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Central Asia in Focus

Author: Bruce Pannier

Nov 29, 2023

Image source: CPC

Copyright (c)2022 RFE/RL, Inc. Used with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036. Read here.

Welcome to Central Asia in Focus, a newsletter offering insight and analysis on events shaping the region’s political future. I’m Bruce Pannier. In this week’s edition: Kazakh authorities pressure #NeMolchiKZ, Reporters Without Borders and Deutsche Welle support Kloop Media, Kyrgyz pensioner found guilty of calling for government’s overthrow, and more.
Thanks for joining us!

IN THE REGION

Kazakhstan - Dina Smailova (right), founder of NemolchiKz NGO, hands a letter and soft toy, which symbolize a raped child to MP Irina Smirnova. Astana, November 27, 2018.

Kazakh Authorities Pressure #NeMolchiKZ

Police in East Kazakhstan Province are investigating allegations of fraud against Dina Smailova (Tansari), the president of the women’s rights group #NeMolchiKZ (Don’t be silent).  

Reportedly, thousands of people who have donated to #NeMolchiKZ are being called in for questioning by police.

Smailova’s lawyer Gulnar Zhuaspaeva flew to the provincial capital Ust-Kamenogorsk on November 24, but said she could not receive any information about the case.

Smailova posted on the NeMolchiKZ Facebook page that the case against her was “political persecution.”

Smailova had said when she was living in Kazakhstan that police were pressuring her for criticizing authorities’ failure to protect women and children from gender-based violence.

Smailova moved to Georgia in 2022 because she said Kazakh authorities were trying to fabricate a criminal case against her.

Smailova has requested asylum in the European Union.  

On November 25, Irina Matvienko of NeMolchi.Uz wrote on X that Kazakh authorities blocked NeMolchiKZ’s bank account.  

Matvienko wrote, “It’s terrible that this happens and human rights defenders who fight violence are persecuted.”

Why It’s Important: Police have yet to make public any evidence Smailova was engaged in fraud, but the timing of this investigation could not be worse.

In early November, a young woman was killed by her husband, a former government minister, in a restaurant.

At about the same time, two women went public about being raped, one saying police were not interested in punishing her attacker, the other saying she was raped by a local police chief.

Throughout November, rights groups in Kazakhstan have been demanding authorities do more to protect women from violence.

There have been public meetings and numerous comments on social networks in recent weeks about the need for authorities to act on gender-based violence.  

NeMolchiKZ is dedicated to helping women and children who are victims of violence. So far, judging by posts on social networks, public opinion is siding with Smailova and NeMolchiKZ.

Reporters Without Borders, Deutsche Welle Support Kloop Media 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Deutsche Welle Akademie(DWA) are “making an urgent referral … to the Media Freedom Coalition(MFC)” in the case of independent Kyrgyz media outlet Kloop.

The MFC is a coalition of 50 countries from six continents that promotes “media freedom through advocacy, diplomatic interventions, legal reforms, events and funding.”

Kloop Media came under legal pressure from the Bishkek city prosecutor in late August when the latter alleged the media outlet was conducting media activities not listed in its charter.

Kyrgyz authorities blocked Kloop’s Russian-language website in September 2023,and the Kyrgyz-language website in November.  

The Bishkek prosecutor is seeking to liquidate Kloop, and the media outlet is due in court on November 27.  

RSF said case the prosecutor’s case “mostly focuses on the alleged damage caused by Kloop's reporting, which … aims to discredit the Kyrgyz government and authorities (and) manipulate public opinion…”

The media rights organization added that Kloop’s “harassment is emblematic of the increase in the persecution of independent media that began nearly two years ago.”

DWA said Kyrgyzstan’s government “is actively suppressing dissent by engaging in information manipulation, passing restrictive laws and attacking free media and investigative journalism.”

The two organizations called on the MFC to “denounce the judicial harassment” of Kloop and provide a “strong reaction” that would act as “an electric shock” to Kyrgyz authorities.  

Why It’s Important: It’s Kloop today, but looking at Kyrgyz authorities’ recent pressure on independent media in Kyrgyzstan, it will be some other independent media outlet tomorrow.

Independent investigative journalist Bolot Temirov was thrown out of Kyrgyzstan in November 2022.

Access to the Kyrgyz- and Russian-language websites of RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, known as Azattyk, was blocked within Kyrgyzstan from October 2022 until July 2023 over a video Kyrgyz authorities wanted Azattyk to remove from its website. Azattyk reached a settlement agreement and access to the sites was restored.

However, if a new draft law many compare to Russia’s “foreign agents” law passes in Kyrgyzstan, Azattyk will probably find itself under pressure again.  

Maybe a strong statement from the MFC would help put added pressure on Kyrgyz authorities. It certainly would not hurt.  

The Kyrgyz government seems intent on silencing not only critical voices, but those that offer a narrative that differs from the state version of events.

MAJLIS PODCAST

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at the proliferation of military drones in Central Asia. 

All the Central Asian countries have military drones. Four of the five countries are now producing them. 

Which countries have been selling miliary drones to Central Asia and which are helping individual Central Asian states to make domestic models?

And why do the Central Asian countries need these drones? 

This week’s guests are: 

  • Derek Bisaccio, Forecast International's lead analyst for International Defense Markets, specializing in the defense trade in the Eurasia and Middle East regions; and 
  • Francisco Olmos, senior researcher in Central Asian affairs at Spain’s GEOPOL 21 Center, and also a research fellow at the London-based Foreign Policy Center. 

WHAT I’M FOLLOWING

SPECA Summit 

Azerbaijan hosted a summit of the UN Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) on November 24. 

The UN launched SPECA in 1998 “to strengthen subregional cooperation in Central Asia and its integration into the world economy.” 

SPECA members are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. 

SPECA was marking its 25th anniversary, but it was the first time that presidents from the countries participated

SPECA is barely remembered today, 25 years after its founding. However, with Russian trade routes in question, the summit shows that SPECA might now see new opportunities to promote trade in the heart of Eurasia. 

Kyrgyz Pensioner Found Guilty of Calling for Government’s Overthrow 

A court in southern Kyrgyzstan convicted Saliya Tashtanova, 70, of publicly calling for the overthrow of the government and fined her 50,000 som (about $560). 

Tashtanova was taken into custody on October 6, shortly after she posted on Facebook that “prices in the country are increasing and there is no justice.” 

As outrageous as this sounds, it is another sign that Kyrgyz authorities aren’t tolerating any criticism from anybody. 

FACT OF THE WEEK

German exports of motor vehicles and parts to Kyrgyzstan have increased 5,500 percent since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. 

That information was posted by Robin Brooks, the chief economist at the Institute of International Finance posted on X on November 26. 

“You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that all this stuff is heading to Russia,” Brooks wrote

THANKS FOR READING

Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on X or by responding to this email, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia. See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,
Bruce


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