In this latest edition of the EurasiaChat podcast, EurasiaNet Central Asia editor Peter Leonard and co-presenter Alisher Khamidov first turned their attention to more bad news about media freedoms in Kyrgyzstan.
As they had threatened that they would do, the authorities have gone ahead and ordered local internet service providers to block access to the website of independent news website Kloop.
The ostensible trigger for the ban, which came into effect on September 13, was an article on allegations that a jailed opposition politician is being mistreated while in custody. The more likely reality is that President Sadyr Japarov’s administration has grown increasingly tired of Kloop’s gadfly investigations – particularly the ones delving into the affairs of the families of the president and his close ally, the head of the security services, Kamchybek Tashiyev.
Kyrgyz officials are mounting an assault on Kloop from another direction in addition to the internet ban. Last month, the General Prosecutor’s Office filed a lawsuit to seek the definitive closure of the news site, citing what they described as its overly critical stance on government policies.
“The question that is preoccupying the minds of many people here in Bishkek, particularly in the journalist community, is what is going to happen now?” Alisher noted.
With summer inexorably heading for the exit, thoughts are turning to winter. And winter in Central Asia has come to mean electricity crises.
This is a topic that governments no longer try to bluff about. Earlier this month, the head of the executive in Kyrgyzstan, Akylbek Japarov, posted a message on Facebook pleading with the public to be parsimonious in their use of electricity. Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev pointedly tried to get out in front of the crisis by predicting that power shortages could be worse this year than in 2022 in some places. Tajikistan in February once again resorted to its once-annual custom of scheduled blackouts amid rising demand.
As Alisher and Peter discussed, the issue boils down to two core problems: ageing infrastructure and artificially low tariffs that do not enable state-run electricity companies to invest in maintenance and modernization.
Turning to Uzbekistan, Alisher brought us an update on the latest pronouncements of Nuriddin Kholiknazarov, who has been the head of a quasi-governmental body overseeing the country’s Muslims since October 2021. Kholiknazarov took aim in remarks made last month at what he described as an excessive obsession among some Uzbek Muslims with trivial debates over proper dress and beard length.
“India stunned the world by sending a spacecraft to the moon … but we are still arguing about what kind of beard and clothes we should wear,” Kholiknazarov said.
The exhortation to avoid superfluous piety is fairly familiar – the authorities have robustly pushed a secular strain of the Islamic faith for decades. But when Kholiknazarov seemed to be critiquing education standards in Uzbekistan, that felt like he was treading on more dangerous ground. Chiding the authorities is not something that muftis typically do.
And finally, Peter and Alisher had some thoughts on the consultative meeting of Central Asian leaders that recently took place in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. These get-togethers may be relatively low-key affairs, but Peter argued that the fact that the region’s presidents are able to gather and hash out their ideas on integration – without their overbearing Chinese, Russian and Western partners present – feels significant.
Alisher spoke, however, of some sense of disappointment in Kyrgyzstan at how the Dushanbe meeting panned out. Before the first of two days of meetings was through, Kyrgyzstan’s President Japarov left for home. This snubbing behavior felt significant as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are at present experiencing severe turbulence in their relationship.
Still, there will be more chances for the leaders to continue their conversation since they will all meet again for a United States-Central Asia summit due to take place later in September.
This episode was produced by Aigerim Toleukhanova.
Aigerim Toleukhanova is a journalist and researcher from Kazakhstan.
Peter Leonard is Eurasianet’s Central Asia editor.
Alisher Khamidov is a writer based in Bishkek.