WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 647, May 18, 2011 IWPR EDITORIAL COMMENT
TAJIKISTAN: ISLAMIC MILITANCY NO PHANTOM MENACE Death of veteran militant leader proves truth of warnings that fighters were infiltrating from Afghanistan. By John MacLeod KAZAK LIBEL LAW CHANGES NOT ENOUGH Restrictions on libel actions are step in right direction, but defamation needs to be struck off criminal lawbooks, media activists say. By Anna Drelikh FEW TEARS SHED FOR "TAJIK BIN LADEN" Killing of veteran militant seen as al-Qaeda emissary has eased but not removed security threat in Central Asian state, analysts say. By Lola Olimova CENTRAL ASIA'S VULNERABLE WOMEN Domestic violence is all too often seen as a private matter in which the state should not intervene. By Saule Mukhametrakhimova **** NEW ************************************************************************************ CALL FOR ENTIRES - 2011 KURT SCHORK AWARDS IN INTERNATIONAL JOURNALISM: http://iwpr.net/raise-awareness/kurt-schork-awards-international-journalism 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/ ********************************************************** IWPR EDITORIAL COMMENT TAJIKISTAN: ISLAMIC MILITANCY NO PHANTOM MENACE Death of veteran militant leader proves truth of warnings that fighters were infiltrating from Afghanistan. By John MacLeod Shortly before al-Qaedas leader died in a high-profile raid in Pakistan, security forces in the Central Asian republic scored their own coup against a militant leader dubbed the Tajik Bin Laden. Mullo Abdullo died as he lived, in conflict. His death in a firefight with Tajik security forces on April 16 will force analysts to rethink the threat posed by Islamic militants groups in Tajikistan and elsewhere in Central Asia. Two years ago, the first rumours that Mullah Abdullo had reappeared in Tajikistan and was attempting to drum up support among disaffected former guerrillas from the civil war of the early 1990s were greeted with disbelief. No one had seen him, reports of his movements were sketchy, and there were stories that he was long dead and buried in Afghanistan. It seemed too bad to be true. In Tajikistan, there were concerns that the spectre of a mullah roaming the hills in search of a new jihad was pure invention, designed to justify a security clampdown in parts of the country where the governments writ ran thin. The lack of hard information. and speculation about what was really going on, resulted in widely divergent readings of clashes that took place in 2009 and again in 2010 between government troops and armed locals. Was the military engaged in a counter-insurgent drive against a serious militant threat, or was it victimising local community leaders by branding them terrorists? The public relations battle peaked after a real and bloody one last September, in which 25 soldiers died when their convoy was hit by what looked like a well-coordinated ambush in a narrow mountain gorge. As reporting in much of the media highlighted the alleged failings of the security effort, the defence ministry grew increasingly irritated, arguing that its own performance was being slighted while no one realised the security threat it was trying to deal with. Defence Minister Sherali Khairulloev issued an irate statement slamming what he felt was the gloating tone of some of the reporting. He asked why the independent press chose not to condemn the actions of ruthless murderers, and suggested this was tantamount to aiding and abetting terrorism. (See Tajik Governments Fury Over Conflict Reporting.) The governments stand-off with the media did it no credit, with curbs placed on press and internet news outlets, and reporters complaining that the virtual blackout on official information about the violence meant they were unable to establish the facts. But the ministers basic point that his men were fighting a real enemy rather than merely disgruntled locals turned out to be right. No one really knows what Mullo Abdullo was up to. When the Tajik civil war ended in 1997, most of the opposition guerrillas agreed to disarm and return to civilian life, but a few commanders like Mullo Abdullo refused. He is believed to have spent years in Afghanistan, allied with the Taleban like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, which moved between Afghanistan and the wild northwest of Pakistan. If he just wanted to go home, then after slipping back into Tajikistan, he could have sought quiet obscurity in some remote village. The decision to draw attention to himself and his small band of followers who came with him suggests he had an agenda. There were already suspicions that IMU members were relocating to northern Afghanistan, particularly around Kunduz, where they could give the Taleban a useful way of planting a diversionary force that spoke local languages and could make trouble behind the NATO lines. Furthermore they could cross into Tajikistan and on into Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan fairly easily, creating at irritant for governments that have offered road, rail and air transit routes for NATO supplies. If that is the case, then the Tajik governments removal of Mullo Abdullo could have a major impact in warning off further infiltration. It is true that governments in Central Asia are prone to trot out the Islamist threat as a way of justifying repression. But that does not cancel out the real risks posed by the likes of the IMU and Mulla Abdullo. They may still have ambitions to reinsert themselves into the region either to justify their existence as Central Asian jihadists, as or at the behest of the Taleban. Whether they would find significant support in Tajikistan is another matter. There are certainly plenty of young men who might be vulnerable to anti-government rhetoric, particularly if accompanied by regular pay. Analysts in Tajikistan, however, have argued over many years that this countrys population as a whole was inoculated against bloodshed by five years of internecine conflict, and would not take kindly to calls to repeat the experience. John MacLeod is senior editor at IWPR. KAZAK LIBEL LAW CHANGES NOT ENOUGH Restrictions on libel actions are step in right direction, but defamation needs to be struck off criminal lawbooks, media activists say. By Anna Drelikh Media rights activists in Kazakstan have welcomed legislative amendments restricting the use of libel actions and the penalties than can be applied, but say further reforms are needed to ensure freedom of expression. The changes passed by Kazakstans parliament on April 16 prohibit defamation actions launched against the media by institutions rather than individuals. Instead, businesses and public-sector organisations can demand the publication of a retraction. The amendments also reduce the penalties that a court can apply in libel cases. In most cases, a defendant found guilty can no longer be sentenced to detention or other restrictions on his or her liberty. In lawsuits claiming defamation of the Kazak president or judges which are treated as special cases imprisonment is replaced with lesser penalties such as house arrest. Kazakstan has long faced international criticism for the inclusion of libel in criminal as well as civil law statutes. Contrary to the hopes of campaigners who have been lobbying for change for a decade, defamation still exists as a criminal offence. But changes introduced in February mean a criminal libel case can only be brought if the defendant has already lost a defamation action under civil law less than one year beforehand. The only exception, left over from previous legislation, is that prosecution can take place if the alleged libel accuses the plaintiff of corruption or other grave crimes. Member of parliament Murat Abenov said banning institutional defamation lawsuits was a positive move. In the past, he said, the ability to bring such actions had allowed state officials and private business owners to wield their organisational strength as a big stick with which to defend themselves against justifiable criticism. Media activists say the changes fall short of the full decriminalisation they were pressing for, so as to entirely rule out the use of prosecutions to muzzle journalists who take on the rich and powerful, and to force independent media out of existence. The media rights group Adil Soz has calculated that of the 85 libel actions against media organisations last year, 23 were of them were brought by institutions, not individuals. Adil Soz issued a statement praising parliament for the April amendments, but insisting that libel must now be deleted altogether from the list of criminal offences, defamation claims should be subject to a time-limit from the date of the alleged offence, and the size of damages payable to individuals should be capped. While noting that the number of prosecutions against journalists under criminal fell from 42 to 18 last year, Adil Soz said the improvement was mainly due to Kazak government taking a more cautious line with the media during its 2010 chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Even so, the total size of damage awards increased, it said. Journalists working for independent and opposition-aligned media outlets say the frequency of lawsuits and the amount of damages sought from them are evidence that the law is used to silence critical voices. Last year, for example, the opposition newspaper Vzglyad was ordered to pay damages of just over 100,000 US dollars after losing a defamation case, and it is now close to bankruptcy. Uralskaya Nedelya, an independent weekly in western Kazakstan, is also threatened with closure after being sued by the provincial administration and numerous private businesses. In just one of these cases, an oil-industry company was awarded 140,000 dollars. As the papers chief editor Tamar Yeslyamova notes, there is a big discrepancy between the treatment of Uralskaya Nedelya and that of state-run newspapers, which are rarely forced to pay damages of more than 200 dollars when they lose libel cases. The head of the Media Alliance of Kazakstan, Adil Jalilov, said that even with some positive changes in place, ways could still be found to go after the media. Criminal and administrative [civil] law cases against journalists can still be launched using a number of other legislative acts, notably the privacy law, the law on the Leader of the Nation [President Nursultan Nazarbaev], legislation governing the internet and so on, Jalilov said. In its annual Freedom of the Press ranking, the United States-based watchdog Freedom House put Kazakstan in 172nd place on a list of 196 countries surveyed, three places down on its position last year. Anna Drelikh is an IWPR contributor in Almaty. 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. FEW TEARS SHED FOR "TAJIK BIN LADEN" Killing of veteran militant seen as al-Qaeda emissary has eased but not removed security threat in Central Asian state, analysts say. By Lola Olimova Tajikistans security forces have scored a major coup by killing a top militant leader allegedly linked to al-Qaeda, but they recognise that the fight against armed Islamists is far from over. Analysts say the governments priority must be to win over powerful local leaders in eastern Tajikistan, as well as young men at risk of being recruited into armed groups. In addition, more needs to be done to stop traffic across the long and porous border with Afghanistan. Mullo Abdullo, whose full name is Abdullo Rahimov, was killed on April 16 during a two-day military sweep of Nurobod district, in the Rasht valley in the eastern mountains. About 15 others, mostly from the area, were killed in the operation. Mullo Abdullo was a member of the Islamic opposition force that fought the Tajik government between 1992 and 1997. When the civil war ended, opposition leaders came over to the government side and their guerrillas were disbanded. A number of dissident commanders refused to comply, and most were picked off in army operations over the next few years, but Mullo Abdullo survived. He disappeared from view, and is believed to have spent a number of years in Afghanistan, where he may have forged links with al-Qaeda, the Taleban, or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, a group that originated in Central Asia. After his death, deputy interior minister Saidkhon Jurakhonov described him as al-Qaedas man in Tajikistan. In spring 2009, rumours began circulating that Mullo Abdullo was back in Tajikistan. He was said to have crossed with a band of armed followers from Afghanistan into the eastern mountain districts, where he was trying to build support among civil war-era guerrillas. An insider source in one of Tajikistans security agencies told IWPR that despite years of peace, former field commanders remained a force to be reckoned with in areas that were opposition strongholds during the civil war. For years, he said, the government had turned a blind eye to their activities and tried to buy them off by giving them official posts and opportunities to make money. (See Taming Tajikistans Eastern Valleys and Chasing Phantoms in the Tajik Mountains.) From May 2009, government troops conducted an operation targeting illegal armed groups and made a number of arrests. After some of these detainees escaped from a high-security prison in August 2010, the government sent more troops up the Rasht valley to track them down. Twenty-five soldiers died in an ambush in September; the authorities say Mullo Abdullo was responsible. The IMU also claimed responsibility for the attack. (For the implications of this incident, see Tajik Authorities Struggle to Quell Militants.) Continuing government operations resulted in a number of suspects being killed in firefights, including Aloviddin Davlatov, also known as Ali Bedak, who died in January, and eventually Mullo Abdullo, whose body was shown on national TV. In an interview for IWPR, interior ministry spokesman Mahmadullo Asadulloev said Mullo Abdullos death represented the culmination of two years of efforts to hunt down a man he described as a dangerous international terrorist. Sadulloev underlined that government forces had been assisted by ex-guerrilla commanders who had chosen not to side with the renegade leader. It remains unclear whether Mullo Abdullos attempt to stir up trouble in Tajikistan was his own initiative, or whether he was spearheading plans for larger-scale operations in Central Asia by the likes of the IMU, many of whose members have relocated from Pakistan to northeastern Afghanistan. (IWPR looked at the IMU role in Is Uzbek Guerrilla Force Planning Homecoming? and Should Central Asia Fear Taleban Spillover?.) Either way, his removal is a significant victory for the Tajik government. First, this shadowy character enjoyed almost legendary status Bin Laden No. 2, as one newspaper headline called him. Because he was so elusive, many analysts expressed doubt about whether he was in Tajikistan at all, or whether the story was just an invention designed to justify the counter-insurgent drive. Political analyst Parviz Mullojonov says al-Qaeda would find it hard to find a Tajik militant able to perform the same role, let alone one of such symbolic importance. Like Sadulloev, Mullojonov noted the importance of government efforts to coopt local powerbrokers whose loyalties might earlier have been uncertain. A deal reached with two such figures meant the authorities were able to establish relative control over the situation in the Rasht valley last autumn, he said. He and other analysts say that while the immediate danger of a militant resurgence has receded, it is too early to assume the threat has gone away altogether. Small groups of armed men continue to exist in the east, and the threat of similar groups infiltrating across the Afghan border persists, Mullojonov noted. In response to Mullo Abdullos death, a group calling itself the Mujahedin of Tajikistan issued a statement on the internet warning of retaliation against the government. Rather than being couched in the language of international jihad, the statement listed the alleged misdeeds of the Tajik authorities. The group is previously unknown, and it remains unclear whether it exists. Retired police colonel Aliakbar Abdulloev says al-Qaeda and the IMU remain strong and are likely to make further attempts to create instability in Central Asia, Tajikistan in particular. Although part of Mullo Abdullos group has been eliminated, small numbers of members have fled into the mountains to find refuge there. They will be in contact with their headquarters [abroad] and its more than likely a decision will be taken to provide them with assistance, he said. Despite the myth that has grown up around the dead commander, Abdulloev said he could be replaced. They will train more Mullo Abdullos to replace him, he warned. He said the government needed to improve its capacity to gather intelligence about insurgent movements, beef up controls along the border with Afghanistan to make it harder for militants to cross over, improve security checkpoints in Rasht, and mount patrols on routes through the mountains. Hikmatullo Saifullozoda, spokesman for the Islamic Rebirth Party the main opposition organisation during the civil war and now a legal opposition party welcomed the demise of Mullo Abdullo, which he said would contribute to greater stability. But he pointed to underlying problems the authorities should be worrying about the need to improve living conditions in this part of Tajikistan, so that unemployed young men would not be tempted to join armed Islamic radical groups. Lola Olimova is IWPR's Tajikistan editor. 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. CENTRAL ASIA'S VULNERABLE WOMEN Domestic violence is all too often seen as a private matter in which the state should not intervene. By Saule Mukhametrakhimova Central Asias Vulnerable Women is a photo gallery based on IWPR exhibition on domestic violence themes. The exhibition was launched to coincide with a two- day round-table forum held at the end of March in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Womens rights experts, activists and politicians from across Central Asia took part in the IWPR event jointly organised with the Tajik state committee for women and family affairs to share experiences on drafting legislation and taking practical action to end violence against women. Domestic violence is all too often seen as a private matter in which the state should not intervene, but experts agree that it needs to be brought out into the light through awareness-raising, tougher legislation and practical solutions. Abuse in the home and victims fear of doing anything about it stem from traditional values that accord women a secondary role. Women are expected to put up with their position and not to air their problems outside the home. Among contributing factors to domestic violence in Central Asian countries, gender experts named the widespread practice of underage marriages, polygamy, as well as the revival of the ancient custom of bride kidnapping. They pointed out that because these illegal acts often go unpunished makes it difficult to put an end to the abuse. The number of women subjected to assault in the home is hard to assess because there is no separate breakdown for cases that would count as domestic violence. Womens rights groups try to monitor the situation, but their data captures only those who actively seek help. According to a member of the Kyrgyz parliament Altynai Omurbekova, more than 80 per cent of violence against women takes place in the family. The Tajik coalition of non-government groups, From Legal to Real Equality, said that in 2009 of nearly 3,900 women who visited crisis centres, 14 per cent reported they were subjected to physical violence. Statistics on female suicide in the southern Khatlon region of Tajikistan give a snapshot of the problem. According to official information, last year there were 108 cases of suicide and attempted suicide by women - 52 of which were related to domestic violence. Due to the work of women NGOs who mostly receive support from international organisations and governments being more willing to acknowledge and debate domestic violence, awareness of the problem is rising. As a result, over the last several years the number of women turning to crisis centres for help has increased, gender experts say. **** 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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