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Central Asia in Focus: The Rape Case Shocking Uzbekistan

UZBEKISTAN -- Saida Mirziyaeva received a position in the executive office of the presidential administration of Uzbekistan.

Kazakh labor strikes, Taliban's relationship with Central Asian countries, Kyrgyz court extends ban on meetings, and more.

What's Happening in the Region

The Rape Case Shocking Uzbekistan
t happened months ago, but the serial rape of three girls at an orphanage in western Uzbekistan’s Khorezm Province is now a sensitive controversy in the country.

Uzbekistan’s Nemolchi ("Don’t be silent") organization, which combats gender-based violence (GBV), released a report on March 31 that revealed shocking details of what was happening at the orphanage.

The rapists were two men, one the head of the local department of justice, the other the head of the local department for emergencies.

The woman in charge of the orphanage received gifts and money to arrange for the men to have sex with the girls, sometimes in a room belonging to the justice department, sometimes in a room at the orphanage.

The girls were between 15 to 17 years old.

This went on from May 2021 to February 2022.

In September 2022, a Khorezm court sentenced the head of the orphanage to five years and six months in prison.

The officials who engaged in sex with the orphan minors claimed at the trial “the girls did it of their own free will and no one forced them.”

The two were given 18 months of “restricted freedom,” essentially parole, and did not serve any prison time.

On April 1, Uzbek media reported on Nemolchi’s findings and on the strong and quick reaction the months-old verdict suddenly had.

Senate chairwoman Tanzila Narbaeva called for a “firm and uncompromising response from the state and society to such heinous crimes committed against minors.”

Saida Mirziyoeva, the Uzbek president’s eldest daughter, wrote on Telegram it was necessary to “accelerate the adoption of a law on combating domestic violence.”

The head of the UNICEF office in Uzbekistan, Munir Mamedzade, and UN Development Program resident representative Matilda Dimvoska called for strengthening legislation on sexual exploitation and abuse of children.

Why It’s Important: Mirziyoeva mentioned there is new legislation criminalizing GBV that includes rape, psychological violence, sexual harassment, and sex with a person under 16 years of age that was passed by the lower house of parliament and is waiting for approval from the Senate.

The Senate will almost surely pass it, and quickly, in light of this horrific scandal.

But given the absurdly light sentence given to the Khorezm officials, the more important matter will be how strictly courts enforce the new law.

Labor Strikes a Reminder Kazakh Government Needs to Move on Socio-Economic Improvements

Less than two weeks after Kazakhstan had elections to parliament, there was a reminder one of the government’s biggest challenges – labor strikes – are still a pressing issue.

Miners in northeastern Kazakhstan and unemployed residents of southwestern Kazakhstan brought attention to socio-economic problems that remain unresolved.

More than 300 miners in the town of Bestobe agreed late March 31 to end their protest after local officials and Kazakhaltyn, the gold mine’s operator, agreed to some of the miners’ demands.

The group started their demonstration on March 28 after learning management at the Bestobe mine planned a reduction of more than 1,000 workers.

Kazakhaltyn pledged to pay the miners’ salaries through June 1 and facilitate the transfer of the mine to a new investor.

It was not clear if there is a serious investor, but the Ministry of Industry and Infrastructure Development is taking the matter under its control.

Elsewhere, in the town of Zhetibay, some 200 people, using cars and trucks, blocked the road leading to an oil field operated by Mangystaumunaigaz on March 27.

Most of the demonstrators were unemployed local residents and their families.

They were demanding local authorities in this oil-rich area of Kazakhstan find them employment in one of the oil companies and related service industries operating in Mangystau Province.

The roadblock was removed after one day, but the protesters remained until April 2, when they received a “written agreement” that their demands would be met.

Why It’s Important: Kazakhstan’s government has been cautious dealing with labor strikes since 2011, when months of strikes by oil workers in western Kazakhstan ended after police shot dead 17 protesters.

The Oxus Society’s protest tracker shows labor strikes in Kazakhstan have increased since President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev took over as president in 2019.

Labor protests in Kazakhstan have a habit of evolving from gripes about wages and working conditions to complaints about government officials and policies.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at the Taliban’s evolving relations with its immediate Central Asian neighbors.

Tajikistan has been the harshest critic of the Taliban, but a Taliban delegation just visited Tajikistan.

Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have the best ties with the Taliban of all the Central Asian states, but now construction of a canal in Afghanistan is threatening to leave Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan short of water.

This week’s guests are Salimjon Aioubov, director of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Radio Ozodi; Farruh Yusupov, director of RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, Radio Azatlyk; and Alisher Sidikov, director of RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Radio Ozodlik.

What I'm Following

Kyrgyz Court Extends Ban on Meetings on Capital’s Central Square

Bishkek’s Birinchi Mai court extended the ban on holding meetings, rallies, or demonstrations on Bishkek’s Ala-Too Square until June 30.

The ban was first imposed in March 2022.

The parliament building and presidential administration are located on Ala-Too Square.

Large protests on Ala-Too Square in October 2020 ousted then-President Sooronbai Jeenbekov and led to current President Sadyr Japarov comjng to power.

Japarov and the current head of security in Kyrgyzstan, Kamchybek Tashiev, were imprisoned in 2013 for their role in another large protest on Ala-Too Square in October 2012.

Turkmen President Due in Tajikistan

Turkmenistan’s President Serdar Berdymukhammedov is scheduled to visit Tajikistan on April 11-12 and meet with counterpart Emomali Rahmon.

It will be interesting to see what the leaders of Central Asia’s most repressive countries have to say to each other.

Fact of the Week

In Turkmenistan, where many people start lining up in the early hours of morning waiting for state stores to open so they can purchase their ration of bread, the government is planning on spending $5 billion on construction of a new city named after former President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

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See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,

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    Bruce Pannier

    Bruce Pannier authors RFE/RL's "Central Asia in Focus" newsletter and appears regularly on the RFE/RL's Majlis podcast.

About Central Asia in Focus

An authoritarian tide is sweeping through Central Asia, resulting in political repression and a stark retreat in civil liberties. Central Asia in Focus, a weekly newsletter, focuses on key events shaping the course of the region. Author Bruce Pannier shares personal insights informed by his three decades of experience covering Central Asia, and tells his readers what may come next.

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