WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 586, August 15, 2009 KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT RESPONDS TO GROWING ECONOMIC GLOOM Latest statistics confirm slowdown is worse than expected. By Asyl Osmonalieva in Bishkek
TAJIK PROSECUTORS TAKE ON COURTS In accusing judge of misconduct, are prosecutors acting in the public interest or in their own? By Nargiz Hamrabaeva in Dushanbe STATIC POLITICS IN TAJIKISTAN Election next spring will replicate the governing partys dominant position, leaving only a few seats for its rivals. By Lola Olimova, Nafisa Pisaredjeva and Talabsho Salomov in Dushanbe NO LIGHT ON HORIZON FOR TURKMEN NGOS Talk of reformist policies has not made it any easier for non-government groups to win legal status. 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For more information about how you can support IWPR go to: http://iwpr.net/donate **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT RESPONDS TO GROWING ECONOMIC GLOOM Latest statistics confirm slowdown is worse than expected. By Asyl Osmonalieva in Bishkek The Kyrgyz government is under pressure to accelerate efforts to soften the impact of the ongoing economic crisis, as figures confirm the extent of the downturn. When ministers met businesspeople at a conference on August 4-6 to discuss the next phase of the anti-crisis plan the government has been implementing since the start of the year, they agreed that speed was of the essence if Kyrgyzstan is to be steered through this period of global economic turbulence. The discussion centred on how the business sector believes banking, industry, agriculture and tourism should be supported. The country is currently experiencing a decline in production, trade and the service sector. Swift action is needed to stabilise the situation, First Deputy Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov told a press conference a day after the meeting, which he chaired. The idea of engaging the business community in taking the anti-crisis plan forward was announced by Prime Minister Igor Chudinov at a July 28 cabinet meeting. Chudinov made it clear that current plans would have to be revised as the economic situation was worse than anticipated. According to the national statistics agency, the economy grew by only 0.3 per cent year on year in the first six months of 2009, compared with 7.5 per cent in the same period last year. Industrial production fell by nearly 19 per cent, in part because of a slump in exports. The world financial crisis, which has impacted all world economies, has also affected our country, Bolot Toksobayev, head of the department for macroeconomic analysis and forecasting at the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, told IWPR. Kyrgyzstans main trading partners, Russia and Kazakstan, reduced the volume of manufactured goods they buy from us. Falling domestic and external demand led to a decline in industrial production as enterprises cant make a profit if they are producing just to stock the warehouse. Energy shortages, caused by low water levels in the Toktogul reservoir which powers the countrys biggest hydroelectric scheme, only compounded the problems facing industry. Finally, the economy has also suffered from a decline in the amount of money sent home by the hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz nationals working abroad. Reflecting the continuing deterioration, the International Monetary Fund, IMF, has scaled down its growth forecast for the year from 3.7 to 0.9 per cent. The IMF says external assistance, particularly a large Russian financial package approved earlier this year, is essential to helping the Kyrgyz economy weather the storm and keeping the government solvent afloat. Current government policy includes efforts to boost budget revenues, build new industrial units and ensure a good harvest, while hoping that Kyrgyzstans trading partners begin to recover so that exports start rising again. Toksobaev said money had been earmarked for a development fund that will be used to revive moribund industries and back major new projects, for example a new cement factory in Kyzyl Kiya in the southern Batken region and a metals plant in neighbouring Osh. The obstacle to progress on these schemes, he added, was unnecessary levels of bureaucracy. We have to clear away the bureaucratic obstacles; it is these obstacles that are holding up the process of starting up plants which could even now be earning money for the national budget and providing people with jobs, he said. Analysts have welcomed the governments determination to address the crisis, although they warn against depending on forecasts that the global economy will recover rapidly, helping Kyrgyz exports. As Kairat Kasymaliev of the Bishkek-based investment company MGN Capital notes, In March, the situation on world stock markets temporarily stabilised, triggering optimistic statements by some experts that the crisis was over. But then the situation got worse again. Now were again seeing an economic revival [in Kyrgyzstan], although its quite possible this is a temporary phenomenon. Toksobaev agreed that it was premature to be talking about a worldwide recovery. Currently, the crisis is being weathered because of the money countries have invested in addressing it, but when that has been spent, it is very possible the crisis could repeat itself, he said. In February, President Kurmanbek Bakiev secured a Russian pledge to invest 1.7 billion US dollars in a major hydroelectric scheme, a 300-million-dollar loan to support the government budget, additional financial assistance worth 150 million dollars and a write-off of 193 million dollars in sovereign debt, granted in exchange for a stake in a Kyrgyz defence plant. Analysts agree with the IMF view that support from Russia and other donors and lenders will help cushion the economic impact of crisis. Nurbek Elebaev, who chairs the board of Kyrgyzstans stock exchange, says it would be worth seeking more loans on soft terms from countries like China, as long as the authorities ensure the money is properly invested in short-term that will bring swift and productive returns that benefit the country. Another prediction on which the authorities are pinning their hopes is that the harvest will be a good one, ensuring the country has adequate stocks of food to take it through next winter. The agriculture ministry is forecasting a grain harvest of 642,000 tons, a 14 per cent increase on last year. As analysts like Kasymaliev point out, hoping for the best is not enough. Better planning, led by the agriculture ministry, is needed to avoid unnecessary shortfalls in the production of particular foodstuffs, he says. At the same time, Kasymaliev dismisses fears of major food shortages. The situation last year, when the harvest was destroyed by an unusually severe drought, could be described as a shock, but this year we havent had anything of this kind, he said. Bakay Junushev, director of the iCap Investment financial services firm, adds a note of sobriety, noting that Kyrgyzstan has experienced crises of one kind or another for the three years. The likelihood is that people will endure this years hardships as well. Asyl Osmonalieva in an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan. TAJIK PROSECUTORS TAKE ON COURTS In accusing judge of misconduct, are prosecutors acting in the public interest or in their own? By Nargiz Hamrabaeva in Dushanbe Not for the first time, a court in Tajikistan has been accused of handing down excessive sentences. What sets this latest case apart is that the complaint comes from the prosecution service, which does not usually make it its business to seek leniency. Some analysts say prosecutors are right to try to rein in a judiciary that appears over-fond of heavy sentencing. Others, however, believe the prosecution service is merely trying to undermine judges who are about to be strengthened by judicial reforms. When the trial in question ended on June 10 in the northern city of Khojand, 29 people were sentenced to between ten and 25 years in prison for a range of charges including murder, money laundering and possession of weapons. Two more received two-year sentences and were released as part of an amnesty. All 31 were accused of being part of an organised crime group working for Nuriddin Juraev, a local oligarch in the industrial town of Isfara and a former member of the Soghd regional assembly, who is wanted on charges of large-scale embezzlement but is on the run. The crimes of which they were convicted took place from 1998 to 2007, when the provincial prosecutor launched a case against Juraev, accusing him of using gangland tactics to forcibly acquire or privatise assets including a food-processing plant and other industrial units, hotels and cafes, filling stations, and houses and apartments. It is hard at first sight to understand why prosecutors would oppose a successful outcome to a case which they themselves had brought, against what appears to have been a dangerous and violent group. The murder of which some defendants were convicted was of a deputy chief prosecutor of Tajikistan, Tolib Boboev, in 1999. Yet at a July 7 press conference in the capital Dushanbe, Prosecutor General Bobojon Bobokhonov described the verdict as illegal and unfair and announced that he had lodged a formal protest with the Supreme Court. This is the first time I have encountered such lawlessness, said Bobokhonov. As early as the preliminary investigative phase, charges of setting up a criminal group were dropped, yet this article [of the criminal code] was the main element in the final verdict was based on. That means the court ignored the investigative documents. As a result, the sentences passed were too harsh. Two days after Bobokhons press conference, Nur Nurov, the Supreme Court judge who presided at the trial, dismissed the chief prosecutors allegations. When it comes to Bobokhonovs statement, only the collegium of the Supreme Court can provide a legal assessment of this judicial process, he said. Nurov said it was perfectly legitimate for judges to hand down heavier sentences than requested by prosecutors if they felt it necessary. He added that there was a popular misconception that if the prosecution asks for, say, two years, then the final sentence will be less than that. In fact, he said, there were precedents he himself had previously handed out death sentences when prosecutors had recommended a 14 jail term. This is perfectly legal, he said. Analysts are divided about the rights and wrongs of the prosecutors allegations. Parviz Mullojonov, for example, said that in general, courts in Tajikistan routinely imposed unjustifiably harsh sentences, and what made the current controversy so unusual was the fact that prosecutors were protesting. Never before, as far as I can remember, has a prosecutor general publicly criticised a judge for sentencing too harshly. As a rule, its the reverse it is the prosecution that recommends the harshest verdicts, he said. Legal experts say there were flaws in the case brought before the court. The main reason why almost all defendants received such long sentences was that they were implicated in organised rather than individual criminal activity. That meant that those accused of economic crimes received the same kind of prison terms as those accused of murder. From the start of the trial, those accused of murder should have been treated as a separate category, said a lawyer who wished to remain anonymous. Relatives of some of the accused told IWPR that lumping all the defendants together was prejudicial to the outcome. Umed Vahhobov said prosecutors had recommended a seven-year term for his brother Ghanijon, a customs officer accused of offences that cost the state 2,300 US dollars, but the final sentence was three times that. No evidence was presented that he was a member of Juraevs illegal group, said Vahobov. The brother of another convicted man, Saifiddin Vafoev, said he got 20 years instead of the recommended three, and once again he was not personally implicated in organised crime. Other analysts note that the stand-off between Bobokhonov and the judiciary at a time when the prosecution service is battling to save powers that are likely to be transferred to the courts, under a set of legal reforms due to conclude next year. While legislation on other elements such as civil law and economic crime has already been passed, the code on how criminal offences are prosecuted and tried is still under discussion. Analyst Abdullo Qurbonov believes the chief prosecutors attack on a Supreme Court judge looks suspiciously like an attempt to show that the judicial system is unfit to take on extra tasks. The reforms would bring Tajikistan into line with the common international practice where arrest warrants must be approved by a judge, rather than by prosecutors as is now the case. Very soon, the new criminal process code will state that arrest warrants can only be issued by the courts, said Qurbonov. So it becomes very important for the prosecution to demonstrate to the head of state that judges are incompetent, and to identify other shortcomings in the work of the courts. Qurbonov says current legislation gives prosecutors virtually unlimited powers and immunity for all prosecution state, which he said had created a sense of omnipotence. A feature left over from Soviet legal practice, these extensive powers have meant that Tajik prosecutors can dominate the courtroom and effectively direct both proceedings and outcome. While acknowledging that the courts make mistakes and overstep the mark, Qurbonov said the current dispute should not be allowed to derail the general trend towards reform, even in the event that Judge Nurovs Supreme Court colleagues overturn his decision. Shokirjon Hakimov, an opposition politician and head of the faculty of law and international relations at the Tajik International University, approves of the plan to clip prosecutors wings. Right now, he says, the imposition of certain sanctions and the issue of arrest warrants lie exclusively in the hands of the prosecution service, which also has the right to exercise oversight of the courts. But in a state that is founded on rule of law, the last word has to lie with the courts. The defendants in the Khojand trial are currently appealing against their convictions at the Supreme Court. It is not clear whether the court will respond to Bobokhonovs protest separately. The chief prosecutor has warned that if the Supreme Court failed to overturn the sentences, his office reserves the right to prosecute Judge Nurov. Nargiz Hamrabaeva is a correspondent for the Asia Plus news agency. STATIC POLITICS IN TAJIKISTAN Election next spring will replicate the governing partys dominant position, leaving only a few seats for its rivals. By Lola Olimova, Nafisa Pisaredjeva and Talabsho Salomov in Dushanbe The next parliamentary election in Tajikistan is still seven months away, but the outcome is already clear. Not only is it a near-certainty that the governing Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, will win, but it is a safe bet to say the Islamic Rebirth Party, IRP, will come a distant second, followed by the Communists. The two latter parties inability to gain on the PDP is partly because they lack its resources and access to media, compounded by electoral rules which they say are tilted against them. However, some observers say that even if the playing field was levelled, neither the IRP nor the Communist Party would be able to gather a winning number of votes. As a result, Tajikistans multiparty democracy is stuck in a rut. Opposition parties including the IRP, the Communists, and others which are not represented in parliament have been lobbying for improvements to the electoral system, thus far without success. The Communists drafted a reform bill that proposed abolishing the non-returnable deposit candidates have to pay in order to stand. At 7,000 somonis, around 1,700 US dollars, opposition parties say the fee will prevent them fielding as many candidates as they could otherwise have done. Other proposed changes include doubling the amount of free airtime assigned to political party broadcasts to one hour, and requiring local electoral commissions to include opposition party agents in the interests of transparency. Parliament broke up for the summer without looking at the bill, so the review process will only start in October, by which time it may be too late to get any changes in place if they are approved at all before campaigning for the February election begins. If the proposals set out by the political parties are not taken into account, the forthcoming election will be marred by numerous violations in the same way that previous ones were, said Rahmatullo Valiev, deputy chairman of the Democratic Party, which has no seats in parliament. A total of eight political parties will contest 22 out of the 63 seats in the lower house of parliament, based on a proportional representation system. The remaining 41 seats are directly elected on a constituency basis, offering parties a chance to get more members into the legislature. The PDP is in an unassailable position because its proximity to power gives it access to resources including media, and national and local government officials are expected to join as a matter of course. It currently has an absolute majority with 52 seats. The Communists hold four seats while the IRP held two seats until April, when one of its deputies stepped down on health grounds. Their poor showing does not reflect relative membership numbers if the PDP has 100,000-plus members nationwide, the Communists have a respectable 50,000 and the IRP around 30,000. Political analysts say the next election is very likely to preserve the status quo, so that the IRP and Communists will gain a handful of seats while the PDP sweeps the board. Others like the Democratic Party, the Socialists and the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, did not make it past the five per cent threshold set for the 2005 ballot. Their chances in the next parliamentary contest remain slim. The IRP and Communists both face difficulties in expanding constituencies that are somewhat restricted by their specific ideologies. The IRPs history as an armed opposition force during the 1992-97 civil war meant its original powerbase was in the opposition strongholds in the mountain valleys of eastern Tajikistan and around Qurghonteppa in the southwest of the country. Under the terms of the peace deal which ended the war in 1997, the United Tajik Opposition, UTO in which the IRP was the main player disbanded its guerrilla army, and the Islamic party was legalised and granted a quota of government posts, although the number was eroded in subsequent years. The party espouses Islamic values the bulk of Tajikistans population is Sunni Muslim but unlike illegal radical groups, it supports the current secular state structure. The IRPs past still means it has limited appeal in areas like Kulob in the south, the heartland of its wartime opponents the administration of President Imomali Rahmon and the PDP. However, party officials insist the party is reaching out to new supporters. These days, they say, half of its members live in Soghd province in the north of the country, which would previously have been unthinkable. Party leader Muhiddin Kabiri says women now account for 46 per cent of the membership. Hikmatullo Saifullozoda, who heads the IRPs research department, says the party now attracts intellectuals, civil servants and businessmen the latter also helping to fund the party. Another important source of contributions, he says, is the large population of Tajiks working abroad who send money back home. For more on the party, see Tajik Islamic Party Slowly Sidelined , (RCA No. 579, 05-Jun-09) If the IRP has some potential for expanding its power-base, that is less the case with the Communists. After independence in 1991, the bulk of the Soviet Communist Party in Tajikistan was effectively transformed into the present PDP, while the true believers were left as a small rump party. The Communist Party appeal to a generation of over-50s who recall the Soviet period as a time of certainty, stability and better living standards than now. As political analyst Parviz Mullojonov points out, these voters form a loyal and reliable support-base. At the same time, the Communists particular appeal mean their voters are getting older, and are not being replaced by young people. Mullojonov says the aging effect will not necessarily show itself in the 2010 ballot, when he says the party has every chance of maintaining its current position in parliament [four seats], at the very least. The Communist Partys long-term future looks bleaker than the IRPs, though. Analyst Qiyomiddin Sattori says that to the extent that there is any competition, it will be between two groups, the PDP and the IRP. The Communists are no longer a rival. With so little scope for a turnaround in Tajik politics, analysts predict that any changes will be minor ones engineered by the authorities. Shokirjon Hakimov, deputy chairman of the Social Democrats, says, The authorities are artificially creating a three-party system where there is room only for the PDP, IRP and the Communists. Mullojonov predicts that the authorities will seek to adjust the composition of parliament to suit themselves. They might try to limit the IRP to just one member, and adjust the number of Communist Party members either upwards or downwards, he said. They might even back a third, weaker party and help it get into the legislature, so as to make the new parliament look more presentable and improve its image. Another analyst, Rashidghani Abdullo, says the apparent pluralism of Tajikistans political system is designed to satisfy the international community that democratic mechanisms are in place, without actually relaxing the Rahmonov administrations grip on power. The leaderships in post-Soviet countries are fundamentally oriented towards building strong states, but they understand they have to follow certain rules of the game with other influential states, particularly western ones, he said. So on the one hand, they allow elections to take place, but on the other, they strive to exert tight controls over the entire process. Lola Olimova is IWPR Tajikistan Editor; Nafisa Pisaredjeva is an IWPR-trained journalist and Talabsho Salomov is a reporter in Tajikistan. NO LIGHT ON HORIZON FOR TURKMEN NGOS Talk of reformist policies has not made it any easier for non-government groups to win legal status. By IWPR staff in Central Asia More than two years after incoming Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov promised to relax the rigid controls imposed by the state, non-government groups say their position has not changed for the better. Berdymuhammedovs talk of reform and the steps he announced to reverse the detrimental policies of his predecessor Saparmurat Niazov in areas like healthcare and education raised hopes that Turkmenistan would undergo a more general process of liberalisation, and that non-government organisations, NGOs, would be allowed to resume work. That has not happened, according to local observers. While human rights groups continue to be regarded as completely beyond the pale, even associations pursuing innocent aims like helping the elderly and beekeeping are still finding that their applications to register with the authorities are blocked at every turn. Not one has been registered since Berdymuhammedov came to power. A new law on public organisations passed in 2003 was designed to give the government total control over the activities, funding and assets of non-government organisations, NGOs. To operate legally, it is essential for an NGO to register with the justice ministry. Failure to do so leaves its members open to prosecution for illegal activity. On the face of it, Turkmenistan has a healthy civil society numbering several hundred groups. However, these are either government-sponsored institutions working on behalf of women, children and young people, and veterans of the Second World War; or semi-commercial ventures supporting the arts, sports and business. All of them are sanctioned and controlled by government, so this select band faces no real problems registering. Even so, according to one local analyst, only about 150 of the government-approved NGOs that exist on paper actually operate; the rest are defunct. Other NGOs find their applications are turned down flat or else the process is dragged out for years with no resolution. According to a justice ministry official who did not want to be named, in some instances groups are told their activities will overlap with the functions of government agencies or the approved NGOs. Yet many local charities are trying to address issues in areas long neglected by the state, such as helping the unemployed, elderly people and other vulnerable groups. An unemployed lecturer who wanted to set up a group that would provide business training courses for housewives and unemployed young people said he had been waiting for a response from the justice ministry for over two years. I have completely lost faith in seeing good and useful ideas being implemented, he said. An activist in Ashgabat described how he and his colleagues had all but given up any hope they would be allowed to work with elderly people struggling to survive. These people who were ready to work with the elderly have lost hope, while elderly people in need are left with nothing, he said. Others who have so far failed to make progress with their applications include a group of Ashgabat scientists who planned to use their knowledge to show farmers to grow organic produce; a group which wanted to arrange summer camps for children; and a farming expert who tried to set up a charity teaching school-leavers from poor families skills that would earn them an income, such as beekeeping, rabbit-breeding and making eco-friendly fertilisers. This man, based in the northern province of Dashoguz, said, Ive realised I wont be able to afford to get registered I dont have the energy, time or money to keep going to the [justice] ministry, so Im working without registration, at my own risk. He questions the authorities motives for blocking groups like his. You have to ask who gains by it. How do the authorities benefit from doing this? Theyre unable to offer anything in its place, he said. An Ashgabat-based analyst explained how justice ministry officials try to find errors in the supporting documentation in order to invalidate applications. Bureaucrats find various reasons for prolonging the process, and in the end they either say no to registration, or the NGO activists get tired of it and give up trying, said a media analyst in city of Dashoguz. The list of formal excuses for not accepting documents is endless the address doesnt count as legal, some certificate is missing, or they want a medical letter confirming that the NGO director is of sound mind. The analyst said the policy of refusing registration reflected the authorities profound fear of losing control over any aspect of public life. The main reason why the authorities dont want to give people an opportunity to assemble and engage in communal activity even to set up an innocent interest group is that [it brings together] people who hold common ideas. Thats already a sign of dissent, he said. The Turkmen authorities cannot let this happen. The entire system has been built so as to prevent people from exchanging ideas and views, and from getting together to discuss things. Apart from legal status, registration would allow independent NGOs to apply for funding from donors abroad. An environmentalist in Ashgabat said donors generally had rules restricting their grants to properly registered NGOs, If funds go instead to the pro-government NGOs, he warned, In a country like Turkmenistan, it would mean the money is going to strengthen the authorities. Prior to the 2003 legislation, unregistered NGOs had a little more freedom of action to work on grants from international donor organisations. Until the new law arrived, there were over 200 initiative groups operating with financial assistance from international organisations. Most had submitted documents for registration but did not obtain it, said an analyst who used to work for the government. Although no independent NGOs are currently winning registration, there are some to which the authorities are particularly hostile. According to the analyst, this list includes human rights groups, those working on educational projects, and NGOs that want to help develop small and medium-sized businesses, and environmentalists. As an activist involved in a failed bid to register a group organising summer camps for young people said, some organisations continued to work illicitly. But the consequences can be grave, he added. A journalist in Dashoguz said NGO activists had either left the country or were now operating covertly. Some have gone underground; they work with caution and pass on their knowledge, ideas and skills to those who are interested, he said. I know these people but cant name them, as they are all under the scrutiny of the security services. They are being watched, their phones are tapped, emails are screened, and they are even followed. During events such as a visit by a foreign delegation in the country, some are placed under house arrest. The risks of trying to engage even in the most innocent kinds of NGO activity, and the impossibility of registering, are having a stifling effect on civic society activity. Over the last few years, no one [i.e no new group] has even tried to register because its a pointless, useless exercise, said the journalist. Its even dangerous to say the word NGO aloud as it attracts suspicions that you are trying to organise people, something which will mean unpleasant consequences with the security services. (The names of interviewees have been withheld out of concern for their security.) **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** 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 basis. 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 and Acting Central Asia Director: John MacLeod; Central Asia Editor: Saule Mukhametrakhimova. 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