WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 675, April 27, 2012

BRUTAL ATTACK ON KAZAK JOURNALIST  Colleague says assault on Lukpan
Ahmedyarov meant as strong message to anyone thinking of voicing
dissent.  By Saule Mukhametrakhimova

GAS ROW HIGHLIGHTS TAJIK-UZBEK TENSIONS  Dispute over fuel supply
resolved for now, but angry rhetoric reflects longstanding mistrust.
By Yulia Goryaynova, Galim Faskhutdinov, Saule Mukhametrakhimova

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BRUTAL ATTACK ON KAZAK JOURNALIST

Colleague says assault on Lukpan Ahmedyarov meant as strong message to
anyone thinking of voicing dissent.

By Saule Mukhametrakhimova

Media organisations in Kazakstan and abroad have urged the authorities
to launch an immediate investigation into a near-fatal attack on
Lukpan Ahmedyarov, a reporter in the northwest of the country.

Ahmedyarov, who reports for the Uralskaya Nedelya newspaper in the
city of Uralsk, was shot twice and stabbed several times by three
assailants near his home on the evening of April 19.

He was initially fighting for his life in intensive care, but has
since regained consciousness and is able to speak.

Local prosecution officers looking into the case were quick to decide
that Ahmedyarov was a victim of random violence, and that the attack
had nothing to do with his work as a journalist.

Yet he himself told investigators that he might have been assaulted
because of a report he wrote on corruption and nepotism among local
government officials, published in February.

One of the officials mentioned in that article had filed a libel suit
against Ahmedyarov, with the first court hearing due on April 27.

If Ahmedyarov’s suspicions prove accurate, it will not be the first
time he has been targeted for criticising the authorities.

In 2009, he was sacked from his job as a TV journalst because his
reporting was deemed too critical. Last year, he was sentenced to five
days in jail for taking part in a demonstration against a referendum
to extend President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s term in office.

Last month, he was among the organisers of a public meeting of
activists and journalists to mark 100 days since police opened fire on
demonstrators in the western town of Janaozen, leaving 14 people dead.

IWPR asked his colleague Sanat Urnaliev, a freelance independent
journalist in Uralsk, to comment on the likely motive for an attack
that Kazakstan’s culture and information minister Darkhan Mynbai has
called “an act of savagery”.

Sanat Urnaliev: The particular brutality of this attack on Lukpan can
be explained – they clearly wanted to kill him.

Lukpan has been writing since 2001, and has consistently criticised
the authorities. He’s always provided a solid assessment of the
political situation.

Over the last two months, he’s been actively involved in mobilising
people for monthly meetings of dissidents, activists who are unhappy
about the social and political situation in this country. He’s done so
because journalistic investigations into the illegal actions of
representatives of the authorities have become pointless. He’s moved
from words to actions, organising peaceful protest meetings,
flash-mobs and other non-violent forms of protest.

Since then, he’s been constantly followed, harassed by police who
detained him using drinking and driving as a pretext, and more. Just
before the attempted murder, his wife was threatened with dismissal
unless she could get him to “end his involvement in politics”.

IWPR: Given Ahmedyarov’s work and his activism, there are few doubts
that there is a link between this attack and his work as a critical
journalist. Who exactly would want to silence him?

Urnaliev: It’s definitely the local authorities, local political
groups and law-enforcement agencies who are behind this assassination
attempt. It was ordered for political reasons.

IWPR: Tamara Kaleeva, head of the media rights group Adil Soz, has
warned that journalists could be picked off in targeted killing unless
they stand together and say such attacks must end. How dangerous is
the situation for journalists? And does this attack reflect some
recent political developments?

Urnaliev: Such appeals for unity among the journalistic community are
mainly just words. Journalists in Kazakstan are disunited. Most of
them work for the powers that be, some are with the opposition, and
then there are independent journalists like Lukpan. If someone is in
trouble, it’s usually the latter group who come out in support, as
they are the ones who get threatened.

The political situation in this country is reminiscent of the
repression of the Soviet period, when anyone who held different views
or expressed their opinions, let alone engaging in opposition
activity, was subjected to pressure, persecution, attacks,
assassination attempts and illegal incarceration.

Under such circumstances, it becomes unbearable and extremely
dangerous to be a journalist.

IWPR: Calling on the Kazak authorities to conduct transparent
investigations and fair trials generally proves ineffective,
particularly when government critics are targeted. Is there anything
that might force them to take Ahmedyarov’s case seriously?

Urnaliev: The fact that before an investigation had even been
launched, [prosecution] officers said this was the work of hooligans
and in no way related to Lukpan’s profession is an indication that
this case won’t be investigated in a fair and objective way. It would
be absurd to expect that from the people who were persecuting Lukpan
in the first place.

The only hope is that the president is unaware of the wrongdoing by
people who represent the authorities in the regions. Unless he
personally issues orders to track down the perpetrators and those who
ordered the attack, the whole thing will be swept under the carpet.

If local officials tell their superiors that Lukpan was organising
people to take part in protests, there is no chance at all. Not only
will the perpetrators avoid punishment, they will be rewarded.

Vocal complaints from the media community in Kazakstan won’t have any
effect. International human rights organisations exert no influence on
the Kazak authorities.

IWPR: How likely is it that something similar could happen to others,
for example journalists, activists who openly express criticism in
Kazakstan?

Urnaliev: What happened to Lukpan can happen to any citizen of
Kazakstan, not just journalists. The message that’s being sent out to
the wider public is this – do whatever you like, but don’t get
involved in politics, and don’t voice discontent.

Saule Mukhametrakhimova is IWPR Central Asia editor in London.


GAS ROW HIGHLIGHTS TAJIK-UZBEK TENSIONS

Dispute over fuel supply resolved for now, but angry rhetoric reflects
longstanding mistrust.

By Yulia Goryaynova, Galim Faskhutdinov, Saule Mukhametrakhimova

Just when relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan seemed to be at
breaking-point, both countries took a step back and signed a new
energy deal.

Uzbekistan cut supplies of natural gas to its neighbour on April 1,
citing a need to divert exports to China, with which it is linked by
pipeline. This led to Tajik allegations of an Uzbek “economic
blockade”.

It was far from the first time the two governments had clashed, and
experts noted that the rapid escalation of the dispute reflected a
deep-seated reluctance on both sides to talk to – rather than at – one
another.

The ending of gas supplies dealt a heavy blow to households and
businesses in Tajikistan, especially to big concerns like the
Tursunzoda aluminium plant, a major export earner, and the state-run
cement plant.

Many commentators, especially in Tajikistan, saw the move as part of a
broad campaign by Tashkent to exert political and economic pressure on
the country.

Dushanbe hit back with a strongly-worded statement from Prime Minister
Akil Akilov accusing Uzbekistan of using “economic, transport,
communication and other leverage” to press home its demands. These
“unfriendly” actions, it said, included blocking rail freight traffic
to southern Tajikistan, using environmental concern to campaign
against the Tursunzade plant, and refusing requests to allow
electricity supplies from Turkmenistan to cross Uzbek territory.

This “economic blockade”, the statement said, was designed to
destabilise Tajikistan.

The statement was published on April 3 on the website of Tajikistan’s
embassy in Moscow, and later removed. The fact that it was published
there suggested that its main aim was to elicit Russian sympathy and
support.

The central irritant in Uzbek-Tajik relations at the moment is
undoubtedly the Roghun hydroelectric project. This giant dam and
reservoir scheme has undergone sporadic construction followed by
delays over many years. More recently, the Tajik authorities have
invested in serious work to complete it. Once the power plant is
operating, the hope is that it will solve Tajikistan’s chronic
electricity shortages at a stroke.

Tashkent says the dam – which sits on a major tributary of the Amu
Darya river – will deprive it of irrigation waters in the spring and
summer growing seasons, and also presents a real risk of massive
flooding as it is located in a seismically active mountain region.

Tashkent-based analyst Kamron Aliev says it is “not entirely accurate”
to argue that Uzbekistan is simply blocking the Roghun project. The
real issue, he argues, is that “Uzbekistan wants guarantees that the
water will flow to it. How is this to be resolved? How will Uzbekistan
be insured against the eventuality that the dam bursts?”

Uzbekistan’s formal response to the Tajik complaints came in a
statement from Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev dismissing the
allegations. Mirziyoev said the reason gas supplies ended was that
Uzbekistan had fulfilled its supply commitments for January-March
2012, and the contract had expired. Any dispute was between the two
national gas companies, not their respective governments, he said.

The Uzbek prime minister rejected claims that his country was blocking
trains heading for southern Tajikistan, saying that traffic on the
route had suffered disruptions since an explosion last November. (See
Uzbek Rail Blast Sparks Terror Fears.)

On April 12, Uzbek and Tajik officials signed a new gas contract, and
supplies resumed four days later.

Their ability to come to terms so quickly raised questions about why
the matter was not dealt with before it reached crisis-point.

“The leaders of both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan need to understand that
they have to reach agreement, and that they have to show the political
will to do so,” Aliev said. “At the moment, that political will is not
in evidence. I believe this stems from international politics; there
are bigger players and higher political stakes here. Uzbekistan, for
example, is unhappy that Russia has military bases in Tajikistan.”

The mistrust between the two states is so enduring that a dispute
about a particular issue – in this case gas – soon broadens into a
much broader row about a whole range of issues.

In the weeks before the gas was shut off, Uzbek troop movements were
reported close to Tajikistan’s northern borders. This apparent
demonstration of military force caused consternation in Tajikistan,
especially in the north, where political leaders issued an appeal for
dialogue.

Some commentators in Tajikistan say the relationship with their
powerful neighbour will never be equal as long as Uzbekistan controls
their country’s fuel supply and most of its overland routes to the
outside world.

Engaging Iranian support is seen as one way out, although this is a
long-term prospect and greatly depends on what happens in Afghanistan,
through which any fuel supplies or road traffic would have to travel.

According to Dushanbe-based analyst, Rashid Abdullo, “By building
hydroelectric plants, holding talks on a gas pipeline from Iran, and
diversifying its transport links, Tajikistan is preparing the ground
to engage its partner [Uzbekistan] in dialogue as an equal partner.”

The prolonged frost in the Tajik-Uzbek relationship at government
level has also affected the general mood in the two societies,
analysts say.

Muhiddin Kabiri, head of the opposition Islamic Rebirth Party in
Tajikistan, worries that the debate is increasingly dominated by
“pseudo-patriots”, by which he means politicians and public figures
who portray Uzbekistan as the enemy.

Tajikistan has a substantial Uzbek minority and Uzbekistan is home to
many Tajiks, and both cultures have a lot in common. Despite these
ties, the media, civil society groups, political parties and religious
leaders and ordinary people have grown wary of establishing contacts
with counterparts across the border for fear of being branded as
traitors.

Viktor Kim, head of the Alliance of Ethnic Minorities in Tajikistan,
says the atmosphere of suspicion has led to ethnic Uzbeks being
sidelined from public roles.

“The Uzbeks in Tajikistan used to hold significant positions in the
economic and political spheres, but over the last decade or so they
have virtually disappeared from politics, and have only a low-level
presence in the economy,” he said.

Eshankul, a builder in Tashkent, said he feared that high-level
tensions would translate into further obstacles for the many people
who have relatives on either side of the border

“My sister and her family live in Leninabad [Khujand, northern
Tajikistan]. We haven’t seen each other for five years now,” he said.
“She hasn’t been able to get a visa since 2006. Two years ago, I did
get a Tajik visa, but the Tajik guards at the border still wouldn’t
let me cross.”

(For a historian’s view of the roots of this tense relationship, see
Repairing Broken Tajik-Uzbek Relationship.)

Yulia Goryaynova is an IWPR editor based in Bishkek, covering
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Galim Faskhutdinov is an IWPR-trained
journalist in Dushanbe. Saule Mukhametrakhimova is IWPR Central Asia
editor in London.

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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; Senior Editor
and Acting Managing Editor: John MacLeod; Central Asia Programme
Director: Abakhon Sultonnazarov; Central Asia Editor: Saule
Mukhametrakhimova.

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