Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Central Asia Rights Record Set to Worsen?

The targeting of high profile figures may have grave implications for opponents of the region's regimes.
By Chinara Jakypova

The trial of Kazak journalist Sergei Duvanov and the jailing of Turkmen opposition leader Boris Shikhmuradov represents a marked deterioration in the region's human rights record, analysts warn.


Human rights activist Duvanov was charged with the rape of a 14-year-old girl on October 28, 2002, only two days before he was due to fly to the United States to speak out against President Nursultan Nazarbaev at a conference.


The journalist had previously been beaten up, threatened and charged with "insulting the dignity and honour of the president". His supporters maintain that the rape trial, which is ongoing, is politically motivated.


An alleged assassination attempt against Turkmen president Saparmurat Niazov on November 25 led to the arrest of more than 100 people - including opposition leader Boris Shikhmuradov, who later "confessed" to his involvement on December 29. The former foreign minister was sentenced to life imprisonment the following day.


There have since been calls for an independent investigation into claims of torture and intimidation against the detainees.


Many believe that the two cases represent a serious deterioration in the human rights records of the two countries.


Kyrgyz campaigner Yrysbek Omurzakov said Kazaks and Turkmen were shocked that such prominent individuals should be targeted by the state. "For the first time, well-known figures such as Duvanov and Shikhmuradov have had all the power of the state machine used against them," he said. "The authorities did not even bother to present convincing evidence against them.


According to Kazak political scientist Nurbulat Masanov, "Central Asia is now showing its ugly, dictatorial face to the whole world. The dictators are trying the patience of the international community, to see how far they can go without being punished."


Many non-governmental organisations are concerned that the Kyrgyz authorities may follow in the footsteps of Niazov and Nazarbaev by launching a wide-scale crackdown on the opposition, after a series of attacks on government opponents and independent media.


Byubyusara Ryskulova, director of the womens' NGO Sezim, said, "Anyone whom the government does not like can be charged with the most heinous crimes. Many of my colleagues are already beginning to fear for their future."


Analysts believe that the current tension in the region has grown because Central Asia has attracted the attention of the world's superpowers. The US, in particular, is so keen to establish itself here that it's prepared to overlook the human rights record of the regional governments, they say.


Murat Auezov, a well-known public figure in Kazakstan said, "The interests of the United States, Russia and China have come together here - each wants to have the greatest influence in the region".


"As they sense the West's eagerness to cooperate with countries near Afghanistan, the Central Asian regimes have decided to deprive the people of their rights and liberties once and for all, " said Omurzakov. " It is a game without any rules, and it has now begun."


Chinara Jakypova is IWPR director in Kyrgyzstan