KYRGYZ LEADER “GUILTY” OF AKSY KILLINGS  Past and present heads of state blamed 
for 2002 bloodshed which refuses to go away as a political issue.  By Abdumomun 
Mamaraimov in Karajygach

cutting corners when it comes to safety standards – and workers are suffering 
more accidents as a result.  By Natalya Napolskaya in Almaty

awards to encourage families to have more children.  By IWPR staff in Central 

TAJIKS DISPUTE BENEFITS OF HUNTING  Scientists warn that many species are under 
threat, as local communities have no stake in face extinction as a result of 
poorly regulated hunts and poachers.  By Nafisa Pisarejeva in Dushanbe

TAJIKS WITH HIV/AIDS SUFFER IN SILENCE  Only when Tajikistan breaks down the 
walls of silence and prejudice surrounding HIV/AIDS can it hope to slow 
infection rates.  By Jamila Majidova in Dushanbe


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Past and present heads of state blamed for 2002 bloodshed which refuses to go 
away as a political issue.

By Abdumomun Mamaraimov in Karajygach

A self-styled “people’s court”, acting in the name of the people of the Aksy 
district of southern Kyrgyzstan, has pronounced the country’s current and 
previous presidents guilty of a massacre that occurred six years ago.

Discontented with the scant results of official probes into the events of March 
2002, when six people died after troops opened fire on a crowd of 
demonstrators, Aksy residents convened their own unofficial tribunal, which 
declared that President Kurmanbek Bakiev and his predecessor Askar Akaev were 
both to blame.

The open-air “trial” took place on March 17 – six years to the day from the 
shootings - in Karajygach, a mountain village in the Aksy district of the 
southern Jalalabad region. 

The village lies not far from the place where police opened fire on a crowd of 
about 10,000 people, who were protesting against the arrest of their local 
member of parliament, Azimbek Beknazarov.

After armed police moved in to stop the protest, protesters threw stones, and 
government forces responded with live fire. Four people died on the spot, a 
fifth died later of his injuries, and a sixth was killed the following day. 

Kyrgyzstan was unused to this kind of bloodshed, and the fact that the violence 
was apparently authorised by government sparked a series of massive 
demonstrations throughout 2002. 

The sense of anger was increased by the Akaev government’s unresponsiveness. No 
ministers stepped down, the investigation ground to a halt, and the only 
punishments meted out - two prosecutors and two senior policemen convicted by 
court martial in December 2002 – were quashed the following May.

Akaev was ousted by a wave of protests in March 2005, and the new 
administration led by President Bakiev promised to reopen the Aksy 

Beknazarov was appointed chief prosecutor and launched formal investigations – 
but he was dismissed in September 2005. In June 2006, Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme 
Court effectively drew a line under the case by saying there was no need to 
review the cases of the four officials originally convicted.

For Aksy residents, however, the demand for justice has never gone away. About 
500 of them selected a 16-member panel to serve as judges in the March 17 

Organisers of the event included Topchubek Turgunaliev, leader of the 
opposition Erkindik party, and Dooronbek Sadyrbaev, the oldest member of 

They said two-thirds of the judges had some legal background, and were chosen 
to represent various regions of Kyrgyzstan. Edil Kerimkulov, who runs a private 
law firm, was chosen to preside over the panel.

Before a circle of Aksy residents, three “prosecutors” brought evidence against 
serving and past government officials, including Bakiev. Before joining the 
opposition forces that toppled Akaev, he had served as Kyrgyz prime minister, a 
post he held at the time of the Aksy shootings. 

Unsurprisingly, all but one of the individuals accused of masterminding or 
sanctioning the bloodshed failed to make an appearance. 

After eyewitnesses and experts, including Beknazarov, had given evidence, the 
“people’s court” found a total of 41 officials guilty.

In addition to Akaev and Bakiev, they included officials from the prosecutor’s 
office, the police and the judiciary. The then heads of state radio and 
television and the editors of two government newspapers were deemed to have 
exacerbated the situation through biased coverage of events in Aksy. 

The former governor of Jalalabad region, Sultan Urmanaev, was acquitted in 
recognition of the fact that he attended the tribunal in person and admitted 
“some responsibility”. 

Relatives of the people killed six years ago came to give testimony on what 
happened that day.

Some claimed the protesters were shot dead by marksmen using sniper rifles, 
rather than rank-and-file policemen.

Lawyer Sartbay Jalchybekov, acting as one of the three prosecutors, said the 
local police had been issued with 29 firearms. “But the rifles shot mainly into 
the air, whereas the people were killed by sniper fire,” he said.

Local people are particularly disappointed with President Bakiev’s failure to 
live up to his pledges to find and punish those behind the killings. 

Beknazarov told the tribunal that in his time as chief prosecutor, he uncovered 
evidence that in his capacity as prime minister, Bakiev authorised the use of 
weapons against the protesters.

“When I realised that Bakiev himself was implicated, I asked him to testify, 
Later, when I realised he wasn’t going to do that, I resigned.” he said. “I 
accept that I did not finish [the investigation] in the three months that I was 
prosecutor general. But Bakiev has not done that in three years as president.” 

Government officials have dismissed the Aksy trial, with Justice Minister Marat 
Kayipov, for example, reminding the press that the forum enjoyed no legal 
standing whatsoever.

However, opposition politician Turganaliev justified holding the event on the 
grounds that obtaining justice through normal channels had proved impossible.

“Today, 99.9 per cent of the power resides with a president who is guilty of 
these events,” Turgunaliev told the tribunal. “Therefore, under the current 
government it is impossible to obtain justice on this matter.”

Ayjigit Beyshebaev, son of Satimbay Urkunbaev, one of the protesters who were 
shot dead, told IWPR he no longer placed any faith in official probes.

“Let this government leave the case alone,” he said. “It isn’t capable of 
conducting an objective investigation. We have to hope this will be done by a 
new government one day.”

Apart from the court hearings, the event also served as a focus for remembering 
the dead. 

Before the trial got under way, a service of commemoration took place near a 
monument erected in memory of the dead demonstrators. Local officials including 
current Jalalabad governor Koshbay Masirov and senior police officers attended 
the prayers.

Abdumomun Mamaraimov is an IWPR contributor in Jalalabad.


Construction companies are cutting corners when it comes to safety standards – 
and workers are suffering more accidents as a result.

By Natalya Napolskaya in Almaty

Marat no longer dreams of making a decent living for his poor family. 

After coming to the Kazak capital Astana to find a job, he started working for 
a company handling a number of large construction projects.

But Marat’s plans ended in catastrophe. After a pile of earth was dropped on 
top of him by mistake, he was left badly injured, suffering severe trauma to 
the spinal cord. 

One-and-a-half years on, virtually paralysed, the young man lives with his 
mother in a small wagon on the outskirts of the city. 

A commission ruled that his employer was responsible for his injuries, but 
because he was not covered by an insurance policy, he is not eligible for 
continuing support and his long-term prospects look dim.

“They helped me get treatment,” Marat said of the building firm. “But my period 
of treatment as an in-patient in hospital is over and I still need a lot more 

“Clinics won’t admit me because I’m not eligible for free treatment, since the 
injury was inflicted by a private company. And all the money that I and my 
mother saved has now gone.”

Marat’s story is typical of many construction workers in Kazakstan who are 
facing a life of disablement with no health insurance to fall back on. 

An increase in the number of workers killed or injured on construction sites in 
Kazakstan is being blamed on companies flouting safety standards in the rush to 
put up buildings. 

Experts say the building boom that has enveloped Kazakstan in recent years has 
encouraged firms to use unsafe or old equipment and hire people with no skills 
or experience. 

Official figures show that within the last six months, 12 workers died and more 
than 70 were injured on construction sites in Astana alone. In Kazakstan as a 
whole, 133 construction workers died and 633 received injuries last year. The 
dead accounted for nearly a third of the 414 people killed in work-related 

Oleg Sidorov, an Almaty-based commentator, highlights two main reasons for the 
problem – corruption and a culture of negligence on the part of construction 

“It is hard to get permission to use low-quality construction equipment but if 
you have enough money, you can get all the official stamps and signatures you 
need to circumvent the law,” he explained.

Sidorov said that in their attempts to cut their wage bills, construction 
companies routinely hire illegal workers, many of them unskilled labourers from 
outside Kazakstan. They get paid less than the going rate, and receive no 
employment benefits or health insurance. 

“If they take on a construction worker who has recently come from Tajikistan 
and who’s never even heard about safety measures, the risks to his life and 
health increase accordingly,” Sidorov noted. 

Murat Shynybaev has been working in the construction industry for many years. 
As chief engineer at the Arsenal factory, he says he is well aware that the 
responsibility for the safety of his staff lies squarely on his shoulders. 

“Our boys do one of the most dangerous jobs in the construction business, which 
is erecting steel structures,” Shynbaev said. “We observe all the construction 
regulations and standards. You can’t take shortcuts with the lives of your 
workers – they’re not bits of iron you can replace if they break.”

Not everyone is so conscientious. The owner of one small construction company 
told IWPR it was just too expensive to follow all the safety regulations. 

“To observe all the rules, my company would have to pay a pretty penny,” said 
this businessman, who did not want to be named. “It’s expensive to hire safety 
experts, and it’s also much cheaper to use construction equipment that has 
passed its use-by date rather than buy new stuff.” 

Alexandr Klimov, head of the industrial safety department for Almaty, 
Kazakstan’s second city and commercial capital, says that over the last decade, 
training for builders and engineers has been neglected, and this has led to 
many avoidable accidents.

“We even see it in our own organisation, so you can guess what the building 
sites are like,” he said. “We get fine young lads coming to work for us, but 
they’re not trained workers and they’ve no experience in the industry. But we 
take them anyway because we can’t get the specialists.” 

Klimov said it was not the machinery that was dangerous so much as the human 
factor – too many workers lacked the skills to operate the equipment. 

According to the government department for labour and welfare, everyone who is 
injured is entitled to compensation. It is also mandatory for workers to be 
insured against accidents. 

Oleg Karabut, head of the department, says construction companies should have 
no interest in concealing in the workplace accidents, as they are obliged by 
law to insure all their workers, and the insurance companies will pay for 
medical treatment. 

“Insurance is obligatory and that means when people are incapacitated through 
injury, they get paid, and if they die, their dependents will be paid,” Karabut 

But of course this does not apply to the almost countless illegal workers 
employed on sites throughout Kazakstan. Few of them are aware that their 
employers are supposed to insure them against accidents. 

Some businesses find it works out cheaper just to pay fines for not insuring 
their workers than to register their staff with insurance companies.

One businessman in the construction industry claimed he was unaware he was 
required to insure his workers. 

“I didn’t know this was mandatory in our country,” he said. “The government 
should give us more information about it.” 

Natalya Napolskaya is an IWPR-trained journalist in Almaty.


It will take more than special awards to encourage families to have more 

By IWPR staff in Central Asia

Alarmed at falling birth rates, officials in Turkmenistan are putting new 
measures to encourage people to have more children. Analysts say the government 
needs to focus on basic healthcare and welfare provision if it is to stem the 
population decline.

On March 5, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov launched a new award called 
“Ene Mahri” or “Mother’s Tenderness”, to be awarded to women who give birth to 
and raise eight or more children.

The award is reminiscent of similar titles conferred on mothers with many 
children in the Soviet era, and comes with similar fringe benefits – free 
utilities and public transport, for example.

The authorities simultaneously announced they were drafting a new law to offer 
greater benefits to mothers in general. It is not, however, clear what these 
will consist of.

One senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said action 
was being taken to reverse demographic trends that were “catastrophic”.

“In recent years, there’s been a significant drop in the birthrate, and that’s 
plain even to the casual observer,” said the official.

Accurate recent statistics on birthrates are hard to come by in this secretive 
and authoritarian state. In 2003, the national statistics agency reported that 
the population had reached 6.2 million, an increase of 5.2 per cent on the 
previous year. 

But independent observers have cast doubt on those figures. Research published 
in 2006 on the opposition website tm-iskra.org suggested that the country was 
undergoing depopulation, in that more people were dying than being born. 

The study attributed this to the low level of state welfare provision for 
mothers and children, and problems in accessing healthcare services. 

Interviews suggest that the fees and bribes that have to be paid to get medical 
treatment do seem to be a disincentive to young families raising children. 

One young woman from Dashoguz in northern Turkmenistan said she had been forced 
to pay the equivalent of 300 US dollars to get a qualified doctor to assist her 
in childbirth. She was sent home from hospital the very next day and received 
no postnatal treatment. 

“I am not going to have any more children,” she concluded.

Health ministry officials, speaking off the record, admit that corruption is 

One official told IWPR that many obstetricians tried to persuade pregnant women 
to have caesarian sections, simply because the operation is expensive and they 
earn more money that way.

“The price of services in maternity hospitals will continue to grow, since life 
is expensive and doctors want to earn money,” she said.

Another health official told IWPR the government could usefully restore the old 
network of rural midwives, who used to provide services free of charge. The 
midwife centres were closed in 2003 on the orders of Berdymuhammedov’s 
predecessor as president, the authoritarian Saparmurat Niazov.

Since then, many women in rural areas have delivered babies at home, increasing 
the risk to both mother and child. 

Even prior to the abolition of midwives, World Health Organisation data for 
2002 indicated that 55 out of 1,000 children in Turkmenistan dies before the 
age of five. This is one of the worst rates in the entire Asia-Pacific region, 
exceeded only by Burma, Cambodia and Afghanistan.

Annagul, who lives in the capital Ashgabat and has several children, says the 
government needs to ensure medical services for women in childbirth are free in 
practice as well as in theory. It should also, she says, increase benefits for 
pregnant mothers and grant them a monthly allowance for the period when their 
children are young.

She feels unrewarded for “staying at home and raising future citizens of the 

“We eat poorly - soup in the day, while in the evening we have bread with jam 
from the apples growing near our house,” she said. 

In Annagul’s opinion, if the authorities want the next generation to be 
healthy, they need to take drastic measures to increase the birth rate and stop 
talking about benefits that do not exist in reality.

Under the current legal code on welfare dating from July 2007, mothers are 
entitled to a monthly allowance of 250,000 manats (48 dollars at the official 
exchange rate) until children reach adulthood and a one-off payment of 500,000 
manats after the birth of their first and second child. A third child merits a 
one-off payment of one million mantas, with two million for the fourth.

Several women who had received these benefits said they did not cover much 
beyond the basic expenses incurred by having children, and did not compensate 
for the loss of their wages while they were off work.

Moreover, most of those interviewed said they had not even received the 
maternity benefits due them, and had not heard that they were entitled to a 
monthly allowance until their children were adults.

It is not just mothers, of course, who complain of the expense of maintaining a 

One 32-year-old unemployed man from Tejen, a small town in southeastern 
Turkmenistan, said it was too costly to have children these days. 

“How can you have children now?” he asked. “Schools, books, all of it costs a 
lot. Every day we have the problem of how to feed them.” 

Tajigul Begmedova, chair of the Bulgaria-based Turkmen Helsinki Fund for Human 
Rights, said turning around the demographics would be difficult given the lack 
of reliable statistics. 

Even government officials do not have sensible information about the price of 
an average consumer basket, living standards and inflation.

“Sources in the Ministry of Social Security told us that when the new law [on 
maternity support] was being drafted, they ran into difficulties because they 
were unable to calculate the scale and scope of the various benefits that are 
going to be offered,” said Begmedova. 

Annadurdy Khajiev, an independent economic analyst in the diaspora, said the 
authorities needed to develop a wide-ranging programme to boost the birth rate. 

First, he said, the government should conduct an accurate census, drafting in 
foreign specialists to help, and then it would be in a position to assess the 
scale of emigration and of mortality and birth rates.

Mothers and children needed to be guaranteed priority access to health care 
benefits, and the government needed to unveil a package to help the mothers of 
large families and also single mothers, including free meals for schoolchildren.

These and other benefits would cost a fair amount, but Khajiev insisted that 
“they are well within reach for a country that is one of the world’s leading 
[natural gas] exporters”.


Scientists warn that many species are under threat, as local communities have 
no stake in face extinction as a result of poorly regulated hunts and poachers.

By Nafisa Pisarejeva in Dushanbe

Ecologists in Tajikistan are warning that some wild animal species are under 
threat because local communities do not benefit from legal hunting and are 
forced by poverty to engage in poaching. 

Scientists presented a set of grim findings to a meeting on biodiversity and 
the effects of hunting, held in the Tajik capital Dushanbe in early March The 
meeting was organised jointly by Volunteers for Nature Preservation, a local 
non-government group, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Snow Leopard Trust, 
which lobbies on behalf of this highly endangered big cat.

Tajikistan is an important country in terms of wildlife diversity, with over 90 
per cent of its territory covered by great mountain ranges where some peaks 
tower over 7,000 metres. The diversity of the natural environment has allowed 
many rare species to survive here.

Tajik scientists warn that many species have declined both in range and numbers 
in recent decades. At least 160 animal species are now under threat, in a 
country where tigers and local species of marmot and sturgeon have disappeared 
within the last 50 years.

This year brought another blow - an abnormally cold and long winter that froze 
rivers and open stretches of water, killing rare cormorants, ducks, otters and 
jungle cats in national parks.

Given the deteriorating habitat, scientists are voicing concern about the 
devastating effects of poaching, and complain that local communities have been 
given no stake in wildlife survival as they see none of the income the country 
earns from authorised hunting.

Some fear the scale of commercial hunting is far larger than the authorities 

Although the hunting industry is in theory subject to tight government 
controls, one Tajik environmentalist complained that no one even knew its true 
scale, because wealthy foreigners simply bribed officials in charge of nature 
conservation, and as a result, accurate records of the number of animals killed 
were not kept.

“Often it’s the institutions that are supposed to be responsible for 
preservation that are breaking the law or turning a blind eye by taking bribes 
from local and foreign hunters,” the ecologist told IWPR. 

Tajikistan began allowing foreigners to go on big game hunts in the late 
Eighties, and the sport became more popular following independence from the 
Soviet Union in 1991. 

Hunting is regulated by law and licensed by the State Committee for 
Preservation of Environment and Agriculture. 

The revenue from the sale of hunting licenses is supposed to go to the 
government, which should then set aside ten per cent for the national nature 
fund and another 40 per cent for community development. The remaining 50 per 
cent of is supposed to pay for the upkeep of reserves and national parks, on 
wages, vehicles and equipment for the wardens, and on warding off both poachers 
and wolves, which are regarded as their four-legged equivalent. 

The license income represents the sole funding source for nature conservation 
in the main hunting areas, such as the Murghab district of Badakhshan region.

Badakhshan, a remote, high-altitude region in the southeast bordering on China 
and Afghanistan, now has several large hunting firms in operation. 

The area is home to the Pamir argali, also known as the Marco Polo sheep, which 
have been on the endangered list since the late 1980s. Hunters have long 
considered these sheep, with their superb curling horns, one of the top trophy 

Rustam Muratov, from the nature management department of the Ministry of 
Agriculture, says managed hunting helped preserve the Marco Polo sheep during 
the Nineties, when the country was ravaged by civil war. In recent years, the 
population has risen to 14,000, from 10,000 in the late Eighties.

The authorities allow a limited shoot that varies from year to year; last 
season it was 45.

Alikhon Latifi, the Tajikistan coordinator for the Bonn Convention on the 
Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, agrees that managed hunting 
helps wildlife stocks. 

Commercial companies work to preserve animals, because they have a interest in 
their survival, whereas the government’s conservation bodies are not effective 
because they are starved of funds, personnel, vehicles and fuel, he said. 

According to Latifi, if areas inhabited by other endangered animals like the 
markhor wild goat, the Bukhara deer, the urial – another sheep species – were 
made available for private hunting tours, their future would look a lot 
brighter than it does now. 

Not everyone takes such a benign view of private game hunting. 

One independent expert from Dushanbe told IWPR that hunting – at least in the 
form in which it currently exists in Tajikistan - benefited only hunting firms. 
He said local communities in the areas where hunting was allowed gained little 
or no income from the sport. 

“The revenues from the international hunts are transferred to special accounts 
but no one knows how these funds are spent,” he maintained.

While wardens, hunters and scientists argue over the merits of managed hunting, 
there is no doubt that poaching is continuing to wreak havoc with such 
endangered species as the snow leopard, now down to about 4,500 animals 
worldwide, of which perhaps 200 live in Tajikistan.

According to official statistics, poachers destroy around ten snow leopards, 
between 100 and 180 Siberian ibexes, 200 to 240 Tian Shan brown bears and 30 to 
40 markhors. 

Latifi said the official poaching figures were a gross underestimate. He cited 
surveys compiled by local residents and the staff of hunting firms in the 
Murghab region, which indicated that poachers killed up to 1,000 argali a year.

He also pointed the finger at the Tajik border guards who patrol the 
wildlife-rich mountain frontier with China and Afghanistan. “Everybody knows 
ordinary people are not allowed across the [buffer-zone] line, which is why we 
blame the border guards,” he said.

Ibrahim Bobokalonov, from the government inspectorate for flora and fauna, said 
poachers faced disciplinary actions and fines. 

But most ecologists say that even when fines are imposed, they are 
insignificant when compared with the damage done and the money that poachers 
can earn. 

Whether much can do be done to stop the poachers remains to be seen, however.

Bobokalonov is pessimistic, predicting that illegal hunting will remain 
widespread in mountain regions for the foreseeable future. Local communities 
are so poor that few people would pass up an opportunity to sell a high-value 
trophy or even just to get some free meat. 

Nafisa Pisarejeva is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan.


Only when Tajikistan breaks down the walls of silence and prejudice surrounding 
HIV/AIDS can it hope to slow infection rates. 

By Jamila Majidova in Dushanbe

Thirty-nine-year-old Vika, a junior nurse in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, shudders 
whenever she remembers the moment she had to tell her boss she was 

She needed the day off for treatment and decided to tell her employers what was 
going on. The result was worse than she could have imagined. 

“When they found out I was HIV-positive, my colleagues changed their attitude 
to me a lot,” she recalled. “I even overheard two of my colleagues saying 
people with HIV or AIDS should be rounded up and burned.” 

Vika says her medical colleagues were far more hostile than the prisoners she 
encountered in jail, where she once served a sentence for drug abuse. 

Now she volunteers as an HIV/AIDS awareness activist, but she is still wary of 
speaking openly about her disease. 

Ironically, her reluctance to talk about her status only deepened when she 
attended a workshop last year on the subject of the stigma faced by 
HIV-infected people. 

“I was shocked when I found out what most members of society really thought of 
people like me,” she said. 


Tajikistan is struggling to cope with the slow but steady spread of HIV/AIDS, 
hindered not only by the poverty of its the medical service but also by 
conservative moral attitudes which encourage shame and secrecy. 

According to recent data, there are just over 1,000 officially confirmed cases 
of HIV in Tajikistan. The disease is clearly picking up speed - 2007 saw 339 
new cases, almost eight times the number recorded in 2001. 

In six out of ten cases, the infection is spread through the use of 
contaminated needles. 

The figures may only be the tip of the iceberg, however, and many medics 
believe the real number of infected people is much higher. 

HIV infection rates are marching upwards across Central Asia, spurred on by 
poor healthcare systems, an increasingly mobile population, and rising drug use 
in a region that is a major transit route for Afghan heroin. (See HIV Shadow 
Lengthens Over South Kyrgyzstan, (RCA No. 533, 21-Feb-08.) 

One doctor working on HIV/AIDS issues in Tajikistan said the poor state of 
health records in the country meant no one could determine the exact number of 
HIV-positive people. 

“Young people are being diagnosed as dying from cancer, tuberculosis and other 
diseases but it could well be AIDS that’s to blame; no one checked their 
status,” he said. 

Pulod Jamolov knows from personal experience what it is like to live with HIV, 
and what treatment such people can expect. 

To improve the life of HIV-positive people and help them defend their rights, 
he started up a group calling itself SPIN PLUS, a community of HIV-positive 
drug addicts and people with type-C hepatitis. 

“I want to help people living with HIV and AIDS and offer them moral support,” 
he explained. 

One member of SPIN PLUS is Mumin (not his real name), who was refused treatment 
at his local addiction clinic after admitting his HIV status. 

“The clinic’s medical personnel changed their attitude and allowed me to be 
admitted to the hospital for treatment only after SPIN PLUS insisted they give 
me a written refusal,” Mumin says. 

Savsan is another beneficiary of SPIN PLUS’s lobbying, which secured her the 
hospital operation she needed, which was initially refused when doctors found 
out she was HIV-positive. 

In theory, doctors have no right to withhold treatment from people with HIV or 
AIDS. A law on HIV/AIDS says state healthcare institutions are obliged to 
provide such people with the medicines and support they need, free of charge. 

But Jamolov says these rights exist only on paper. In reality, merely to 
receive free syringe, patients must submit a health certificate specifying 
whether they are HIV-positive. 


While the commonest infection route is via shared needle use among drug users, 
experts note an increase in the number of women infected by husbands returning 
from time spent away working as labour migrants. 

The risk of transmission from husband to wife is very high, notes Amonullo 
Ghoibov, secretary of the National Coordination Committee to Prevent and Fight 
HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. 

“The mentality of the Tajik people, their culture and traditions, do not allow 
for an open discussion about sex education issues, HIV transmission routes and 
protection from infection,” said Ghoibov. 

“Many labour migrants get infected with HIV by casual sexual partners, as a 
result of their own ignorance about sexual hygiene,” he adds. 

According to experts, 40 per cent of HIV-positive people in Tajikistan are 
labour migrants, many of whom have picked up the infection working abroad. 

Matluba Rahmonova, head of Tajikistan’s National AIDS Centre, says the wives of 
these men are in a parlous condition. 

Traditional gender stereotypes and the subordinate status of women mean few of 
them get any information on sexual health and reproductive issues, let alone 
HIV prevention, she says. As a result, there is also a high rate of 
transmission from mother to child. 

“The first case of HIV infection among pregnant women was recorded only in 
2005, and now we have 28 HIV-positive pregnant women,” she said. 

Rahmonova says research carried out by the AIDS Centre at gynaecology clinics 
in Dushanbe confirms that while some of the women are drug users, a growing 
number are the wives of labour migrants. 

“Many are in shock when they find out about their HIV-positive status,” she 
continued. “Their relatives start to blame them for sins they have not 

Manija Haitova, director of the HIV/AIDS Centre for Mental Health, agrees that 
more and more woman are becoming vulnerable the infection. 

“Many get HIV from their husbands because they don’t dare to insist that their 
husbands get tested for HIV or use condoms,” she said. 

Gulbi’s story typifies how the infection is often transmitted. Her husband 
spent four years working abroad, and on one of his trips home, he passed on the 
virus to her. 

It was only by accident that she found out she was infected, when she took a 
blood test while being treated for another illness. 

Gulbi laments that if she had only known more about the disease, and about the 
ways it could be transmitted, she would have been “more demanding”. 

“I was afraid to talk about HIV/AIDS with anyone,” Gulbi recalls. “Even now, I 
don’t dare to talk about it with strangers so that people don’t condemn me. But 
I do have to reveal my status in certain places to get the medical support and 
drugs I need.” 


HIV/AIDS experts complain that the culture of secrecy surrounding the virus is 
perpetuated by negative stereotypes that are widespread in society. 

HIV infection and AIDS are commonly believed to be exclusive to drug addicts 
and people leading a sexually promiscuous lifestyle. 

This explains why HIV-positive people encounter such hostility, said Dr 

“People avoid contact with HIV-positive people, believing they can [easily] 
transmit their infection, though in fact it is easier to catch hepatitis-C,” he 

Such stigmatisation is a consequence of the low level of awareness, even among 
trained medics, about how HIV/AIDS can be transmitted. 

Haitova said ignorance about HIV in the medical system remains shockingly 
widespread, mentioning an example she heard about last year, when a young 
HIV-positive woman was refused help by her own doctor when she went into 

“She would have been entitled to bring a lawsuit against her gynaecologist,” 
said Haitova. 

“But she did not want to make her HIV status known and become an object of 
reproach, so she just went to another doctor.” 


To shed light on the various forms of discrimination experienced by 
HIV-positive people, Tajikistan’s Centre for Strategic Studies, working with 
UNAIDS, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, carried out the first national 
research on the subject in 2007. 

The results were illuminating and showed that HIV-positive children often 
suffered the worst forms of stigma. Disappointingly, the survey showed that 
prejudice against HIV-infected children was common among both doctors and 
teachers, who might have been expected to know better. 

About half of all secondary school teachers in the country believed 
HIV-positive children should not be allowed to share classes with others, while 
60 per cent of doctors would not want their own children to have any contact 
with HIV-positive children. 

More than 60 per cent of the medics in the poll did not believe HIV-positive 
staff should be allowed to work in healthcare institutions, either. 

The vast majority of clerics were against HIV-positive people holding religious 

Most of the respondents said they would not go to an HIV-positive doctor for 

Of course, not all doctors, dentists or teachers are as ill-informed as this. 

Mehrobon Sultanov, head of a dental practice in Dushanbe, said he did not 
believe his colleagues would turn away HIV-positive patients. 

“We do not have the right to discriminate against an HIV-positive person,” he 
said. “They have the same rights as everyone else. We just need to be hygienic 
and ensure the instruments are sterilised.” 

A salesman at one of the main chemists’ shops in the capital also told IWPR he 
thought it unethical to ask customers about their HIV status. 


Such attitudes are, however, still the exception rather than the norm in 

“Our society is not ready to accept HIV-positive people, and as a result they 
are exposed to a double stigma – from society and from themselves,” said Dr 
Haitova. “This stigma applies not only to sufferers but to their families, 

She continued, “Even when they know their rights, HIV-positive people often 
don’t use them because they fear revealing their status.” 

The discrimination suffered by HIV-positive people needs to be tackled through 
wide-ranging education programmes that target various sectors of society, 
experts say. 

According to Haitova, awareness-raising campaigns should “encourage people to 
break down the wall of silence and clear away the barriers to effective 
prevention and treatment for HIV/AIDS”. 

“Only by declaring war on stigma and discrimination is it going to be possible 
to work on a solution of the problems that arise because of HIV/AIDS,” she 

Jamila Majidova is an IWPR-trained journalist in Dushanbe 

HIV Shadow Lengthens Over South Kyrgyzstan.

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