WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 588, September 10, 2009
KAZAKSTAN: JAILING OF RIGHTS ACTIVIST CONDEMNED Supporters of leading activist
say driving death conviction was unsound. By Anton Dosybiev and Sanat Urnaliev
TASHKENT SAYS FOREIGN-TRAINED MILITANTS DIED IN CLASH Officials say three
militants were killed in Tashkent firefight but eyewitnesses believe there were
more casualties. By IWPR staff in Central Asia
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION FACES MERGER Union between two strongest parties would
improve chances of taking on Kyrgyzstans current rulers. By Dilbar Alimova in
KAZAKSTAN TO ENSHRINE POLITICAL PLURALISM IN LAW New bill envisages multiparty
legislature, though critics say the authorities will seek to handpick
parliamentary opponents. By Yulia Milenkaya and Daulet Kanagatuly in Almaty
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KAZAKSTAN: JAILING OF RIGHTS ACTIVIST CONDEMNED
Supporters of leading activist say driving death conviction was unsound.
By Anton Dosybiev and Sanat Urnaliev in Almaty
International organisations and rights groups in Kazakstan say leading human
rights defender Yevgeny Zhovtis did not receive a fair trial in a case which
ended in his conviction for causing a death in a traffic accident.
Some believe that state prosecutors have deliberately sought a harsh penalty in
a case in which Zhovtis was tried for running over and killing a pedestrian,
and that they have done so for political ends, to discredit and isolate the
activist. The authorities reject claims of interference in the judicial
Zhovtis, who heads the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, went
on trial on September 2 following an accident on July 26 in which Kanat
By the end of the second day, Zhovtis had been tried, convicted of dangerous
driving leaving to a fatality, and sentenced to four years. He will serve the
term in a low-security prison.
The conviction rested strongly on the prosecutions argument that the defendant
could have avoided the accident.
Prosecutor Altay Janibekov said during the trial that there were no extenuating
circumstances, and that there was not the slightest doubt that the facts
presented to the court were correct.
Lawyers representing Zhovtis have alleged a number of procedural violations
which they believe render the conviction unsafe.
For a two-week period early on in the case, they say, investigators failed to
inform Zhovtis that his initial status as a witness had been changed, and he
was now the suspect.
Ninel Fokina, who chairs the Almaty Helsinki Committee, said the significance
of this was that Zhovtis was deprived of the right of an accused person to see
the case file and request forensic testing.
Defence lawyers also contested prosecution evidence derived from tests done on
their clients car, which concluded that it would have been technically
possible to avoid hitting the pedestrian. Judge Kulan Tolkunov rejected their
arguments, and also their request for an independent test.
Supporters of Zhovtis are also concerned that investigators and the trial judge
failed to consider a letter written by the late Moldabaevs mother asking for
charges not to be brought against Zhovtis as he had paid damages.
Omurzak Tusumov, a former chief of Kazakstans traffic police, told the Vremya
weekly that the letter was important given that the countrys criminal
legislation allows a case to be dropped if perpetrator and victim opt for
This is widely practiced here, he said.
Sergei Duvanov, a journalist who is leading a new committee set up to defend
Zhovtiss rights, says, The investigator left this letter out of the case file
even though it was handed over to him in the knowledge that it would be to
Local media reported that the judge did not review the matter because other
relatives of the deceased had filed objections to the original letter.
The verdict and sentencing produced an outcry from rights groups, which argued
that the Kazak authorities had exploited the trial for political ends.
The prosecution has used the tragedy caused by a traffic accident to punish
him [Zhovtis] for 20 years of human rights activity, supporters said the
I regard the verdict as unjust and an as an attempt to take revenge on Zhovtis
for his human rights work, said Duvanov. It was a very shabby trial, and
brought shame on Kazakstan justice.
Zhovtis refused to make a final statement to the court, but earlier he told
journalists, This is a demonstration of power and lawlessness, in which all
decisions are taken in [the capital] Astana, and the forensic teams work for
International watchdog groups swiftly added their voices to raise concerns
about a case that New York-based Human Rights Watch said did not meet basic
fair trial standards.
The judge's unwillingness to consider important evidence from Zhovtis's lawyer
made it clear that this was really a choreographed political trial," said
Andrea Berg, the groups Central Asia researcher.
The Human Rights Watch statement noted that the verdict came at a time when
Kazakstans human rights record is under particular scrutiny given that the
country is due to chair the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in
Europe, OSCE, next year.
"Kazakstan clearly is not ready to take on a role as important as the OSCE
chairmanship," said Berg.
Another United States-based group, Freedom House, called on judges to look into
procedural violations when the case goes to appeal, and ensure that the case
is not used to punish Zhovtis for his work.
"A miscarriage of justice in this case would be particularly troubling given
that next year Kazakstan will assume the chairmanship of the
premier regional organisation covering human rights," said Jeff Goldstein,
Freedom Houses senior programme manager for Central Asia.
Yermuhamet Yertysbaev, President Nursultan Nazarbaevs adviser on political
affairs, said that as part of the executive, he was unable to comment on
decisions made by the judiciary.
He expressed a note of personal regret over the case, saying, I know Yevgeny
Zhovtis well and I respect him.
However, he accused Zhovtiss supporters of making unfair claims, saying that
if there had been any attempts to exert undue influence on proceedings, it was
done by them.
There was very strong, concerted pressure on the court and this is
inadmissible, he said.
This situation can be resolved only via the judicial process. If you think the
problem can be solved by demonstrations, by opposition media, or by constantly
raising the issue with international organisations, thats absolutely wrong.
Asked about the OSCE chairmanship, Yertysbaev said, I dont think this case is
going to affect Kazakstans image in Europe.
The political opposition has taken up Zhovtiss cause, with the Communist Party
promising to stage events and collect signatures to press for a review of the
Yevgeny Zhovtis has done a great deal for Kazakstans citizens in terms of
protecting their rights, said party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin.
In this instance, it would have been appropriate to issue an amnesty and
Anton Dosybiev is an IWPR-trained journalist and Sanat Urnaliev a freelance
reporter in Kazakstan.
TASHKENT SAYS FOREIGN-TRAINED MILITANTS DIED IN CLASH
Officials say three militants were killed in Tashkent firefight but
eyewitnesses believe there were more casualties.
By IWPR staff in Central Asia
In their first official response to last weeks outbreak of violence in the
capital Tashkent, the Uzbek authorities have provided more details of the clash
between security forces and a group of as yet unidentified armed men.
A September 3 statement from the prosecutor generals office said three members
of a terrorist group, which it did not name, were killed and an unspecified
number arrested in the course of a police raid in the old town of Tashkent on
Eyewitness accounts, however, suggest there may have been at least one other
The official statement said security forces raided an apartment used by an
armed group suspected of being behind a number of murders and other crimes.
The three who died had trained in terror camps abroad, and included the groups
leader Shavkat Mahmudov, the prosecution service said, adding that other active
members of the group were now under arrest and were in the process of giving
A police source in Tashkent, who did not want to be identified, suggested that
the official version of events that the entire group had been eliminated or
arrested was not entirely accurate.
I can say for certain that not all of them were detained on August 29, he
said. Several of them managed to escape. And the ones who were detained or
killed were not the major figures in the group, just small fry.
At the scene of the incident, bullet-holes still scar the doorway and interior
of the two storey apartment block, and the smell of gunpowder lingers in the
Many local residents remain fearful of talking about what they saw, but
descriptions given by those who were willing to speak tallied with the chain of
events set out earlier by local journalists. The latter say that police
encountered armed resistance when they entered the suspect apartment.
Reinforcements including armoured vehicles were then rushed to the scene, the
area around the block was sealed off, and there was an eruption of gunfire.
First the shooting started, at around half past six. Then the special forces
arrived, said a local taxi driver. Two explosions were heard. Car alarms went
off in cars up to half a kilometre away that was probably grenades.
The taxi driver said he was told by a policeman that two members of the
security forces were killed in the fighting. This allegation has been
impossible to firm up from other sources.
He and another local resident said a woman in her late forties living in one of
the apartments with two children died, apparently after being caught in the
However, an official from the mahalla council a neighbourhood body that forms
the lowest tier of local government in Uzbekistan insisted there were no
casualties among residents of the area, although he could not say whether other
people had been killed or injured.
The mahalla official said the armed men involved in the clash were not
residents, a claim also made in other eyewitness accounts .
They ran into the mahalla
. They tried to hide in one apartment after
another, he said. Then everything was cordoned off, and heavy gunfire broke
out. They clearly decided to escape and jumped out from the first floor;
theres a kind of roof there which they got onto and then climbed down. And
thats clearly when they got shot.
Afterwards, he said, all the residents of this and neighbouring blocks were
evacuated and given temporary accommodation overnight so that the security
forces could check whether any of the militants were still hiding out.
The authorities have not yet made clear whether they believe the dead and
arrested men belonged to a known militant group.
When the BBCs Uzbek Service sought clarification from the prosecution service
on what previous crimes the men were suspected of, it was told they were wanted
for two attacks the murder on July 16 of the deputy head of the Kukaldosh
Madrassah, an Islamic college in Tashkent, and the attempted murder of the
citys top Muslim cleric Anvar Qori Tursunov on July 31.
The police source said that based on what he had heard from colleagues involved
in the interior ministrys specialist counter-terrorism division, It is most
likely to be the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Guerrillas from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, launched raids into
Uzbek and Kyrgyz territory in 1999 and 2000, with the declared aim of
overthrowing President Islam Karimovs administration and replacing it with
Tashkent has since accused the group of involvement in subsequent acts of
violence in Uzbekistan.
Driven south with its Taleban allies after western forces entered Afghanistan
in late 2001, the main body of the IMU seems to have concentrated in lawless
parts of north-western Pakistan in recent years.
The last serious violence ascribed to Islamic groups in Uzbekistan took place
in May, when a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Khanabad, near the city of
Andijan, came under attack. A policeman and one of the attackers were wounded
in an exchange of fire overnight, according to the Uzbek prosecutors office.
Later the same day, a suicide bomber killed himself and a policeman in Andijan
(Names of interviewees withheld out of concern for their security.)
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION FACES MERGER
Union between two strongest parties would improve chances of taking on
Kyrgyzstans current rulers.
By Dilbar Alimova in Bishkek
Defeat in Julys presidential election in Kyrgyzstan has prompted Ata Meken and
the Social Democrats, the biggest of the opposition parties, to seriously
consider joining forces.
Talk of a merger is given greater urgency by rumours that the administration of
President Kurmanbek Bakiev is to bring the date of the next parliamentary
election forward from 2012.
News that discussions were under way was revealed at an August 17 meeting of
the United Peoples Movement, UPM, the main opposition grouping which includes
Ata Meken, the Social Democratic Party and a number of others.
Forged last year, the UPM bloc fielded a single candidate, Social Democrat
leader Almazbek Atambaev, against the incumbent Bakiev in the July 23
Atambaev scored eight per cent of the vote while Bakiev swept to victory with
76 per cent, but the opposition said the poll was fatally flawed with numerous
cases of election fraud.
In an IWPR interview, Atambaev said the initiative to join forces had come from
the ground up, with rank-and-file members calling for a united front against
the current governing administration.
Atambaevs counterpart in Ata Meken, Omurbek Tekebaev, was similarly upbeat,
describing unification as the natural way to go.
Kyrgyzstan needs a few strong parties, he said. Thats the only way of
providing balance and stability in the political system.
Ata Meken and the Social Democrats share similar left-of-centre liberal
ideologies, and both were set up in the early Nineties, giving them a longer
track-record than most Kyrgyz parties. By contrast, the current governing
party, Ak Jol, was only created two months before winning a landslide victory
in December 2007 parliamentary polls.
In that election, the Social Democrats won 11 seats against Ak Jols 71, and
the only other party to gain parliamentary representation was the Communists
with eight seats. Despite what seemed to be a respectable performance, Ata
Meken did not enter parliament, apparently excluded on the basis of a
controversial system of national and regional thresholds introduced shortly
before the polls.
Topchubek Turgunaliev a leading figure in the UPM, believes the two parties are
wise to consolidate since in his view, Kyrgyzstan has far too many small,
low-profile political parties.
He is encouraged by their cooperative mood. During the presidential election,
I could see members of the two parties working together hand in hand, he said.
Political analyst Mars Sariev agrees that unification makes sense. They have
to unite ahead of the [next] parliamentary election. Its a short-term
strategy, but perhaps they really do want to form a strong party, he told
IWPR. If they dont unite, they will disappear over time.
Sariev says this could be just the beginning, if other smaller parties decide
to join the new opposition force.
Like a number of other analysts, Sariev sees it as particularly urgent for
opposition parties to reform because of the possibility that President Bakiev
will call an election earlier than the scheduled date of 2012.
Everything is pointing towards a mid-autumn announcement that parliament is to
be dissolved, so a new election could take place in December, he said.
Bakievs political advisers have calculated that there wont be much political
turbulence over the cold winter period.
President Bakiev has dismissed talk of an early election.
Rumours are circulating that parliament is to be dissolved, but no one is
considering this, nor is there any need for it, he said in a September 1
speech at the opening of parliament, quoted by local media.
However, this is not enough to assuage fears of a surprise announcement.
The presidents reassurances that he has no intention of dissolving the
Jogorku Kenesh [parliament] should be treated as a warning signal, Tekebaev
told the Bishkek Press Club on September 3. On occasion, the president does
exactly the opposite of what he has said.
Tekebaev believes President Bakiev wants to strike while the iron is hot,
shaping the legislature while he is in a strong position to do so, rather than
waiting until 2012 when his own term in office is nearing its end.
Others, including pro-government politicians and independence analysts, are
dismissive of the Ata Meken-Social Democrat merger, saying that even as one
party they will stand little chance of electoral success.
Analyst Orozbek Moldaliev says the opposition, and Atambaev as its joint
candidate, performed poorly in the summer presidential election.
Atambaev fell short of many peoples expectations during the election, he
said. The opposition may now find it difficult to get people to follow it. It
will need to make an immense effort to revive itself after this defeat.
Miroslav Niazov, formerly secretary of Kyrgyzstans national security council,
also doubts that the merger will prove effective.
He believes the deal is to the Social Democrats advantage, since their
reputation suffered more in the presidential election, while Ata Meken retains
greater public support.
The terms of the merger have still to be hammered out, although Tekebaev
insisted it was merely a question of legal technicalities.
Atambaev has suggested calling the new entity the Social Democratic Party Ata
Meken, preserving the legacy of both groups.
In a hint of recognition that he might be a liability, Atambaev also indicated
to IWPR that he might step aside when the new leadership is being elected.
I can step back if thats whats needed, he said.
Dilbar Alimova is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan.
KAZAKSTAN TO ENSHRINE POLITICAL PLURALISM IN LAW
New bill envisages multiparty legislature, though critics say the authorities
will seek to handpick parliamentary opponents.
By Yulia Milenkaya and Daulet Kanagatuly in Almaty
Draft legislation setting out a framework for parliamentary democracy in
Kazakstan amounts to little more than window-dressing, say critics of the
The think-tank behind the bill, meanwhile, insists it is part of a reform
programme that has been in the works for some time.
Work on the law has been led by the Institute for Parliamentarianism, a
think-tank attached to the ruling Nur Otan party. This suggests a high level of
official interest in directing the process to define the terms under which
other parties are allowed into the political mainstream.
Nur Otan is currently the only party with seats in parliament, as the other six
which stood in the 1997 ballot failed to pass the threshold seven per cent of
the vote that would make them eligible.
Analysts see the move as part of Kazakstans desire to produce a better set of
democratic credentials when its turn comes to chair of the Organisation for
Cooperation and Security in Europe, OSCE, next year.
Other changes to legislation on elections, political parties and media proposed
by government last November were viewed at the time as a direct response to
criticism from some OSCE members which had opposed the Kazak bid for the
The latest bill is being seen as the next logical step in this process.
Everything thats being done in the political arena in Kazakstan, including
the drafting of new legislation, amounts to specific steps towards Kazakstans
OSCE chairmanship, said Almaty-based political analyst Oleg Sidorov,
An anonymous source close to the Kazak government told IWPR that the changes
were bound up with the OSCE chairmanship.
The leadership realises we need to spruce ourselves up a little so as not to
look like out-and-out barbarians, said the source.
Officially, however, the position is that these changes have been planned over
several years as part of wider political reforms
Discussions about the need for it have been going on since as long ago as
2007, when Nur Otan assumed power, Janargul Kusmangalieva, deputy director of
the Institute for Parliamentarianism, told IWPR. If were talking about our
country going down the path of democracy, then of course a future parliament is
going to be a multiparty one.
Dosym Satpaev, director of the Risk Assessment Group, a think-tank in
Kazakstan, notes that the bill follows neatly on from another change earlier
this year designed to ensure that at least two parties will always be
represented in the legislature.
Under amendments approved by Kazak president Nursultan Nazarbaev in February,
even if only one party gathers the required seven per cent of the vote, the
runner-up will also be awarded seats under a complicated formula based on
proportional representation. (For a report on this, see Early Polls Looking
Likely in Kazakstan, RCA No. 567, 24-Feb-09.)
I think that this is simply a gradual step towards the two-party parliament
the president was speaking about, said Satpaev.
Motives aside, analysts are now wondering how the authorities will achieve a
parliament that at least looks more pluralist.
Sidorov believes the change, possibly in the form of an early election, could
come sooner rather than later, although he admits that it is extremely
difficult to make any kind of predictions about this. Astana will dictate the
rules and present us with a fait accompli.
Satpaev thinks that since an election would merely result in the election of
government-selected candidates, the authorities might cut corners.
Holding a formal election, he said, would require a lot of funding, at a time
when the government is short of money because of the ongoing financial crisis.
Instead of changing the lower house or Majilis, the authorities could co-opt
representatives of other parties into the Senate, the upper house, seven of
whose 47 members are appointed by the president.
Satpaev discounts the inclusion of opposition groups, saying the question is
whether any pro-government parties that are assigned seats will be existing
ones or created especially for the purpose.
In any case, he said, The second party in parliament will play only a formal
role and will have absolutely no influence over the inner workings of
parliament, let alone on increasing its ability to oversee the executive.
Although Nur Otan is notionally the ruling party with a massive membership, and
has been involved in a number of initiatives such as the present bill and an
anti-corruption campaign, analysts say it wields little real power since all
decisions of substance are taken by President Nazarbaev and his immediate
According to political analyst Andrei Chebotarev, If you look at the political
groups in Kazakstan, Nur Otan party from its lofty position deals with
day-to-day issues that do not have much bearing on serious political
decision-making. (For more on Nur Otan, see Party Goes On and On in Kazakstan,
RCA No. 578, 22-May-09.)
At the same time, he said, the opposition was in poor shape. The Fair Kazakstan
coalition set up this year united the National Social Democratic Party, the
Communist Party of Kazakstan and the Alga Peoples Party, but other players
like the Azat Democratic Party, Ak Jol and the Auyl Social Democrats have
remained outside it.
Yulia Milenkaya and Daulet Kanagatuly are IWPR-trained journalists in
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