WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 642, February 22, 2011 FEAR AND REPRESSION IN REFORMED TURKMENISTAN Four years after new president promised change, dissenting voices continue to be stamped out. By Omar Seljuk, Inga Sikorskaya
UNPRECEDENTED TORTURE TRIAL IN KAZAKSTAN Prison warders prosecuted in watershed case. By Artur Nigmetov KYRGYZ PETROL PRICE CUTS FAIL TO CURB INFLATION Reduced prices at pumps offset by wider economic problems. By Asyl Osmonalieva **** 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/ ********************************************************** DONATE TO IWPR: http://iwpr.net/donate **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** FEAR AND REPRESSION IN REFORMED TURKMENISTAN Four years after new president promised change, dissenting voices continue to be stamped out. By Omar Seljuk, Inga Sikorskaya Despite Turkmenistans attempts to present itself abroad as a reformed state, people who live there say the atmosphere remains as repressive as ever. Fear of retribution for anything that might be perceived as disloyal towards authorities has created a climate of silence in which people put up with mistreatment without complaint. When Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov succeeded the late Saparmurat Niazov as president in 2007, he signalled a change of direction away from total repression. In some areas like healthcare, education and culture, Berdymuhammedov reversed a series of restrictive and sometimes eccentric cutbacks imposed by his predecessor. But hints at reforms in other areas have either not materialised, or in the case of political pledges such as allowing opposition parties to operate, are patently designed to impress the international community and are not intended to come into being. (See Charm Offensive Belies Turkmen Reality.) As in Niazovs time, Turkmenistan is a one-party police state with no independent media. The security services are omnipresent, tapping phones, monitoring internet traffic, preventing anyone they regard as suspect from travelling out of the country, and generally intimidating anyone who complains about life in Turkmenistan. Active dissidents and opposition supporters either went to jail or emigrated years ago, so the focus of harassment is on family members, including those of officials who fall from grace in one of Berdymuhammedovs regular purges of government. We thought that [this] president would prove more humane than the last one, that the repression would stop and that the fear would go away, but things havent turned out that way at all, an Ashgabat-based journalist said. Were afraid to talk to people on the phone. A lot of people have been put behind bars because they let something slip during a telephone conversation. An elderly woman in the capital Ashgabat said she was summoned by the Ministry of National Security a couple of days after she complained about rising prices while on the phone to a relative in Ukraine. She was lucky to get away with an abject apology after a security officer pointed at Africa on a map on the wall and said, Thats where theyve got nothing. We have everything here understand? It does not take much to get into trouble with the authorities. A resident of the western town of Balkanabat described how both he and his wife lost their jobs after he asked for payment or time off in lieu because he was regularly required to work overtime. The managers told her, Go and tell your husband to stop banging on about his rights or we will put you both behind bars, he said. So now were both left without work. In Turkmenabat, a town close to the countrys eastern border with Uzbekistan, said people now feared prosecution for a word misinterpreted, for expressing the wrong view. In this climate of fear, people knuckle under and say nothing when they are forced to turn out as a cheering crowd for some national celebration, to provide free labour for public works such as cleaning the streets, and for the all-important task of tending and picking the cotton crop. Voluntary collections are organised to fund government projects or ensure mass subscriptions to state newspapers. Everyone puts up with arbitrary treatment, as they know that standing up to it will have negative consequences, a resident of Kunya-Urgench in northern Turkmenistan said. Observers believe the blacklist of people barred from travelling outside Turkmenistan has increased since Berdymuhammedov came to power There are now more than 18.000 names of Turkmen citizens on it, Timur Misrikhanov, of the Netherland-based Association of Independent Lawyers. He noted that since then the list has almost doubled. Approached to confirm the existence of a blacklist, an official with Turkmenistans migration service said he could lose his job if he showed too much interest in it. An Ashgabat resident who gave her name as Anna said she had been barred from visiting relatives in Russia since 2006, when her brother was imprisoned. Police and migration officials told her the ban could not be lifted, and now she does not approach them any more. Im afraid that asking about it could draw attention to us and lead to retribution against me and my family, she explained. Often, people do not realise they are on the no-travel list until they encounter delays getting the permits they need, or even until they are stopped at airport border controls. The reasons are unexplained. In 2009, many Turkmen students studying in Kyrgyzstan were prevented from going back there after the summer holiday. Some of these young people still find themselves on the black list of people barred from travelling, said a Turkmenabat resident, who had been considering sending his own son to study abroad but has thought better of it . In January, President Berdymuhammedov strengthened the role of the migration service in a move seen as tightening up border controls even further. This followed a speech in September when he urged the security services to take vigorous action against anyone who slandered the democratic, law-based and secular state of Turkmenistan. An analyst in the country was pessimistic about the future, saying criticism had been all but stamped out. The authorities will continue to deal ruthlessly with anyone who takes a stand, in order to perpetuate their hold on power for the long term, he said. One of the few remaining non-government activists in Ashgabat said the effect was to crush initiative and prevent Turkmenistan developing. The security services exercise power in the worst sense of the word, he said. To them, every citizen is a potential lawbreaker. This intensifies their instinct for repression, and leaves ordinary people feeling downtrodden. Omar Seljuk is the pseudonym of a journalist in Turkmenistan. Inga Sikorskaya is IWPRs Senior Editor for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. 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. UNPRECEDENTED TORTURE TRIAL IN KAZAKSTAN Prison warders prosecuted in watershed case. By Artur Nigmetov The first ever trial of prison officers accused of torturing an inmate has been hailed as a success for groups that monitor Kazakstans penal system. On February 7, court hearings resumed in the states case against five prison officers and four inmates entrusted with supervisory roles in the Zarechny prison camp near Almaty in southeast Kazakstan. All face charges of torturing 27-year old Jandos Sagatov, who is serving a sentence for drug dealing. Trial proceedings, which began on January 18 and are being held at a court in the nearby town of Kapshagai, shifted to the Zarechny prison for this third session so as to allow cross-examination of prosecution witnesses drawn from the prison population. Ardak Janabilova, who chairs the Public Commission for Human Rights Monitoring in Prisons in Almaty City and Region, recalls how the case first came to the attention of her non-government group, one of 15 providing external scrutiny of prisons in each region of Kazakstan. In March 2010, Janabilova and other colleagues went to the Zarechny prison after an inmate tipped them off about an assault there. When we arrived, Jandos Sagatov was already in the prison infirmary. We identified numerous marks of beatings, she said. Sagatov underwent a series of major operations and is still under observation at the Kapshagai town hospital. Janabilovas commission reported the case to the prosecutor generals office, adding to a complaint that Sagatov had filed himself. It also publicised the case in the media. Sagatovs lawyer Gaukhar Salimbaeva described how initially, prosecutors brought charges against the staff under the general clause of exceeding ones authority, and grievous bodily harm in the case of the accused prisoners. In July, however, prosecutors strengthened both sets of accusations to the specific offence of torture, which carries a prison term of five to ten years. Janabilova says this is a precedent-setting test case, successfully brought to trial through a common effort by the public and the prosecution service. Corruption has always been the main obstacle standing in the way of holding penal system staff to account, she said. Bribery is rife in the justice and penal system, and police, judges and others are reluctant to take action against their colleagues. Vadim Kurmashin, a human rights activist in the northern city of Petropavlovsk, welcomed news of the court case, saying, It is very gratifying that the public monioring committee took a firm stand on the Jandos Sagatov case. Its the first time that those [allegedly] culpable have been held to account. Kurmashin claims that torture takes place in every penal facility in Kazakstan, and wants to see all such cases exposed as a matter of course so that prison staff never get away with it. All too often, he says, charges are not brought when allegations of torture and assault are made, and even if they are, they get dropped later on. Both Kuramshin and Janabilova argue that physical mistreatment of prisoners and corruption within Kazakstans prisons are closely linked, and jointly contribute to a systemic resistance to external scrutiny. According to Janabilova, prisoners who fail to pay up when warders extort money are liable to be mistreated and denied entitlements like packages and visits. Poor conditions were highlighted by a series of protests in prisons across the country last year, when inmates mutilated themselves by slashing their stomachs. (See Kazak Prison Riots Highlight Poor Conditions.) Rights activist Mahambet Abjan, a former prisoner, says many prison staff feel immune from the consequences of abuse, because pressure groups are not strong enough to challenge the system, and because prisoners fear reprisals if they complain. Civil society must be strong. Only then can corruption, torture and other forms of violence in prisons be uprooted, Abjan said. Convicts fear for their lives and endure torture in silence. A senior official with the governments s in the Committee for the Penal Correction System, part of the justice ministry, acknowledged that torture and corruption exist, but insisted that they were by no means widespread and that the authorities were working to end them. I dont think inmates are tortured in all prisons. Its very rare, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He pointed to the Sagatov case, saying it showed how the alleged culprits had been identified and brought before a court. As for corruption, he continued, I can say we have identified cases among the management and staff of prison camps, and they have all faced penalties. Artur Nigmetov is a journalist in Kazakstan. 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 PETROL PRICE CUTS FAIL TO CURB INFLATION Reduced prices at pumps offset by wider economic problems. By Asyl Osmonalieva A fall in petrol prices in Kyrgyzstan has so far failed to live up to hopes that it would curb galloping inflation in the wider economy. In January, the price of the standard type of petrol went down from the equivalent of 76 US cents per litre to 68 cents after Russia the main supplier agreed to drop export duties for Kyrgyzstan. The newly-formed coalition government hailed the agreement as a major success, as rising fuel costs over the last year had affected transport costs and spurred overall inflation rates. Kyrgyzstan began experiencing a scarcity of fuel after neighbouring states closed their borders following the unrest of April 2010 which led to a change of regime and the ousting of President Kurmanbek Bakiev. At around the same time, Russia began implementing new regulations for its customs union with Kazakstan and Belarus, which meant that non-members were subject to higher export tariffs and had to pay much more for fuel. As a result of both developments, petrol prices rose by about 20 per cent in Kyrgyzstan. At a February 3 press conference, Kyrgyzstans first deputy prime minister Omurbek Babanov promised a further cut in petrol prices later in the month, so that the overall reduction would come to 20 cents. Officials are especially concerned about fuel costs because of the impact they have on the price of consumer goods and foodstuffs. The finance ministry says prices rose by 19 per cent last year, although economists like Jumakadyr Akeneev believe the increase was nearer to 25 per cent. The owner of a cafe in the capital Bishkek who introduced himself as Azim described the knock-on effect that last years high petrol prices had on his business. Food prices shot up. We had to increase staff wages at the cafe because they were reluctant to work for what they were earning, he said. Retailers and others interviewed by IWPR said the fuel cost reduction to date had been too small to prompt them to cut their own prices. A Bishkek resident who gave his name Kadyr, a former engineer turned taxi driver, said he was unable to start charging lower fares. The prices of everything else like food have stayed the same, and I have to provide for my family, he said. Zebo, a trader from the southern city of Osh who exports goods to Tajikistan, said that the business she was in was very sensitive to fuel price changes, but that for the moment the truck drivers she used as transport had not lowered the fees they were asking. As Im a wholesale trader and there are some prices I cant increase, Im in danger of making no profit at all, she said, adding that some retailers might end up cutting corners by selling low-quality versions of goods but keeping prices where they were. Analysts say there are numerous factors outside the governments control that limit its ability to curb inflation by holding fuel prices down. For one thing, global oil prices have risen as a result of the recent unrest in Egypt, which controls the Suez Canal, a major route used by tankers. Askar Beshimov, who heads an economic forecasting unit called Future Projection, believes petrol prices in Kyrgyzstan can only go up because of the global oil market and because Russian domestic fuel prices have risen. I doubt Russia is going to sell to Kyrgyzstan for less than its domestic consumers are paying, he said. Another factor is that some private fuel traders in Kyrgyzstan have not passed on the price cuts to their customers. They argue that they are still selling stocks purchased when the high Russian export tariffs were still in place. But Bakay Junushev, director of iCap Investment, a financial services firm in Bishkek, suspects some traders are happy to exploit the price cut and pocket the difference. If prices remain high, farmers like Sapar, from the Panfilov district of Chui region, say it will impact the food market. The sowing season begins soon and our outgoings will depend on fuel prices, he said. "No one should be surprised if our market prices are high, since well have to incorporate these costs into the price of our produce. Kyrgyzstan is entirely reliant on foreign imports of petroleum products, mainly from Russia but also from its neighbour Kazakstan. The government is therefore looking at options for buying from other countries as well. Late last year, deputy prime minister Babanov paid a visit to Azerbaijan, a major oil exporter. According to Bazarbay Mambetov, who chairs the national Oil Traders Association, Were hoping deliveries of petroleum products from Azerbaijan... will start by the end of this year. Their prices will be lower because their export duties are lower. Asyl Osmonalieva is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan. Additional reporting was provided by Nina Muzaffarova, an IWPR intern in Bishkek. 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. 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