WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 635, November 27, 2010 INTERVIEW, IWPR COMMENT
OSCE NEEDS STRICTER CRITERIA FOR MEMBERS Security grouping meeting in Kazakstan to be pressed on human rights issues by alternative gathering. By Irina Mednikova KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES STRUGGLE TO CURB LAND GRABS Landless take law into own hands, while authorities have been hesitant about confronting them. By Sabina Reingold, Isomiddin Ahmedjanov TAJIKISTAN: ISLAMIC STUDENTS TOLD TO COME HOME Government fears radicalisation of thousands of seminary students abroad. By Zarina Ergasheva **** NEW ************************************************************************************ LATEST PROJECT REVIEWS: http://iwpr.net/make-an-impact/project-reviews VACANCIES: http://iwpr.net/what-we-do/vacancies **** IWPR RESOURCES ****************************************************************** CENTRAL ASIA PROGRAMME HOME: http://www.iwpr.net/programme/central-asia CENTRAL ASIA RADIO: http://iwpr.net/programme/central-asia/central-asia-radio NEWS BRIEFING CENTRAL ASIA: http://iwpr.net/programme/news-briefing-central-asia CENTRAL ASIA HUMAN RIGHTS: http://iwpr.net/programme/central-asia-human-rights-reporting-project STORY BEHIND THE STORY: http://iwpr.net/report-news/the-story-behind-the-story BECOME A FAN OF IWPR ON FACEBOOK http://facebook.com/InstituteforWarandPeaceReporting FOLLOW US ON TWITTER http://twitter.com/iwpr **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** RSS FEEDS: http://iwpr.net/syndication/builder DONATE TO IWPR: http://iwpr.net/donate **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** INTERVIEW, IWPR COMMENT OSCE NEEDS STRICTER CRITERIA FOR MEMBERS Security grouping meeting in Kazakstan to be pressed on human rights issues by alternative gathering. By Irina Mednikova Central Asian non-government groups are holding their own event ahead of the December 1-2 summit of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, which they hope will push human rights up the official meetings agenda. Like the summit, the alternative meeting is taking place in the Kazak capital Astana, and convenes on November 28-29. As this years chair of the OSCE the first former Soviet state to hold the post Kazakstan is hosting the summit. Critics say the country has failed to live up pledges to improve its human rights record as a condition of being awarded the chairmanship. (For a report on the formal event, see Kazak Capital in Shutdown Mode for OSCE Meeting.) The NGO event is being organised by Human Rights Watch; Freedom House; Civicus; the Helsinki committees; the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law; Kylym Shamy and Citizens Against Corruption from Kyrgyzstan; Nota Bene from Tajikistan; and a number of rights groups from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, Azerbaijan and Belarus. Its aim is to discuss how the OSCE should change to improve promotion of democracy and rule of law among its 56 member countries. The conference will also debate increased NGO participation in the work of organisations institutions. The meeting will produce recommendations that will be submitted to the OSCE event. Organisers were concerned that the Kazak government tried to obstruct the NGO meeting. They announced plans for the event at an OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in the Polish capital Warsaw between September 30 and October 8. They then received news that their advanced bookings for the conference venue had been cancelled. The authorities later dropped their objections. IWPR asked one of the members of the organising committee, Vyacheslav Abramov, director of Freedom House Kazakstan about the controversy, and about Kazakstans performance as chair of the OSCE. Vyacheslav Abramov: First, the Kazak authorities realised that it was extremely important to allow such an [NGO] event and that it would be of great importance to all OSCE member countries. Second, many foreign governments were backing the parallel conference, expressed explicit support for it and mentioned it in talks with Kazakstan. The Kazak authorities realised that if they prevented the conference from taking place, they would provoke a further wave of criticism. IWPR: Will Kazak officials be attending the NGO summit? Abramov: An official from the foreign ministry is expected to speak at the opening of the conference. We also expect several representatives of Astana city administration to be there; they have registered as participants. IWPR: The idea for this came from Yevgeny Zhovtis, head of the Kazakstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, who was jailed last year for causing a death in a traffic accident. Rights activists criticised his trial which they say was marred by procedural irregularities, and believe he was deliberately given a harsh sentence to discredit and isolate him. Will he be able to address the conference participants in some way? Abramov: We dont want to give away specific details but he will play a direct part in the conference. Participants will hear his views on developments in the OSCE region. IWPR: What circumstances is he in now? Abramov: As far as I know, nothing has changed; in other words theres no visible improvement in his situation. His rights continue to be violated. Most prisoners serving sentences in this penal colony get to work outside it, unguarded. Zhovtis has been there a year and in that time he hasnt been allowed to leave even once, unguarded and without an escort. In my view, thats a clearest indication that hes being treated differently. IWPR: What is the reason for holding an NGO conference to coincide with the summit? Abramov: For most NGOs its absolutely clear that non-government organisations should have a greater role in the OSCE process. Currently, its restricted to participation in the annual Human Dimension conference in Warsaw, where NGOs present their view on what is happening in individual OSCE countries. Many of them are now designing a large package of recommendations about how to develop the OSCE, improve its internal processes, and make it more effective. The parallel conference is directly linked to the OSCE summit. We believe it is a unique opportunity which NGOs should use. They will gather in the same place where the summit is held they will have opportunities to meet official delegations and hand over the recommendations theyve drafted. IWPR: Which organisations are taking part in the NGO summit? Abramov: So far, more than 200 organisations have registered, mainly from the Commonwealth of Independent States. In addition, European and American organisations that follow developments in the OSCE will take part. IWPR: There were reports that some Turkmen civil society activists faced difficulties attending the OSCE conference in Warsaw. It was reported that they were prevented from participating by the organiser, at the request of the Turkmen authorities. Will they be able to attend the NGO conference in Astana? Abramov: Yes, I am sure they will. IWPR: What are the problems facing NGOs in Central Asia? Abramov: One of the main ones is the attempt by states to establish total control over NGOs. This is true of Kazakstan, where the state is increasing the amount of [government contracts for] social projects, and many NGOs are being drawn in, thereby subjecting their programmes to censorship. At the same time, the number of international donors that support NGO work is falling, so that many organisations are forced to turn to their government for financial support. Moreover, in all the Central Asia countries, the role and influence of NGOs is a big issue because in most of them, they are disregarded or completely ignored. As a result, NGOs working in the area of public policy, trying to amend legislation or change government attitudes to various issues achieve virtually no impact. This is disappointing for the NGOs themselves, for donors and for society. IWPR: How would you describe the media situation? Abramov: I would describe the situation in Central Asia as critical. Previously we were saying that it was gradually getting worse, but now it has deteriorated so much that its on the edge of the abyss. All countries in the region are sending out clear signals that they want to control and censor the media. Theres clearly no progress, and the backsliding will most probably continue. IWPR: With Kazakstans OSCE chairmanship nearing its end, how would you assess it? Abramov: There are two aspects to this. The first concerns its chairmanship outside the country. In some areas, this has been quite useful. Kazakstan has, for example, intensified the Corfu process [aimed at advancing dialogue among OSCE members] in the security field, advanced economic processes and held several successful international conferences. Although these have not always led to tangible results, they have prompted serious debate. The second aspect is the domestic situation in the country that holds the chair. In my view, this has got substantially worse, because back in 2007 when Kazakstan was awarded the chairmanship, there were no political prisoners, whereas now there are several. At that time, several [opposition] newspapers, were published freely, while now the newspaper Respublika, for example, has not come out for more than a year. Many internet sites have been blocked. Many organisations, including faith groups, feel they are being pressured by the authorities. Some have been closed by court orders, stripped of their registration, or have experienced so much pressure that theyve effectively been forced to stop operating Many religious activists have left Kazakstan because the rules for issuing visas to missionaries have changed. The situation has got so bad that one cannot hold Kazakstan up as a good example of the kind of country that should lead the OSCE. It sets a very bad example for the OSCE states. It would make sense to set rigorous conditions requiring any country to meet certain criteria before they can even join the OSCE, let alone take the lead in it . If such a list of criteria had existed, Kazakstan would have never got to chair the OSCE. Irina Mednikova is a correspondent for the Golos Respubliki newspaper This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES STRUGGLE TO CURB LAND GRABS Landless take law into own hands, while authorities have been hesitant about confronting them. By Sabina Reingold, Isomiddin Ahmedjanov The authorities in Kyrgyzstan appear to be uncertain whether to crack down on people who seize land for their own use, or encourage them to believe their demands will be met. The most recent incident involved a group of people who took over private farmland near the southern city of Osh on November 7. Between 500 and 1,000 people moved onto the land in Kara-Suu and announced they wanted to build homes there. The would-be squatters were eventually dispersed by police, but they did win a significant concession Sooronbay Jeenbekov, the regional governor of Osh, agreed to set up a commission that will draw up a list of individuals in need of land, and review the options for giving them new plots. The case raised particular concern because some of the farmland that was temporarily taken over belonged to or was rented by ethnic Uzbeks, whereas the settlers were Kyrgyz. In June, Osh and other parts of southern Kyrgyzstan were the scene of widespread ethnic violence between the two groups. The government says over 400 people were killed, and numerous properties were looted and burned. Its mostly the Uzbek-speaking community of the town and the region who work these lands, Alisher, who lives in the area, told IWPR. In terms of actual ownership, Alisher said he understood that some of the land that was seized belonged to local residents, some was rented out to farmers by the municipality, and other sections had no known owner. Elmira Nogoybaeva, head of the Polis Asia think-tank in Bishkek, said such land seizures, if unchecked, could intensify ethnic divisions. Im still inclined to believe this has more to do with the weakness of the hierarchy of government than it does with the ethnic issue. In this particular land-grab case, the issue wasnt as acute as some of the media have reported, she said. But of course theres a lot of ethnically-based manipulation going on in the south, so a conflict of this kind taking place there could shift from an economic to an ethnic plane. Nogoybaeva said governor Jeenbekovs offer to provide alternative pieces of land was a temporary, compromise fix that set a bad precedent and risked creating more problems. As Nogoybaeva pointed out, cases of land seizures have not been confined to the Kara-Suu incident. For example, the authorities have faced challenges from longer-established squatters. On November 1, more than 100 people from Ak Jar, an illegal settlement close to the capital Bishkek, blocked a road and burnt tyres to stop traffic. They were demanding the immediate provision of mains electricity and water to their homes. The protest was broken up by police. After a similar protest by Ak Jar residents in May, Anatoly Oleynichenko, the local government chief of Alamedin district where the village is located, promised to provide them with a mains electricity supply. Elina Anarbek-Kyzy of Arysh, an organisation representing the interests of illegal settlers, said promises were made that the power supply would be in place by October, but the parliamentary election that month brought everything to a halt. "Then the [district] administration said it didnt have the funds," she said, adding that she believed only central government could now resolve matters. Aside from utilities provision, Anarbek-Kyzy said, residents faced the more fundamental question of whether they had a right to be on the land at all. Locals say they have received offers to buy from purported representatives of the owner, but were unable to take it further after they asked for the sale to be documented. Oleynichenko confirmed that the land was private but said local prosecutors had now taken legal action against the owners, on the grounds that the privatisation process was carried out illegally. If the state wins the case, the land will revert to the district government, but Oleynichenko said that would only be a first step officials would need to rule on whether the land was suitable and safe for building homes on. In some case, where houses were built close to a gas pipeline, the answer would almost certainly be no. About 30 minutes drive from Bishkek, Ak Jar consists of some 3,000 poorly constructed one-storey clay houses, home to at least 5,000 people. In many homes, the windows are made of plastic sheeting. An IWPR contributor who visited Ak Jar saw children drinking from bottles they had filled with water from an open pipe on the ground. It is only one of many settlements that have sprung up around urban centres, especially the capital, since migrants started moving there from impoverished rural areas after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Like many others, Ak Jar appeared at a time of political turbulence which people exploited to stake out some land for themselves in this case, after the 2005 Tulip Revolution in which long-term president Askar Akaev was ousted. As rights activist Yelena Voronina explained, townships that appeared in the early Nineties were eventually granted legal status so their residents enjoy the same services as everyone else, but more recent ones like Ak Jar are still in limbo. Anarbek-Kyzy said the lack of legal residence rights deprived people of a wide range of opportunities, not only utilities provision but also the ability to register for health services, get their children into local schools, and apply for jobs since they have no proof of residence. Ak Jar resident Nurbek Sarybaev has personal experience of these problems. "Because we dont have a residence permit, none of the hospitals will accept us," he said, adding that his wife had to give birth at home as a result. The two youngest of his eight children do not even have birth certificates. His eldest son Askhat has not been to school for six years since the family was living in their original home in Naryn region. Aged 16, he now works on a building site. The fact that earlier waves of squatters were granted residence rights encourages more recent ones to believe that if they protest enough, they too will be legalised. The April unrest which led to the departure of President Kurmanbek Bakiev and his replacement by an interim administration once again led to a wave of land seizures and associated protests which the authorities struggled to curb. Some experts argue that the government needs to show more resolve in confronting squatters, as failure to do so to date has merely encouraged more illegal action. "When land is seized, it is tolerated. People settle down there, and the authorities then have no option but to legalise their presence,"Almaz Esengeldiev, a lawyer who sits on the Council of Human Rights Defenders, a consultative group that advises the ombudsmans office, said. "Now that less and less common land remains, whats left to seize except private land?" Esengaliev, said, citing the recent land grab in Osh region as an example of this. In that case, he said, the eviction that was carried out was exactly the response that was needed. Esengeldiev said a tough stance on new illegal settlements should be applied consistently, with central and local government taking the same line. He said that the interim administration had so many problems to deal with, including the mass ethnic violence in June, that it was reluctant to take on the squatters. Since the October election, the parties that got into parliament have been engaged in coalition talks to form a new government. "Unless the seizure of personal property which is a crime is confronted, it will continue happening," he said. The state must not be afraid to say now all the more so since its gathering strength; theres a president and a parliament . If that doesnt happen, if state institutions act without coordination, it will lead to more chaos. Nogoybaeva said the central authorities were particularly weak in southern Kyrgyzstan. This created a sense of instability which could encourage people to engage in protests. What needs to be done in Kyrgyzstan now is to establish a legitimate state network and pursue an appointments policy that matches it. The central authorities must regain [control of] the regions, the south in particular, she said. Sabina Reingold is an IWPR-trained journalist in Bishkek. Isomidin Ahmedjanov is an IWPR-trained journalist in Osh This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. TAJIKISTAN: ISLAMIC STUDENTS TOLD TO COME HOME Government fears radicalisation of thousands of seminary students abroad. By Zarina Ergasheva A campaign to bring back Tajiks studying in madrassas and Islamic universities abroad has met with a mixed response. While the authorities say the measure is designed to shield young people from radical Islamic influences and only applies to students who have gone abroad without official permission, others argue that it is a heavy-handed attempt to curb religious freedom. Some of the several thousand Tajikistan nationals believed to be pursuing Islamic studies in other countries are already returning. Over 100 arrived back from Iran on November 22, following a Tajik foreign ministry request for cooperation from Tehran. Another group of similar size came home from Egypt two weeks earlier, while Tajikistans ambassador in Islamabad Zubaidullo Zubaidov has said at least 200 students aged from 11 to 30 have returned from Pakistan. He said embassy staff were contacting the Pakistani authorities, visiting madrassas and urging any Tajik nationals to take a flight home. The campaign to bring Islamic students was prompted by a speech made by President Imomali Rahmon this August, warning parents that their children could be led astray by extremists. Unfortunately, in most cases, young people who are left without control are not studying to become mullahs, but are taking a route to terrorism and religious extremism, Rahmon said. They must all be brought back otherwise theyll become traitors. In an interview for the Asia Plus news agency, Rajabali Sangov, head of the education ministrys department for international affairs, made it clear the authorities were only concerned about students who did not clear their trip with the ministry or local government; and no one knows where or what they are studying. Foreign Minister Hamrokhon Zarifi told reporters last month that the authorities were still trying to establish the precise number of students who fell into this category. The governments Committee for Religion, meanwhile, put the figure for Pakistan, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia at around 1,430, while unofficial estimates suggest the real figure could be over 3,000. In this Sunni Muslim-majority country where work is scarce, many families jump at the chance to send a child to study to a foreign religious school. Typically, they only have to pay for a visa and a one-way ticket, while other costs are covered by the government of the country involved, or by an Islamic charity. Returning students and their parents fear they will face reprisals even though they have complied with President Rahmons request. Murod Amirkulov (not his real name), 14, came back to Qurghonteppa in southern Tajikistan after his father Mahmadali asked him to. He spent two years at a madrassah in Pakistan, selected by his father on the basis of personal recommendations. Murod said that when he landed at Dushanbe airport, he and several other young people were questioned by police about what exactly they were taught at the madrassa. The policemen wrote down our addresses and phone numbers and after that they let us go and see our parents, he said. When IWPR questioned him about conditions at the madrassa in Pakistan, Murod said little except that he studied the Koran and was fed three times a day. His father asked Murod to come back because of what President Rahmon said, but also because he was worried they were losing touch. There were times when he disappeared for months on end and that made me feel sick, Mahmadali said. A mother of another student, who is still abroad, said she was no longer in contact with him. Initially he called us once a month, but over the last 18 months we havent knows whats happening to him, said the woman, who did not want to give her name. I hope my son comes back alive and well, and wont be persecuted for attending a madrassa. A Dushanbe resident who wished to remain anonymous said he was unhappy about the ongoing campaign to get students back because it might deprive his 20-year-old son of the chance to graduate from an Islamic university in Turkey. Hikmatullo Saifullozoda of the Islamic Rebirth Party, an opposition group with two seats in parliament, warns that the move will simply prevent law-abiding students from getting a religious education, and will not curb extremism. The aim of the campaign is clearly to confine religious education to Tajikistan itself, where the authorities carefully control the practice of Islam through the Council of Ulema (religious scholars), which in turn gives direction to the 3,000 or so recognised mosques. Radical groups present in Tajikistan like Hizb ut-Tahrir, Jamaat-e Tabligh and the Salafi movement operate underground and members are liable to be arrested. Running courses in religion privately is not allowed, even if it takes place in the home. The 19 madrassas that operate have to apply for registration periodically. A privately-run Islamic university was taken over by the education ministry in early 2008 and, renamed the Islamic Institute, is subject to closer scrutiny in terms of both staffing and curriculum. Critics say the drive to stop students going abroad is part of wider attempts to exert even greater control over religious activity, and cite legislation passed in 2009 which tightened up the rules applying to faith communities. The Council of Ulema recently recommended that women wear traditional Tajik dress rather than forms of Islamic hejab that are seen as imports and which the authorities associate with radical leanings. In October, the deputy head of the governments committee for religious affairs, Mavlon Mukhtorov, insisted that there was no official ban on wearing Muslim dress or growing a beard. Dushanbe resident Umar Odilov said that in practice, the police behave as if having a beard is illegal. They simply stopped me and started asking me who I was and what I did, he said, recalling an encounter with plain-clothes officers. They told me it was forbidden to wear a beard in Tajikistan. Saifullozoda believes the authorities do not want even moderate devout Muslims to play a part in mainstream politics, for example by joining his party. After the [February parliamentary] election, the authorities embarked on a series of measures to regulate Islam in order to prevent conditions shifting in favour of the Islamic Rebirth Party, and to stop political Islam growing stronger, Saifullozoda said. Everyone should be free to choose how to dress, whether to grow a beard and where to study. Zarina Ergasheva is an IWPR-trained journalist in Tajikistan. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. **** http://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. IWPR PROJECT DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT: Executive Director: Anthony Borden; Head of Programmes: Sam Compton. **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** IWPR gives voice to people at the frontlines of conflict, crisis and change. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, IWPR helps people in the world's most challenging environments have the information they need to drive positive changes in their lives holding government to account, demanding constructive solutions, strengthening civil society and securing human rights. Amid war, dictatorship, and political transition, IWPR builds the level of public information and responsible debate. IWPR forges the skills and capacity of local journalism, strengthens local media institutions and engages with civil society and governments to ensure that information achieves impact. IWPR - Europe, 48 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, UK Tel: +44 20 7831 1030 IWPR United States, 1325 G Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005, United States Tel: +1 202 449 7717 1515 Broadway, 11th Floor, New York, New York 10036, United States Tel: +1 212 520 3950 Stichting IWPR Nederland, Eisenhowerlaan 77 K, 2517 KK Den Haag, The Netherlands Tel: +31 70 338 9016 For further details on this project and other information services and media programmes, go to: http://iwpr.net/ ISSN: 1477-7924 Copyright © 2009 The Institute for War & Peace Reporting **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** This electronic mail message and any attached files are intended solely for the named recipients and may contain confidential and proprietary business information of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) and its affiliates. If you are not the named addressee, you should not disseminate, distribute or copy this e-mail. Institute for War & Peace Reporting. 48 Gray's Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, UK. Registered with charitable status in the United Kingdom (charity reg. no: 1027201, company reg. no: 2744185); the United States under IRS Section 501(c)(3); and The Netherlands as a charitable foundation.