, including attempted murder, murder, etc.

The former president was forcibly taken to a previous trial. Back then the lawyer stated that Atambaev’s appearance in court was illegal. He simply showed humanism to the employees of the SCNS pre-trial detention center, agreeing not to interfere with their work so that they would not be punished.


Attack on the border post

On the night of November 6, there was an attack on Ishkobod border post on the border with Uzbekistan, which is located about 60 kilometers west of Dushanbe.[10] According to official figures, about 20 armed men in masks participated in the attack. An exchange of gunfire ensured, which lasted about an hour.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the militants managed to capture several Kalashnikov guns and shoot a border guard and a policeman. However, in the end they were surrounded, most of them – 15 people – were killed, several were detained. Some vehicles on which the militants traveled were also destroyed.

Initially, according to the official version, the group came to Tajikistan from Afghanistan, secretly crossing the border at one of the sites. According to unofficial data, the group also included women (they ended up both among the dead and among the detainees). Presumably, these are natives of the city of Isfara, who had previously gone to Afghanistan, and returned to Tajik territory a few days ago. Later, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan stated that the majority of those who attacked the Ishkobod border post near the Tajik-Uzbek border were from the northern Sogd region of Tajikistan. 

Read further detailed material of CABAR.asia about the attack on the border post by following the link.

Budget 2020 in Tajikistan has been increasedhttps://cabar.asia/ru/https-cabar-asia-wp-admin-post-php-post-25504-action-edit

The lower house of the Tajik parliament approved the draft state budget 2020 proposed by the government, in which tax revenues will amount to 17.9 billion TJS (1.7 billion USD).[11]

According to the new budget law, tax revenues next year will amount to over 17 billion TJS, which is 10% more in comparison to 2019. Economists say that it is unclear how the authorities are going to increase tax revenues.

The revenue part of the 2020 state budget will amount to more than 26.1 billion TJS (2.6 billion USD), the expenditure part – 26.4 billion TJS (2.7 billion USD).

The budget deficit is forcasted at 0.4% of GDP, or 349.5 million TJS (36 million USD). 

Dushanbe and Tehran advocated facilitation of the visa regime

Dushanbe and Tehran stated the need for quick and simplified obtaining visas for citizens of the two countries,[12] however did not specify what problems now exist in this direction.

Photo: Official Information Agency of the Islamic Republic of Iran

This issue, along with the development of scientific cooperation, the fight against human trafficking and the prevention of illegal stay of citizens of both countries, was discussed on November 10-11 in Tehran during the Tajik – Iranian consular consultations.

The Iranian authorities announced some details of the meeting, while the Tajik side limited itself to reporting that “a wide range of issues on consular cooperation between the two countries was examined.” Other details of the meeting are unknown.

Tensions in Tajik – Iranian relations arose at the end of 2015. However, over the past two years, experts have noticed attempts by Dushanbe and Tehran to establish good relations. At a recent meeting in Tehran, both sides noted a positive momentum in relations and welcomed the release of citizens of the two countries from places of detention. 

Control over the use of public Wi – Fi has increased in Dushanbe

Dushanbe authorities have tightened control over public free Wi-Fi in parks, restaurants and universities. The decision of the city administration on this matter was adopted on November 15.[13]

According to the decision, from now on, anyone who wants to use free Wi-Fi in public places of the capital city, will receive a code to connect, which will allow to control the use of the Internet. Some citizens believe that the new order violates the right to free access to the global network.

Authorities have stated that the decision “aims to protect information security and ensure the safety of citizens.” According to them, this practice exists in developed countries and “meets international standards.” Experts argue that this is most likely an attempt by the authorities to obtain information about users of free Wi-Fi and, thus, to track information that residents share with each other.


Berdimuhamedov paid a working visit to Tashkent

On November 28, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov arrived in Uzbekistan on a two-day working visit to participate in the second consultative meeting of the heads of the Central Asian states.[14]

The head of Turkmenistan was met by the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Abdulla Aripov at the airport. Berdymukhamedov’s meeting with the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev was held in the Kuksara Palace.

Фото: president.uz

During the negotiations, issues of cooperation in the political, economic, trade, transport and cultural-humanitarian spheres were discussed.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was awarded the title of Honorary Academician of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan. 

Turkmen electricity supplies to Uzbekistan has begun

On November 29, an agreement was signed on the supply of Turkmen electricity to Uzbekistan.[15] From December 1, Turkmenistan began to supply electricity to Uzbekistan. According to the publication, supply volumes are about 15 million kW / h of electricity per day.

As previously reported, Turkmenenergo and JSC National Electric Networks of Uzbekistan concluded a  contract  on the purchase of Turkmen electricity for 2019-2020.

Turkmenistan celebrated the Harvest festival

In November, the Harvest festival took place in Turkmenistan.[16] According to the state media, this year Turkmenistan has successfully completed plans to collect cotton and wheat.

The festival was attended by members of the government and parliament, heads of diplomatic missions and international organizations accredited in Turkmenistan, the media, elders and youth. During the official part of the event, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s appeal to rural workers and all Turkmen citizens was read. At the conclusion of the celebration, there were horse races. Winners of the competition were awarded valuable prizes.

First time in 19 years, foreign opera was presented in Turkmenistan

On November 19, within the framework of the III International Theater Festival, the premiere of the Italian opera Pagliacci took place in the Makhtumkuli Theater in Ashgabat.[17]

The director was Daniele de Plano, both Italian and Turkmen artists took part in the production. Admission to the opera was free.

According to the France Press news agency (AFP), this was the first foreign production in 19 years shown in Turkmenistan.


Meeting of Central Asian Leaders

On November 29, a five-sided summit was held in Tashkent, organized by the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The second meeting of the leaders of Central Asian countries over many years was devoted to geopolitics and stability, as well as environmental issues.

The meeting was also attended by the first president of Kazakhstan – Elbasy Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kyrgyzstan Soronbai Jeenbekov, President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon and President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, who missed the previous summit.

Photo: president.uz

The agenda of the summit included the expansion of regional cooperation in the political, trade, economic, investment, transport and communication, cultural and humanitarian and other fields.

While at the summit, the leaders decided to meet annually before the holiday of Noruz (Navruz), which falls on the period from March 20 to March 23 and marks the spring equinox. The next summit in 2020 will be held in Bishkek.

Read further detailed material of CABAR.asia about the meeting of regional leaders in Tashkent by following the link.

Scandal on threats against journalists

On November 16, an audio recording was distributed on the Internet, on which, presumably, the mayor of Tashkent, Jahongir Artykhodzhaev, insults and threatens physical harm to journalists of the online edition – Kun.uz.

After this audio recording with the voice of the mayor of Tashkent, was released the Prosecutor General’s Office of Uzbekistan announced that the Office was conducting a study of the circumstances in which the audio recording was made.

As stated in a statement by the Prosecutor General’s office, released on November 27, the words of the mayor of Tashkent “do not contain any signs of a criminal act”, as his words “had a general character, were not sent to a specific person and did not contain a real threat”.[18] On this basis, the Prosecutor General’s Office decided not to institute criminal proceedings against the head of Tashkent.

The Prosecutor General’s Office also stated that the journalists did not have the right to publish a recording of conversation with the official and sent a letter to the Agency for Information and Mass Communications under the Presidential Administration with a request to evaluate the actions of the Kun.uz editorial office.

Uzbekistan reduces fines for foreigners for violation of the rules of stay in the country

On November 5, president of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyaev signed amendments to the country’s Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Responsibility.[19] They reduce fines for foreigners and stateless persons by 10 times for violating the rules of stay in Uzbekistan, primarily for lack of registration and untimely registration, and abolished criminal penalties for repeated violation of migration rules.

The new rules apply to both, tourists and guests from neighboring countries who come to visit their relatives, on business or at work.

Article 224 of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan used to threaten foreigners with imprisonment for up to three years for repeated violation:

Tashkent hosted a meeting of the Council of Heads of Security Agencies and Special Services of the CIS

The 47th meeting of the Council of Heads of Security Agencies and Special Services of the Member States of the Commonwealth of Independent States was held on November 8 in the capital of Uzbekistan. The focus was on cooperation in the fight against international terrorism and transnational organized crime.

The President of Uzbekistan received the heads of delegations participating in the Tashkent meeting of the Council of Heads of Security Agencies and Special Services of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

While welcoming the guests, Mirziyoyev noted the importance of expanding multifaceted relations within the CIS for Uzbekistan, including in the field of countering modern challenges and threats.

Photo: president.uz

It was emphasized that the further strengthening of practical cooperation in the field of security is one of the priorities of the chairmanship of Uzbekistan in the Commonwealth in 2020.

The heads of the CIS special services discussed the situation in northern Afghanistan and its impact on the situation in Central Asia. Additional measures were developed aimed at countering terrorist activities, including an attempt to recruit militants and suppress the penetration of terrorists into the CIS member states, as well as to prevent incitement of ethnic and religious hatred in the countries of the Commonwealth.

Parliamentary elections to be held in Uzbekistan in late December

In Uzbekistan, on November 18, the pre-election campaign of political parties and candidates for the election of deputies of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis and local kengashes was launched.[20]

The next parliamentary elections in the republic will be held on December 22. All five political parties are allowed to participate in them. These are the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDPU), the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (LDPU), the Democratic Party “Milliy Tiklanish” (“National Revival”), the Social Democratic Party “Adolat” (“Justice”), and the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan .

Read further information in the detailed material of CABAR.asia devoted to the parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan here.

Natural gas shortages and power outages provoke protests in Uzbekistan

Disruptions in the supply of natural gas and electricity caused unprecedented protests in certain parts of the Uzbekistan. Small crowds of people block roads and require the authorities to end the crisis.[21]

Anti-government protests are extremely rare in this Central Asian country, where in 2005 security forces brutally crushed a demonstration in Andijan. As a result, hundreds of people died then.

The protests followed the cessation of the natural gas supply to homes and commercial organizations in many regions in November, when people were already having difficulties due to power outages with the onset of cold weather.

On December 1, a group of protesters, including women, blocked the road in the city of Buston in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan.

On December 2, the President of Uzbekistan held a meeting on accelerating reforms in priority areas, identifying and ensuring the implementation of target parameters for 2020.[22] 

According to the press service of the head of state, the meeting indicated the shortcomings allowed in various fields, the activities of the respective leaders were sharply criticized. Thus, not enough ongoing work to drastically reduce losses in the energy system, to properly account for the electricity supplied and to reduce receivables.

In addition, the president noted the lack of a fair system for accounting for natural gas at the stages of production, transportation and distribution. Especially interruptions in the supply of gas and electricity to the population become a cause of just discontent among people.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

[1] Azattyk.org. The head of Kazakhstan recalled that water resources are the “common heritage” of the Central Asian countries. https://rus.azattyk.org/a/gosvizit-tokaeva-v-kyrgyzstan/30296229.html

[2] Fergana.agency. Mayor of Taraz was fired after the resonant rape of a schoolgirl. https://fergana.agency/news/112694/

[3]Knews.kg. The famous Chinese scientist Syroezhkin will not be deprived of Kazakh citizenship. https://knews.kg/2019/11/29/izvestnogo-uchenogo-kitaista-syroezhkina-ne-budut-lishat-kazahskogo-grazhdanstva/  

[4] Azattyk.org. Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan: 14 children were taken out of Iraq as part of a “humanitarian action”. https://rus.azattyk.org/a/30297350.html

[5] Kloop.kg. Hundreds of Kyrgyz citizens demanded the arrest of Raim Matraimov at a rally against corruption in central Bishkek. https://kloop.kg/blog/2019/11/25/live-miting-protiv-korruptsii-vozle-belogo-doma/

[6] Kloop.kg. “How can this be, your honor?” – what did Sapar Isakov, who was imprisoned for 15 years of prison, say in court. https://kloop.kg/blog/2019/12/06/kak-takoe-mozhet-byt-vasha-chest-chto-govoril-na-sude-osuzhdennyj-na-15-let-sapar-isakov/

[7] Fergana.agency. Former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Isakov was sentenced to 15 years in prison in the case of a thermal power plant. https://www.fergana.agency/news/113133/

[8] 24.kg. The SCNS showed publications for which the administrator of the page BespredelKG was arrested. https://24.kg/obschestvo/136170_gknb_pokazal_publikatsii_zakotoryie_arestovan_administrator_stranitsyi_bespredelKG/

[9] Kaktus.media. Atambayev was charged due to hindering the investigation during the Batukaev case. https://kaktus.media/doc/402008_atambaevy_prediavili_eshe_odno_obvinenie_za_vosprepiatstvovanie_sledstviu_po_dely_batykaeva.html

[10]  Fergana.agency. Attack on border control post. https://fergana.agency/articles/112287/

[11] Ozodi.org. Budget 2020 in Tajikistan has been increased. Due to what will the profitable part be carried out? https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30288066.html

[12] Ozodi.org. Dushanbe and Tehran advocated visa facilitation. https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30270695.html

[13] Ozodi.org. In Dushanbe, increased control over the use of public Wi-Fi. https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30281721.html

[14] Chronicle of Turkmenistan. Berdimuhamedov arrived in Tashkent. https://www.hronikatm.com/2019/11/uzbekistan-visit/

[15] Chronicle of Turkmenistan. Supply of Turkmen electricity to Uzbekistan has begun. https://www.hronikatm.com/2019/12/electricity/

[16] Chronicle of Turkmenistan. Harvest Festival celebrated in Turkmenistan. https://www.hronikatm.com/2019/11/erntedankfest/

[17] Chronicle of Turkmenistan. For the first time in 19 years, Turkmenistan presented a foreign opera. https://www.hronikatm.com/2019/11/pagliacci/

[18] Ozodlik.org. The Prosecutor General’s Office found no signs of crime in the actions of the mayor of Tashkent, who threatened journalists. https://rus.ozodlik.org/a/30294648.html

[19] https://www.currenttime.tv/a/uzbekistan-inostranets-shtraf/30256071.html  

[20] Uz.sputniknews.ru. In Uzbekistan, the start of election campaign. https://uz.sputniknews.ru/politics/20191118/12821832/V-Uzbekistane-dan-start-predvybornoy-agitatsii.html

[21] Ozodlik.org. “There is no gas and light in our homes.” Uzbekistan protests. https://rus.azattyq.org/a/power-crisis-severe-energy-shortages-spark-rare-protests-in-uzbekistan/30310580.html

[22] Kun.uz. Shavkat Mirziyoyev reported to officials for lack of light and gas. https://kun.uz/en/news/2019/12/02/shavkat-mirziyoyev-otchital-chinovnikov-za-otsutstviye-sveta-i-gaza

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