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Central Asia in Focus

Author: Bruce Pannier

Feb 16, 2024

Image source: hrw.org

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: a Bishkek court ruled to “liquidate” Kloop Media. Plus Kazakh activists are working to be allowed to gather for International Women’s Day, and more.

Thanks for joining us!

IN THE REGION

 

Kyrgyz Court Closes Down Kloop

A Bishkek court ruled on February 9 to “liquidate” the independent Kyrgyz outlet Kloop Media.

At times, testimony at the trial could have been called outrageous, and the ruling is a bad omen of things to come for independent media.

The court found in favor of the prosecutor’s office, which claimed Kloop’s “activities go beyond the scope of the [media organization’s] charter,” essentially that Kloop Media was illegally reporting the news.

Since its debut in 2007, Kloop has offered critical coverage of the government and highlighted state corruption, which has made the outlet some enemies.

When the charges were announced against Kloop in late August, it sparked an outcry from domestic and international media freedom organizations. 

Not only were the charges suspected to be politically motivated, but from the start, it was clear Kloop would face flimsy evidence used to justify the media outlet’s closure.

Bishkek prosecutor Emilbek Abdymannapov alleged in August that Kloop’s reporting “has a negative emotional-psychological effect on society… generating fear, anxiety, despair, and panic among a huge number of people...”

In the last days of the trial, the prosecution called in its “experts” to testify about Kloop’s reporting.

Zhanna Karabaeva from the Republican Narcology Center testified Kloop’s reporting was “socially irresponsible, and because of [their reporting] the number of people with mental disorders is growing.”

Psychologist Veronika Terekhova testified “in a secular state, there should be no criticism of the authorities.”

Another expert, Cholpon Abdullaeva, testified that the media in general was increasing mental illness in Kyrgyzstan.

However, she admitted, under questioning from Kloop’s lawyer, that she had never read any of Kloop’s reports.

Why It’s Important: The Kloop trial is a preview of what other independent media outlets can expect from Kyrgyzstan’s court system. 

Two draft laws have been introduced in parliament, one on the media, the other on “foreign representatives,” that are aimed at nongovernmental organizations receiving foreign funding.

Both echo laws passed in Russia that led to the closure of independent media outlets.

Either could spell doom for many independent media outlets in Kyrgyzstan, and the latter would undoubtedly contest in court decisions not to re-register, or to close them down.

The Kloop case indicates they would have little chance of obtaining a court decision allowing their media outlets to continue operating.  

Activists Out in Kazakhstan Ahead of International Women’s Day

Authorities in Kazakhstan are denying permission to conduct marches marking International Women’s Day on March 8.

The Kazakh government did the same last year.

This year, activists are out early, working to be allowed to gather publicly on March 8.

Authorities are allowing one-person pickets to call for equal rights, the right to march on International Women’s Day, and action against domestic violence.

Liya Bergen stood by the monument to independence in Almaty on February 2 holding a sign that read “Dosaev, don’t break tradition, allow the march!”

Erbolat Dosaev is the mayor of Almaty.

On February 3, Veronika Fonova, an activist from the feminist movement KazFem, staged a one-person picket in Almaty with a sign asking city authorities to permit the International Women’s Day march.

Fonova was only on the street a few minutes before an unknown man attempted to snatch her sign and tear it up.

Anel Aligazina staged her one-person picket in the north city of Kostanay on February 4, holding a sign that read “New Kazakhstan is not safe for women.” 

Several passers-by tried to grab the sign from Aligazina, and at one point another woman arrived and stood by Aligazina with a sign that read “Against feminism.”

Temirlan Yensebek from the Oyan, Qazaqstan (Wake up, Kazakhstan) movement conducted a one-person picket in Almaty on February 8, calling for the march on March 8 to be allowed.

Authorities have shown no sign they will grant permission for any sort of mass public event to mark International Women’s Day.  

Why It’s Important: Concerns over women’s rights have been growing, and the issue of domestic violence came to the forefront when a former Kazakh minister of economy beat his wife to death in a restaurant in November.

The issue is not going away and the stonewalling of Kazakh officials again in permitting a march on International Women’s Day is not helping to resolve the problem.

There is a bill to toughen punishment for domestic violence in Kazakhstan, but it has not been adopted yet.

Deputy in Kazakhstan’s lower house of parliament, Anas Bakkozhaev, threw more fuel on the fire on February 5.

Bakkozhaev said he agreed with the bill on domestic violence, but added, “Where do conflicts begin? Of course, because of a woman's wagging tongue.” 

That somehow women provoke the violence against them is the sort of attitude women’s and feminist groups in Kazakhstan are fighting against. 

Denying women the right to march publicly, on International Women’s Day, seems to prove that authorities are not supportive of women’s rights. 

MAJLIS PODCAST

 

The most recent Majlis podcast looks at a new European Union-Central Asian program that will see 10 billion euros of financing and investment flowing into Central Asia.

It is part of the EU’s Global Gateway trade network, and the money is intended to help expand transportation infrastructure in Central Asia to better connect the region to Europe.

What is in the program and how will it benefit Central Asia?

The guests for this podcast are:

  • Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, director of the European Neighborhood Council; and  

  • Kestutis Jankauskas, the European Union’s Ambassador to Kazakhstan. 

WHAT I’M FOLLOWING

 

C5+1 Meet to Discuss Critical Minerals

The inaugural meeting of representatives of the five Central Asian states and the United States, the C5+1, Critical Minerals Dialogue was held in Washington on February 8.

The meeting is part of agreements reached at the C5+1 summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly when U.S. President Joe Biden met with the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Critical minerals are increasingly important for a range of electronic products from automobiles and cell phones, to computers and other products.

Central Asia is believed to have vast and relatively untouched reserves of critical minerals and the United States is one of many countries looking at Central Asia for supplies. 

Tajik Government Seizes Aga-Khan’s University

Tajik authorities have nationalized the University of Central Asia (UCA) built by the Aga Khan in Khorugh, the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO).

Chairman of Tajikistan’s Supreme Economic Court Rustam Mirzozoda confirmed the nationalization of the UCA on February 8, saying GBAO local authorities in the late 1990s “made mistakes” in transferring the land.

It’s the latest blow to the Pamiri community in GBAO.

Most Pamiris are Ismaili Shiite Muslims and followers of the Aga Khan.

Since a government security operation in May 2022, the Aga Khan Development Network medical center, lyceum, park in Khorugh, and other facilities in GBAO have all been nationalized. 

FACT OF THE WEEK

 

Kazakhstan shipped 100,000 metric tons of oil to Germany in January via pipelines running through Russia

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, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia.

Until next time,
Bruce


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Welcome to Central Asia in Focus, a newsletter that offers insight and analysis on the events shaping the region's political future.