UZBEK AMNESTY DESIGNED TO PLEASE WEST  While rights groups welcome the amnesty 
offered to several activists, they do not believe it marks a real change in 
policy.  By Inga Sikorskaya in Bishkek

accompanied by a rationed allowance alarms drivers used to paying a pittance 
for fuel.  By IWPR staff in Central Asia

CENTRAL ASIA’S POOREST STATES IN CRISIS  After a freezing winter marked by 
severe energy shortages, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan fear spring could bring food 
shortages as well.  By Parvina Hamidova in Bishkek

CONCERN AT RUSH TO PRIVATISE IN KYRGYZSTAN  While the president insists quick 
sales of state assets are the only way to attract investment, critics fear the 
process will be handled poorly.  By Elina Karakulova and Jyldyz Mamytova from 

FEARS FOR INDEPENDENCE OF TAJIK OMBUDSMAN  While human rights activists welcome 
the decision to set up an independent rights monitor, there is scepticism about 
whether the appointee will be truly independent of government.  By IWPR staff 
in Tajikistan


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While rights groups welcome the amnesty offered to several activists, they do 
not believe it marks a real change in policy. 

By Inga Sikorskaya in Bishkek

Uzbek human rights groups have welcomed the amnesty given to several 
high-profile activists, while warning that many more remain incarcerated. 

Saidjahon Zainabiddinov, Umida Niazova, Karim Bazarbaev and Ikhtior Hamroev 
were freed between February 2 and 4, under a general prison amnesty announced 
at the end of November.

There were strong suspicions, voiced by the watchdog group Human Rights Watch, 
that the releases were timed to coincide with a February 5 between officials 
from Uzbekistan and the European Union, with which Tashkent is gradually trying 
to win favour. 

Zainabiddinov, the longest-serving of those released, is a leading human rights 
activist who was sentenced to seven years in jail in January 2006. 

His conviction for “slander” and “distributing information with the aim of 
fomenting panic” related to his eyewitness accounts of what happened on May 13, 
2005 in his home city of Andijan.

After government troops opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators, the 
authorities moved in quickly to eliminate the traces and quash any account that 
differed from their story, which was that less that 200 people died, and many 
of these were Islamic militants whom the government accused of planning a 
revolt. Human rights groups claim the real number of dead is closer to 800 and 
the protest was about injustice, not Islamic revolution. 

As the government arrested reporters and other witnesses, Zainabbiddinov spoke 
out to foreign media. He had not only witnessed the shooting, but also the 
corpses being taken away in trucks the following day. He appeared on the 
Moscow-based NTV channel holding up massive cartridge casings from 
large-calibre shells gathered from the square where most of the killings took 
place – hard evidence that armoured vehicles had turned their guns on civilians.

Unlike other eyewitnesses and alleged participants, Zainabiddinov did not go on 
trial until early in 2006. His family did not see him for several months 
beforehand, and it was several days before anyone knew the trial had started. 
It was clear the government regarded his case as particularly embarrassing and 
wanted it shielded from publicity.

A second beneficiary of the latest amnesty is the well-known human rights 
activist and journalist Umida Niazova. She was given a seven-year jail sentence 
last May, after being convicted of illegally crossing the Uzbek border and of 
smuggling and distributing dangerous material. 

Once again, this apparently illicit material related to Andijan, in the shape 
of a published human rights report on the tragedy.

Following an international outcry, Niazova’s sentence was changed to a 
suspended one a week later, and she was conditionally released. The amnesty 
lifts the suspended sentence. 

The Uzbek authorities have not been forthcoming on these releases as they do 
not admit to having political prisoners, and there has been some uncertainty 
about which other activists have been freed. However, IWPR understands that 
they include Ikhtior Hamroev, sentenced to three years for “hooliganism” in 
September 2006, and Karim Bazarbaev, a member of the Ezgulik human rights group 
who was three months into a six-year sentence for slander, a criminal offence 
in Uzbekistan. 

Hamroev’s case is revealing – human rights groups believed he was jailed to 
punish his father Bakhtior for his work with the Human Rights Society of 

The November 30 amnesty marked the 15th anniversary of the constitution of 
independent Uzbekistan, and covered about 3,500 people convicted of various 
criminal offences.

Such amnesties occur fairly frequently, and the categories eligible for release 
are carefully worded in order to exclude anyone viewed as politically 
undesirable. The terms of this amnesty were no different. 

The release of several dissidents, therefore, was as unexpected as it was 

Nadezhda Ataeva, who chairs the France-based Human Rights in Central Asia 
association, admits that the news came as a surprise to her, as the amnesty 
wording did not appear to apply to them.

“Zainabiddinov did not expect an amnesty and nor did Umida Niazova, because 
their experience of previous attempts to obtain amnesty had been far from 
encouraging,” she said. 

Ataeva’s group believes at least 50 activists remain behind bars as a result of 
the wave of arrests that followed the Andijan violence. 

Legal experts and rights activists are wondering, cautiously, whether this or 
future amnesties might be extended to other prisoners serving sentences for 
political offences. 

Take, for example, Azam Farmonov and Alisher Qoramatov, both members of the 
Human Rights Society. The ten-year sentences they got in June 2006 for 
extortion and illegal publishing can be explained by their previous activities 
– investigating complaints by farmers in the Syrdarya region that their rights 
were being violated by corrupt officials. 

However, Vasila Inoyatova, head of the Ezgulik rights group, doubts that the 
authorities intend to free most of the human rights activists now in detention. 

All that has happened is that few prison cells have been opened as a gesture to 
the EU, she said, adding, “It was a present to the European Union in return for 
having recognised the legitimacy of [President Islam] Karimov’s re-election.” 

“If the Uzbek authorities really wanted to amnesty representatives of civil 
society, they could have done it earlier,” she said.

The amnesty followed a high-profile visit to Tashkent of the EU’s special 
representative for Central Asia, Pierre Morel, who conveyed congratulations to 
Karimov for his triumph in the December presidential election. 

Most independent observers described the poll as a farce. In defiance of his 
own constitution’s ban on serving a third term, Karimov was re-elected on 
December 24, after apparently winning 88 per cent of the vote.

The electoral process was sharply criticised abroad, while the OSCE refused to 
conduct full monitoring of the poll, citing “the explicitly limited nature of 
the election race”. 

Tashkent is keen to mend fences with the EU in the run-up to an April 2008 
review on the remnants of EU sanctions imposed after Andijan.

Brussels imposed an arms embargo and a visa ban on top Uzbek officials in 
November 2005 after Tashkent refused to allow an independent international 
probe into the Andijan bloodshed. 

These latest releases may have raised hopes that other critics of the regime 
might soon follow them out of jail, but an activist from the Jizzakh region 
told IWPR such hopes might be deceptive. 

“The government is simply changing its tactics,” the activist said. “Islam 
Karimov has not changed his attitude towards his opponents, and he shows them 
no mercy.”

He added that the releases reflected a “selective approach” on the part of the 
authorities, rather than offering clues about their future plans.

Other observers, however, are still holding out hope that as Tashkent seeks a 
thaw in relations with the West, further high-profile releases will follow. 

Inga Sikorskaya is an IWPR editor in Bishkek.


Sharp increase in petrol prices accompanied by a rationed allowance alarms 
drivers used to paying a pittance for fuel.

By IWPR staff in Central Asia

Drivers in Turkmenistan are concerned about a radical shakeup of petrol prices, 
in a country where car fuel has cost next to nothing until now. 

On February 9, ministers approved a twin-track reform, ending the old system of 
selling petrol for only a few cents per litre and introducing more realistic 

Drivers will now have to pay 2,800 to 3,100 manats per litre, equivalent to 17 
to 20 US cents. This is still very low by international standards, but 
represents a massive price hike for local consumers. Until now, a litre of 
petrol in oil- and gas- rich Turkmenistan cost only 300 to 400 manats, or 
around 2.5 US cents. 

To cushion the blow, the government simultaneously introduced a form of 
rationing, in the shape of a free petrol allowance.

On presenting a coupon, car drivers are entitled to 120 litres of free petrol a 
month. Drivers of buses, lorries and tractors can get 200 litres of fuel and 
motorcyclists and scooter riders 40 litres.

Vehicle users obtain their free petrol coupons from banks on presentation of a 
passport, a vehicle registration document and a certificate of roadworthiness.

The authorities said the allowance was introduced to ease the transition to 
market economy rules, as any fuel that drivers obtain beyond the fixed quotas 
will be on sale at the new prices. 

The change has come as a shock in Turkmenistan, where people have paid only 
nominal prices for petrol since 1992. A litre of petrol then cost no more than 
a glass of fizzy water or half a loaf of cheap brown bread.

Along with subsidised free petrol, Turkmens have also been entitled to free 
quotas of electricity, natural gas, water and salt. 

Every household is entitled to use 35 kilowatt-hours of electricity for free 
and 600 cubic metres of gas per year, as well as unlimited quantities of water 
and salt.

Worried that the fuel rations might quickly run out, drivers rushed to petrol 
stations as soon as they heard the news on television on February 9. 

Within hours, queues stretching several kilometers formed at petrol stations, 
forcing police to intervene and limit some lines to 100 vehicles. 

“They stood in line for two or three hours and after they got their free 
petrol, some owners just poured it into cans and returned to the queues to try 
to fill up again,” one eyewitness in the central Ahal region told IWPR. 

Taxi drivers were especially alarmed at the simultaneous introduction of quotas 
and market prices. 

“The limited free petrol will only be enough for about two days’ work in the 
city,” complained one taxi driver in the capital Ashgabat. “For the other 28 
days of the month, I will have to buy petrol at market rates.”

Taxi drivers ferrying passengers around the city and to nearby rural areas say 
they use an average of 50 to 60 litres of petrol a day.

Under the new pricing system, they will have to spend at least 50 dollars a 
month on fuel over and above their free ration, about the same as the national 
average wage. 

“If I have to buy petrol at the new rate, my earnings will be slashed,” 
complained one elderly taxi driver. 

“We will have to recover the extra expense from the passengers and raise our 
fares,” another predicted. 

Passengers say many taxis have already hiked fares. 

“Starting from February 10, the drivers started demanding 5,000 manats [31 
cents] for a standard fare, whereas before it was only 3,000,” said a local 
from Dashoguz in northern Turkmenistan. 

Several taxi drivers told IWPR the new prices had caused friction with clients, 
many of whom did not see why they should suddenly pay so much more for a ride. 

“It’s impossible to agree on a payment with the clients,” said one driver in 
Ashgabat. “They are quite aggressive these days. Some of them say the increase 
in petrol prices is the drivers’ problem, not theirs, while others say they 
don’t have the money to pay up, and others just throw us some money [at the old 
price] and jump out of the car.”

A resident of a suburb in the capital told IWPR that people feared a knock-on 
rise in the price of other products and services as a result of the change in 
petrol prices. 

“This decision to put up petrol has come as a shock for many people,” she said. 
“We are nervous – after all, the president did promise to keep fuel prices 

After assuming power last year, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov pledged 
that low petrol prices would remain unchanged.

At the same time, however, he unveiled a new economic model whose cornerstone 
was the phasing-in of market prices for most goods and services and an end to 
heavy government subsidies. 

Analysts say the introduction of a more commercial rate for petrol is a sign 
Turkmenistan is embarking on a slow transition to a market economy. 

But there is still a long way to go. Economists say a true market economy 
depends on a freely floating price system that responds to competition, supply 
and demand, not on price-setting by government.

Annadurdy Khadjiev, a Turkmen economist based in Bulgaria, believes the 
government should have taken even more radical steps.

“They should have stopped dictating petrol prices and deregulated them, while 
simultaneously introducing a package of welfare programmes for the population,” 
he said.

Without such broader measures, said Khadjiev, petrol rationing is an 
inefficient mechanism that offers no obvious benefit to people who do not own 
vehicles, and is also open to corruption. 

Many drivers in Turkmentistan fear the rationing system will be abused by 
corrupt officials so that the free petrol is diverted and never reaches the 
people it is intended for. 

“I’m worried that when I come to the fuel stations with my coupon, I will 
either be told that the petrol earmarked for free distribution hasn’t been 
delivered or that its has run out,” said one taxi driver in the Ahal region. 
“We will be told that the only petrol available is for sale at the market rate, 
and we can buy as much as we want.” 

He concluded, “I am 100 per cent sure that staff in the oil industry and at the 
petrol stations will line their pockets as a result of this system.”

(The names of people quoted in this story have been withheld out of concern for 
their security.)


After a freezing winter marked by severe energy shortages, Tajikistan and 
Kyrgyzstan fear spring could bring food shortages as well.

By Parvina Hamidova in Bishkek

The governments of Central Asia’s poorest countries, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, 
are concerned that this spring could see a further round of price rises, 
compounding the difficulties created by inflation last year and a winter energy 
crisis caused by exceptionally cold weather. 

Through last summer and autumn, both countries experienced sharp rises in the 
prices of basic foods and services, beginning with bread and flour and 
extending to other products. 

While the local populations were struggling to absorb this hammer blow, the two 
states faced a new shock when their neighbours sharply raised the price of 
natural gas. (See Uzbek Gas Hike Leaves Neighbours In The Cold, RCA No. 526, 

Tajikistan has been hit hardest by the simultaneous rise in food and energy 
costs. Now plunged into crisis, it has appealed to the international community 
for aid. 

Neighbouring Kyrgyzstan is only slightly better off, and is also increasingly 
concerned about whether it will have enough food to feed its population this 
spring. (See Cold Snap Wreaks Havoc on Central Asian Power, RCA No. 529, 

In contrast to Kazakstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, all of which are blessed 
with reserves of oil or gas, the two mountainous Central Asian states have only 
hydroelectric power as an energy resource. But neither has been able to exploit 
anything like the full capacity of its electricity industry, and they remain 
dependent on gas imports from Uzbekistan, with Tajikistan also reliant on 
electricity from the same country over the winter months. 

It is in Tajikistan that the effects of sharp price rises and an unexpectedly 
cold winter have been felt most severely. 

In early February, the government sought international aid as it struggled to 
cope with freezing temperatures. 

Zlatan Milisic, the World Food Programme mission chief in Tajikistan, said the 
country was in the grip of a serious food crisis. His organisation estimates 
that at least half a million local people are now unable to afford even minimum 
food purchases. 

According to the Tajik National Bank, prolonged power cuts have dealt a severe 
blow to the economy, costing it at least 250 million US dollars). 

At a recent meeting with international organisations and financial 
institutions, President Imomali Rahmon’s economic adviser, Matlubkhon Davlatov, 
reported that almost all industrial plants and the service sector had stopped 
working owing to the lack of gas and electricity. 

The electricity shortage was aggravated by Uzbekistan’s decision to suspend 
exports to its neighbour because it too was facing spiralling domestic demand 
for power over the winter. (See Sparks Fly as Tajiks Endure Power Cuts, RCA No. 
528, 25-Jan-08.) 

The severe weather appears to have destroyed much of Tajikistan’s potato 
harvest and caused significant damage to market gardens and vineyards. The 
Ministry of Agriculture estimated that the sector has suffered losses worth 
more than 21 million dollars this winter. 

In its international appeal, the Dushanbe government said it urgently needed 
diesel generators, flour, fuel, maternity care products and even soap. 

While international aid agencies including the United Nations children’s agency 
UNICEF and the World Health Organisations, have responded by sending warm 
blankets, petrol and food, experts say the aid may not be enough to solve the 
food shortage. 

Nor is the crisis likely to ease in spring. On the contrary, there are worries 
that the country may soon find out it has lost even more of its spring crop of 
fruit and vegetables, which form one of the country’s few exports. 

“We could have problems with food products this spring, especially with spring 
vegetables, which have died completely [in the frosts],” Safar Mahmadiev, head 
of economics at the agriculture ministry, told IWPR. “We may have to import 

Experts believe the devastation of agriculture will mean another round of steep 
price rises in the coming months. 

“Prices are likely to go up several times over,” predicted Georgy Koshlakov, 
head of the department of economics and management at the Russian-Tajik Slavic 

“Our early vegetables are not only important items for domestic consumption but 
are also a key export,” he told IWPR. “But this year we’ve lost them.” 

Koshlakov said the government needed to take urgent steps to procure food for 
the coming months and could not just rely on foreign aid. 

“This humanitarian aid is charity and it’s not clear whether this alone can 
cancel out the damage done by the energy crisis, which has made the food 
problem worse,” he said. 

Parviz Mullojanov, an independent political scientist, agreed that prices are 
bound to rise again in the coming months, although he believes the government 
could take steps to alleviate the problem. 

“We are surviving thanks to the migrants who consistently support their 
families,” said the expert, referring to the hundreds of thousands of Tajiks 
who work seasonally in Russia and Kazakstan and send back remittances. 

“But the standard of living will drop,” he added. “Humanitarian aid may cushion 
people but it won’t solve the basic problem.” 

Mullojanov stressed that the severe winter had simply exposed underlying flaws 
in the economy which dated back years and were not confined to Tajikistan. 

“Practically all the states in the region are now experiencing problems because 
of failed agricultural reforms,” he maintained. “But this has been worsened in 
Tajikistan by the large debts run up by cotton growers.” 

At a time when energy prices were rising worldwide, the crisis in Tajikistan 
called for a more comprehensive reform. 

“We need to see more serious steps in the area of economic reforms and a 
revival of agriculture in particular,” Mullojanov concluded. 

While Kyrgyzstan has not suffered the same prolonged power cuts experienced by 
its southern neighbour, its population is also suffering from a round of price 
rises in food and energy and is bracing for a worsening situation in the 

The National Bank of Kyrgyzstan has already predicted further price rises. Its 
inflation forecast is partly informed by the sharp rise in the price of gas 
imported from Uzbekistan and an expected hike in the price of electricity, too. 

Kyrgyzstan generates its own electricity from hydropower schemes, but the 
imminent privatisation of large parts of the power industry, which it is 
accepted is needed in order to bring in much-needed investment, will mean 
higher prices for consumers. 

Readying the country for unpleasant shocks, Prime Minister Igor Chudinov in 
early February said the government was monitoring food prices and preparing a 
programme to limit the risk of a food crisis. 

The contingency plan includes setting aside reserves of wheat and purchasing 
agricultural equipment and seeds for distribution to farmers. (See Kyrgyzstan 
Unveils Food Security Plan, RCA No. 526, 11-Jan-08.) 

An official from the agriculture ministry told IWPR that the programme would 
take effect as soon as parliament and President Kurmanbek Bakiev had approved 

Ministry spokeswoman Jyldyz Mamytova said the creation of the so-called 
“Agro-Food Corporation” would help to counterbalance expected shortages and 
ensure stable supplies. Specifically, she said the project entailed the 
establishment of a grain reserve of about 150,000 tons, three times the size of 
the current reserve. 

“In case of shortages or unexpected price rises, this will allow us to 
intervene in the market,” she maintained. While the Kyrgyz government claims it 
has the situation in hand, some members of parliament remain sceptical. 

Jusupjan Jeenbekov, head of parliament’s committee on land and agricultural 
issues, said it was not clear to what extent the government was really taking 
steps or merely talking about them. 

Like many experts in Tajikistan, he said this winter’s crisis had merely 
exposed years of neglect in agriculture. 

“Wheat farmers have far too many problems today, such as shortages of seeds, 
equipment and fuel, while the irrigation system is in a poor condition,” he 

Temirbek Madaliev of the Centre for Economic Studies at Kyrgyzstan’s Academy of 
Sciences said last year’s soaring prices had exposed the seriousness the 
problem of ensuring stable food supplies was. 

He said it was vital to ensure the government acted on its pledge to build up 
grain reserves, so that the panic-buying seen last year did not reoccur. 

“Ideally, the state needs to maintain a reserve of between 10 and 15 per cent 
of the country’s total demand for food,” Madaliev said. 

Last year, he recalled, “in the midst of the price rises, it transpired that 
all the national reserves were completely empty”. 

Parvina Hamidova is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek. 


While the president insists quick sales of state assets are the only way to 
attract investment, critics fear the process will be handled poorly.

By Elina Karakulova and Jyldyz Mamytova from Bishkek

There is growing concern at the latest phase of privatisation in Kyrgyzstan, 
with analysts warning that transparency could be sacrificed in the rush to sell 
off key assets. 

In recent years, parliament has acted as a check on privatisation of the power 
industry, in particular. But the new legislature elected in December is 
dominated by loyalists of President Kurmanbek Bakiev, and is unlikely to 
exercise the same kind of scrutiny, still less try to block the process.

At a February 13 session of parliament, President Bakiev reiterated his 
determination to complete the privatisation process as a way of injecting cash 
into moribund sectors of the economy such as the electricity industry. 

He referred to figures that suggest the power industry misses out on as much as 
40 per cent of its potential revenue, in part due to defects on the 
transmission network and malfunctioning meters. 

“Until private individuals interested in cutting commercial losses get 
involved, we shouldn’t expect improvements,” news agencies cited Bakiev as 

In consequence, the government plans this year to sell off a number of key 
energy-related businesses, or grant concessionary management rights to them.

They include electricity distributors Severelektro in the north of Kyrgyzstan, 
and Oshelektro and Jalalabadelektro in the south. Also up for sale is 
Bishkekteploset, which pipes hot water to the capital Bishkek, and the carbon 
fuel-fired power station that supplies both the heating for this system and the 
city’s electricity. 

These sales are expected to go through before summer, and in the autumn it will 
be the turn of the state telecoms and gas retail enterprises, Kyrgyztelecom and 

Suyerkul Bakirov of the Committee for Managing State Property, the government’s 
privatisation agency, told IWPR the freezing winter had brought home the need 
for new investment in the energy sector. 

He said the Severelektro company alone required 60 million US dollars to 
replace old equipment, lay new transmission lines and build transformers. 

“The cold weather led to maximum energy consumption and completely overloaded 
the sector,” he said. “We need to accept that the existing capacity is not 
designed to cope with massive consumption of electricity by a population 
cooking food and heating homes.”

The current plans to sell off power companies is in fact only the final stage 
of a prolonged denationalisation process launched in 1998 which saw the 
monolithic Kyrgyzenergo divided into several component companies - one to run 
the power stations, another the national grid, and others distributing 
electricity to consumers. Bakirov said independent experts would shortly be 
invited to draft a programme for the fourth and final phase of privatisation. 

Bakyt Beshimov, an opposition Social Democratic deputy, said he feared the 
process would see many of the mistakes made in previous phases being repeated. 

Much of the criticism in the past has revolved around lack of transparency and 
mismanagement which has left the restructured power companies performing worse 
than before 

This year, Beshimov fears that the sheer haste with which the sell-off is being 
pushed through could lead to failure. “The government hasn’t clearly defined 
the aims and objectives of privatisation or the form it will take.” 

He recalled that during previous privatisations, officials made very 
similar-sounding promises that the government budget would reap billions of 
dollars from sales and revenues. But this never happened. Last year, for 
example, the government earned only about 14 million dollars from the sale and 
use of state property. 

Outside the power industry and a few other big monopolies, Kyrgyzstan has 
largely completed the denationalisation process which it embarked on soon after 
it became independent in 1991. Between 1991 and 2007, more than 7,000 
enterprises – about three-quarters of all state-owned property – went into 
private hands. 

However, the effect was not to create a vibrant, diverse private sector, but 
simply to create a new kind of monopoly where key assets passed into the hands 
of a few privileged regime insiders. Accusations of corruption, lack of 
transparency and unequal distribution of property were a key driving force 
behind the so-called Tulip Revolution of 2005, which forced former president 
Askar Akaev to flee. 

“Years later, it became clear there had been no real privatisation, merely a 
process that people began calling ‘grab-itisation’ [prikhvatizatsia],” said 

“I fear that the next phase of privatisation will see a repeat of the same 
scenario,” he said, explaining that this meant privatisation for a lucky few, 
while the majority of the population was excluded in the absence of lack of 
mechanisms to ensure accountability. 

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the conditions to conduct privatisation 
successfully, such as an independent judiciary or free media,” he added. 

Other observers and politicians note that the domination of parliament by 
Bakiev’s Ak Jol party will mean crucial decisions are made without discussion. 
The party took 70 of the 90 seats in the Kyrgyz parliament in the December 
election despite being created from scratch only two months beforehand. 

Bishkek businessman Sergei Semenov told IWPR he did not believe the process 
would be conducted in anything like an open manner. 

“Despite the government’s loud assurances, I don’t believe the privatisation 
process will be transparent because there are too many interested parties,” he 

Semenov said that in addition to public scrutiny, privatization would only work 
when there were coherent laws on taxation, customs regulations, company rules, 
and guarantees that the law was supreme and that investments were protected.

He might also have mentioned a degree of probity in government. A recent World 
Bank study rated Kyrgyzstan among the 20 most corrupt states in the world. The 
same study said the country also had one of the least attractive tax regimes 
for investors. 

Askar Oskombaev, the current deputy minister of economic development and trade, 
insists things have to be different this time. 

“If denationalisation results in assets simply falling into the hands of a 
group of individuals, then privatisation will have been pointless,” he said.

Oskombaev says the government will need to ensure it has cast-iron contractual 
guarantees that the new companies will not suddenly bump up charges for 
consumers as a way of recouping costs. 

Sabyrbek Moldokulov, a former trade minister, told IWPR that before the latest 
sales got under way, Kyrgyzstan should reflect on the mistakes made in previous 

“We should not allow the kind of ‘grab-itisation’ that we’re all so familiar 
with,” he said. “Only if investors abide by Kyrgyzstan’s terms, including 
observing certain social requirements, should the process go ahead.”

Moldokulov does not agree with the kind of out-and-out privatization the 
government is planning, arguing that the state should retain a controlling 
share in these enterprises. 

One independent economist who did not wish to be named went further, saying 
effective management did not require privatisation to take place at all. 

On the contrary, he said, losing control of strategically important sectors 
such as the hydroelectricity industry might turn out to be highly 
disadvantageous to the Kyrgyz state.

“For a state that lacks oil and gas, it is shortsighted from both a political 
and economic point of view to place its electricity companies entirely in 
private hands,” said the economist. 

“Kyrgyzstan should try to make use of the one advantage it has over other 
states - its water resources. The demand for energy is growing tremendously. 
For that reason, Kyrgyzstan shouldn’t cede its control.” 

Jyldyz Mamytova is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek. Elina Karakulova is an IWPR 
editor in Bishkek.


While human rights activists welcome the decision to set up an independent 
rights monitor, there is scepticism about whether the appointee will be truly 
independent of government.

By IWPR staff in Tajikistan

Politicians, lawyers and rights activists in Tajikistan have hailed moves to 
introduce the post of ombudsman as a step towards improving the human rights 
situation. But some are asking whether the new institution will really be able 
to operate independently of government.

Since January, Tajik parliamentarians have been reviewing a bill setting out 
the ombudsman’s functions. Sources in parliament say the law will be passed 
this spring. 

Despite being appointed by the president and approved by parliament, the human 
rights watchdog will theoretically not answer to any state official for the 
duration of his or her five-year term

Richard Lapper, Tajikistan representative for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said 
the new ombudsman could play an important role in strengthening the legal 
process and reforming the judicial and penal system. 

Lapper said the role of ombudsman varies from country to country, but generally 
involves oversight of key human rights issues such as torture, arbitrary 
detention, gender discrimination, human trafficking, and protecting human 
rights activists. 

Tajik president Imomali Rahmon announced the creation of an ombudsman position 
in his annual address to parliament in April last year. He was effectively 
acting on a recommendation made by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 
Louise Arbour, during a visit to Dushanbe shortly beforehand. 

Few would dispute that the human rights situation in Tajikistan is in need of 

In its annual report for 2007, the Republican Bureau for Human Rights, a 
national agency, noted an increase in complaints about new laws that violated 
people’s constitutional rights, and about flaws in the judicial process. 

Among the more controversial pieces of legislation it referred to were the May 
2007 law on public associations, which tightened controls over civil society 
groups, and laws passed in June restricting the way weddings, funerals and 
other rites are conducted. 

Subsequent changes to the criminal code limited freedom of speech by making 
internet publications subject to criminal law on libel in the same way as 
traditional forms of media are. 

After the government signalled its intention of tightening up on religious 
practice, the education ministry banned the wearing of Islamic dress or “hijab” 
by women at schools and colleges, and one Christian group was banned from 

In addition to these recent concerns, Tajiks still face problems getting a fair 
trial, according to Nurmahmad Khalilov of the non-government Centre for Human 

Rights activists routinely face problems in gaining access to the courtroom, he 
said, because many judges demand that they obtain written permission to do so. 

Khalikov said too many trials also blatantly disregarded the presumption of 

Assuming the post of ombudsman comes into being, the question is whether it 
will bring about any improvement.

The head of the opposition Communist Party, Shodi Shabdolov, welcomed the move, 
saying it would bring Tajikistan into line with other countries that already 
have such an institution and would strengthen democracy and the rule of law. 

Supreme Court judge Yusuf Salimov is equally enthusiastic, saying, “Although 
civic organisations already monitor human rights violations, we need a 
state-level structure that can speak to the UN on equal terms.”

But while there is general enthusiasm in Tajikistan about the new institution, 
experts are uncertain about whether the principle of independence will work in 
this country. Some analysts fear the ombudsman is only being set up to create a 
façade of democracy and legitimacy.

Shokirjon Hakimov, deputy head of the opposition Social Democratic party and a 
lawyer by profession, said he suspected the government would nominate one of 
its own to the post, so that the ombudsman lacked any independence, as is the 
case on some of Tajikistan’s Central Asian neighbours.

Hakimov said the OSCE and other international organisations had proposed this 
idea ten years ago, but the parliament and government declined it at the time. 

“This institution will only be of value to Tajikistan if it proves to be 
effective in influencing decisions made by the authorities, especially in the 
area of human rights,” said Hakimov.

Political analyst Rashid Abdullo was similarly cautious about the prospects for 
the ombudsman proving successful.

“It would be unrealistic to think [the institution] will immediately become as 
effective as it is in the developed countries or that it will carry as much 
weight in society,” he said.

Other experts agreed that genuine independence was the main precondition for 
the ombudsman becoming an effective force.

“I welcome the establishment of this institution and hope Tajikistan will adopt 
the structure of the ombudsman institution as applied in western countries,” 
said Rahmatullo Valiev, deputy head of the Democratic Party, another opposition 

“But if the government controls it, it will just become another unnecessary 
body that is of no use to anyone,” he told IWPR.

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