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 

from their homes to make way for urban modernisation say they have nowhere else 
to live.  By IWPR staff in Central Asia 

provisions seen as curb on free speech struck out of the criminal code.  By 
Manija Safarova in Dushanbe 


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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 Kyrgyzstan’s 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 world’s largest producer of natural gas but also has extensive 
interests in related areas – for example, a retail network of petrol stations 
in Kyrgyzstan. 

Kyrgyzgas is a distribution and retail monopoly, and also controls the modest 
amount of gas production which provides just two per cent of Kyrgyzstan’s 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 Russia’s 
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 Russia’s 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 Gazprom’s 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 Kyrgyzstan’s 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 
other fuels. 

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 GazPromNeftAsia’s 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 it’s going through such a difficult time.” 

Chinara Karimova is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan.


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 Niazov’s rule, during which the capital Ashgabat underwent 
a complete makeover and oversized gold-trimmed palaces, monuments and other 
objects sprang up everywhere. 

Since Niazov’s death in December 2007, his successor Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov 
has made it clear he wants to reverse some of the more damaging policies of the 
last decade. 

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 – Niazov’s 
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 didn’t even let us keep the door handles that 
we’d 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 Turkmenistan’s 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 don’t 
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 people’s 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 didn’t go through the 
correct procedures, and I’m afraid we won’t 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 
authorities angry.

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 
their safety.)


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 
Tajikistan’s 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 
intimidate journalists. 

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 country’s 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 media’s 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 person’s 
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 won’t get anywhere with the authorities on this [libel] issue until we make 
them see that they are our authorities and that they can’t operate without us,” 
he said. 

Manija Safarova is an IWPR contributor in Dushanbe.

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