for reporting on sensitive topics is shooting the messenger.  By Lola


STRIKES TAKE TOLL ON KAZAK OIL TOWN  Four months after industrial
action began, tensions still run high in Janaozen.  By Artur Nigmetov

ensure government agencies work together to enforce legislation.  By
Almaz Rysaliev

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Prosecuting journalists for reporting on sensitive topics is shooting
the messenger.

By Lola Olimova

The trial of a BBC reporter accused of links to a banned Islamic group
reflects a widely-held official attitude that the media should serve
the interests of the state, and the state should define what those

The case of Urunboy Usmonov raises serious concerns about the
vulnerability of journalists who report on issues that the authorities
regard as off-limits unless coverage adheres to their unwritten rules
of what is permissible, especially with regard to sensitive topics
like Islamic extremism.

Usmonov, 59, is a correspondent for the BBC Central Asian Service in
the northern Soghd region of Tajikistan. Arrested in June, he was
originally charged with membership of the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir
and with making subversive statements.

Investigators were unable to make these charges stick, and when he
went to trial in mid-August it was for “failure to report a crime” –
in other words, for not passing on confidential contacts with Hizb
ut-Tahrir to the police. But he is still being tried jointly with four
alleged members of the group, despite the altered charges.

Usmonov denies the allegations, and the BBC has said it regards the
charges as entirely unfounded. He told the court that his meetings and
interviews with Hizb ut-Tahrir members conducted purely in his
capacity as a journalist.

The case highlights a prevailing attitude among the law-enforcement
agencies – some kinds of reporting are acceptable, but others are not,
and it is the police who should be the final arbiters on such matters.
In particular, the charges against Usmonov sends a clear signal that
when the authorities ban a group like Hizb ut-Tahrir, reporting on it
is banned as well, and anyone doing so risks being accused of
endorsing the organisation.

That is a long way from the concept of media serving the public
interest, unless it is the police themselves who define what that is.

Attempting to muzzle the media does not contribute to curbing
extremism and violence. It is not, after all, media coverage of the
activities of Islamic groups that spreads their ideology and
encourages people to join them.

Many would agree with Abdufattoh Vohidov of the Independent
Association of Media, who argues that if Usmonov is persecuted just
for doing his job, other journalists will be deterred from reporting
on sensitive issues and will lapse into self-censorship.

The international attention surrounding Usmonov’s trial may have
contributed to the more serious initial charges against him being
shelved, although prosecutors insist this was based on an assessment
of the evidence to hand.

The case has certainly placed a dilemma before the Tajik authorities,
particularly the Soghd regional branch of the State Committee for
National Security. Despite the weight of international condemnation,
it is hard for them to back down. They did reduce the charges, but an
admission that he is innocent would prompt some hard questions about
why the prosecution was brought in the first place.

Usmonov’s trial has been adjourned until his lawyer, who is currently
abroad, can attend the proceedings. A verdict is expected at the
beginning of October.

Lola Olimova is IWPR editor in Tajikistan.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of IWPR.



Four months after industrial action began, tensions still run high in Janaozen.

By Artur Nigmetov

The town of Janaozen makes a surprising impression on the first-time
visitor. It isn’t at all what you would expect to see in the heart of
Kazakstan’s oil-rich west.

The town – with a population of 130,000, the second-biggest in the
Mangistau region – is dominated by Soviet-style apartment blocks in
grey concrete, surrounded by cheaply-built low-rise houses made of mud

Some 150 kilometres inland from the Caspian Sea, Janaozen is located
in the vast semi-desert of the Mangyshlak peninsula.

When I arrived there in early September, the heat was made almost
unbearable by strong winds that covered the whole town in dust. Local
people told me they get these winds all year round, blowing in dust in
summer and snowstorms in winter.

The harsh climate is not the only thing that makes life in Janaozen
tough. Despite the jobs created in oil extraction, unemployment is
high, and basic utilities like electricity and hot water are erratic.

The town hit the headlines over the summer when oil workers went on
strike to press for better pay. They are demanding additional pay
weighting to take account of where they live, the right to be
represented by an independent trade union, and – for those sacked
during the strike – full restitution of their jobs.

The strike at the Ozenmunaigaz oil firm started in May, at about the
same time as workers at another major firm, Karazhanbasmunai, began
separate industrial action in Aktau, also in western Kazakstan. At the
height of the protests, thousands of workers from a number of oil and
gas companies were out on strike, including 2,500 workers from
Ozenmunaigaz. (See Kazakstan's Unhappy Oil Workers.)

Ozenmunaigaz said the strike was illegal, and responded by dismissing
more than 370 workers at Janaozen. (See also Reprisals Merely Anger
Protesting Kazak Oil Workers.) The company argues that the wages it
pays have gone up in recent years. A protest last year did end in a
pay deal, but workers say this has not really been reflected in their
wage packets.

I headed for Janaozen’s central Yntymak Square, which appropriately
enough means “solidarity”, and is still occupied by protesting
workers. They spend their days sitting in the open air on rolled-out
carpets. Hand-made quilts make sitting more comfortable. Add some
plastic water bottles, and you have an approximate picture of what the
encampment looks like.

Clusters of strikers are dotted across the square, with some finding
shade under a few trees.

They take turns to occupy the square, leaving only to make brief
visits home. They told me they could not leave in case the police
cordoned off the square or blocked access routes.

Initially, the strikers set up camp on the outskirts of Janaozen, but
they moved into the town centre after raids by baton-wielding police.
They felt that if they were in full public view, they would be less
vulnerable to further attempts to disperse them.

Uniformed and plain-clothes police officers maintain a presence around
Yntymak Square, although they are keeping their distance.

The overriding impression is one of palpable tension. Nearly four
months of protest actions have taken their toll. I sensed this as I
talked to the protesters whose sunburnt faces had a look of

They were edgy and quite reluctant to talk to a journalist like me, as
they have not always had a good press. Some media reports suggested
they were well enough paid as things were and had nothing to complain

They also have other reasons to be mistrustful of outsiders, such as
an incident when oilmen’s wives were attacked by unknown assailants to
stop them staging their own protest.

Relations within the camp are strained, as well. Tempers run high, and
any disagreement can easily get out of hand and lead to arguments,
abuse and a brawl.

The strikers are divided on what they want – a hard core opposes any
deal short of all demands being met, others still believe it is right
to protest but are finding it increasingly hard to continue, while
others have had enough and want to stop.

One activist, Kayrjan Shagyrbaev, who is a drill operator in his early
forties, tried to downplay the gloomy mood and insisted the striker
were steadfast in their desire to carry on the fight. He said they had
warned their employers and government officials that the strike action
would escalate if they were ignored.

A female protester, Kunsulu Otarbaeva, told me of the price the
strikers were paying, saying, “Their children have nothing to eat, and
some families are breaking up as their wives leave them. These work
problems are spilling over into the family. These guys are at the end
of their tether, but they carry on out of principle and because they
want justice.”

The oil workers told me they were just the most visible part of a
wider group of people in Janaozen who were fed up with declining
living standards.

I observed that the police, too, looked uneasy as they kept watch on
the sit-in, and also on groups of men congregated in the vicinity of
the square. I was told these were unemployed locals, mainly
“oralmans”, the name used for ethnic Kazaks who were invited to come
in the country, but who have found it hard to get an education and
hence work.

I got a sense that these men were showing solidarity with the
oil-sector workers. It did not look as though there were coordinated
plan of action, but it was clear that if the authorities moved against
the protesters, other residents would side with the oilmen.

One protester told me police were deterred from breaking up the camp
by the fear of serious trouble.

“Behind every one of us there are children, wives, relatives and
others who support us and are ready to come to our aid at any moment,”
another protester, Sapar Uskenov, told me. “The authorities and
employers should think long and hard about that.”

Galym Bayjanov, a local representative of Kazakstan’s governing Nur
Otan party, said Ozenmunaigaz would not re-employ sacked workers who
had breached their contracts. Efforts were being made to find new jobs
for them, but they were refusing to accept them.

Uskenov’s response was that he and his colleagues already had jobs,
from which they had been illegally dismissed, and did not plan to
become street sweepers or maintenance workers.

As the incessant wind turns chillier, heralding the cold of winter, it
is hard to see how the protest in Janaozen can be resolved.

Artur Nigmetov is a reporter for Azattyq, the Kazak service of RFE/RL.


More needs to be done to ensure government agencies work together to
enforce legislation.

By Almaz Rysaliev

Implementation of a domestic violence law passed in Kazakstan last
year has been patchy, with some state institutions doing more than
others to enforce it.

There have been improvements in the way the police handle such cases,
with more restraining orders issued to protect victims.

But women’s rights groups say the government has been slow to fund the
crisis centres envisaged in the law, which provide refuge to victims
of domestic abuse and offer them psychological help and legal advice.

Before the law was enacted in January 2010, Kazakstan lacked effective
mechanisms for addressing violence in the home. The legislation
contains a clear definition of what constitutes domestic violence,
describes how cases should be prosecuted, and provides guidelines for
how the state should try to prevent them happening.

Roza Bekisheva, chief inspector with the domestic violence unit of
Kazakstan’s interior ministry, which controls the police, says a great
deal of progress has been made.

Restraining orders came into force in May last year, and some 40,000
have been issued since then, in most cases proving effective,
Bekisheva said.

The orders are for ten days’ duration and offenders can be jailed for
ten days or fined the equivalent of 50 US dollars if they contact
their partner, even by phone. Police can also place offenders on a
register, issue warnings, detain them, and impose other restrictions
including on travel.

A hotline for domestic violence victims is being piloted in the
capital Astana and will be rolled out across the country.

In terms of training, Bekisheva said, “We in the interior ministry
have put together a manual and sent it out to law-enforcement
personnel in every region, so that the police know what course of
action they need to take in domestic violence cases.”

Bekisheva noted that other sections of the law fell to the ministries
of justice and of labour and welfare to implement, and they were still
developing their plans to support crisis centres.

The arrival of the domestic violence law was hailed by non-government
groups which had struggled to keep crisis centres open with donor

Nadezhda Gladyr, head of the Podruga centre in Almaty, said many of
the 21 operating across Kazakstan were experiencing difficulties as
their foreign funding dried up.

The Podruga centre has helped thousands of victims of domestic
violence over its 13-year existence. According to Gladyr, cases
typically involve married women aged from 20 to 40.

The law now requires local government to fund crisis centres, but
according to Gladyr, “not one of the [existing] centres is a state
institution. Neither national nor local budgets have set aside funds
to establish them.”

She argues that there is nothing on paper to say how the law should be
translated into actions by the various state agencies concerned, and
that until such an action plan is produced, “local authorities and
other agencies like law-enforcement, women’s commissions, and NGOs
cannot start actively engaging in implementing the law”.

Irina Unjakova, a member of the official National Commission for
Women’s Affairs and for Family and Demographic Policy, agreed
coordination among various government agencies was inadequate, which
sometimes led to the system of protections breaking down.

Many victims are too fearful to make a statement to the police, and
this makes it extremely difficult to bring cases to court.

“If police bring a husband who’s been violent to the [police] station
and place him in detention, but the victim hasn’t filed a complaint,
prosecutors can lodge a petition against their actions,” Unjakova

Unjakova said the domestic violence law itself needed to be amended in
some areas. While it provided a good definition of domestic violence,
the system for deciding how to proceed against alleged perpetrators
was so convoluted that it was difficult to follow it through.

Bekisheva said the interior ministry’s domestic violence specialists
were planning to mount a joint campaign with local government
education and welfare departments later this year. The awareness
campaign, called Families Without Violence, will include public
meetings and practical measure such as providing jobs or financial
assistance to victims.

Encouraging victims to seek out the assistance available to them will
take time. Many women are still reluctant to air their problems in
public, and therefore avoid applying for restraining orders and the

IWPR spoke to a 36-year-old mother of two in Almaty who described a
pattern of attacks by her husband.

“My husband beats me up when he gets drunk,” the woman, who gave her
name as Inna, said. “When he’s sober, he is an exemplary husband and
father. As soon as he meets up with his friends and starts drinking,
everything changes.”

Inna described the effects that her husband’s violent behaviour had on
their seven-year old daughter and five-year old son.

“When he comes homes drunk, which can be at three in the morning, and
starts acting violently, they cry. They huddle together in the corner
and ask their father not to beat me. I feel sorry for them,” she said.

Despite this, Inna said she did not feel she needed psychological or
legal assistance, and would not turn to a crisis centre or to the
police. She did not want her troubles to be made public, and did not
trust outsiders to address the basic problem – her husband’s drinking.

“My husband doesn’t drink so often that things become unbearable and I
need to take radical steps,” she said.

Not did she want her husband to be placed in detention.

“That would only make things worse for my children and me,” she said.
“I really haven’t anywhere to go. Where would I go? All my relatives
have their own families, so how could I move in with them.

“In the end, the children need their father. I’ve got used to it.”

Almaz Rysaliev is IWPR editor in Kazakstan.

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