WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 662, November 22, 2011 INTERVIEW
DEMOCRACY REALLY CAN WORK IN CENTRAL ASIA – KYRGYZ PRESIDENT Roza Otunbaeva recalls difficult times as head of state. By Timur Toktonaliev, Dina Tokbaeva SOUTHERN KAZAK CITY REELS FROM SHOOTING SPREE Prosecutors say dead gunman had Islamist links. By Almaz Rysaliev INTERVIEW DOES KAZAKSTAN ATTACK REFLECT RISING MILITANCY? Suspected Islamist kills seven, blows himself up. By Almaz Rysaliev TOUGH LINE ON RELIGION IN KAZAKSTAN Critics decry new legislation as setback for freedom of confession. By Almaz Rysaliev TORTURE CLAIMS MAR TRIAL IN TAJIK NORTH Despite improved laws, allegations of abuse continue to be batted away by a system resistant to change, experts say. By Mira Akramova **** NEW ************************************************************************************ KYRGYZSTAN ELECTION UPDATES 2011: http://iwpr.net/focus/kyrgyz-election-2011 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 BECOME A FAN OF IWPR ON FACEBOOK http://facebook.com/InstituteforWarandPeaceReporting https://www.facebook.com/iwprkazakhstan https://www.facebook.com/iwprkg FOLLOW US ON TWITTER http://twitter.com/iwpr http://twitter.com/IWPR_Kazakhstan http://twitter.com/iwprkg **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** DONATE TO IWPR: http://iwpr.net/donate **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** INTERVIEW DEMOCRACY REALLY CAN WORK IN CENTRAL ASIA – KYRGYZ PRESIDENT Roza Otunbaeva recalls difficult times as head of state. By Timur Toktonaliev, Dina Tokbaeva The outgoing president of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbaeva, says that despite the turbulence, even chaos of the last 18 months, Kyrgyzstan has successfully managed the transition to a more democratic system, and there is no going back to the old authoritarian ways. President Otunbaeva gave an exclusive interview to IWPR as she approached the end of her term as head of state, which began with the protests that ousted her predecessor Kurmanbek Bakiev in April 2010, and included the ethnic violence that shook southern Kyrgyzstan in June last year. Almazbek Atambaev, who served under her as prime minister, was elected president of Kyrgyzstan on October 30, and when he is formally inaugurated on December 1, Otunbaeva will become the first Central Asia leader to step back from power voluntarily. Future presidents will have far fewer powers than before, under a revived constitution passed by a nationwide referendum in late June 2010. As a result, parliament becomes a far more important actor. The following are excerpted highlights from Otunbaeva’s wide-ranging interview: PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY “We have started along a road that we ourselves chose. We’re aware that we will need to go through two or three parliamentary elections before we grasp all the pluses and minuses of the system. But we can already see that many things are beginning to work… the mechanisms are being improved.” “We held the referendum to propose a parliamentary-based constitution practically on schedule, and we held a parliamentary election [in October 2010] in which an opposition party came first, something we never expected. “That election was shown on TV, in the public eye, and it wasn’t rigged. It was the first clean, transparent and free election in Central Asia.” “Now we have held a presidential election. Whatever they say about it, only 60 complaints have been filed, and they aren’t of the type that would affect the outcome. “We’re now in the position of having done everything we promised. In the course of these reforms we had a lot of doubts and worries, but the people proved a lot more intelligent and profound than us. We worried about how the north and south [of Kyrgyzstan] would vote. But look how people voted…. Atambaev [from northern Kyrgyzstan] came first in Osh, second in Jalalabad and third in Batken [all in the south]. So people don’t think they need to vote for the local favourite.” “I would hope we’ve moved beyond the point of no return; that the way we started out is now in the past. We must keep on moving forward…. I think we’ve been able to show that parliamentary democracy is possible in Central Asia…. I believe Kyrgyzstan will send out a message to the world that we’re making progress, that things are working and will continue working here.” LAW AND ORDER “This past year and a half was a period of crisis in which peace and order literally broke down and we found ourselves in a lawless envirornment – a burst of criminality, disorder and chaos…. After June  we started restoring order slowly but surely. After June, security issues were the top priority and we worked on them on a daily, even hourly basis. I realised that security was more important to people than bread. It was the priority among all priorities, and we activated every resource to address it….. “In January 2011, I declared war on crime. I believe we achieved solid results. There was a time when they [organised criminals] challenged us and said, ‘We’re as important as you are when it comes to ownership, and we can also be part in political decision making.’ They’d got used to this as the [old] regime was intertwined with them. We had to eliminate this criminality. “We must pay the police their due; they proved up to the task. Around 200 bosses and members of organised crime groups were arrested. I believe we’ve cleaned up this area and also enhanced the police’s potential. But major tasks remain.” JUSTICE AND RECONCILIATION FOR VICTIMS OF JUNE 2010 VIOLENCE “History shows that decades may pass but retribution will still come. We’ve had a year and a half, and of course in the rush to restore peace, calm and stability, we weren’t focused enough. “But work did get done. There were a lot of reports and investigations, including that of the Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission [foreign team commissioned by Otunbaeva; its tough findings were slammed as “biased” by other Kyrgyz politicians]. That was an achievement for Kyrgyzstan…. The commission’s findings contained invaluable truths.” STEPPING DOWN AS PRESIDENT “I can’t even say whether I’m sorry [to go] or not, because I agreed to this [limited] term in office right from the start. It was a moment of crisis, of joining forces, of taking the reins and moving forward. It fell to me to do this, and this year-and-a-half period was decided on. “There were many who said we needed more – a three-year term. But I now believe a year and a half was right, otherwise the transitional period would have just gone on and on. Another 18 months would have passed and the country still wouldn’t have been out of this state of crisis.” Interview questions compiled by Timur Toktonaliev, IWPR editor in Kyrgyzstan, and Dina Tokbaeva, IWPR editor for Central Asia. SOUTHERN KAZAK CITY REELS FROM SHOOTING SPREE Prosecutors say dead gunman had Islamist links. By Almaz Rysaliev Life in Taraz in southern Kazakstan is slowly getting back to normal after a suspected Islamic militant went on the rampage, killing seven people and finally himself. The killer, who has been named as Maksut Kariev, robbed a gun shop in Taraz on November 12, taking two hunting rifles and shooting a security guard and a bystander, both of whom died. He then killed two policemen, taking a pistol and a Kalashnikov automatic rifle from them, before going home and arming himself with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. He used this weapon to attack the regional offices of the National Security Service, KNB, for Jambyl province, of which Taraz is the administrative centre. No one was hurt in this part of the attack, but Kariev wounded two mounted policemen who set off in pursuit. When police eventually caught up with him, one officer was killed when Kariev detonated explosives, killing himself too. Kazakstan’s deputy chief prosecutor Nurmukhanbet Isaev said the 34-year-old man was “a follower of jihadism”. Kariev killed a total of five people during this chain of events, and the authorities say he also murdered two KNB officers. According to Viktoria Savelyeva, a reporter for the local newspaper Novy Region, this happened at the start of Kariev’s rampage. The two officers had him under surveillance because he was suspected of terrorist links. He killed them, took their guns, stole a taxi and drove to the weapons shop. Savelyeva said some information was coming out about Kariev – he had moved to Taraz from Kokshetau in northern Kazakstan, was married with children, and had been a sniper in the army. Officials are saying Kariev seems to have acted alone, although they will be unable to ascertain whether he had any accomplices until they complete their investigations. Some residents remain concerned that the trouble is not yet over. Savelyeva said the mood in the city was now quiet but on edge. “Today there was a funeral service to honour the policemen who died. The law-enforcement forces are on heightened alert,” she said, noting that many officers were out on police and the KNB building had been cordoned off. “Local residents are fearful, but they are still going to the shops and parks, and there isn’t the panic there was on Saturday,” she said. Jambyl region is close to Kyrgyzstan, and the security forces in that country are on alert. More Kyrgyz border guards are patrolling than usual in the Chui and Talas regions, and travellers who normally have to just show ID are being subjected to stricter checks. Almaz Rysaliev is IWPR editor in Kazakstan. INTERVIEW DOES KAZAKSTAN ATTACK REFLECT RISING MILITANCY? Suspected Islamist kills seven, blows himself up. By Almaz Rysaliev A shooting spree by a suspected Islamic militant in southern Kazakstan has left analysts wondering whether the killer acted alone or as part of a more concerted plan of attack. The assailant, named as Maksat Kariev, robbed a gun shop in the southern town of Taraz on November 12, taking two hunting rifles and killing a security guard and a bystander. He then shot dead two policemen, taking a pistol and a Kalashnikov automatic rifle from them. Kariev next went to his home, where he collected a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and set off to attack the Jambyl regional office of the National Security Service, KNB. Although he opened fire on the building, no one was hurt. He wounded two more policemen before he was finally cornered. A police officer died when Kariev blew himself up. He killed a total of five people during this series of events, and the authorities say he also killed two KNB officers. IWPR understands that this took place before the raid on the gun shop, and that Kariev turned on two officers who had been tailing him. (See also Southern Kazak City Reels From Shooting Spree.) Kazakstan’s deputy chief prosecutor Nurmukhanbet Isaev said the 34-year-old Kariev was “a follower of jihadism”. Officials are saying Kariev seems to have acted alone, although they will not be sure whether he had any accomplices until the investigation concludes. The incident was the latest in a series of attacks in Kazakstan over the last six months. On October 31, two explosions hit the western city of Atyrau. A 24-year-old local man blew himself up, and a second blast occurred in a rubbish container. No one else was hurt. Three people suspected of links to the dead man were arrested. Prosecutors have linked the Atyrau incident to Kazak members of an Islamic radical group called Jund al-Khilafah, “Soldiers of the Caliphate”, which they believe to be based somewhere on the Afghan-Pakistani border. In mid-May, a 25-year old man blew himself up at KNB headquarters in the city of Aktobe, also in western Kazakstan. The incident has been described as Kazakstan’s first suicide bombing. While no link has been established between the attacks in Aktobe, Atyrau and now Taraz, the prospect of rising violence with Islamic militant connections is alarming for Kazakstan, a country previously untouched by this kind of attack. IWPR asked Nikolai Kuzmin, political editor of the Expert-Kazakstan magazine, to discuss whether the latest incident fits into an overall pattern of extremist action in Kazakstan. Nikolai Kuzmin: It’s been known for some time that what’s called international terrorism operates as a network with no vertical, hierarchical structure. Al-Qaeda cells in Pakistan, Sudan and Indonesia do not maintain contact with one another other, although they share a common ideology and employ similar tactics. The same is true here. If one attempted to track down a centralised unit masterminding terrorist acts, then one clearly wouldn’t find it. That’s in spite of the suspicion that these incidents have a lot in common. IWPR: Is it significant that, unlike earlier attacks in western Kazakstan, this latest one occurred in the south of the country? Kuzmin: Extremism isn’t spreading across the country from some kind of single centre. It is just that the number of terrorist acts is growing, and that this is more in evidence in western Kazakstan. I do not believe people in the west of Kazakstan are more susceptible to extremist ideology than their fellow-citizens in the south. Acts of terrorism can occur in any city – there are no regional specifics. IWPR: What might be behind this extreme form of protest? Kuzmin: In recent years, radicals from Kazakstan have established contact with like-minded individuals from other countries. Religious activists from abroad have come here looking for people who share their views, and they’ve found them. That’s how various groups have emerged; it’s obviously not just one group. Sometimes they set themselves up on their own. Kazakstan has supported the war on international terror through concrete actions. Hence, the radicals have added us to their list of ‘unfriendly states’. Look at eastern countries – terrorist acts happen in China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, even in Japan. In Afghanistan, they are a daily occurrence. Kazakstan is no longer an exception. IWPR: How can you explain the presence of extremists in Kazakstan? Kuzmin: Extremism is generally a response by an individual, sometimes a whole group of people, to external factors. It isn’t the same as terrorism, which is an even more extreme form of behaviour. Terrorism comes when a reaction to personal, family, or social problems is expressed through extreme actions like killing policemen, causing explosions, or launching a suicide attack. We are now seeing how extremism, fuelled by the accumulated problems of young people who have grown up in [a culture of ] violence, is being transformed into terrorism in this country. IWPR: The information that’s been made available about this group, Jund al- Khilafah, suggests it’s a small number of people based outside Kazakstan. It doesn’t look as credible a force as it presents itself in its video material. Kuzmin: This group, like the numerous other ones that portray themselves as ‘soldiers of Islam’, does not present a real military threat…. But they can nevertheless inflict huge damage on a country. They seek to demoralise their enemy and sow fear. This can be done even with small numbers of people. Their cellular structure makes them very durable. It’s much more difficult to tackle thousands of autonomous five-member groups than one centralised organisation of 50 people. IWPR: How do you think the authorities should respond to such attacks? Kuzmin: Tightening up security and doing the right thing are not mutually exclusive. What’s worse, I think, is giving in to terrorists and trying to avoid angering them…. A person who goes on a killing spree shouting ‘Allahu Akbar!’, and a person who kills someone else because his skin is a different colour may position themselves differently – one is religious, the other a racist. But in essence, they are both extremists. IWPR: What would you say to the views that it’s the Kazakstan authorities who are behind these attacks, as a way of diverting attention away from social and political problems? Kuzmin: That kind of view is expressed in every country where terrorist acts take place. There will be always people who believe in conspiracy theories. I am not one of them. The authorities consist of rational rather than crazy people. Interview conducted by Almaz Rysaliev, IWPR Kazakstan editor. TOUGH LINE ON RELIGION IN KAZAKSTAN Critics decry new legislation as setback for freedom of confession. By Almaz Rysaliev A new law in Kazakstan places severe restrictions on Muslims and other faith groups, and critics at home and abroad fear it is will lead to a rise in covert religious activity, some of it extremist. A law on religion, with accompanying amendments to bring other legislation into line with it, came into force in October 25 after they were signed off by President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Parliament passed the package at the end of September. The law requires all religious organisations to apply for official registration, even if they had it previously. Procedures requiring them to show minimum membership numbers depending on whether they are locally-based, regional or nationwide are practically guaranteed to exclude smaller groups. If they fail to win registration, they effectively become unlawful and face stringent penalties. The law bans communal religious activities outside officially-recognised places of worship, meaning that informal prayer-houses will have to close. Nor can religious rites be performed within state institutions such as the military, prisons, schools and universities, and government offices. Other restrictions increase government oversight of prosyletising missionaries, the production of religious literature, and charitable activity, which the authorities believe sometimes equates to financial incentives for joining a faith group. The new law, which replaces legislation passed in 1992, was first proposed about three years ago, but has been withdrawn for revision three times following criticism from international organisations and local human rights groups. The latest version seems to have been rushed through as a response to fears of rising Islamic radicalism in western Kazakstan, the scene of clashes between police and suspected militants in July. (See Kazak Police Eliminate "Islamic" Cop-Killers.) Speaking at the opening of the parliament in September, President Nazarbaev said the legislation was designed to protect Kazakstan from extremists, and was not about curbing freedom of confession. The international community disagreed. In a statement after the bill was passed, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, expressed concern that the law “unnecessarily restricts the freedom of religion”. Janez Lenarčič, head of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, warned that that the legislation was a retrograde step for Kazakhstan’s compliance with its commitments as an OSCE member. The United States mission to the OSCE spelled out the concerns in clearer terms, saying, “When governments unduly restrict religious freedom and freedom of expression… they risk alienating religious believers and emboldening extremists”. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee also raised the alarm, its secretary general Bjørn Engesland noting that “there are plenty of examples showing that undue restrictions are counterproductive”. Ninel Fokina, head of the Almaty Helsinki Committee, believe the law was pushed through parliament as quickly as possible to avoid public discussion and resistance. Noting that the law makes specific reference to Kazakstan’s two majority faith groups – mainstream Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity – she suggested that other organised forms of religious activity would find themselves marginalised, with the overall number of recognised groups likely to fall from 4,500 to 1,500. “In the course of the re-registration process, all minority religious groups will be filtered out, not because they present a terrorist threat but according to their ideologically fit [with official views],” she said. Fokina expressed concern at the way faith groups will have different rights according to whether they are deemed to be national or local. “Those at the lower level won’t be able to do things like train priests or publish literature – that right will be reserved for national-level entities,” she said. “If a religious figure from a group in one district visits a neighbouring district, the new law will deem this a missionary trip.” The officially-sanctioned Islamic hierarchy in Kazakstan consists of a “directorate” which is close to government, and it is supportive of the new law. Its spokesman Ongar Omirbek said it was a good thing for young people to learn about the faith at recognised mosques rather than getting involved in shadowy informal groups. “There’s plenty of mosques where one can pray. No one is going to be unhappy about this,” he said. Azamat Maitanov, deputy editor of the newspaper Ak-Jayik newspaper in the western city of Atyrau and an expert on Islamic movements, disagreed, arguing that the law could be used to harass and pressure observant Muslims. As examples, he cited the persecution of students for wearing Muslim dress in Atyrau, and the dismissal of a judge suspected of links to an Islamic group in neighbouring Aktobe. Maitanov said new army conscripts were being screened by filling out a form designed to show how strongly religious they were. In the prisons, he said, “the information I have is that praying is banned and lists of devout Muslim are being drawn up. The prosecutor’s office in Atyrau sanctioned the closure of a mosque at a local prison camp.” Despite the authorities’ desire to shut out religion from secular state institutions, a report by RFE/RL in late September suggests that levels of observance are quite high. The report said that of the 30,000 or more men who attend mosque prayers on a daily basis in the capital Astana, 60 to 70 per cent are reportedly government employees. Murat Telibekov, head of a group called the Union of Kazakstan Muslims, said he doubted the law would really change anything. “It’s bureaucracy syndrome,” he said of the legislation. “People in his entourage think these things up so they can tell the president they’ve taken substantive measures. It’s unlikely anything will substantially change in practice.” Telibekov said the real roots of extremism lay in economic hardship, which was more of an immediate concern than spiritual matters for Kazakstan’s people. Almaz Rysaliev is IWPR editor in Kazakstan. TORTURE CLAIMS MAR TRIAL IN TAJIK NORTH Despite improved laws, allegations of abuse continue to be batted away by a system resistant to change, experts say. By Mira Akramova The case of a man allegedly tortured in detention in Tajikistan has highlighted the enduring difficulty of securing a fair hearing for those who report mistreatment, experts say. Anti-torture legislation has been revised, but is not always implemented effectively, and police often resist attempts to investigate allegations of abuse, so that perpetrators are able to act with impunity. For more than a year, the family and defence team of 33-year-old Ilhom Ismonov, from the town of Kanibadam in the northern Soghd region, have been seeking a proper investigation of allegations that he was tortured into signing a confession. Ismonov is one of 53 defendants in an ongoing trial in the Soghd regional centre Khujand, which started in July. The case concerns a suicide bombing at the local offices of police’s organised crime unit in September 2010. Three police officers and the attacker died in the explosion. Ismonov is accused of assisting the alleged Islamic extremists said to have commissioned the attack. His wife Zarina Najmutdinova has been active in raising the alarm about the case from the start, and was able to engage Amnesty International’s attention. She disputes the official story that her husband was detained by police on November 10 last year, charged and then handed over to the national security agency two days later for further investigations. Instead, she says, he went missing a week earlier, on November 3. Police who arrived to search the house the next day confirmed that he was in custody. Denied access when she visited the detention centre on November 5, Najmutdinova filed complaints against the police and spoke to the local prosecution service. The next day, she was told he had “escaped” from the heavily-guarded unit. Only after a prosecution officer appeared in person at the detention unit later that day did it emerge that Ismonov was in fact there. Najmutdinova was finally allowed to see him, and observed injuries to his hands and neck. “I sat facing him and saw burn marks on his hands, the kind you can get from an electric shock. I got an electric shock as a child so I know what marks it leaves,” she said. “I also saw cuts on his neck.” Police and prosecutors flatly deny that Ismonov was tortured. A letter from the Soghd regional prosecutor’s office said “claims that he was subjected to torture and was not provided with a lawyer have not been confirmed”. The interior ministry sent a similar letter. Najmutdinova says the prosecutor based its findings on a medical assessment carried out a month after her husband was first held in custody, by which time signs of torture had diminished. Judges also failed to address the allegations adequately, she said. At his remand hearing on November 13, 2010, Ismonov told the judge that he had been tortured, including by electrocution and by being doused in hot and cold water. The judge nevertheless ordered custody to continue. As the trial got under way on September 16, 2011, Ismonov repeated his allegations to presiding judge Dodojon Gadoiboev. The defendant denied the charges against him and said he had confessed under torture. According to Ismonov’s lawyer Tamara Yusupova, the judge has not addressed these concerns. As well as torture allegations themselves, questions remain about the manner of Ismonov’s detention. There is a clear week between Ismonov’s arrival in police custody and his appearance on official records of detention, during which time he had no access to a defence lawyer, whom he only met at the remand hearing nine days after his detention. The alleged abuse relates to this “missing” period, allowing officials to argue that he was not tortured while formally in detention. Revisions to the legislation on how criminal cases are processed, passed in 2009, make it clear that in legal terms, detention begins immediately a person is taken into custody, as does the right to see a lawyer. In the past, a looser definition could mean that the “moment of detention” occurred when an official report was filled out, leaving a gap of a day or more when the suspect was being questioned but was not a “detainee”. (See Praise for Tajikistan's New Penal Code on the changes.) Human rights experts say mistreatment and torture occur most frequently during the first 72 hours of custody. In a statement on the Ismonov case in September, Amnesty International said police are often accused of torturing or beating detainees to extract confessions, incriminating evidence, or money. Amnesty said that despite the improvements to the law, detainees continue to be held incommunicado, their lawyers are refused access, remand hearings do not always take place within the prescribed 72 hours, and judges often ignore claims of torture and actual evidence of injury presented in the courtroom. In the Ismonov case, prosecutors and police deny he was held unlawfully at any time. The closest they came to acknowledge any wrongdoing was a reference to police officers “having unjustifiably delayed information-gathering”. In its letter, the prosecution service said “he was not temporarily detained and was not held illegally”. For its part, the interior ministry acknowledged that the police filed a report late, for which officers would face unspecified disciplinary measures. When IWPR approached Judge Gadoiboev about the case, he too indicated that the alleged torture fell outside the recorded start of the accused man’s detention. “Ismonov has indeed raised the issue of torture, but he is talking about the period before a criminal case was launched. At that time, it was Ismonov’s illegal detention that was in question, and the regional prosecutor’s office has investigated this and presented its findings,” he said. Asked whether his court would address the torture allegations, Judge Gadoiboev said it would look into the matter in due course, and would rule on it once documentary evidence had been examined. “As of now, the [judicial] process is ongoing and it would be premature to talk about the outcome,” he added. Despite being the main witness to the alleged torture, Najmutdinova has not been asked to appear in the current trial. She has learned that prosecutors argued this was unnecessary, as the allegations had already been investigated and disproved by their institution. Noting that the defence had asked for her to be called as a witness, she said, “I am still waiting to find out when I will be called in.” Ismonov’s case has won international attention due to his wife’s persistence, but Amnesty International says other defendants in the same case have also told the judge about alleged torture and ill-treatment. Tajikistan is bound by numerous laws banning both the use of torture, and the submission of evidence gained through it. It is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture, which says that “any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings”. The 2009 criminal procedures code similarly states that evidence obtained “by way of force, pressure, causing suffering, inhuman treatment or other illegal methods” is invalid and must not form part of a prosecution case. While the code was largely welcomed when it was passed, legal experts noted that it still failed to set out a clear definition of torture. As in older legislation, the provisions covering mistreatment of detainees use terms such as the catch-all “exceeding one’s authority”, while specific physical abuse comes under the Russian word “istyazat”, which is somewhat softer than “pytka”, the standard equivalent for “torture” as defined under international law. (See Tajikistan Needs Tougher Torture Definition.) Sergei Romanov, director of the Independent Centre for the Protection of Human Rights, told IWPR that a bill introducing a standard definition of “torture” in line with international standards is currently before the Tajik parliament. Romanov noted that since last year, a law designed to protect trial participants has offered special safeguards for torture victims and their relatives, who can write to Tajikistan’s human rights ombudsman. An agreement signed this year allows the ombudsman’s office to take part in investigations of torture allegations, which were previously the exclusive domain of the prosecution service. A legal expert in Dushanbe told IWPR that the main problem was not the quality of legislation, but the fact that it was so commonly flouted. “In Tajikistan, laws are frequently simply ignored, or interpreted in favour of the law-enforcement agencies accused of torture,” the expert, who did not want to be named, said. He also confirmed the institutional obstacles set out by Amnesty International, which says that “sometimes personal and structural links between prosecutors and police undermine the impartiality of prosecutors” when the latter are supposed to be investigating abuse. “It’s possible to get results by attracting the attention of the public and of international organisations, but it’s still hard to see any flagship cases,” he said. In a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on October 3, Tajik justice minister Bakhtiyor Khudoyorov said that in the previous 20 months, 16 out of 66 allegations of ill-treatment or torture had been confirmed. Twelve cases had gone to court, but the majority of the offences committed were not serious, he said. He also said that Tajikistan was working towards ratifying the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture, which would open the way to external scrutiny of places of detention. Human rights defenders say the official statistics are a drop in the ocean when it comes to actual cases of torture, most of which are never investigated because they are covered up, or because victims fear that the repercussions will be even worse. Najmutdinova’s dogged refusal to give up remains the exception. Mira Akramova is the pseudonym of a journalist in Tajikistan. **** 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. 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