WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 555, 11 November, 2008
KYRGYZ MULL RISKS OF RUSSIAN GAS DEAL Russian takeover of Kyrgyz gas monopoly
may give Moscow political leverage, but some analysts say beggars can't be
choosers. By Chinara Karimova in Bishkek
TURKMEN REGENERATION PROJECT SPARKS NEW WAVE OF DEMOLITIONS Residents evicted
from their homes to make way for urban modernisation say they have nowhere else
to live. By IWPR staff in Central Asia
TAJIK MEDIA ACTIVISTS PRESS FOR LIBEL LAW CHANGE First attempt to have libel
provisions seen as curb on free speech struck out of the criminal code. By
Manija Safarova in Dushanbe
**** IWPR RESOURCES
2008 WINNERS OF THE KURT SCHORK AWARDS ANNOUNCED: http://iwpr.net/kurtschork
CENTRAL ASIA PROGRAMME HOME: http://iwpr.net/centralasia
IWPR COMMENT: http://iwpr.net/comment
SAHAR JOURNALISTS ASSISTANCE FUND: http://iwpr.net/sahar
REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA RSS: http://www.iwpr.net/en/rca/rss.xml
RECEIVE FROM IWPR: Readers are urged to subscribe to IWPR's full range of free
electronic publications at: http://iwpr.net/subscribe
GIVE TO IWPR: IWPR is wholly dependent upon grants and donations. For more
information about how you can support IWPR go to: http://iwpr.net/donate
KYRGYZ MULL RISKS OF RUSSIAN GAS DEAL
Russian takeover of Kyrgyz gas monopoly may give Moscow political leverage, but
some analysts say beggars can't be choosers.
By Chinara Karimova in Bishkek
Plans to sell Kyrgyzstans national gas company to Russian energy giant Gazprom
have left some analysts concerned about the risks of allowing Moscow to
dominate the energy market.
Others, however, argue that cash-strapped Kyrgyzstan has few other options, and
the Russian heavyweight may bring much-needed stability and investment to the
local gas industry.
The Russian ambassador in Bishkek, Valentin Vlasov, gave a press conference on
November 6 to brief local journalists on progress in finalising the sale of
Kyrgyzgaz, a deal which he described as a breakthrough.
A memorandum of understanding signed on October 9 by Gazprom and the Kyrgyz
ministry for industry and energy envisages the sale of 75 per cent plus one
share in Kyrgyzgaz.
A three-month period has been set aside to finalise the terms of the deal, for
instance the price Gazprom will pay.
The document was signed during a visit to Bishkek by Russian president Dmitry
Medvedev. The Russian state owns a controlling stake in Gazprom, which is not
only the worlds largest producer of natural gas but also has extensive
interests in related areas for example, a retail network of petrol stations
Kyrgyzgas is a distribution and retail monopoly, and also controls the modest
amount of gas production which provides just two per cent of Kyrgyzstans gas
needs. As part of the acquisition, Gazprom has promised to conduct exploration
and boost production in the country. It acquired licenses to explore for gas in
Kyrgyzstan earlier this year.
As discussions on the fine detail of the deal continue, some observers in
Kyrgyzstan have protested that it is a sell-out that will make their country a
political vassal of the Kremlin.
Given that Gazprom is a state organisation, we [Kyrgyzstan] are automatically
going to become dependent on the Russian government, warned Bishkek-based
political analyst Valentin Bogatyrev.
Noting that the Russian firm is already a major player in the Kyrgyz fuel
retail market through its subsidiary GazpromNeftAsia, Bogatyrev argues that
from the national security perspective, it would have been better to select a
truly private company to buy Kyrgyzgas.
Energy expert Raimbek Mamyrov agrees that the Gazprom bid reflects Russias
desire to build up its presence in the Central Asian energy sector, as shown by
other acquisitions and deals it has made in the region.
Mamyrov is, however, less alarmed about what Russias regional ambitions might
mean for Kyrgyzstan. Unlike Kazakstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the Kyrgyz
do not have significant oil and gas reserves and have always been reliant on
imports, so Gazproms entry to the market simply provides them with a major new
source of gas.
Other observers agree that the presence of quasi-state Russian companies like
Gazprom could bring Kyrgyzstan real benefits, political as well as economic.
In particular, they note that the availability of Russian gas could undercut
the position of Uzbekistan, which is currently Kyrgyzstans main source of gas
and which has in the past reduced supplies during periods of political tension
between the two states.
Mars Sariev, a local political analyst, argues that one immediate result of the
Russian-Kyrgyz memorandum was that Uzbekistan promised that the supply of gas
would not be interrupted over the coming winter.
The fact is that [Russian president] Medvedev promised to provide gas to
Kyrgyzstan, and it was only then that Uzbekistan expressed a desire to increase
gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan, said Sariev. A competitor had emerged, and
Uzbekistan realised this instantaneously. Prior to this, Uzbekistan used to
behave however it pleased on the gas issue.
Azarbay Mambetov, who heads the Association of Oil Traders of Kyrgyzstan, says
Gazprom is already playing a beneficial role in another market petrol and
Until recently, Kyrgyzstan was dependent on petroleum products from its
neighbour Kazakstan, a major oil producer. But deliveries could become erratic
when Kazakstan was experiencing a spike in domestic demand. Every time the
harvesting season grew imminent, Kazakstan used to ban exports of oil
[products], or else impose quotas, said Mambetov.
These days, says Mambetov, the emergence of GazPromNeftAsias fuel retail
network has stabilised the situation.
Another reason why Mambetov favours a Gazprom take-over is that the national
gas firm is in a dire financial situation.
For several years now, Kyrgyzgas has been in a state of bankruptcy and up to
its neck in debt. It owes 20 million dollars to Kazakstan alone, he said. It
can only be beneficial for our economy if the company is bought out by the
world-class Gazprom when its going through such a difficult time.
Chinara Karimova is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan.
TURKMEN REGENERATION PROJECT SPARKS NEW WAVE OF DEMOLITIONS
Residents evicted from their homes to make way for urban modernisation say they
have nowhere else to live.
By IWPR staff in Central Asia
Grandiose public works were the most visible feature of the late Turkmen
president Saparmurat Niazovs rule, during which the capital Ashgabat underwent
a complete makeover and oversized gold-trimmed palaces, monuments and other
objects sprang up everywhere.
Since Niazovs death in December 2007, his successor Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov
has made it clear he wants to reverse some of the more damaging policies of the
He has restored pension rights to the many people who were arbitrarily deprived
of them; he has increased the period of school education to ten years again,
after Niazov lopped off a year; and he has allowed the opera banned as
un-Turkmen to reopen. Finally, his administration has begun to edge out the
Ruhnama, a text by Niazov which was accorded near-sacred status and made
mandatory reading in schools and the workplace.
Against this background, there were reasonable expectations that
Berdymuhammedov would also scale back the massive expenditure of public money
on white-elephant projects. Apparently not.
The government is awarding new contracts to French and Turkish firms Niazovs
favourites on almost a weekly basis, and demolition squads are once again
hard at work tearing down homes in Ashgabat to make way for new developments.
The pace of demolitions has stepped up since June, when Berdymuhammedov
approved plans to redevelop the capital into a modern city, with commercial
areas, luxury housing, and new schools, kindergartens, sports complexes,
leisure centres and fountains.
That involves clearing away whole areas of the city. According to a government
official who did not want to be named, Implementing these ideas requires a lot
of space, so unattractive-looking buildings have to be torn down mercilessly.
Eviction orders are served at short notice with no opportunity to appeal.
Residents whose homes are condemned are not being offered adequate replacement
housing or compensation. Many face the prospect of spending the winter months
and quite probably longer in temporary accommodation.
We had a visit from the local administration, who told us we had ten days to
move out, said the owner of a house in Khudaiberdyeva Street, where demolition
has already started. I asked them for the address of a place we could move to
but they replied that I could go wherever I wanted, but that there was no
apartment for us at the moment.
Evictions are carried out with little sensitivity.
When workers arrived to tear down houses in Ostrovsky street recently, they
were backed up by the security forces. One resident said, The demolition took
place in the presence of police and solders, who took away building materials
and bathroom items to sell; they didnt even let us keep the door handles that
wed fitted recently.
Speaking of the terrible stress the incident caused to her family, the woman
said her father suffered a stroke and had to be taken to hospital.
The government official interviewed for this report said those evicted were
entitled to receive comparable accommodation in return, under their
constitutional rights to housing and assistance from the state.
However, residents say that even when they are offered an alternative place to
live, it is inadequate.
They destroyed my big house with a garden in the centre of Ashgabat, said one
elderly man. In exchange, they offered us a small one-bedroom apartment in the
suburbs, where there was not enough space for my large family.
The man then wrote letters of complaint to Turkmenistans president, chief
prosecutor and Supreme Court, and as a result the family was awarded a house
with some land in Enev, a settlement outside the capital.
But now he has been told that this house, too, is scheduled for demolition.
They say we should go and live with our relatives, or rent a flat. We dont
know where we can go with winter approaching, he said.
These cases are not isolated exceptions. A staff member at an urban planning
institute in Ashgabat said he could not recall a single case where an evicted
resident had been offered adequate replacement housing.
There should be no shortage of housing, as the new buildings being put up as
part of the urban regeneration programme include apartment blocks. But as the
institute employee noted, this is luxury housing that the authorities plan to
sell for high prices, putting it beyond the reach of the average citizen.
Another complication that reduces peoples chances of getting compensation
comes when their documentation is not fully in order. They own their homes, but
they have not gone through all the registration procedures.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, public sector workers were given an
opportunity to acquire homes that their state employers had rented to them.
An official from an Ashgabat housing committee explained that these people did
have legal ownership, but had failed to put their names down on the housing
register, a document used by the authorities to keep track of who lives where.
That can jeopardise their changes of being offered accommodation, said the
One local resident said he feared he might not be offered any new housing.
Our house was demolished last year, and local authorities offered us a
temporary accommodation in an empty school, he said. But now out it turns out
that the documentation for the house that was demolished didnt go through the
correct procedures, and Im afraid we wont be given anything.
An Ashgabat based lawyer said his office had received numerous requests for
assistance with compensation claims.
He said many of them wanted to take their complaints to international
organisations but he advised them against doing so, as it would only make the
Instead, the lawyer said, the most effective way of resolving issues was
through the traditional method of bribing officials.
We tell them to negotiate with the local authorities and pay a bribe in order
to get a house in a decent part of the city, he said.
(The names of interviewees have been withheld out of concerns for changed for
TAJIK MEDIA ACTIVISTS PRESS FOR LIBEL LAW CHANGE
First attempt to have libel provisions seen as curb on free speech struck out
of the criminal code.
By Manija Safarova in Dushanbe
Media rights activists in Tajikistan have launched a campaign to remove libel
from the criminal law statutes, so that future court cases would only be
conducted through the civil courts.
A conference on libel issues attended by media rights activists, journalists
and lawyers, held in Dushanbe on October 9-10, marked the first serious attempt
by civil society groups to push for change in the legislation.
Participants in the gathering, which was backed by the United Nations, the OSCE
and the media development organisation Internews, agreed a statement urging
Tajikistans government and parliament to abolish criminal law provisions
relating to libel, leaving the existing civil legislation on defamation in
Like other former Soviet republics, Tajikistan continues to list defamation as
an offence under criminal law as well as making it actionable under the civil
code, meaning that anyone found guilty can face up to two years in jail or a
fine of up to 17,000 US dollars, a large amount in this impoverished country.
There are two relevant articles in the Criminal Code Article 135, where
information maliciously spread about a person is false, and Article 136 which
covers insults that offend personal dignity.
Advocates for change say these provisions are routinely used to restrict
freedom of speech.
They are also calling for the abolition of separate provisions that deal more
seriously with libellous statements made against top officials. Under Article
137, a person convicted of libelling the Tajik president in the media can face
five years in prison or a fine, while anyone who insults a government officials
in a public manner could find themselves paying a fine of 34,000 dollars or
spending two years in jail.
Media rights activists argue that everyone is equal before the law so officials
do not need separate protections.
Anti-defamation legislation was toughened last year by expanding the definition
of media outlets liable to prosecution to include internet publications.
Journalists fear to write the truth because
articles in the criminal code are
used to shut them up, said Khurshed Atovulloev, chief editor of the newspaper
Atovulloev said that the current criminal legislation does not provide lack
clear definitions for terms such as libel, slander and false information. That
gives a lot of leeway for interpreting statements as defamatory.
In the last three years, there have been eight prosecutions for libel in
Tajikistan, the majority relating to government officials.
In August, a criminal libel case was opened against Tursunali Aliev, a veteran
journalist from northern Tajikistan, in relation to an article published in a
magazine . Commenting on this, the National Association of Independent Media of
Tajikistan said legal experts viewed it as a case of deliberate persecution
by local police acting on behalf of certain senior officials and designed to
Late the same month, Jumaboy Tolibov director of the Zarafshan Times newspaper
got into trouble after a report on a traffic accident in which he alleged that
jewellery and other valuables belonging to some of the 15 dead went missing
during the police investigation. He was charged with insulting a policeman.
Mohira Sadulloeva, who chairs the Lawyers Board for Sogd region, in northern
Tajikistan, says the continued existence of criminal legislation on libel
tarnishes the countrys image in the international community.
She recalled that in 2005, the United Nations human rights commission urged
the Tajik authorities to remove the criminal code article relating to libel of
the president. In 2010, the government is scheduled to will have reminded that
in 2010 Tajikistan is scheduled to report back to the UN commission on the
actions it has taken in response to these recommendations.
The fact that national legislation has not been changed to meet international
standards over the last three years [since the 2005 recommendations] is very
telling, added Sadulloeva.
The place of public criticism in the media remains contentious in Tajikistan,
in part as a legacy of the 1992-97 civil war. During the years of conflict, the
government and the armed opposition used their respective media outlets to
attack one another. Journalists began to be seen as fair game, and more than 70
were killed over this period.
The medias role in the conflict has made some people cautious about relaxing
the strictures on what can and cannot be said publicly.
Lawyer Mashhur Gaziev thinks it is no bad thing that disputes are resolved
through the courts these days instead of by less civilised means, although he
accepts that cases are often brought against journalists based on one persons
arbitrary interpretation of libel.
Abdumannon Kholikov, a member of the Tajik parliament, is among those who
believe some unprofessional journalists use information that is false and
slanderous and thus injurious.
As a judge sitting on the Supreme Court, Irina Kabilova agrees that the reason
journalists fall foul of the law is lack of professional standards.
In addition, when too much attention is paid to the interests of journalists
and not enough to the rights of plaintiffs in libel cases, the debate on the
issue becomes one-dimensional.
For the moment, said Kabilova, it is too early to consider lifting the criminal
law provisions on libel.
As the debate continues, Saymiddin Dustov, chief editor of the weekly Nigoh,
comments that attempts to control the flow of media are in any case doomed to
failure, as people in Tajikistan have so much access to external media they
watch television channels beamed from Moscow and look at Russian websites.
In that context, said Dustov, it is important for the Tajik authorities to
realise that they need to nurture rather than curb the domestic media.
We wont get anywhere with the authorities on this [libel] issue until we make
them see that they are our authorities and that they cant operate without us,
Manija Safarova is an IWPR contributor in Dushanbe.
REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique
insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists,
the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly
The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek,
Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better
local and international understanding of the region.
IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund. The
service is published online in English and Russian.
The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the authors and
do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR.
REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing Editor: Yigal
Chazan; Senior Editor: John MacLeod; Editor: Caroline Tosh; Central Asia
Editor: Saule Mukhametrakhimova; Programme Director: Kumar Bekbolotov.
IWPR PROJECT DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT: Executive Director: Anthony Borden;
Strategy & Assessment Director: Alan Davis; Chief Programme Officer: Mike Day.
IWPR is an international network of four organisations which are governed by
boards of senior journalists, peace-building experts, regional specialists and
IWPR builds democracy at the frontlines of conflict and change through the
power of professional journalism. IWPR programmes provide intensive hands-on
training, extensive reporting and publishing, and ambitious initiatives to
build the capacity of local media. Supporting peace-building, development and
the rule of law, IWPR gives responsible local media a voice.
IWPR - Africa, P.O. Box 3317, Johannesburg 2121
Tel: +2 711 268 6077
IWPR - Europe, 48 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, UK
Tel: +44 20 7831 1030
IWPR United States, 1616 H. Street, Washington, DC 20006, United States
Tel: +1 202 449 7663
Stichting IWPR Nederland, Eisenhowerlaan 77 K, 2517 KK Den Haag, The Netherlands
Tel: +31 70 338 9016
For further details on this project and other information services and media
programmes, go to: www.iwpr.net
ISSN: 1477-7924 Copyright © 2008 The Institute for War & Peace Reporting
If you wish to change your subscription details or unsubscribe please go to: