August 8-12: elections, borders and freedom of speech
Southern Kyrgyzstan has plunged into the abyss of economic fiasco following the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago; the disturbances in 2010 have pushed the “bottom” a little deeper. Over 100 companies in Southern Kyrgyzstan were reported as being suspended due to lack of resources, funds, investments and, last but certainly not least, lack of workforce. The violence last year and the ongoing unfair trials (accompanied by tortures, extortions) have forced thousands of local residents to leave their homes, and investors either removed their assets or never came. With such a backdrop, it is rather amusing that the tax department in Southern Kyrgyzstan reported on Monday, 8 August 2011, about collecting 104% of the planned taxes for the first half of 2011.
The Kyrgyz Ombudsman told a news conference on Tuesday, 9 August 2011, that a Kyrgyz national has been convicted to 10 years of imprisonment for espionage in Iran after being held in custody for over two years. According to the convict’s father, he has already traveled to Iran for purchasing cell phone spare parts and could in no way be involved in espionage. The father reported being denied access to the court ruling, which was issued in the defendant’s absence. The father claims Iranians tortured his son into confession. Iran and Kyrgyzstan do not have extradition agreements, the ombudsman said. Another ethnic Uzbek resident in Southern Kyrgyzstan was tortured into death, not confession. Although he agreed to pay the extorted money, he has later died from wounds inflicted by police officers. It is noteworthy that only because he was a Russian citizen, his case has been reported so widely and certain (minimal) action was taken against the perpetrators.
The borderlines have been a disputed issue since the end of the Soviet era and continue to be so. The transparent internal borders of the Soviet Union left an ugly legacy of vague borderlines which now cause not only international disputes but also deaths of local residents along borderlines. Thankfully the latest Uzbek-Kyrgyz border skirmish saw no casualties, but the tension remains high. On Wednesday, 10 August 2011, the Uzbek border service accused Kyrgyz officials of provoking local residents to stir disruptions on the border. The statement of the Uzbek side, as usual, is issued along the “we are the sufferers” lines and bears no credibility given that virtually the only route connecting the westernmost Batken Oblast with the “continental” Kyrgyzstan goes through Uzbek Sokh enclave in question and skirmishes there may result in the closure of the route by the Uzbeks.
The late journalist Alisher Saipov’s brother, Shakhrukh Saipov, was severely beaten up by unknown perpetrators at the Osh airport on Thursday, 11 August 2011. He does not remember who the attackers were, but the attack was most probably staged because of his journalistic activities lately. Alisher Saipov was said to have been killed for criticizing the neighboring Uzbek authorities via a newspaper he was the editor of, and Shakhrukh has been engaged in journalist activities as well.
This week finished on Friday, 12 August 2011, in Kyrgyzstan with the registration of almost 60 candidates for the president’s post. Kyrgyzstan is a small country with only over 5 million citizens of whom just half or so are eligible voters. That means each candidate will ideally have around 35,000 voters (given every one votes), which is not anywhere near the required percentage of voters to be elected. Given there is a big number of unemployed (yeah, there is such a “small” problem in Kyrgyzstan) amongst the candidates, they and other not-so-serious candidates will simply trade their electorate for money. As Deputy Premier Babanov put it, “it is going to be hot” during elections this fall. He has probably meant the competition among the big number of contenders from only two Kyrgyz regions.