Hello all; first of all, I am sorry for my hiatus from posts (paucity of posting) for such a long time, but also, I am happy to say that I have found a new home on the web, and I will be once again posting much more frequently!

 

From now on, I will be posting about Tajikistan at

http://studentdigitalus.org/TajikistanFocus/

I hope you will head over and check us out.

Over on Global Voices there is a really interesting post and discussion on LGBT rights and discrimination in Tajikistan (hit the link for more):

Gay issues are a taboo subject in Tajikistan. Although the country decriminalized homosexuality fifteen years ago, there is still very little tolerance toward sexual minorities within its conservative society. In addition to homophobic attitudes, those rare individuals who dare to disclose their ‘unconventional’ sexual orientation become easy targets of physical and psychological abuse, including from police (pdf). As a result, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community remains ”one of the most closed and secretive parts of Tajik society”.

A recent discussion in the country’s blogosphere offers a rare glimpse into what it means to be gay in Tajikistan and how the country’s people view members of the LGBT community.

‘It means PAIN…’

The discussion started after blogger Rishdor wrote [ru] about a violent incident at his university. Students there found out that one of their classmates was a gay. Rishdor writes [ru]:

Как-то все восприняли это как личную обиду. Гомика решили проучить. Человек 8 однокурсников избили его в туалете. Жестоко избили, у него все лицо и костюм были в крови…

For some reason, everyone took it as a personal offence. It was decided that the [gay] should be taught a lesson. About eight of our classmates beat him up in the bathroom. They beat him up badly; there was a lot of blood on his face and clothes…

via Tajikistan Remains ‘Hell for Gays’ · Global Voices.

Tajikistan is turning ageism into state policy. Supposedly seeking to “attract young specialists” into government service, the president’s office has instructed officials to lay off elderly government employees –including teachers, doctors at state hospitals, and office functionaries – regardless of their qualifications.

Critics fear the policy will exacerbate the decline of Tajikistan’s intellectual capital. The December 6 order covers those who are old enough to qualify for pensions – 63 for men and 58 for women. Signed by the president’s chief of staff, former Justice Minister Bakhtiyor Khudoyorov, the order is designed to “accelerate the use of modern technologies, especially in the area of e-governance.”

Telecommunications engineer Ilkhom Shomuddinov, 64, is among those affected. He has worked for the state for more than 40 years. “Believe it or not, I don’t remember taking a single sick day. Now, I am told that I am dismissed – they [the managers] follow instructions from above. They don’t know whom to replace me with. Even if they manage to find a young specialist with my qualifications, it is unlikely he would work for that joke of a salary,” Shomuddinov told EurasiaNet.org.

Government wages are paltry: High school teachers earn about $70 per month, doctors between $100 and $200, and secretaries between $100 and $150.

But pensions (a form of social security issued to all, regardless of where a pensioner worked) are more difficult to live on, not only because they are smaller, but because they do not afford one the opportunity to use his or her official position to earn extra income (teachers offer their students private lessons, doctors see patients outside of office hours, and bureaucrats pocket bribes). The order effectively condemns many older workers to poverty. According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, there are 590,000 pensioners in Tajikistan; the average monthly pension is 152 somoni (less than $32).

Judging from reactions in local media, the order is deeply unpopular. Some legal experts argue it not only undermines Tajiks’ constitutional rights, but also their human rights according to international law.

Multiple attempts to discuss the order with officials at the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection and the president’s office failed. Officials repeatedly transferred calls to phones that went unanswered.

In response to media criticism, during a January 7 press conference Education Minister Nuriddin Saidov promised “no dismissals will be carried out in the educational system in relation to the age of employees,” the Asia-Plus news agency quoted him as saying. “Many workers who have reached the pension age are qualified and experienced cadre, and we need them [as badly] as we need the air.”

Yet layoffs in the education system, which the minister oversees, have occurred. In early January, Khujand State University dismissed 11 professors who had passed retirement age, the Avesta news agency reported. At Kulyab State University, 23 elderly teachers have reportedly been laid off.

Government sources say they are faced with a dilemma: Ignore authoritarian President Imomali Rahmon’s order and face punishment from the chief executive’s office, or replace aging specialists with unqualified and untested young people who have come up through the dilapidated post-Soviet education system. “On the one hand, we cannot ignore instructions from the president’s office; on the other hand, it would be a crime to fire professors. Who will train young doctors then? Both the education and health sectors have decayed during the years of independence and the civil war,” said a source in the Health Ministry’s Education Department, speaking on condition of anonymity because of a fear of retaliation.

via Tajikistan: Executive Order Disregards Collective Wisdom | EurasiaNet.org.

After five months’ negotiations, Tajikistan has agreed to import some 30,000 tons of white crystal sugar from Pakistan, through Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP). Sources in ministry of commerce told Business Recorder on Thursday after getting green signal from Tajikistan, the state-run grain trader would sign a commercial agreement for the export of sugar and sent to Tajikistan officials for their endorsement.

via Tajikistan to import 30,000 tons of crystal sugar | Business Recorder.

Tajikistan in 2012: A Year in Review

The past year was an eventful one in Tajikistan on the economic, political and military fronts, with both domestic and regional ramifications. Importantly for Tajikistan’s economy, in May 2012, construction on the controversial hydroelectric Rogun Dam on the Vaksh River—a tributary of the Amu Darya river—was suspended following an order from the World Bank. The suspension reportedly put 5,000 people out of work and will remain in effect until the ecological impact study of the dam is completed. It is expected that the Word Bank’s feasibility study will be published this summer. Rogun is commonly seen to be at the heart of the hostility between Tajikistan and downstream Uzbekistan, which fears that the dam would severely damage Uzbekistani farmers’ ability to irrigate their cotton crops and would accelerate the ecological disaster in the Aral Sea. Uzbekistan has retaliated by periodically not allowing Tajikistan-bound rail and truck cargo to cross its borders and cutting off the flow of natural gas, exacerbating Tajikistan’s perennial energy shortages (Ozodi, January 1).

The year 2012 did however bring some good news for Tajikistan’s hopes of energy security with the news of the discovery of potentially huge hydrocarbon reserves in the Bokhtar region. The find was announced earlier this summer by the Canadian firm Tethys Petroleum and was deemed credible enough to attract investment from both the French energy giant Total and China’s National Oil and Gas Exploration and Development Corporation (CNODC) (Asia Plus, December 24, 2012). While further exploration needs to be done, the potential reserves of oil and gas are estimated to be more than enough to make Tajikistan a net exporter of hydrocarbons. Such a development would free Dushanbe from its energy reliance on Russia and Uzbekistan and no doubt influence its foreign policy calculations.

In December, Tajikistan joined the World Trade Organization, which local economists hope will lower domestic customs tariffs, curb the power of monopolies in certain sectors such as aviation, lower prices on domestic goods, and encourage foreign investment (BBC Tajik, December 11, 2012). On the other hand, some critics have raised concerns over the potential negative short-term effects on the competitiveness of Tajikistan’s two chief exports, aluminum and cotton. The country’s cotton industry is not only an important economic force but, given the continued existence in Tajikistan of Soviet-style collective farms (kolkhozy), an important socio-political institution as well.

On the political front, the big story looming in 2013 is the presidential election slated for November. The election will mark the first in Tajikistan since 2006 when Emomalii Rahmon secured his third term in office. That vote was boycotted by several opposition parties including the largest, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP). However, this time the opposition parties are expected to participate and possibly put forth a coalition candidate. Nonetheless, 2012 was a rough year for the opposition as both religious and political figures such as Muhiddin Kabiri (the head of the IRP) and Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda (prominent cleric and former deputy prime minister) were legally harassed, imprisoned (such as Umarali Quvatov, businessman and head of the exiled opposition group “Group 24”), and even killed (notably, Sabzali Mamadrizoev, head of the IRP in the remote Gorno-Badakhshan region). Since the last presidential vote in 2006, Rahmon has seen neighboring states and allies embroiled in contested elections and subsequent hostility (witness Iran’s 2009 presidential election, the 2010 coup in Kyrgyzstan as well as the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011-2012). Despite assurances from some quarters that the country’s civil war has bred a war-weary and politically disinterested population, the regime will likely increase the pressure on the opposition and consolidate its power during the run-up to the elections in anticipation of potential unrest. President Rahmon may attempt to secure his rule by exaggerating the threat of Islamic extremism and proffering himself as a bulwark against regional instability in the context of a post-2014 Afghanistan. However the unrest this summer in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan that killed dozens was a sobering reminder of at least three things: 1) not all Tajikistanis are war weary, 2) not all threats to the regime are inspired by Islam, and 3) the regime underestimates the domestic and international backlash against such heavy-handed tactics.

via UNHCR | Refworld | Tajikistan in 2012: A Year in Review.

DUSHANBE, January 17 (RIA Novosti) – Tajikistan has once again blocked access to the popular social networking site Facebook, prolonging a months-long ordeal that has earned the Central Asian country widespread criticism.

The blocking order came from the chief of Tajikistan’s communications service, Beg Zukhurov, and also affects three other websites, including Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, Internet provider Telekom Tekhnolodzhi told RIA Novosti late Wednesday night.

This is the second time in nearly as many months the Tajik authorities have blocked Facebook access. Last November, access was cut off after officials found what they said was slanderous content that criticized the country’s leadership.

At the time, Zukhurov blasted the people responsible for the content, who he claimed were being “paid well” to post it. He also noted that officials were acting on the requests of “indignant Tajik citizens.”

The move earned criticism from the European Union, which in early December called on Tajikistan to relax control over the Internet amid concerns of a crackdown on freedom of speech.

The EU Delegation to Tajikistan noted “with concern that such obstruction occurs frequently in Tajikistan which raises questions about the state of media freedom,” according to a December 6 statement posted to its website.

The administration of President Emomali Rakhmon, who has been in office since 1994, has often come under fire for alleged corruption and undemocratic behavior.

via Tajikistan Blocks Facebook – Again | World | RIA Novosti.

Authorities in Tajikistan have ordered Internet service providers, again, to block access to Facebook, local news agencies report. The blocking orders (which this time also target the local service of Radio Liberty) have become so familiar in the past year that there’s little new to say. So let’s look at how the man in charge of Internet access has explained his thinking in recent months.

Last March, the head of the communications service, Beg Zukhurov, after denying any order to block Facebook, said his office had actually blocked the site for “prophylactic maintenance.”

Internet service providers have said they were ordered to block Facebook last weekend, along with three or four news portals, by the state communications service, after one of the portals published an article severely criticizing [President Emomali] Rakhmon and his government. When queried by news agency Asia-Plus, the head of the service, Beg Zukhurov, denied any order to block Facebook, but said the authors of offensive online content “defaming the honor and dignity of the Tajik authorities” should be made “answerable.” Tajikistan frequently uses libel cases and extremism charges to silence critical journalists.

In November, Zukhurov again flipped the switch and memorably called Facebook a “hotbed of slander” when he sought a meeting with the social network’s founder and chairman, Mark Zuckerberg.

“Does Facebook have an owner? Can he come to Tajikistan? I’d meet him during visiting hours. If he does not have time, I’d talk to his assistants,” the BBC’s Russian service quoted Zukhurov as saying. (Zukhurov’s visiting hours are Saturday’s from 10am to noon.)

Zukhurov would like to discuss with Zuckerberg his theory that Facebook users are being paid to complain about their leaders, which is keeping them from discussing more important issues: “For example, somewhere in Tajikistan there is no water or roads are bad or the weather forecast is incorrect. But users do not write about these [topics]. They write especially about money issues. I was told that the users who post critical comments about officials and entrepreneurs are paid $5,000 to $10,000 for doing this. I’m very surprised about how expensive the comments are.”

The following month, over a long weekend in December, Zukhurov blocked 131 sites, seemingly chosen at random, for “technical” reasons.

The latest, short-lived mass blockade lasted from December 21- 25, and had observers scratching their heads. Some believe Zukhurov is honing techniques intended for use during elections this coming November, when President Imomali Rahmon is expected to seek another seven-year term. Tajikistan has no independent television outlets and no daily newspapers, leaving the Internet as the sole outlet open to Tajiks to air criticism of the government. Others say Zukhurov is trying to demonstrate his value to Rahmon.

[…]

Zukhurov’s actions may have unintended consequences, contends former education minister Munira Inoyatova. “The blocking of web resources – especially social networks – is widely seen as impeding access to information and prohibiting free communication. These prohibitions always increase social tensions,” Inoyatova told EurasiaNet.org.

For many, the most memorable Zukhurovism was his explanation for a communications blackout in the restive Gorno-Badakhshan province last summer, scene of heavy fighting between government troops and local warlords: A stray bullet had taken out a cable, he said, severing all phone and Internet connections to the region for a month (he did not explain the simultaneous YouTube block).

The repeated attempts to cut Tajiks’ access to the Internet – and the nonsensical explanations – have drawn widespread criticism from diplomats, press freedom watchdogs, and Tajiks embarrassed for their country. Whatever Zukhurov’s motivations, he’s helping turn isolated Tajikistan into a black hole for media freedom.

via Tajikistan Blocks Facebook Yet Again | EurasiaNet.org.