WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 558, 12 December, 2008
ETHNIC UZBEKS OPT OUT OF TURKMEN POLLS Many feel alienated by election process
and do not plan to lend their votes to anyone. By IWPR staff
CONTROVERSY OVER KYRGYZ PROTEST SENTENCES Sentences of up to 20 years seen as
warning to other protesters, rather than justice. By Mirgul Akimova and Ayday
Tokonova in Bishkek, and Regina Kalpanazarova in Osh
DEATH OF KYRGYZ SUGAR INDUSTRY LEAVES BITTER TASTE Instead of exporting sugar,
Kyrgyzstan now imports it while disillusioned beet farmers switch to other
crops. By Asyl Osmonalieva in Bishkek
KAZAK FAITH GROUPS FACE CURBS New law falls below standards of a country that
will soon chair the OSCE, rights groups say. By Natalya Napolskaya in Almaty
NEW RULES TO STOP KAZAK POLICE SELLING DRUGS Confiscated drugs will now be
incinerated, although some analysts believe corrupt officers will find ways
round it. By Marik Koshabaev in Almaty
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ETHNIC UZBEKS OPT OUT OF TURKMEN POLLS
Many feel alienated by election process and do not plan to lend their votes to
By IWPR staff
Members of the sizeable ethnic Uzbek community in Turkmenistan say they will
not take part in the December 14 election since they have been given no stake
The Uzbeks are the country's second largest ethnic group after the Turkmen,
numbering perhaps 300,000 to 400,000 out of a total population of 5.2 million
and concentrated in the Dashoguz and Lebap regions, along the eastern border
Ahead of a parliamentary election which Turkmenistan's president Gurbanguly
Berdymuhamedov has said will mark a watershed on the road to a more democratic
system, the newspapers published a list of candidates who had been approved to
stand. Although Berdymuhammedov had promised voters a genuine choice and an
opportunity to nominate candidates, those selected to stand mainly represent
either the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, the only party, or institutions
affiliated to government like the women's, youth, veterans' and trade union
Public selection meetings have been held, but IWPR investigations show that
they are engineered by government. The audience is hand-picked and armed in
advance with "spontaneous" questions to ask a candidate who has in any case
been vetted and approved by the secret police. (See Turkmenistan's Silent
Election Candidates, News Briefing CentralAsia, 04-Dec-08.)
When people in Lebap and Dashoguz looked down the candidate lists for the
people who would be representing them, it dawned on them that there was not a
single Uzbek name among them.
Uzbeks might not have been expecting a real democratic choice, but were hoping
for at least a few members of parliament who would be sympathetic to their
"This is not only an outrageous violation of our rights; it is an open insult
to us," said Abdul-Aka, an elderly Uzbek from a village in Dashoguz, angrily
waving a newspaper containing the list.
"There are suitable people among the local Uzbeks who would have been able to
represent our interests in parliament, and they are no worse than this lot."
A young mother added, "We are very disappointed."
A local election official confirmed this was the case, saying, "All the
candidates are ethnic Turkmen."
Disappointment among Uzbeks runs particularly deep as they had been expecting
to see some change under Berdymuhamedov, who hinted at reforms after he came to
power last year.
Under his predecessor, Saparmurad Niazov, who died in December 2006, the Uzbeks
had a hard time and appeared to be discounted from the Turkmen nation-building
exercise. From 2003 on, he seems to have viewed them as a fifth column, as he
blamed the government of Uzbekistan of complicity in an attempt to assassinate
him. As a result, Uzbeks were gradually removed from senior positions.
The new Turkmen leader has offered hope that things might change. For example,
he and Uzbek president Islam Karimov have met and promised to improve
Earlier this year, Berdymuhammedov pushed through significant changes to the
constitution, almost doubling the number of seats in parliament to reach 125,
which suggests there is more scope for nationwide representation.
According to one local journalist, "With the adoption of the new constitution,
ethnic Uzbeks hoped that they would have some chance of nominating their
representatives to the legislature. Under the dictator [Saparmurat] Niazov,
parliament was homogeneous in its membership and consisted only of Turkmen."
Even if it were possible to hold voter meetings freely, the Uzbeks do not seem
keen to raise their heads above the parapet.
Analysts say ethnicity is one of the criteria the authorities have used to vet
A lawyer, who asked not to be named, said any candidate who was nominated
independently of the official selection process could expect trouble.
"The organisers of such [selection] meetings, along with their relatives, would
be hauled in and intimidated by the security services, and that would knock any
desire to show initiative out of them, even though that is their legal right,"
The lawyer predicts that faced with few options, the Uzbek community will
express its protest by quietly boycotting the vote.
"They intend to ignore the parliamentary election," he said.
A straw poll in heavily Uzbek areas suggests that he may be right.
"I'm not going to vote for candidates who've been imposed on me," said
Qodirbergen, a 30-year-old man from a village close to the border with
"I am not going to the polling station at all on December 14, and many are
intending to do likewise," said another man.
Analysts say a mass boycott could prove embarrassing, were the authorities
planning to report accurate turnout figures. However, past practice in Turkmen
elections suggests that results bear little relation to reality.
"The authorities will do everything possible, and even the impossible, to
ensure that it is only Turkmen who get into parliament," said a Dashoguz
(Names of interviewees withheld out of concern for their security.)
CONTROVERSY OVER KYRGYZ PROTEST SENTENCES
Sentences of up to 20 years seen as warning to other protesters, rather than
By Mirgul Akimova and Ayday Tokonova in Bishkek and Regina Kalpanazarova in
Commentators in Kyrgyzstan have spoken out against the jail terms given to a
group of Muslim protesters convicted of creating unrest, saying they are too
Some have also questioned the fairness of proceedings against the 32 Kyrgyz and
Uzbeks who were involved in a protest against the local authorities' decision
not to organise a celebration of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr on October
1. (For an account of the disturbances, see Kyrgyzstan: Islamic Protest Sparked
by Official Insensitivity, (RCA No. 551, 14-Oct-08.)
Officials say the accused were members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an Islamic group
which they say deliberately provoked a confrontation in the southern town of
The protesters were convicted on November 27, and received lengthy sentences
ranging from nine to 20 years in prison. A 17-year old boy received a nine-year
sentence, while two women were awarded sentences of 15 and 16 years
The group had been charged with a number of offences including incitement to
cause mass unrest, overthrow the authorities, and create ethnic or religious
Aziza Abdurasulova, director of the human rights centre Kylym Shamy, said the
defendants appeared shaken when the sentences were passed.
"When the verdicts and sentences were read out, it was visible on their faces
that they couldn't understand what they were guilty of, or why they had
received such lengthy prison terms," she said.
The verdicts were announced after five days of hearings in the Osh regional
Although the sessions were meant to be open, some journalists and rights
activists complained they had difficulty gaining access to the courtroom. It
was only on the third day, following complaints from the defence, that a number
of activists, plus one relative for each of the accused, were allowed into the
Abdurasulova questioned the fairness of the trial, which she thought was
conducted in a rush and with a bias towards the prosecution.
"Most of all, I was surprised how swiftly the verdicts were announced, and how
hastily the investigation was conducted," she told IWPR. "The only witnesses
called were police. It all reminded me of a political trial. The prosecutors
and police treated it like a show-trial," she said.
The proceedings related to a disturbance which erupted in Nookat after a crowd
of young people gathered outside local government offices on October 1, to
protest at a decision not to arrange a celebration of Eid al-Fitr - known
locally as Orozo Ait - in the centre of town.
Local officials and police tried proposing an alternative venue for a
celebration of the holiday, which falls at the end of the holy month of
Ramadan. But officials say the protesters would not be cowed, and began
vandalising the local government building, and throwing stones at police, five
of whom were injured.
Riot police bused in from Osh used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Seven of the protestors were arrested on the spot, and others were apprehended
On October 13, the State Committee for National Security announced that 32
people were in custody. It also said that the detainees were all members of the
religious party Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
The group emerged in Central Asia during the Nineties and advocates replacing
the region's secular authorities with an Islamic state. In Kyrgyzstan, Hizb
ut-Tahrir has a particularly strong presence in the south, where there is
greater observance of Islam.
In recent years, Hizb ut-Tahrir has begun supporting the cause of local
communities which have a particular grievance against the authorities in
While the party maintains it is peaceful, regional governments insist it poses
a threat to security. The Kyrgyz criminal code does not explicitly ban Hizb
ut-Tahrir membership, although the Supreme Court issued a ruling prohibiting
the group from operating in 2003, and the constitution prohibits faith-based
political parties in general.
The exceptionally long sentences handed down in the Osh trial for what was, at
worst, a localised riot in which no one was killed have alarmed human rights
Abdirasulova suspects the authorities wanted the sentences to serve as a
deterrent to Islamic activists and other potential protesters.
"The authorities wanted to scare not only believers, but also anyone else who
might protest against them," she said.
Kyrgyzstan's human rights ombudsman, Tursunbek Akun, said, "For these kinds of
acts, [the accused] should have been sentenced to five or six years, not 20."
In response to the allegation that the suspects belonged to Hizb ut-Tahrir,
Akun said that it was a mistake to make an enemy of the group by cracking down
on suspected members.
"I am not defending Hizb ut-Tahrir - I condemn it - but these sentences are
just frightening," he added.
Kadyr Malikov, a Bishkek-based expert on religious affairs, agreed the
sentences could have been shorter. He pointed out that lengthy sentences are
usually reserved for serious crimes like murder, and suggested that a fine or
other penalty applicable to misdemeanours would have been more appropriate.
He said it was wrong to "destroy someone's life even if he is a member of Hizb
ut-Tahrir. They are our fellow-citizens and they haven't killed anyone."
Nurdin Chydyev, an Osh-based lawyer who represented two of the accused, said
justice had not prevailed at the trial.
He told IWPR that while defence witnesses were allowed to testify during the
hearings, their testimonies were not taken into account when the final verdict
According to Chydyev, the court proceedings were biased in favour of the
prosecution, whose evidence failed to prove that many of the defendants were
involved in the trouble.
"Recordings made on video camera were presented at the trial. Four or five of
the participants could be identified on the video," he said.
The defence lawyer also questioned the police's allegation that all the accused
were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
"I guess that there are Hizb ut-Tahrir members among them, but not all of those
sentenced are activists," he said.
In Chydyev's view, criminal investigators working on the case "should have
established who was guilty of incitement, who was just an accomplice and who
was an organiser, but this was not presented to the court".
Atai Shakir-Uuly, deputy prosecutor for Osh region, disagreed. He told IWPR the
investigators had done an effective job.
"The court reached its verdict after considering all the evidence that was
gathered," he said. "In other words, there was ample evidence."
Oronaly Ergeshov, who heads the interior ministry department that deals with
ethnic and religious conflict, also insisted that due process was observed.
"During the trial, the guilt of the accused was proven. There were a lot of
witnesses. They filmed themselves on video, even on mobile phones. This was
used as proof of their involvement," he said.
Independent expert Orozbek Moldaliev also defended the trial, saying it was
necessary as a way of preventing further disturbances of this kind. "This trial
should be a lesson so that others don't even think of doing likewise," he said.
Yet at the same time, Moldaliev said he thought the sentences were
disproportionate to the crimes.
"The final rulings did not take into account extenuating circumstances such as
the age of the accused, and the fact that it may have been their first
offence," he said.
The ombudsman expressed hope that the sentences would be reduced, "I think that
sooner or later these sentences will be replaced for softer ones as a result of
an appeal. This decision by the court will be annulled."
The court case also highlighted broader concerns about how the authorities
handle disputes involving devout Muslims.
Abdirasulova criticised the Nookat local government's original decision not to
allow residents to mark the religious festival as they wished.
"Why were people allowed to pray in the square in Osh, Aravan and Bishkek, but
not in Nookat? If it was forbidden in Nookat, then prayers should have been not
allowed to take place in other town squares in Kyrgyzstan," she said.
When the protesters' arrests were first announced, national-level officials
acknowledged that the local authorities were at fault.
"Representatives of the Muslim community had asked the local administration in
advance for permission to hold this [Eid] event. But local government did not
treat their request with the seriousness and respect it deserved, and
consequently no solution was found," Deputy Interior Minister Jenish Jakipov
Jakipov said Hizb ut-Tahrir "exploited the popular dissatisfaction and incited
young people to illegal acts".
Observers said that by operating in a heavy-handed way, the government could
further alienate people.
"Instead of solving these kinds of problems in an intelligent way, the
authorities chose a clumsy approach," said Akun. "This kind of court decision
will undermine our president by stirring up ordinary people against him."
Marat, a Hizb ut-Tahir member who gave only his first name, told IWPR that the
treatment of the Nookat protesters would help recruit new members to the group.
"It is difficult to suppress people's minds by crude force. That's
intimidation. It won't lead to anything good," he said. "This decision will
encourage interest in the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir," he said.
Abdirasulova said the government's current tactics could end up making
religious groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir more attractive.
"People who don't trust the state do want to believe in something sacred, and
will therefore continue to join religious organisations," she warned
Malikov, meanwhile, warned the Kyrgyz authorities against following the example
of their counterparts in Uzbekistan, who have become increasingly authoritarian
in recent years.
"The most important thing is that Kyrgyzstan does not follow the path taken by
Uzbekistan," he said. "We fear repression. The harsher the repression, the
stronger the reaction."
Mirgul Akimova, Ayday Tokonova and Regina Kalpanazarova are pseudonyms of
journalists in Kyrgyzstan.
DEATH OF KYRGYZ SUGAR INDUSTRY LEAVES BITTER TASTE
Instead of exporting sugar, Kyrgyzstan now imports it while disillusioned beet
farmers switch to other crops.
By Asyl Osmonalieva in Bishkek
Farmers in Kyrgyzstan say the once-thriving sugar industry has collapsed due to
lack of government support and the low prices paid by refining plants.
"We are the only ones who've grown sugar beet this year, and we may well be the
last," Oleg Abroskin, chief agronomist with Vetka, a farm in northern
Kyrgyzstan, and specifically the Chui region, used to grow enough sugar beet to
cover all its domestic needs with a surplus that was exported to other
countries in the region.
These days, Abroskin's farm is struggling to find a buyer.
Kyrgyzstan still has two refineries that can process sugar beet, but they are
refusing to take the Vetka farm's production as there is not enough of it to
make it worth switching on the machines.
According to an official from the State Anti-Monopoly Committee, which looks at
contractual relationships between farmers and refineries, "So little sugar beet
was planted this year that it's impossible to get the refineries going. The
tiny volume of sugar beet will only make the equipment dirty."
The Vetka farm now faces the tough choice of either transporting its produce to
Kazakstan, at additional cost, or using the beet as animal fodder. Managers
have not yet calculated their losses, but they expect to face a huge deficit.
Abroskin says the farm delayed harvesting the beet when the agriculture
ministry promised to help it arrange exports to Kazakstan.
"We were promised assistance, so we did not gather the beet in October. But no
help has arrived," he said, adding that the situation was getting desperate as
rain was forecast, followed by frost and snow.
The farm's troubles appear to mark the demise of what was once a successful
industry, providing thousands of jobs in addition to export revenues.
In the course of five years, Kyrgyzstan has gone from producing 812,000 tons in
2003 to 155,000 tons last year, and next to nothing in 2008.
Sugar production was identified as so important that a seven-year government
programme was launched in 2004, envisaging loans and subsidies for farmers and
plans to expand production. But the project has been abandoned.
As Burul Abdyldaev of the agriculture ministry's quality control and safety
standards department explained, "The programme was never funded, and in 2007 it
was dropped from the government's state programme."
Other farms have given up and switched to other crops, leaving Vetka as perhaps
the last producer.
"What happened this year can be seen as a boycott both of the refineries and of
the government," said former beet farmer Ulan Osmonov. "No one wanted to factor
in our expenditure on seed, fuel, the wages we paid our hired workers. We grew
tired of working at a loss, so we decided to switch to more profitable crops."
Abroskin blames government for failing to support the industry. "The
agriculture ministry does not provide support; it merely calculates how much
has been planted and harvested. Even a district department could do that, and
we don't need a ministry to do so," he said.
Rahim Jailov, a lawyer with a legal firm that works with farmers, said it was
not entirely fair to blame the agriculture ministry since it does not arrange
purchase contracts, except for strategically important items like grain.
But he did agree that there was a lack of strategic direction for planning and
coordination in the agriculture sector.
With more than 2,000 farms scattered around the country, most of them small and
unaware of market conditions, Jailov said, "Every farmer grows crops at his own
risk. That is why every year we see a surplus of one crop and a shortage of
another. This year, for example, onions are in short supply and they've doubled
in price compared with last year, whereas potatoes and carrots are in abundance
and farmers are unable to sell them."
The decline in sugar beet production has additional causes, not least the
changing fortunes of the refineries.
All four refineries in Kyrgyzstan process imported cane sugar, but only two -
Koshoy and Kaindy-Kant - can handle sugar beet. These two plants are currently
owned by a Russian firm, and have been accused of setting terms that leave
farmers unable to make a profit.
In a strongly-worded statement in July, the Kyrgyz agriculture ministry said
the low purchase prices on offer, coupled with poor yields, were behind the
farmers' decision to grow other crops in the 2008 season.
The ministry recommended that the refining industry be demonopolised by means
of a state buyout of either the Kaindy-Kant or the Koshoy plant, which would
then be held in collective ownership by the beet growers.
As another way of stimulating domestic production, the statement suggested
placing a ban on sugar imports from non-members of the World Trade
Organisation, WTO. Most sugar imports currently arrive from Kazakstan, which
unlike Kyrgyzstan is not yet a WTO member.
Abroskin sees the flood of sugar imports as tangible proof of the domestic
"You now see sugar from India and Ukraine in our markets, yet we've completely
destroyed our own sugar industry... and become dependent on foreign imports,"
he said. "This sector should have been developed as it had a lot of potential.
We could have provided people with jobs, kept ourselves supplied with sugar and
even exported it."
Alymkan Mansurova, who heads the agriculture ministry's quality and food
security department, says the fact that Kyrgyzstan is now dependent on sugar
imports shows that the industry is on its last legs.
"When imports of any product begin to exceed 40 per cent [of consumption],
domestic production falls, and the producer can no longer develop and works
merely to survive," she said. "It's doubly risky when you're talking about
foodstuffs consumed as essential daily items."
Asyl Osmonalieva is an IWPR-trained journalist in Bishkek.
KAZAK FAITH GROUPS FACE CURBS
New law falls below standards of a country that will soon chair the OSCE,
rights groups say.
By Natalya Napolskaya in Almaty
International and local human rights groups have criticised the Kazak
government for pushing through legal changes that make significant changes to
the way religious organisations are allowed to operate.
Critics say the previous law on religion was already restrictive, but the
amendments which parliament approved on November 26 introduce even tighter
They argue that the new legislation is not compatible with the international
conventions to which Kazakstan has signed up, and warn that if President
Nursultan Nazarbaev signs the changes into law - the next and final stage in
the process - it will undermine Kazakstan's credibility when it takes over the
chairmanship of the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe, OSCE,
The changes mean that for the first time, faith "associations" - defined as
formal groups with over 50 members - are legally bound to register with the
authorities, and banned from operating if they fail to do so. That applies
equally to groups which have already registered, which will need to re-submit
Smaller entities are defined as "religious groups" with virtually no legal
status, and are only allowed to hold services in private locations such as
Members of proselytising groups now have to obtain individual permits if they
want to act as missionaries.
Imported religious literature has to be submitted for inspection by an
appropriate government agency, and can only be distributed at designated
The package of amendments include changes to criminal legislation as well as to
the Law on Religion itself. Penalties for breaching the law will include hefty
fines and a collective ban on the offending group.
The controversial changes went through parliament in a first reading in June,
and represent the most radical change the Kazak law on religion has seen.
Their main aim seems to be curbing proselytising activities by faith groups of
foreign origin, often described as "non-traditional" to distinguish them from
the long-established majority faiths - mainstream Islam, as defined by the
official clerical establishment or Muftiate, and the Russian Orthodox Church.
According to official figures, around 4,000 religious groups representing more
than 40 different faiths currently exist in Kazakstan, and at least 3,000 have
registered with the justice ministry. The bulk of them are Muslim, with 1,200
Protestant groups of various persuasions in second place, followed by Russian
Orthodox and Roman Catholic.
The Kazak authorities are wary of religious groups - Christian, Muslim or other
- that arrived in the country after the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 and
began seeking converts.
One of the new provisions refers to an accusation commonly levelled against
such groups, stating, "It is forbidden to conduct charitable activity designed
to disseminate religious teachings by exploiting the material needs of
An Orthodox Church spokesman was supportive of the new legislation because it
targeted what he called "sects". Alexander Iyevlev, press secretary for the
Diocese of Astana and Almaty, told IWPR that if certain groups encountered
problems in acquiring legal registration, it was only because they "confused
religion and politics".
The content of the law has come in for a lot of criticism from local and
international watchdog groups, as has the hasty manner in which it was
finalised in parliament.
The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ODIHR, which
had earlier provided the Kazak government with a legal review of the amendment
bill, expressed regret that the document was passed in a "hasty" manner and
without significant input from domestic groups and the international community.
In a statement, ODIHR director Janez Lenarcic expressed hope that President
Nazarbaev would exercise his constitutional powers so as to "allow for a more
transparent and inclusive law-making process that would lead to the adoption of
legislation fully reflecting OSCE commitments and other international
Such a move, added Lenarcic, would represent a "positive signal" given that
Kazakstan is to chair the OSCE in 2010.
Kazakstan's application to chair the OSCE was approved in November 2007, after
a delay caused by disquiet among some members of the grouping about Kazakstan's
record on democracy, human rights and freedom of speech.
On December 1, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch released a report
criticising the Kazak government's past treatment of small faith groups as well
as the new restrictions it planned to put in place.
"Before it becomes chair of the OSCE in 2010, it should show its people and the
world it is serious about reform," said a statement by Rachel Denber, Europe
and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Yevgeny Zhovtis of the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law was
one of three co-authors of a comprehensive commentary on the bill. In an IWPR
interview, he said Kazakstan was not meeting any of the obligations it has
undertaken as a signatory to various international agreements.
"Everything here is founded on restrictions, on total control," he said. "By
making registration compulsory, the state assumes the right to allow or forbid
Zhovtis went on, "Under international law, the state has no right to force
someone who joins with others to practice their faith into acquiring official
status if they don't want to do so."
He noted that members of parliament had cited practice in some European
countries as justification for the changes, but said they had drawn false
analogies, for example with Austria, which in fact has no mandatory
President Nazarbaev is supposed to decide on the bill within a month of it
being passed. Rights groups are clearly hoping that instead of putting his
signature to it, he will ask for further revisions.
Natalia Napolskaya is an IWPR-trained journalist in Almaty.
NEW RULES TO STOP KAZAK POLICE SELLING DRUGS
Confiscated drugs will now be incinerated, although some analysts believe
corrupt officers will find ways round it.
By Marik Koshabaev in Almaty
The Kazak government has taken action to stop illegal drugs seized by the
police from finding their way back into circulation. The decision constitutes a
remarkable admission that some members of the police force plunder stocks of
confiscated narcotics and sell them on to users. However, some analysts
interviewed by IWPR were doubtful that it would be enough to foil corrupt
A government decree states that from December 1, Kazak police will be empowered
to destroy the drugs they seize, rather than having to hold them intact as
physical evidence for trial proceedings.
Askar Isagaliev, who heads the interior ministry's committee for fighting the
drugs trade, announced the move at a briefing in the capital Astana a week
before it came into force.
Isagaliev said the ministry, which controls Kazakstan's police force, was
currently holding around 23 tons of narcotics, nearly 600 kilograms of it
The official said all these stocks could now be incinerated in special
furnaces, and journalists as well as representatives of the police and
judiciary would be invited to witness the process. Samples from each
consignment seized will be held back for use as court evidence.
Kazakstan lies on the transit route for Afghan heroin heading to Russia and
other European states. As in other countries through which drugs are
trafficked, local sale and use is on the increase here, together with
associated problems such as HIV transmission through shared needled.
The theft of impounded drug stocks for resale on the streets is public
knowledge in Kazakstan. Interior ministry spokesman Bagdat Kodjakhmetov made it
clear that stopping this illegal activity "was precisely the aim of our
"Narcotics destruction will be recorded on video; in short, everything will be
done to end the involvement of police in re-circulating drugs, which
unfortunately does happen now," he said.
A 65-year old retired police lieutenant-colonel told IWPR that some of his
serving colleagues were involved in stealing drugs.
"I'd like to be able to claim that my colleagues aren't part of this grubby
business, but the facts tell a different story," he said. "It is also widely
known that police provide protection for the drugs trade."
The former officer, who still has a close relative in the force, said
procedures for storing confiscated drugs at police stations were lax.
In theory, an impounded drugs find should be placed in a special room that is
then locked and sealed either by the officer on duty, or by the staff member
responsible for security. In reality, they are passed from hand to hand by
crime investigators, detectives and forensic experts as the case progresses.
The police officer said this movement provided scope for tampering with the
goods and the accompanying documentation.
"Batches of heroin consignments are adulterated with powdered sugar, or else
they simply disappear altogether," explained the former police commander.
"That's a consequence of the anarchy that prevails in today's police force."
IWPR interviewed Askar, a 44-year-old long-term drug user, who confirmed that
addicts bought drugs supplied by policemen.
"A few years ago, a drug user introduced my friends to a former schoolmate who
sold them several doses of heroin," he said. "For close to six months they
bought heroin from him in small doses of eight to ten grams. Then, by chance,
one of my friends saw the guy in a police officer's uniform.... My friends
immediately stopped buying heroin from him."
Askar said it was rare for policemen to be personally involved in retailing
drugs on the street. Instead, they use dealers whom they keep supplied, and
also provide them with protection.
The former lieutenant-colonel of police said he understood why the government
had authorised the wholesale destruction of narcotics, but he expressed some
doubt about how it would work in practice.
On the one hand, he said, the lack of drugs as evidence could derail court
cases, and on the other, it might be hard to tell whether any of a confiscated
batch was missing once it was reduced to ashes.
Vladislav Yuritsin, a journalist with the internet news site Zona.kz.net,
believes corrupt police officers will find ways of getting their hands on
confiscated narcotics before they go up in smoke.
"They could write a false report claiming the drugs had been destroyed... and
put them back into circulation," he said.
Like the ex-police officer, Yuritsyn warned that the absence of physical
evidence could be a problem for the courts, "There's no consignment as such,
just a certificate of destriction, but questions would be asked - was it
narcotics or baby powder? Hay or marijuana? And where are the kilograms?"
Political analyst and opposition activist Petr Svoik is similarly doubtful that
policemen will stop getting their hands on illegal drug stocks.
"It's an attempt to solve the problem by reducing the amount of time the police
hold these drugs," he said. "I don't think it will come to anything, because
whereas police used to have six months to get the drugs back into circulation,
they'll still be able to do it in a shorter space of time."
Daur Dosybiev, a journalist who used to work as a criminal investigator, says
the drug eradication policy would only become effective if corruption could be
rooted out from all governing institutions in Kazakstan, not just the police.
"And that's utopian," he added.
"It's very difficult to hold back from taking on easy money when corruption is
everywhere," he said. "These days, when absolutely everything in Kazakstan is
built around bribes and kickbacks, the police have acquired a diabolical image."
Marik Koshabaev is a reporter in Almaty.
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