Search RFE/RL

Central Asia in Focus: Starving For Justice in Kyrgyzstan

Starving for Justice in Kyrgyzstan, Chasing the Messenger in Uzbekistan, a conversation with Mary Lawlor, the fate of RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service Azattyk.

KYRGYZSTAN — Activist Perizat Suranova and her mother.

What’s Happening in the Region

Kyrgyzstan Looking More Like Its Central Asian Neighbors

Activist Perizat Suranova and former parliamentary deputy Orozayym Narmatova are reportedly in poor health in a pre-trial detention center in Bishkek.

The two women are among the 25 people still being held in government custody. The women formed a committee in October to oppose the Kyrgyz government’s plan to transfer ownership of a water reservoir to Uzbekistan as part of a border demarcation agreement.

Politicians, activists, journalists, bloggers, and others detained for involvement with the committee are being charged with plotting to overthrow the government.

Nineteen of those detained, including Suranova and Narmatova, went on a hunger strike in mid-December, days after their periods of confinement were extended to February 20, 2023.

Deputy ombudsman Albert Kolopov visited the detention center on December 18 to check on the health Suranova, Narmatova, as well as Klara Sooronkulova and Rita Karasartova, who are also detained and on hunger strike.

Kopolov said a doctor accompanying him on the visit commented that “almost all were in bad condition and weak, and Suranova’s condition was ‘serious.’”

Narmatova has a stomach ulcer and a report on December 17 said she was “vomiting bile and repeatedly losing consciousness.”

The four refused to end their hunger strike.

Rights activist and former parliamentary deputy Asiya Sasykbaeva is also one of those detained. Her birthday was on December 18. She turned 71.

President Sadyr Japarov gave an interview to state news agency Kabar on December 17. He was asked about appeals for clemency from the mothers of some of the detained women.

Japarov replied, “The mothers who are now contacting me should have said at least once in the past two years: ‘Hey, girls, be more educated, don’t lie, don’t slander, don’t call for a coup!’”

Japarov added, “Make them keep their mouths shut. Why didn’t they teach these women and girls wisdom before it was too late?”

Japarov’s condescending remarks about the grown women in detention seem to betray a bit of gender bias.

Why It’s Important: If something serious happens to any of the people on hunger strike in the pre-trial detention center, it will bring a lot of international pressure on the Kyrgyz government.

Another prisoner, Azimjon Askarov, who rights groups were calling to be freed for a decade, died of COVID in 2020 while still incarcerated. It is still a scandal that hangs over Kyrgyzstan.

Two of the people detained for their connections with the committee to protect the reservoir are already ill. If something bad happens to them, or any of the other people on hunger strike, it will be a problem for the Kyrgyz government both internally and internationally.

Chasing Down the Messenger in Uzbekistan

There are topics Uzbek authorities do not want people speaking about publicly.

One, strangely (to me at least), is cold weather.

Everyone in Uzbekistan knows it’s cold and households and businesses around the country are suffering through shortages of heat and electricity.

But no one in Uzbekistan is supposed to broadcast that.

Blogger Olimjon Haidarov, from Uzbekistan’s eastern Ferghana Province, just found out the hard way.

Haidarov was posting about energy shortages in his area. On December 13, a court found him guilty of organizing public meetings and spreading false information and fined him 21 million Uzbek som (about $1,900).

Haidarov’s case is not unusual.

In November 2020, Uzbekistan’s Agency for Information and Mass Communications (AIMC) warned several Uzbek news outlets to stop reporting about problems with electricity and heating in the country.

The AIMC said it was concerned about the “negativity” of some of the reports and branded some of the information about the cold weather and power deficits “one-sided.”

Another person who was gathering information of what most people in Uzbekistan already know, or at least suspect, is Aleksei Garshin.

Garshin is not a journalist.

He is an activist who was also a messenger in helping gather information that was used in a February 2021 report by RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, known locally as Ozodlik, about a luxury retreat area built for Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev.

The Berlin-based Uzbek Forum for Human Rights tweeted on December 16 that Garshin had been fined 108 million som (about $9,600) for allegedly using bad language on Facebook.

Why It’s Important: President Mirziyoev has repeatedly said he supports the media and considers their work in exposing corruption and shortcomings in state policies indispensable in helping Uzbekistan transform itself into a better country.

Garshin’s case is perhaps an exception since the corruption he exposed was connected to Mirziyoev.

But fining Haidarov for reporting about what everyone in Uzbekistan already knows is ridiculous. It makes Uzbekistan and President Mirziyoev’s promises of building a “new” Uzbekistan also look ridiculous.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast is a conversation with Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur for human rights defenders.

Lawlor finished a 12-day trip to Tajikistan on December 9, and talks about her trip and concerns about the rights situation there.

What I’m Following

Kazakhstan Not So Far from Russia

On December 15, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution demanding Russia cease its military aggression and withdraw all its military forces from the territory of Ukraine. Kazakhstan was among 14 countries that voted against the resolution.

The other four Central Asian states either abstained or were absent.

Also voting against the resolution were countries such as North Korea, Iran, Belarus, China, and Syria.

It was a strange move for Kazakhstan which has been trying to remain neutral in anything to do with Russian moves in Ukraine. Makes me wonder what Kazakhstan receives for siding with Russia in this vote.

What Happens to Azattyk the Day after Christmas?

On October 26, Kyrgyzstan’s government ordered the Kyrgyz and Russian websites of RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, known locally as Azattyk, to be blocked for two months after RFE/RL refused the Kyrgyz government’s demand to remove material from a Current Time Asia report.

Let’s see what happens on December 26 when the two months expire.

Fact of the Week

The Uzbek president’s office announced a project office for construction of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway will open in Bishkek.

The project has been discussed for more than 25 years, but Chinese, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek officials have been meeting regularly in recent months and it appears the project will start in 2023.

Thanks for Reading

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

Feel free to contact me on Twitter or by responding to this email, especially if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or just want to connect with me about topics concerning Central Asia.

Please consider filling out this brief survey so that I can better understand how this newsletter can be useful for you.

The Central Asia in Focus newsletter will not appear during the last week of 2022.

So, see you next year for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,