killing followed by internet blocks.  By Lola Olimova


to all that has been achieved since the end of civil war.  By Abakhon

KYRGYZ SECRET POLICE TO MONITOR WEB  Media rights activists question
wisdom of getting security agency to scour internet for hate speech.
By Timur Toktonaliev

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News of local politician's killing followed by internet blocks.

By Lola Olimova

Armed rebels who clashed with the Tajik military in the mountainous
southeastern Badakhshan region have begun laying down their weapons,
but the killing of a local politician who criticised government policy
has raised new tensions.

The interior ministry reported on July 31 that 200 weapons had been
handed over to the authorities following an offer of amnesty for
anyone who disarmed voluntarily.

Officials say 48 people died in clashes last week between government
troops and supporters of the renegade military commander Tolib
Ayombekov in and around provincial center Khorog.

Ayombekov, an officer in the border guards service, had refused to be
questioned about the July 21 murder of provincial security service
chief Major-General Abdullo Nazarov, or to surrender men suspected of

The latest official figures indicated that 17 members of the security
forces, 30 of Ayombekov’s armed supporters, and one civilian died in
the fighting, although some local residents quote higher figures.
Forty-one of the rebels, five of them nationals of near-neighbour
Afghanistan, were captured.

“We were very frightened,” one Khorog resident told IWPR. “The
children were crying all the time, and the grenade explosions and
non-stop exchange of fire scared them. On the first day, the food
situation was OK.… But then we ran out of water, the bread we had
dried up.”

She described how, during a lull in the fighting, people left for
safer parts of town or surrounding villages .

“One of our neighbours, a 60-year-old man, died of a heart attack. A
young woman had a miscarriage but was unable to get medical help,” she
said. “What we went through was a nightmare.”

Since a ceasefire agreed on July 25, the Tajik authorities have
remained in negotiations with the rebel force, and calm has been
restored in the main, although there have been sporadic, localised
clashes in some parts of Khorog. Government troops are still deployed
in the town but have withdrawn from the nearby Roshtkala district,
according to RFE/RL radio. (See Uneasy Truce Holds in Tajikistan's

Landlines started working again on July 28, and mobile phone networks
are partly functional. People trapped by the fighting, including some
foreign tourists, have been able to leave Badakhshan for the Tajik
capital Dushanbe.

The ceasefire was arranged by a mediating team consisting of local
officials, residents and representatives of the Ismaili branch of
Islam that people in Badakhshan follow. These included local clerics
and representatives of the Aga Khan Foundation, which has worked to
develop the region over the last two decades.

The Aga Khan himself, who wields considerable influence as leader of
all Ismailis, played a key role in persuading the rebels to accept a
truce, urging his spiritual followers to refrain from violence, to
work for peace and to uphold the law.

Moves towards stability were upset by the death and apparent
deliberate murder of Sabzali Mamadrizoev, the Badakhshan branch leader
of the Islamic Rebirth Party, IRP.

Mamadrizoev disappeared shortly after attending a July 23 rally in
Khorog where participants called for a halt to the fighting. In his
own speech, he criticised the Tajik government for the poor social
conditions which forced much of Badakhshan’s working-age population to
go abroad.

His body was discovered three days later some distance from his home.

A local IRP member who did not want to be identified told IWPR, “After
the rally, Mamadrizoev was detained by law enforcement forces, and
driven to a place known as Kala. There he was severely beaten and then
shot with a Kalashnikov.”

Although the IRP’s roots are in the Sunni Muslim majority of
Tajikistan, Mamadrizoev was a local man and Ismaili by faith.

IRP national leader Muhiddin Kabiri condemned the killing at a July 30
press conference, and urged the Tajik authorities to investigate this
case with the same rigour as they would apply to the murder of
Major-General Nazarov.

Suspicions about the possible involvement of government forces in
Mamadrizoev’s death were heightened by a video released on Youtube
which shows men in military uniform shooting a man and leaving his
body in the street.

Kabiri acknowledged that it was unclear whether this was Mamadrizoev,
but said that “even if this man is not Sabzali Mamadrizoev, but
another person – even a criminal – he had a right to humane treatment
and due process”.

The day after the footage appeared, Youtube was blocked in Tajikistan.
The authorities have also blocked access to other websites including
the BBC, the Tajik-language ozodagon.com, and the Russian sites
vesti.ru and ferghana.ru.

The head of the Association of Internet Providers, Parvina Ibodova,
said the sites had been blocked on verbal orders from the state
communications agency.

“We don’t honestly have time to update people on the various sites
being blocked,” she said. “They block some in the morning and unblock
them in the evening…. It’s being done unofficially, with no
notification in writing, by phone, SMS text or fax.”

Lola Olimova is IWPR Tajikistan editor.



Violence has dealt a blow to all that has been achieved since the end
of civil war.

By Abakhon Sultonnazarov

The losses in the remote southeastern province of Badakhshan following
the recent violence amount to much more than human casualties, large
though those are.

The latest count indicates that fighting between the Tajik security
forces and members of a rebel armed group left 17 government troops
and 30 of their opponents dead. Officials say one civilian also died,
although some estimates put the figure higher.

The violence is a blow to the national unity which Tajikistan has been
trying to forge since the end of the five-year civil war in 1997.

It has only been in the last few years that people in this distinctive
part of the country, Badakhshan, have really begun to feel like
citizens of Tajikistan. The Pamiri people, who have a strong sense of
regional identity, have only gradually come to share in a common sense
of national identity. During the civil war, this region took the side
of the United Tajik Opposition against the government.

The military operation launched by the central authorities has shaken
the Pamiris’ emerging confidence in the Dushanbe government.

It now seems as if a couple of days of heavy fighting have completely
reversed all the positive developments in the relationship between
Badakhshan and Dushanbe since the civil war. The mood among Pamiris is
a mixture of disappointment, anger and indignation at how the
government treats its people.

The violence has also had a serious negative effect on the regional
economy. Many smaller companies have taken out bank loans to build
premises and do business, and this effort has been hard hit by the
fighting. One businessman, for example, has lost thousands of US
dollars because he has been unable to market the vegetables he
transported all the way from Dushanbe.

This military operation is uncannily similar to the one launched in
2010 in the Rasht valley, a powerbase of the civil war-era armed
opposition. But the authorities failed to take into account the fact
that Badakhshan is different. Khorog, the provincial centre, is a
small town where everyone knows everyone else. Whenever there is
trouble, everyone unites behind the common cause – even those who
would otherwise be enemies.

The authorities clearly believed that when they moved against renegade
border guards officer Talib Ayombekov and his men, it would all be
over in a matter of hours. After all, they already had substantial
numbers of troops deployed in Badakhshan, for military exercises held
in early July.

The government moved in army, special forces, and national guard units
numbering between 2,000 and 3,000 and equipped with armoured vehicles
and helicopters. This to deal with a rebel force of 150 to 200 men,
which was refusing to surrender four suspects in the killing of a
high-ranking security official.

People in Badakhshan were resentful of what they saw as the
disproportionate military response, and of the civilian casualties
that the authorities were initially reluctant to admit.

They were also upset by the deployment of inexperienced young soldiers
as cannon-fodder, to draw the rebels out into the open so that army
snipers could target them. One Khorog resident told me that while the
fighting was under way, wounded soldiers were not given treatment, and
it was left to local women to take them into their homes and care for

Now that mobile phone links have been restored, I have been able to
get through to friends and relatives in Badakhshan. They are ordinary
people – teachers, doctors, and lecturers – who do not support former
warlords like Ayombekov.

One of these friends described how a neighbour’s teenage son was
killed by a military sniper in his own back yard. It may have been
because he was wearing an Afghan-style scarf round his neck – a
fashionable item among Badakhshan youngsters, not the mark of a

It has taken years for Badakhshan to become more closely integrated
with the rest of Tajikistan, and for its population to stop feeling so

This geographical isolation was reinforced during Soviet times,
because Badakhshan was administered directly from Moscow and had
better transport links with neighbouring Kyrgyzstan than with the rest
of Tajikistan.

Since the civil war ended, things have been changing slowly but
surely. One of the most important factors has been the construction of
a road allowing Badakhshan to trade with neighbouring China. This has
turned the region into an important trade route, as a gateway for
cheap Chinese goods which used to come via Kyrgyzstan.

Another positive step came when President Imomali Rahmon visited
Badakhshan in 2007, and issued instructions for the national media to
provide better coverage of this remote region. In a country with a
strong top-down hierarchy, the president’s recommendations were
followed, so that state-run TV no longer confined itself to a brief
mention of Badakhshan in the weather forecast.

Another driving force for change is Badakhshan’s young people, who did
not live through the civil war and are not burdened by prejudices
towards others Tajiks, as their parents might have been. As members of
the internet generation, with greater opportunities to travel and
study abroad, they are more receptive to the ideas of globalisation,
and regional or kinship ties do not play such a central role in their
self-identification as they did for their forebears.

I am from Badakhshan, but live outside Tajikistan. When I meet my
fellow-countrymen, what matters to me is that they are from
Tajikistan, not what region they come from.

Better transport, trade links with China, and a rising standard of
living have all helped improve Badakhshan’s relationship with
Dushanbe, political as well as economic. This has played out at a
day-to-day level, as Pamiris develop a loyalty towards Tajikistan as
an integral whole, while other Tajiks stop viewing them as different
because of their distinctive language and culture and their Ismaili
faith, and see them just as fellow-countrymen.

In the last five or six years, people have moved into Badakhshan from
other parts of Tajikistan in order to benefit from the flourishing
trade with China or to set up businesses. As they have settled, mixed
marriages have taken place – previously a rare occurrence.

This recent outbreak of fighting has cast a shadow over these
achievements. It has undermined Pamiris’ faith in central government
and planned seeds of suspicion and fear that this kind of violence
might be repeated.

The Tajik authorities must therefore make every effort to restore
public confidence, including assistance to rebuild damaged homed and
businesses. They must also refrain from actions that might rekindle
conflict. One positive step would be to withdraw most of the troops.
It is one thing having a moderately-sized military unit on the ground,
but the continued presence of thousands of troops is unlikely to
defuse tensions.

Finally, a real effort is needed to address the issue of public
mistrust of the law-enforcement agencies, seen as corrupt and
inefficient, so that people come to feel they can turn to the police
and expect to be protected. It is no secret that when people in
Badakhshan fail to obtain justice from the police force, they approach
informal groups. When a relative had his car battery stolen, the
police took no action, so he asked an influential street gang leader
for help and the stolen item was found in no time.

In that context, the authorities’ initiative of tapping into the local
community – mothers, elderly people and religious leaders – to
negotiate a way out of the crisis offers some hope. It is also
promising that a preliminary agreement is in place on setting up
special units including rebels as well as police to help restore
stability. Unless they bring these fighters on board, the authorities
will find it hard to maintain peace.

After watching how this military confrontation has unfolded, the
casualties, and the blow this has done to post-civil war efforts to
build peace in Tajikistan, I am still optimistic about the future, but
only cautiously so.

Abakhon Sultonnazarov is IWPR regional director for Central Asia,
based in Bishkek.


Media rights activists question wisdom of getting security agency to
scour internet for hate speech.

By Timur Toktonaliev

Observers have questioned the need for Kyrgyzstan’s security service
to monitor websites to identify hate speech.

The State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, is setting up a
system to monitor the internet, with a particular focus on news sites
with the .kg domain name, and plans to launch it in early autumn.

Using a web search engine that looks for certain words or phrases, the
agency will seek to identify content liable to incite hatred on
grounds of ethnicity, religion and even regional origin, in the wake
of the ethnic violence that rocked southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010.

Critics have questioned why the security service has got involved in
this sensitive project, given its lack of transparency and a
reputation for trying to stifle criticism of the government.

The project was first made public in April, when GKNB Shamil Atakhanov
referred to it in parliament.

It followed recommendations from a Kyrgyz parliamentary commission
that investigated the June 2010 violence in and around the southern
cities of Osh and Jalalabad, when more than 400 people died in clashes
between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.

Tatiana Vygovskaya, director of Egalité, a conflict reduction group,
argues that civil society groups are capable of identifying
inflammatory content on their own. Her organisation has been
monitoring television, radio and online news sites for hate speech
since the 2010 bloodshed, and she sees no need for the secret service
to start doing essentially the same thing.

Vygovskaya said the GKNB lacked the expertise to examine documents for
hate speech and come up with findings that the public would see as
objective and unbiased. Her own media monitors received one year’s
training before starting work, and even then they still made
occasional mistakes.

But if the GKNB made an error, she said, “it can have real
consequences for people – it can lead to imprisonment”.

Begaim Usenova, media expert at the Bishkek-based Media Policy
Institute said that letting the security committee monitor the
internet was not the most effective way of tackling incitement, and
created the risk of censorship.

“Haven’t they got anything else to do? They could cooperate with us
and read our reports,” Usenova said.

The security service will conduct its monitoring using a special
search engine, which Vygovskaya suggested would be too crude a

“The programme will not perform [contextual] analysis, which is the
reason we’re concerned. Any article could be picked up,” she said.

An IT security expert who asked to remain anonymous said information
about the search engine the GKNB would be using was limited, and
suggested it take a more open approach to discussing the technology,
and disclose which kinds of key words the system would look for.

He also expressed concern that the agency might link its new search
engine for open-source material with its existing database of
surveillance material from email, SMS text and phone intercepts. Use
of the latter material, he said, was unregulated and far from

“The more secrecy there is, the more that is left unsaid, and the more
things are kept hidden, the greater the suspicions will be that people
are covering up something they are afraid of,” the IT expert

The GKNB took several weeks to respond to IWPR’s questions about the
new system, and when it did, it said its technical department had no
specific information about how it would work. However, the agency
stressed that it always operated within the law, and promised that
checks would be put in place to prevent the system being abused.

Some rights activists point out that the GKNB’s previous efforts to
combat incitement to hatred have faced problems.

The GKNB has a special commission that includes legal professionals
and linguists to deal with alleged breaches.

Earlier this year, committee members refused to review a statement for
possible inflammatory content when they discovered it was linked to an
influential politician. The GKNB acknowledged the problem, and
proposed legislation to ensure the neutrality of members, such as
providing them with anonymity and paying them instead of having them
work for nothing.

Experts like Usenova point out that although the media are not immune
from carrying inflammatory material, the most scandalous examples come
from politicians, which the media simply report on.

Usenova recalled one incident in parliament earlier this year when a
lawmaker gave a dressing-down to an ethnic Kyrgyz government official
for addressing the chamber in Russian rather than Kyrgyz.

The incident prompted a debate on ethnicity and language, in which
some commentators pointed out that it was not unlawful to speak
Russian in parliament. Russian serves as a lingua franca and is
denoted a second “official language”, after the state language Kyrgyz.

Since the debate was widely covered in the media, some are now asking
whether this kind of reporting could fall foul of the GKNB’s
monitoring system.

Nor is it clear whether there is enough hate speech on the internet to
justify the security agency’s involvement.

Public complaints about alleged cases of incitement are rare. Out of
two reported cases when members of the public have complained about
hate speech, one has reached court.

Vladimir Farafonov, an ethnic Russian journalist charged with inciting
ethnic hatred in a series of online articles, was the first writer to
be prosecuted since the 2010 conflict.

Although many found his derogatory remarks about ethnic Kyrgyz
distasteful, his trial earlier this year was viewed as a test of free
speech and the fairness of the judiciary.

When Farafonov’s trial started in March, the prosecution asked for an
eight-year prison sentence. But following an outcry by Russian
nationalist politicians in Moscow, he avoided prison and was instead
fined just over 1,000 US dollars.

In the other case, Ata Jurt leader Kamchibek Tashiev gave an interview
in February suggesting that Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov was unfit
to run the country because he was not of “pure Kyrgyz” parentage.

In that case, the GKNB’s commission of experts reviewed Tashiev’s
interview at the request of the state prosecutor, and concluded that
no offence had been committed.

Timur Toktonaliev is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.

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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.
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