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What Will 2019 be Remembered for by Central Asian Countries?

The year of 2019 was very intensive for Central Asian states. Let’s remember the most important events of the departing year according to the materials of CABAR.asia journalists.

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The most significant events for almost all Central Asian countries in the departing year was probably operations on the return of citizens from action areas in the Middle East. 

Life after IS

Kazakhstan is the pioneer and leader among regional countries by the number of returned people. The first operation Zhussan (“Sand sage”) was held this January, and two more were held in May. During this period, more than 600 persons, including 407 children, were returned from Syria. In late November, the country returned 14 children from Iraq.

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What do children returned from Iraq need?

In late April, the authorities of Tajikistan also returned 84 kids, who were found in the territories of Syria and Iraq controlled by the terrorist group IS banned in Central Asian states. Mothers of the majority of these kids are imprisoned.

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Uzbekistan returns 64 children from Iraq

On May 30, Uzbekistan successfully held a humanitarian operation and returned 156 citizens from Syria. And on October 10, 64 children were returned from Iraq. Their mothers were sentenced to long or life terms in prison for participation in international terrorist organisations. 

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Kyrgyzstan, as vice prime minister of the government Zhenish Razakov reported in September, is only prepares for and holds talks about the evacuation of 78 children from Iraq.

Atambaev Detained, But Not Out of the Game

The first six months of 2019 in Kyrgyzstan were amid the confrontation between the former and incumbent presidents.

The conflict became active this June. In his speech at the party protest, Atambaev called the parliament “greenhorns”.  And three weeks later, deputies voted to lift his immunity. The former president was filed with various charges. In early August, GKNB tried to detain Atambaev in his house in the village of Koi-Tash and managed to do it only in their second attempt. 

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Kyrgyzstan: “Re:Action” Against Corruption

The second half of the departing year in Kyrgyzstan is remarkable for a series of investigations held by journalists of radio Azattyk, OCCRP and information website Kloop.kg about corruption schemes, which were part of the illegal business of the former deputy head of the customs service, Raimbek Matraimov.

On November 25, more than a thousand people gathered at the Bishkek square for a peaceful protest demanding to initiate a criminal case against Matraimov and to hold reforms.

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Investigation: Framing for Possession of Extremist Materials 

Human rights defenders of Kyrgyzstan raise the issue of quality investigation regarding citizens charged with extremism. According to them, many such cases are trumped up. About 90 per cent of extremism cases do not involve criminal liability. 

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Culture in Kyrgyzstan: Ministers Change, National Policy Doesn’t 

On November 27, Bishkek opened an exhibition that caused a storm of protest of a certain group of people. The Feminnale exposed the idea of woman’s freedom in Kyrgyzstan, yet some activists thought that some elements “contradict” the local culture and mindset.

The ministry of culture responded to it by censoring the exhibit items. 

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In Kazakhstan, on March 19, the 78-year-old president Nursultan Nazarbayev declared during the evening TV message that he decided to leave the post of the head of state. The talks about his leaving sooner or later have been held for the last few years, yet the news about his leaving was a surprise for many people.

The powers were vested in the chairman of the senate, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, who in June this year became the new president of Kazakhstan by results of early election

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How Kazakhstanis exercise their right to protests?

The change of leadership in Kazakhstan caused a sharp burst of political activity of citizens. In April, during the marathon in Almaty, two activists held a banner “You can’t run from the truth”.  It was the start of dozens of protest actions. In May, the authorities blocked media outlets and social media on a massive scale, detentions were reported.

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Investigation: How much is spent on leaders of Kazakhstan

The President’s Affairs Administration of Kazakhstan and its branches employ over 3 thousand people, while the annual budget of it amounts to more than 87 billion tenge or 224 million dollars. This is half as much as the amount that the country spends on the “judicial protection of rights, freedoms, and legal interests of its citizens.”

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Rapes Classified as Grievous Crime in Kazakhstan

19 years ago, after amendments to the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan, rapes were classified as medium-gravity crimes. Now the country is the leader among other CIS countries by the number of victims of sexual abuse and only one third of cases come to court. 

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Colony No. 3/2 in the town of Vahdat. Photo: ozodi.org
Crisis situation in the penal system of Tajikistan, riot and poisoning

In 2019, a few emergencies took place in the penal system of Tajikistan. On May 19, a riot occurred in the colony of Vahdat, which led to the death of 32 people, including three prison officers and 29 inmates.

On July 7, another incident took place – 14 inmates died during transportation from the colonies of Hudjand and Istaravshan to the colonies of Dushanbe, Nurek and Yavan. According to official data, they were poisoned by bread that was given to them by one of the inmates. However, the relatives of the deceased don’t believe this version.

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The attack on Ishkobod border post

On the night of November 6, an attack was made on the Tajikistan’s Ishkobod border post, near the border with Uzbekistan. According to the authorities, 20 militants crossed the border from Qalai Zol district in the province of Kunduz in the northeast of Afghanistan to Qabodiyon district of Tajikistan on November 3.

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The houses that Beg built

The head of the Communication Service under the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan launched several points of Dushanbe apartments’ sales operating on the premises of the state body he controls. The apartments sold are built by a private firm of his son. Moreover, some employees of the main communications man of Tajikistan were actively involved in selling of apartments.

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Branch of Amonatbank Bank in the town of Istaravshan. Photo: ozodi.org
Creation of the Money Transfer Centre by the National Bank

The National Bank of Tajikistan (NBT) launched the National Processing Centre on December 3 and demanded that all money transfer systems be connected to it, open accounts with NBT and put some money to their accounts. According to experts, the question is about the probable redivision of the market of money transfers, whose volume exceeds 2.5 billion dollars per year.

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On December 22, Uzbekistan held the first election to the lower house of the parliament during the incumbent president Shavkat Mirziyoyev. According to experts, this election campaign was well covered in the media and people, who never had an idea of the parties before, heard the voices of the parties and understood their programmes. This election didn’t change anything, yet showed the limits of liberalisation of Uzbekistan, according to analysts. 

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Investigation: How president’s affordable housing programme works in Uzbekistan? 

In Uzbekistan, participants of the president’s affordable housing programme declared their rights were violated. They complain about the increase in prices, violation of contract terms and accuse the construction workers of poor quality works.

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Uzbek officials consider imposing taxes on bloggers

On June 14, the Tax Committee of Uzbekistan stated that bloggers should pay advertising taxes. They were suggested to get a license for commercial activity as “sole proprietors”. 

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Women are less paid, less educated, less equal

In the report by the World Bank, “Women, Business and the Law”, Uzbekistan ranks 127th in the gender equality index. A share of employed women in the sector of employment is almost twice as little as of men. 80 per cent of people prefer that man earns money in the family, and woman takes care of the house and children.

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CABAR.asia school of analytic journalism

This summer, 23 journalists of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan took part in the second CABAR.asia School of Analytic Journalism, which was held in Almaty. For eight days, they took part in trainings and master classes on analytic journalism, storytelling, as well as internet security, ethics in journalism, hate speech, promotion of materials on social media.

And the previous year’s alumni completed internship in Georgia, where they studied the experience of Georgian media. They worked on their analytical articles, each of which raised one current issue in Central Asia and viewed how Georgia was solving the issue.

See all materials regarding internship in Georgia


In late November, the MisInfoQuest was held in Nur-Sultan. For three days, teams of journalists, students and teachers worked together on projects to identify methods of manipulation on the media, fakes in texts, photos and videos. In three days, the participants not only developed the idea of their story, but also implemented it under the supervision of mentors from Central Asia and Ukraine.

See quest participants’ materials

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