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Central Asia in Focus: Russia Blocks Kyrgyz, Tajik Websites For Coverage Of Ukraine

In this week’s edition: Russia blocks Kyrgyz and Tajik websites over Ukraine coverage, Kazakhstan releases Karakalpak activists from custody, Uzbekistan’s new Campaign against beards and hijabs, and more.

UKRAINE — People visit a memorial for victims of war crimes, in Bucha, Kyiv Region, Ukraine, September 17, 2023. Russian authorities have blocked the websites of Kyrgyz and Tajik media over their reporting on events in Ukraine. Photo EPA-EFE/OLEG PETRASYUK.

In the Region

Russia Blocks Kyrgyz, Tajik Websites For Coverage Of Ukraine

Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, better known as Rozkomnadzor, has blocked the website of independent Kyrgyz news outlet 24.kg and independent Tajik website payom.net.

Both websites have covered Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine.

Roskomnadzor sent several letters to 24.kg last autumn demanding the Kyrgyz outlet remove news digests from October 2022 that reported on Ukrainian civilian casualties, international sanctions on Russia, and Russia’s military draft.

The Kyrgyz media outlet refused to comply saying it was not violating any of Kyrgyzstan’s laws by reporting on events in Ukraine.

Roskomnadzor demanded Payom remove a report about a possible second draft of conscripts and an article from the leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, Muhiddin Kabiri, that supported Ukraine.

In late April 2022, Roskomnadzor ordered the website of Kyrgyz media outlet Kloop to be blocked, officially for posting “unreliable information,” but many suspect it was because Kloop was reporting on Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Kyrgyz authorities blocked the Kloop website inside Kyrgyzstan on September 13.

In the past, Roskomnadzor has also threatened to block the websites of Kazakh news outlets informburo.kz, vlast.kz, Arbat Media, and others if they did not remove their reporting on Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

All the Kazakh media outlets refused to comply.

Why It’s Important: Roskomnadzor’s move against 24.kg comes at a time when independent media in Kyrgyzstan is under extreme pressure.

Now 24.kg is under the spotlight due to Roskomnadzor.

Kyrgyz authorities have shown recently they will bow to Kremlin pressure.

A Kyrgyz citizen found guilty in May of serving in the Russian army in Ukraine was sentenced to 10 years in prison when he returned to Kyrgyzstan where it is illegal to fight in another country’s military conflict.

When several Russian officials spoke out about the sentence, Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court overturned the sentence and sent the case back to a regional court for further consideration.

Kyrgyz authorities might now decide to put 24.kg on the list of independent media outlets to be blocked.

Kazakhstan Releases Karakalpak Activists from Custody

Kazakhstan has released three of the five Karakalpak taken into custody last year at the request of Uzbekistan.

Video of Koshkarbai Toremuratov and Zhangeldi Jaksymbetov leaving the detention center were posted on X (formerly Twitter) by another Karakalpak activist in Kazakhstan, Aqylbek Muratbai (@muratbaiman) on September 14.

On September 16, Muratbai posted a message that a third detained Karakalpak activist, Raisa Khudaibergenova, was released late on September 15.

The three were detained in September 2022, two months after the largest unrest Uzbekistan had seen in nearly 20 years occurred in Uzbekistan’s western Karakalpakstan Republic.

Karakalpak activist Ziuar Mirmanbetova was detained in Almaty in early October.

Karakalpak rights defender Tleubike Yuldasheva was taken into custody in November as she attempted to cross the Kazakh border into Russia.

Proposed changes to Uzbekistan’s constitution that would have stripped Karakalpakstan of its nominal right as a sovereign republic and right to hold a referendum to secede from Uzbekistan sparked protests on July 1, 2022 in Karakalpakstan.

Violence that appeared to have been provoked by police and security forces left at least 21 people, mostly protesters, dead and 243 injured.

Tens of thousands of Karakalpaks live in Kazakhstan, and Karakalpaks are more closely related to Kazakhs than to Uzbeks.

Karakalpak labor migrants from Karakalpakstan rallied in Kazakhstan’s northwestern city of Aqtau on July 1, the day protests started in Karakalpakstan’s capital Nukus.

Dozens of the Karakalpak migrant laborers were briefly detained.

Further south Kazakh border guards barred some 100 other Karakalpak migrant laborers from crossing into Karakalpakstan on July 3.

Why It’s Important: Activist Muratbai said the three were released because their detention terms had expired, but Kazakh courts have extended terms of detention many times for many people.

Rights groups have criticized both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan over their treatment of the Karakalpaks.

It could be that Kazakh authorities, or Uzbek authorities, or both, just wish to put the situation with Karakalpakstan and its activists behind them and hope the issue fades away.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at the summit of the five Central Asian presidents in Dushanbe, Tajikistan on September 14-15.

Changes are happening in Central Asia now.

Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine is forcing the Central Asian to revise political alliances and trade routes, and climate change is already causing problems with agriculture and energy.

What did the Central Asian leaders discuss and what did they seemingly avoid discussing?

This week’s guests are:

What I’m Following

Kyrgyzstan’s ‘Foreign Representative’ Bill is Back

Kyrgyzstan’s parliament was expected to start reviewing the draft law on non-commercial organizations on September 18, but there not enough deputies present for a quorum, so the discussion was postponed.

The draft law is also called the “foreign representatives” law.

Much of it is copied from Russia’s “foreign agents” law that allowed Russia to hamper the work, and in some cases close down independent rights groups, independent media, and civil society organizations that received foreign funding.

There are fears in Kyrgyzstan that the same fate will befall independent rights, civil society organizations, and independent media outlets in the country.

The bill is still up for discussion when the requisite number of deputies are in attendance.

Uzbekistan’s New Campaign Against Beards and Hijabs

Uzbek authorities are again enforcing an unofficial ban against beards on young men and on women wearing hijabs.

RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Ozodlik, reported female students at several colleges were warned not to wear hijabs.

Ozodlik also reported about law enforcement agencies raiding several areas in the capital looking for young men with beards.

Those who were caught were forcibly shaved.

Since Shavkat Mirziyoev became president in late 2016, Uzbek authorities have periodically eased restrictions over practicing Islam, but then tighten controls again when authorities determine some line has been crossed.

Fact of the Week

UNESCO voted to include the Zarafshan-Karakum Silk Road corridor that runs through present-day Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan on the World Heritage List.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on X (formerly Twitteror by responding to this email, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia. See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,
Bruce