WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 655, August 27, 2011 SETBACK FOR PENAL REFORM IN KAZAKSTAN Rights activists warn conditions will worsen as control of prisons reverts to interior ministry. By Artur Nigmetov
TAJIK MIGRANTS HOSTAGE TO TIES WITH MOSCOW Analysts blame failure to secure legal position of temporary workers in Russia. By Lola Olimova IWPR EDITORIAL COMMENT TAJIKS SEEK BEST DEAL IN DEFENCE TALKS WITH MOSCOW Leading Russian analyst says Tajikistan’s leaders overestimate how much they can pressure world powers to secure lucrative military base deals. By Lola Olimova **** 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/ ********************************************************** SETBACK FOR PENAL REFORM IN KAZAKSTAN Rights activists warn conditions will worsen as control of prisons reverts to interior ministry. By Artur Nigmetov Kazakstan’s decision to hand control of the penal system back to the interior ministry is a sign the authorities are taking a harder line in response to widespread prison riots, human rights defenders say. They say the move is major a setback for efforts to reform Kazakstan’s penal system. The change reverses a major reform carried out in 2002, when Kazakstan became the first Central Asian state to stop the interior ministry running the prisons – a legacy of the Soviet era – and assign the task instead to the ministry of justice as part of moves towards a fairer, more humane system that is open to greater scrutiny. Penal reform advocates argue that since the interior ministry’s primary function is to control the police force which makes arrests, this conflicts with the very different role of overseeing penitentiaries, especially if the aim is to rehabilitate convicts as well as punish them. The change is being pushed through with unusual haste. The transfer process began on August 1, just four days after President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a decree mandating it, and is expected to be completed by mid-September. The move comes in the wake of a series of prison disturbances across Kazakstan. (IWPR reported on them in New Wave of Prison Rebellions in Kazakstan.) The authorities accuse inmates of stirring up trouble to force concessions from the prisons agency, known by its acronym KUIS. Human rights activists argue that the unrest reflects the brutality of prison conditions. After similar riots last year, the authorities prosecuted several warders for torture. But activists say there is still much work to be done to root out systemic abuses in the penal system – and putting the police ministry back in charge is unlikely to help. Ardak Janabilova, head of a public commission that monitors prisons in and around the city of Almaty, points out that “as a model, interior ministry control the penitentiary system is mainly used in undemocratic countries”. While Nazarbaev’s decree refers only to attempts to improve prison management, and KUIS spokesman Galymjan Khasenov assured the public that everything was under control, the recent unrest has clearly rattled the authorities. A senior official from KUIS who asked to remain anonymous told IWPR that the transfer was a direct response to the riots. “At times [the situation] was getting out of control. The government therefore decided to take radical measures to restore stability in the prisons. The interior ministry has experience of dealing with such conflicts,” he said. The Coalition Against Torture, which includes groups like the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, the Committee for Monitoring Criminal Law Reform and Human Rights and others, has expressed serious concern about the changeover to interior ministry control, and have urged the authorities to reconsider their decision. In a statement released at an August 9 press conference, the coalition said the move would not contribute either “to addressing problems in the penal system in an effective way, or to ensuring the protection of basic human rights”. Speaking at the press conference, the Central Asian head of the London-based Penal Reform International, Saule Mektepbaeva, said the running of prisons had to be kept separate from policing. “Prison management needs to involve psychologists and social workers – it’s different from the work of the police,” she said. Another speaker, Rosa Akylbekova, acting head of the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, said the government’s decision was at odds with its own penal reform agenda and also its stated policy position on consulting the public before changing the legal system. As things stood, she said, everyone had been caught unawares by the presidential decree, and it was unlikely Nazarbaev’s decree could be reversed. The most human rights groups could aim for was to minimise the damage through a dialogue with government officials. In that light, she Akylbekova, “Duties could possibly be moved around so that facilities that need to be guarded would be under interior ministry control, whereas correctional work – dealing with inmates, including those in temporary detention – should be assigned to a civilian institution.” The KUIS official interviewed by IWPR insisted maintaining order was paramount. “As for making prison conditions harsher, I don’t think that’s going to happen. But they won’t be made any easier, that’s for sure. Right now the task is to create stability. We don’t need to think about making things more humane for the moment.” Yevgeny Golendukhin, who heads a commission monitoring prisons in North Kazakstan province, said “The persistent disturbances, riots, jailbreaks and violence in the prisons is a crisis of management, so the authorities have decided on this reorganisation,” he said. “Of course it’s a retrograde step; there’s nothing about making the system more humane here. The authorities have decided to deal with the troublesome convicts by radical – for which read tough – means.” Prisoners’ rights activist Vadim Kuramshin warned that the treatment of inmates was likely to deteriorate significantly. “The use of torture won’t stop; on the contrary, it will become more widespread. You can forget about making the penal system more humane. This decision means that Kazakstan has finally become a police state.” Artur Nigmetov is a reporter for the Kazak service of RFE/RL. TAJIK MIGRANTS HOSTAGE TO TIES WITH MOSCOW Analysts blame failure to secure legal position of temporary workers in Russia. By Lola Olimova As Tajikistan finalises a new security deal with Moscow, a threat to require the hundreds of thousands of Tajik labour migrants in Russia to obtain visas shows how this community is often used as a bargaining chip in high-level politics. Analysts interviewed by IWPR say the Tajik authorities are partly to blame themselves for failing to ensure that their nationals can live and work in Russia on a sound legal footing, leaving them vulnerable to changes in the political climate. The issue came to the fore again in the context of Tajik-Russian talks on securing the border with Afghanistan. Russian forces patrolled the Tajik-Afghan border until 2005, when they were replaced by Tajiks. As negotiations took place for a new agreement due to be signed this September, there was considerable speculation that Moscow was so concerned about the security on the former Soviet frontier with Afghanistan that it wanted to put its own troops back there. But Tajik officials have resisted this and insist the current arrangements, under which Russia provides military advisers plus technical assistance, will remain substantially unchanged. (See Tajiks Seek Best Deal in Defence Talks With Moscow.) Uncertainty over how the deal would shape up was enough to create new frictions, sparked by an article in the Russian newspaper Nezavismaya Gazeta on August 2 in which Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the State Duma and leader of the governing United Russia party, voiced concern at the rise in drug use in Russia. Afghanistan is the world’s main source of heroin, and consignments heading for Russia often come via the porous, poorly-guarded border with Tajikistan. Gryzlov suggested that if Tajikistan did not want Moscow to take care of the border, its citizens should no longer be able to come to Russia without visas. His comments sparked an outcry in Tajikistan, with talk in the country’s media that Russia was using the migrant question as a form of blackmail to get what it wanted on the security front. Analysts in Russia, however, said that even if Gryzlov’s views were shared by many in the country’s security ministries, the idea of ending visa-free travel for Tajikistan nationals did not have the Kremlin’s blessing, and looked more like populist rhetoric ahead of a December parliamentary election in Russia. Nevertheless, the spat highlighted the tensions underlying Tajikistan’s relationship with Russia. The migrant issue has been controversial over many years. Racist killings in Russia have caused outrage in Tajikistan, underlining the low status and lack of rights of labour migrants, especially the many who travel and work illegally. At the same time, the expatriate workers send home substantial sums of money that support many households in Tajikistan, and their absence from the country provides some relief to an otherwise the depressed labour market. According to Karomat Sharipov, who runs the web resource Tajmigrant.com, unofficial estimates put the number of Tajik nationals in Russia at between 1.5 and two million. Muhammad Egamzod, head of the Taj-Info media group, which is based in Russia, said Tajikistan was heavily reliant on the remittances the migrants sent home. “I think there would be a social cataclysm if this flow [of money] were to stop,” he said. “Some of our [Tajik] politicians say we shouldn’t exaggerate the issue, but in reality we can see that almost every Tajik family has one or two members abroad as labour migrants, mostly in Russia.” Like many in Tajikistan, Sharipov believes a serious deterioration in relations with Moscow would inevitably impact on the position of temporary migrants. He recalled how a diplomatic row in 2006 involving espionage allegations led to Georgian migrants being deported from Russia. Aliakbar Abdullaev, who heads the Tajikistan office of Russia’s Anti-Corruption Centre, said political pressure was a normal part of international relations. “Any country is going to use whatever trump cards it has in order to protect its interests – it’s within its rights to do so,” he said. Like other analysts interviewed by IWPR, Abdullaev argued that it was up to the Tajik government to stand up for its own national interests, and specifically to protect the rights of its citizens abroad. He said the authorities had behaved somewhat irresponsibly in the past – they were happy enough to see the unemployed go off to Russia, but failed to secure bilateral agreements governing how they should be treated. “We have been sending our labour migrants there as if Russia is our own home, as we were still in the Soviet era. Yet we didn’t sign any legal documents or inter-state agreements,” he said. A Tajik businessman who runs a construction company in Moscow and asked to remain anonymous said the only reason Russian politicians were able to exploit the migrant issue was because Tajikistan’s government was unable to stand up for itself. He blamed inconsistent policies and a lack of skilled negotiators. “We have the weakest diplomats of all the Commonwealth of Independent States members. They’re incapable of defending their country’s interests, so Russia can expel all the Tajik labour migrants from Moscow at any moment,” he said. Rahmon Ulmasov, a philosophy lecturer with the Russian-Tajik Slavonic University in Dushanbe, takes a different view from most, arguing that if Moscow tightened its immigration rules, it would halt the flow of to illegal migrants and create a more orderly system. Ulmasov points out that many Tajiks have taken out Russian citizenship and would not be affected by deportation orders, while if others were forced to go home, they would simply have to accept whatever jobs they could find even if they did not earn as much as they would in Russia. Lola Olimova is IWPR editor in Tajikistan. IWPR EDITORIAL COMMENT TAJIKS SEEK BEST DEAL IN DEFENCE TALKS WITH MOSCOW Leading Russian analyst says Tajikistan’s leaders overestimate how much they can pressure world powers to secure lucrative military base deals. By Lola Olimova As Tajikistan finalises a new security treaty with Moscow, a leading analyst says Russia has good reason to worry about the flow of heroin coming its way via the Tajik-Afghan border. Arkady Dubnov, a Moscow-based political analyst with the Moskovskie Novosti newspaper and a long-term expert on Central Asian affairs, told IWPR that while Moscow was mainly concerned about security on the Afghan border, Tajik leaders appeared to be trying to wring the maximum possible financial benefits from future defence deals. A final agreement on Russian support for security on the Tajik-Afghan border is expected to be signed in September, when Russian president Dmitry Medvedev arrives for a summit of regional heads of state, 20 years after the founding of the Commonwealth of Independent States following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russian troops patrolled the Afghan border until as late as 2005, when they were replaced by Tajiks. Since then, Moscow has provided 300 advisors to support the Tajik frontier service. As the current arrangement came up for renegotiation at the beginning of this year, there were media reports that the Russian government wanted to redeploy its own forces along the 1,344 frontier, which is supposed to be a bastion against heroin exports and general instability emanating from Afghanistan. But it is now clear that the Tajik leadership is not going to agree to Russia reasserting control of the border. An anonymous official quoted by the Asia Plus news agency on August 11 said the current arrangements involving military advisers, training assistance and equipment supplies would not change. Tajik and Russian officials have also been discussing two other key defence issues – the two-decade-long presence of Russia’s 201st army division in Tajikistan, which comes up for renewal or annulment in 2014, and the possibility that Moscow might use the Ayni airfield as a platform for military aircraft. The Tajiks are likely to charge lease payments on the airfield, whereas the army base is currently rent-free. IWPR began by asking Dubnov what the key concerns were for Russia and Tajikistan, respectively. Arkady Dubnov: It’s hard to single out one single area of importance to Tajikistan, which currently has to navigate a way between Scylla and Charybdis – on the one hand, maintaining its independence, both militarily and politically, and on the other, earning money out of its geographical and geopolitical location, which international political players see as desirable. Take the 201st division.… I don’t believe Moscow will ultimately insist on keeping it there if Tajikistan demands payment for allowing it to do so. It’s hard to say who is right or wrong here. We know that Moscow believes Dushanbe should bear in mind that it’s been supplying the Tajik army with weapons and equipment at discounted price and sometimes free of charge over many years. So it doesn’t think Dushanbe has a moral right to start demanding payment [for the army base]. IWPR: You’re saying that it’s really Tajikistan which benefits most from the continued presence of the Russian army? Dubnov: Yes, I think that’s the case. The Russian army base is an important source of employment for the local population. Meanwhile, what does Russia actually get out of it these days, in military or political terms? Turning to the Ayni airbase, it seems to me that on the one hand, Moscow is seeking to secure the base for itself, and on the other, it wants to ensure no one else gets hold of it. IWPR: Some analysts say Tajikistan would prefer to lease the Ayni base to the United States rather than Russia. Is that true? Dubnov: I think the truth lies somewhere in between. If the Americans withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, they will need some kind of infrastructure so as to be able to control the situation along Afghanistan’s borders. So the Ayni base could be a useful location for them…. Under certain circumstances, Russia might agree to the Americans using Ayni given that Moscow is an ally and partner in the US war on terror. IWPR: The most hotly debated defence issue is Moscow’s reported wish to reinstate its border guards in Tajikistan. How convincing, then, are the diplomatically phrased assurances from Russian officials that they respect Tajikistan’s sovereignty over its borders? Dubnov: You know, I am inclined to agree with the concerns the Russian government has voiced about the dangers posed by drug trafficking across this [Tajik-Afghan] frontier. Over several years, Moscow has constantly raised this issue as well as taking steps and proposing initiatives – including joint ones with the Americans – to halt Afghan drug production and trafficking. Of course it’s a porous border, and that may be what’s motivating Moscow to seek to re-establish control, although there could also be [other] reasons – a pretext to restore Soviet-era frontiers. IWPR: How successful will Dushanbe be in trying to extract financial benefits from cooperation on defence matters? Dubnov: When the American military base in Kyrgyzstan was set up in [December 2001], the Kyrgyz won the lottery, as it were. The Americans are prepared to pay, and over time the Kyrgyz have successfully won higher rental payments for the base. But I don’t think it’s fair to compare that situation with the Russian base in Tajikistan, which is a legacy of the Soviet era. IWPR: Some analysts argue that the difficulties in these security-sector negotiations reflect the Tajik leadership’s unhappiness at what it sees as Russia’s failure to support it in its dispute with Uzbekistan, which opposes plans to complete the Roghun hydroelectric dam scheme. There’s also a feeling that Russian investment isn’t as high as Dushanbe would wish. Dubnov: Mr Rahmon is known for taking frequent and deep offence at Russian leaders. He talks about it at length with western diplomats, as WikiLeaks reports show. Maybe he has got reasons to be unhappy, but I’m not sure whether his demands are fair. I’ve been watching the Tajik leadership’s stance and policies over the last 20 years, and I’ve said publicly on several occasions that Dushanbe overestimates its influence in the region and in the world. Why does Kyrgyzstan manage to obtain extra benefits in the shape of loans and investment? It’s about the domestic politics – there’s political competition between various forces that curry favour with Moscow by promising [closer alignment] if they come to power. As we know, there’s nothing of the kind in Tajikistan. There isn’t any serious elite capable of challenging Rahmon by competing for Moscow’s attention. The Russian leadership’s attitude to the somewhat authoritarian regime of President Rahmon and his family cooled a long time ago. IWPR: How do you see Tajik-Russian defence ties progressing? Dubnov: I don’t personally see reason to believe the present close cooperation can continue. We might end up seeking [a situation] where no international player is prepared to deal with Dushanbe on the terms it wants. IWPR: Can you explain what you mean by that? Dubnov: The constant refrain from Dushanbe is that if things go wrong with the Russians, they can always try with the Americans. It’s obvious game-playing. When Foreign Minister [Hamrohon] Zarifi… says that Moscow doesn’t have rights of ownership in perpetuity over the [201st base] territory, it looks like the calculating behaviour of a player who’s hoping another partner might take him up on it and offer a higher price. 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