WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 460, 11 August, 2006
TURKMEN CIVIL SOCIETY UNDER THREAT NGOs and other public groups harassed and
denied permission to register. By IWPR staff in London
KAZAKSTAN: NGOS FEAR LOSING INDEPENDENCE Nazarbaev's new vision for dealing
with civil society groups has them feeling distinctly nervous. By Gaziza
Baituova in Taraz
KYRGYZSTAN: PEOPLE'S ASSEMBLY DISAPPOINTS Dissenting voices stifled at meeting
of Kyrgyz minority groups. By Taalaibek Amanov in Bishkek
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TURKMEN CIVIL SOCIETY UNDER THREAT
NGOs and other public groups harassed and denied permission to register.
By IWPR staff in London
In a country where loyal servants of the regime are as much under suspicion as
opposition activists, it goes without saying that President Saparmurat Niazov
views Turkmenistan's handful of civil society groups with deep distrust.
Perhaps more surprising and frustrating though is that his policy of iron
control over all aspects of public life also extends to groups with no interest
The National Chess Committee and the National Artisans Association are among
several seemingly innocuous organisations that have been denied permission to
register with the justice ministry - a legal requirement in Turkmenistan.
"We submitted documents to the ministry twice, and twice the documents were
returned to us, with the explanation that the papers were drawn up incorrectly.
We realised that they don't want to register us," said a member of the artisans
"It's strange. How can we do anything to disturb the country? We are not
involved in politics. We only glorify the country, preserving national art and
When Counterpart - a US civil society support initiative - set up its office in
Turkmenistan in 1997 it had over 400 non-governmental organisations on its
database. Today, that number has dwindled to less than 90 - the overwhelming
majority of which are pro-government bodies like the Youth Organisation, the
Union of Women, the Union of Dog Breeders and the Union of Camel Breeders. A
handful of independents include the Ufologists Society, the Environmental
Protection Society, the Agama Mountain Climbers Club and the Beekeepers Club.
At the heart of the problem is a repressive law passed in late 2003 that
criminalised unregistered activities of public organisations. At the urging of
the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, that law was softened
in 2004, but civil society has never recovered.
Hindering its development is the requirement that NGOs must register in order
to operate - an impossible task not only for the artisans and chess enthusiasts
but also for any organisation the government sees as a threat.
A member of the Arkadag human rights NGO told IWPR that his group has given up
trying to register. "We have lost count of how many times we have tried to
legalise our position," he said, explaining one application was denied because
of an incorrectly placed comma on the form. "The last time, when there was
nothing to find fault with, they said, 'you didn't pay the [registration] fee'.
We haven't been there again. There is no point. It is clear that they don't
want to register us."
An environmental NGO from the eastern Lebap region has experienced similar
problems. The head of the group told IWPR that during his last visit to the
justice ministry in July it was made clear that his hopes to register were in
"We submitted documents twice. The second time we were given the proposal to
pay a [registration] fee of 1.5 million manats [300 US dollars], although
according to the law it is paid after the decision on registration is made,"
said the NGO representative.
"A year has gone by since we paid. I recently learned of the result. I was kept
waiting at the ministry waiting room for a whole hour, and then the secretary
told me that the head of the registration department was not in.
"They evidently have an order not to register NGOs, but they can't refuse us
directly, and they have run out of arguments for lying."
Unable to work in the non-profit sector, many NGOs, especially human rights
organisations, have registered as commercial enterprises because such
businesses are subject to less stringent controls. Ecological group
Ecosodruzhestvo is among those who've taken this option, and in addition to its
environmental work now offers management consulting.
But this brings its own set of problems, as changing from a non-profit
organisation makes it hard to get foreign funding. International donors are
thin on the ground in Turkmenistan, however, discouraged by the hostile
Even NGOs that do manage to get legally registered struggle to operate.
The justice ministry is slow to approve any projects they try to undertake and
harassment is commonplace.
The Ufologists Society recently organised a training session with instructors
from Ashgabat. "Before the seminar began, a representative of the interior
ministry entered the room and declared the seminar to be closed, because the
organisation had not warned the local administration about it," said one of the
Meanwhile, a journalism seminar supported by the OSCE was disrupted three
times. When the OSCE appealed to the foreign ministry, the minister Rashid
Meredov refused to allow it to proceed. In the end it took place in a US
embassy conference hall, but organisers say the future of the project is now in
A public health project organised by Counterpart - which is registered - is
also under threat. Counterpart awarded 12 grants to groups around the country
to implement the scheme but workers trying to register with their local
authorities have been intimidated.
"The regional administration summoned us and started shouting at us, demanding
we take back our documents for registration," said a young doctor from the
Balkanabat region. "I was summoned to the administration and asked a lot of
questions and threatened with dismissal from my job. I will have to turn down
KAZAKSTAN: NGOS FEAR LOSING INDEPENDENCE
Nazarbaev's new vision for dealing with civil society groups has them feeling
By Gaziza Baituova in Taraz
A Kazak government strategy ostensibly to develop civil society will in
practice further curtail the activities of independent NGOs in the country,
analysts and activists fear.
A new legal framework - approved by President Nursultan Nazarbaev on July 25 -
marks a significant change in how the authorities deal with NGOs. In the past,
that has involved harassment and restrictive conditions, but now civil society
groups will receive financial support - although some fear this may prove to be
Critics worry the Nazarbaev regime aims to create a network of pro-government
NGOs that will eventually sideline their foreign-funded, independent
"If in previous years NGOs were financed almost entirely from abroad, now the
government is planning to organise an alternative civil field [paid for] with
budget money," said Pyotr Svoik, chairman of an Almaty NGO that monitors
"The government is not really interested in the opinion of civil society. The
government is interested in controlling citizens."
Natalya Chumakova, director of the Kazakstan Democracy Support Centre, worries
that newly created government NGOs will simply drown out independent groups.
"They are designed to neutralise truly independent organisations," she said.
"This is why financing of NGOs from the state has been increased."
Analysts say that although independent Kazak NGOs are small in numbers, they
offer real opposition to the government. In its recent report Countries at the
Crossroads, the research institute Freedom House cited the Almaty Helsinki
Committee and the Kazakstan International Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of
Law, KIBHR, as NGOs that are particularly active.
In a positive development, Freedom House points out that the government last
year backed off from severely limiting the rights of independent NGOs when the
Constitutional Council vetoed two laws on the civil society groups in August
Observers speculate this apparent softening could be related to Kazakstan's bid
to chair the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2009 -
which is closely tied to Astana convincing the international community of its
commitment to democracy.
Freedom House, however, has reservations about Nazarbaev's democratic
It speaks of "intensified pressure on the country's civil society sector
through harassment of, and attacks against, opposition activists and
independent journalists; new restrictive laws, including legislation on
extremism and national security that further curtailed the activities of
religious groups, media outlets, political parties, and nongovernmental
In February, Nazarbaev signed off on legislation that hands law enforcement
agencies and the prosecutor's office greater surveillance rights and the power
to disband groups suspected of extremism. Human rights activists said the
definition of "extremism" was vague and could be used against nearly any
political party, religious group, or NGO.
In July, the president approved amendments to national security legislation
that imposed new restrictions on criminal and civil procedure codes and on laws
regulating political parties, NGOs, religious groups and the media. Although
the amendments were ostensibly designed to strengthen the country's security,
they served to further undermine civil liberties, said Freedom House.
Leading human rights groups like KIBHR have had their offices broken into and
documents rifled through. Human Rights Watch was among those expressing concern
that the break-in was a politically motivated attempt at intimidating the
Responding to Nazarbaev's new strategy for dealing with NGOs, KIBHR director
Evgeny Jovtis said direct state intervention in the development of civil
society goes against international practice, adding that governments should
merely create appropriate conditions under which the sector can flourish.
At the same time, media organisations have also been coming under pressure. A
new draconian law requires news organisations to re-register with the
when they change editor, address or circulation - a process that requires them
to pay a fee. The legislation also stipulates that candidates for editor
positions will be disqualified if they have previously edited a media outlet
that has been closed down by a court order. And cyberspace is unlikely to
provide a refuge for journalists, as plans are afoot to regulate the internet.
The government has sought to put a positive spin on the latest developments,
describing its NGO strategy as a progressive approach towards civil society
Prepared by the National Commission on Issues of Democratisation, the
government says the plan adhere strictly to democratic principles.
Dariga Nazarbaeva, the president's daughter and commission member, insists that
NGOs will benefit from the change of approach, as they will work with the state
in an equal partnership.
"The state must be interested in a situation where institutions of civil
society stand firmly and influence decisions passed by the state and the
domestic and foreign policy that the state follows," she said.
Alexander Skryl from KIBHR doubts the promises of more harmonious relations
between the state and NGOs, saying any of the latter that don't toe the
government's line will continue to be treated with suspicion and closely
monitored, "It is no secret for anyone that there is extensive surveillance of
the activity of independent NGOs."
Another independent analyst had this gloomy prediction for the future, "In
Kazakstan, whatever happens, there will never be civil society in the classic
definition of the word."
Gaziza Baituova is an IWPR correspondent in Taraz.
KYRGYZSTAN: PEOPLE'S ASSEMBLY DISAPPOINTS
Dissenting voices stifled at meeting of Kyrgyz minority groups.
By Taalaibek Amanov in Bishkek
The Bakiev government has been accused of ignoring the concerns of ethnic
minorities and using the recent Assembly of Peoples of Kyrgyzstan as a
The August 5 meeting in the capital Bishkek was the first assembly since former
president Askar Akaev was overthrown in March 2005, but some analysts and
attendees say nothing has changed - another disappointment for those who say
Kurmanbek Bakiev has failed to deliver on the promises of the Tulip Revolution.
Akaev set up the assembly in 1994 ostensibly to give a voice to minorities,
including the country's large Uzbek and Russian populations. Instead, however,
the meetings were used to promote the government's own political agenda.
"Since Akaev's time, the Assembly of Peoples of Kyrgyzstan has been a political
body where individual representatives showed their support of the current
regime," said Anvar Artykov, a former governor of the Osh region, who was
dismissed in January. He didn't attend the assembly. "It is a formal body under
the president, which agrees unconditionally with his policy."
Alexander Knyazev, a political analyst, agrees. "I don't see any real
difference between the [assembly] held during Akaev's rule and the [assembly]
held under the current president," he said. "This is a show event, which
attempts to demonstrate the people's support of the president's policy. The
same thing was done under Akaev."
In the case of this fifth annual assembly, attended by 750 delegates including
officials, NGOs and journalists, that policy is the promotion of the Kyrgyz
language. Though it is the official state language, in practice the use of
Kyrgyz has always lagged behind Russian, a situation Bakiev hopes will change
with the setting up of Kyrgyz-only nurseries and other schools.
"Kyrgyz must not be a language of division. It should unite the citizens of the
country. So new approaches to its introduction are needed," said Bakiev, but
added he is against an artificial and forced development of the language.
Russians represent about 12 per cent of the population, well behind
Kyrgyzstan's largest ethnic minority group, the Uzbeks, at around 16-17 per
Kyrgyzstan's Uzbeks also want their language to be recognised as an official
language and are demanding better political representation.
Prominent Uzbek community leader Kadyrjan Batyrov wanted to talk about these
and other issues but was denied permission to speak by the secretary of state
Adakhan Madumarov who chaired the meeting.
"The Assembly of Peoples was essentially pushed to the side," said Batyrov, a
member of parliament who also heads the Uzbek National Cultural Centre of
Jalalabad. "They ignored us. The organisers did not want me to talk about all
the inter-ethnic problems, so they did not give me the floor."
He said only deputies whose speeches had been pre-approved were allowed to
speak and none who did accurately reflected the current problems in Kyrgyzstan.
"The assembly did not reach its goal, the tension that exists in society has
not been removed, on the contrary it has even been increased," he said.
"For the Uzbek delegates, the assembly gave nothing. They want to stifle and
suppress us. They don't intend to sit down at the discussion table and remove
the tension in a civilised manner."
Kasym Chargynov, a member of the assembly's
permanent body, had a rather different perspective. He declared the meeting a
success, citing the passing of a strategy to encourage an open cultural
exchange between Kyrgyzstan's various ethnic groups.
"Inter-ethnic problems were studied from various points of view," he said. He
disagrees with those who suggest the assembly is little changed from the Akaev
era body, saying, "Before we didn't talk about our problems, and agreed with
everyone. But now we have outlined the problems of ethnic minorities."
Omurbek Tekebaev, parliamentary deputy and co-chairman of the opposition
movement For Reform, isn't convinced. He said recent incidents have given rise
to distrust between ethnic minorities in the country - a situation the assembly
did nothing to alleviate.
"The event was not held in a convincing manner," he said. "A purposeful
systematic policy is required in the sphere of inter-ethnic relations, but
unfortunately no such attempts can be seen in the work of the current president
and his team. Unfortunately, there were too many formal phrases spoken by
formal people at this [assembly]. You can't help remembering the times of
Taalaibek Amanov is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.
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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA No. 460