Kazakstan to be pressed on human rights issues by alternative gathering.  By 
Irina Mednikova

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

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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 meeting’s agenda. 

Like the summit, the alternative meeting is taking place in the Kazak capital 
Astana, and convenes on November 28-29.

As this year’s 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 organisation’s 

The meeting will produce recommendations that will be submitted to the OSCE 

Organisers were concerned that the Kazak government tried to obstruct the NGO 

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 
Kazakstan’s 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 don’t 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 there’s 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 hasn’t been 
allowed to leave even once, unguarded and without an escort. In my view, that’s 
a clearest indication that he’s being treated differently.

IWPR: What is the reason for holding an NGO conference to coincide with the 

Abramov: For most NGOs it’s absolutely clear that non-government organisations 
should have a greater role in the OSCE process. Currently, it’s 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 they’ve 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 it’s 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. 
There’s clearly no progress, and the backsliding will most probably continue.

IWPR: With Kazakstan’s OSCE chairmanship nearing its end, how would you assess 

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 they’ve 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.


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 

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.

“It’s 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.

“I’m 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 wasn’t as acute as some of the media have reported,” 
she said. “But of course there’s 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 Jeenbekov’s 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 didn’t 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 don’t 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 ombudsman’s office, said.

"Now that less and less common land remains, what’s 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 it’s gathering strength; there’s a president and a 
parliament…. If that doesn’t 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 

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.


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 Tajikistan’s 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 
they’ll become traitors.”

In an interview for the Asia Plus news agency, Rajabali Sangov, head of the 
education ministry’s 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 

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 government’s 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 

Returning students and their parents fear they will face reprisals even though 
they have complied with President Rahmon’s 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 

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 haven’t 
knows what’s happening to him,” said the woman, who did not want to give her 
name. “I hope my son comes back alive and well, and won’t 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 government’s 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.

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