• KGS/USD = 0.01134 0%
  • KZT/USD = 0.00226 0%
  • TJS/USD = 0.09264 0.54%
  • UZS/USD = 0.00008 0%
  • KGS/USD = 0.01134 0%
  • KZT/USD = 0.00226 0%
  • TJS/USD = 0.09264 0.54%
  • UZS/USD = 0.00008 0%
  • KGS/USD = 0.01134 0%
  • KZT/USD = 0.00226 0%
  • TJS/USD = 0.09264 0.54%
  • UZS/USD = 0.00008 0%
  • KGS/USD = 0.01134 0%
  • KZT/USD = 0.00226 0%
  • TJS/USD = 0.09264 0.54%
  • UZS/USD = 0.00008 0%
  • KGS/USD = 0.01134 0%
  • KZT/USD = 0.00226 0%
  • TJS/USD = 0.09264 0.54%
  • UZS/USD = 0.00008 0%
  • KGS/USD = 0.01134 0%
  • KZT/USD = 0.00226 0%
  • TJS/USD = 0.09264 0.54%
  • UZS/USD = 0.00008 0%
  • KGS/USD = 0.01134 0%
  • KZT/USD = 0.00226 0%
  • TJS/USD = 0.09264 0.54%
  • UZS/USD = 0.00008 0%
  • KGS/USD = 0.01134 0%
  • KZT/USD = 0.00226 0%
  • TJS/USD = 0.09264 0.54%
  • UZS/USD = 0.00008 0%

Our People > Times of Central Asia

Times of Central Asia's Avatar

Stephen M. Bland

Senior Editor and Head of Investigations

 Stephen M. Bland is a journalist, author, editor, commentator and researcher specialising in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Prior to joining The Times of Central Asia, he has worked for NGOs, think tanks, as the Central Asia expert on a forthcoming documentary series, for the BBC, The Diplomat, EurasiaNet, and numerous other publications. divider Published in 2016, his book on Central Asia was the winner of the Golden Laureate of Eurasian Literature. He is currently putting the finishing touches to a book about the Caucasus. divider www.stephenmbland.com

Articles

Tension Spills Into Streets of Bishkek After Fight Involving Foreigners

Police in riot gear deployed in part of Kyrgyzstan’s capital overnight as large crowds gathered in anger over an alleged fight between local and foreign people which was widely circulated on social media. The Kyrgyz government later reported that 28 people, including three foreigners had been injured in the incident, whilst four foreign citizens were arrested for incitement. The crowds milled around some intersections of Bishkek for hours before dispersing early Saturday, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs said the situation was stable. Riot police cordoned off areas where the mobs had gathered and negotiated with the protesters in order to head off any further confrontations. The incident appeared to reflect tension over the presence in Kyrgyzstan of migrants. Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs is taking steps to tighten monitoring and penalties for foreigners who violate immigration laws, Kaktus Media reported. The fight which led to the wider conflagration happened at a hostel on May 13. Rumors spread on social media, and a video showing Kyrgyz students fighting with medical students from Egypt went viral. People started gathering on Friday night to show their dissatisfaction with what they said was the lax treatment of foreigners involved in the fight. However, police said three foreigners were detained on suspicion of hooliganism, the AKIpress news outlet reported. It said the suspects appeared in a video, apologizing for the fight and saying they would accept their punishment. “All measures were taken in a timely manner, they were detained, legal measures will be taken against them,” said Azamat Toktonaliev, head of Bishkek´s Internal Affairs Directorate. He told AKIpress that Kyrgyz citizens were invited to testify as witnesses and were not detained. Kyrgyzstan has expressed concern about the plight of some of its own citizens who travel to Russia in search of employment and have faced official scrutiny and sporadic harassment there. In the wake of the violence, diplomatic delegations from Pakistan and India have advised their students in Bishkek to stay indoors.

2 days ago

Articles

First Kazakh Woman Reaches the Summit of Everest

Anar Burasheva, the first woman from Kazakhstan to climb Mount Everest, did a little dance on her descent. “My heart is on this mountain,” Burasheva said on Instagram after reaching the peak. She and two other Kazakh climbers, along with a support team of four Sherpas, made it to the top on Sunday after a five-day trip from base camp in Nepal. The other Kazakh mountaineers are Maksut Zhumayev, a mountain training instructor in the Kazakh military who was making his third Everest ascent, and Almir Kymbatbaiuly. “Congratulations to Anar Burasheva, the first Kazakh woman to conquer the highest mountain peak in the world. Scaling 8,848 meters above sea level, Mount Everest - an incredible achievement,” Erzhan Kazykhan, a Kazakh presidential adviser on foreign affairs, said on X. Kazakhstan’s defense ministry also congratulated the Kazakh climbers, whose ascent was organized by Seven Summit Treks, a Nepali expedition company that specializes in Himalayan climbs. Burasheva has climbed peaks in Kazakhstan and abroad, and is also a long-distance runner. Lucia Janičová also summited Everest on Sunday, becoming the first Slovakian woman to do so. Seven Summit Treks assisted her, as well. The company’s senior guide for the ascent was Kami Rita Sherpa, who logged his 29th trip to the summit.

4 days ago

Articles

Kyrgyz Writer Oljobai Shakir Sentenced to Five Years in Prison

On 14 May, the Alameda District Court of the Chui Oblast in Kyrgyzstan sentenced 52-year-old activist and writer Oljobai Shakir to five years imprisonment for inciting mass riots on social media against the government. At the previous hearing, Shakir a frequent and popular blogger, pleaded not guilty to the charges of slander and argued that the aim of his posts was to encourage open dialogue  between the country's leadership and its people on how the government is run. During the trial, the writer's lawyer, Akmat Alagushev, demanded the acquittal of his client and announced his intention to appeal. Olzhobai Shakir has been held in the pre-trial detention center of the SCNS since August 2023 on account of the “provocative nature” of material he posted on Facebook, TikTok and YouTube. Throughout his incarceration, the writer has denied the validity of the criminal charges against him. Renowned for his critical statements against the authorities, Shakir was arrested shortly after he had publicly scrutinized the government’s controversial transfer of four hotels on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul to Uzbekistan. In a period when the government is increasingly clamping down on political opposition through social media, neither President Sadyr Japarov nor GKNB head Kamchybek Tashiev accepted Shakir’s invitation to be interviewed on the issue. Shakir is a well-established author and supporter of contemporary Kyrgyz literature, but like his activities on social media, his own work at times has proved highly controversial. Published in 2021 in a country where open discussion of LGBT+ rights is still taboo, his novel “Adam+” caused public outcry by relating the emotional challenges he faced during his daughter’s transgender transition.

5 days ago

Articles

Kuandyk Bishimbayev Sentenced to 24 Years for the Murder of Saltanat Nukenova

Kuandyk Bishimbayev, a former Minister of National Economy of Kazakhstan under then-President Nursultan Nazarbayev, was sentenced on Monday to 24 years in prison in the specialized inter-district investigative court of Astana for torturing and murdering his common-law wife, Saltanat Nukenova, at the Gastrocenter Restaurant on November 9, 2023. The verdict and sentence in an Astana courtroom followed a live-streamed trial that galvanized discussion about domestic violence in Kazakhstan and tested the ability of the criminal justice system to hold the powerful and influential to account. Rallies in support of Nukenova spread outside of Kazakhstan, and were staged in Czechia, Georgia, Italy, Spain, and numerous other countries. [caption id="attachment_17886" align="alignnone" width="2048"] A rally in Prague in support of Saltanat Nukenova. Image Source: Asel Kamiyeva [/caption] Judge Aizhan Kulbaeva read out the ruling after a jury trial as Bishimbayev stood in the glass-paneled dock, his head bowed at one point. He had acknowledged beating Nukenova and said his actions, which were captured on CCTV video, led to her death. But he claimed he did not intend to kill her. "Bishimbayev Kuandyk Alikhanovich has been found guilty of committing criminal offenses under p. 1. 2 part 2 of article 110 ("Torture") and point 5 part 2 of article 99 ("Murder"). 2 part 2 of article 99 ("Murder") of the Criminal Code," stated the judge. He was sentenced to 7 years on the first count, and 20 years on the second, which after a partial addition of terms amounted to 24 years in prison. [caption id="attachment_17896" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Image from the Astana court session[/caption] In addition, the director of Gastrocenter, Bakhytzhan Baizhanov was found guilty of harboring a particularly serious crime in advance and sentenced to four years in prison in a medium security penal institution, with time already served being taken into account. During the trial, as public outrage over Nukenova’s killing simmered in Kazakhstan, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a new law in April in line with OECD standards which tightens the penalties for domestic violence and provides more help for survivors. The legislation became widely-dubbed, "Saltanat's Law." The response to Saltanat Nukenova's harrowing attack signals a positive trend for women’s rights in the region. The case quickly advanced to a jury trial, given full transparency via a live broadcast, with a female prosecutor at the helm — a clear stance on gender violence in Kazakhstan. Human Rights Watch commended the law as a step forward, but say it should have designated domestic violence as “stand-alone offense,” which would allow other types of violence within the family, such as psychological or sexual, to be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted. The UNDP, meanwhile, commended “legislative initiatives protecting women’s [and] children’s rights,” calling them a “crucial step towards equality, justice [and] safety for all citizens” that “lay a foundation for a stable, prosperous society.” This is not be the first time that Bishimbayev has been sentenced. In 2018 he received a ten-year sentence for accepting bribes, but after less than a year later he was pardoned...

7 days ago

Articles

Cleaning up the Samruk-Kazyna National Welfare Fund

In his efforts to transition Kazakhstan from previous president Nazarbayev’s era, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has centered his policy agenda on strengthening justice and eradicating kleptocracy in Kazakhstan. His presidential platform, known as “Just and Fair Kazakhstan,” remains a focal point in his addresses, which often emphasize dismantling systems that have facilitated kleptocracy in the country. Tokayev's anti-corruption efforts aim to enhance transparency and combat corruption through retrieving stolen assets, implementing digital monitoring of public expenditures, mandating financial disclosures from officials, and reallocating confiscated funds to infrastructure projects. In its 2023 consultations, the IMF recognized these positive steps. These initiatives, combined with a notable increase in the public’s trust in the anti-corruption agency from 30% in 2022 to 43% in 2023, reflect tangible progress in Kazakhstan's fight against corruption. A 2024 report by Transparency International asserts that “President Tokayev has initiated a series of anti-corruption reforms, and Kazakhstan is currently in the process of implementing recommendations made by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in its 2022 evaluation report.” Critics claim, however, that the country’s administration has not gone far enough in combatting corruption and that the government still lacks transparency when it comes to the management of state assets. Recently, Eurasianet commented that “Kazakhstan shows improvement on graft, but [is] still struggling.” Radio Free Europe has further reported that high-profile Kazakhs were escaping prosecution. Tokayev has been visibly distraught with the government’s progress to date on tackling corruption and has even made major leadership changes, including in the office of the General Prosecutor in 2023. Also in 2023, the former Minister of Justice came under investigation for corruption. In February 2024, the Cabinet resigned to make way for a new government under Olzhas Bektenov, a former head of an anti-corruption watchdog. This move was widely recognized as the latest effort to clean out a bureaucracy compromised by its ties to business elites, particularly those linked with the “Old Kazakhstan” under former president Nazarbayev, who have undermined the state’s capacity to ensure a fair business environment, as well as to effectively investigate and prosecute corruption charges.   New steps to combat corruption and kleptocracy In a presidential decree signed last week “On measures to liberalize the economy” that introduced several initiatives aimed at “ensuring freedom of entrepreneurship by developing competition, reducing state participation in the economy, and reducing business costs”, the President took aim at Samruk-Kazyna National Welfare Fund, i.e., the country’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, which has almost $70 billion under its’ management. The fund has been highly scrutinized for being an instrument of kleptocracy. It has provided unreasonable support to banks, written-off major loans, given exorbitantly favorable loan terms, and in one case, caused a bank to fail and be taken over by a rival months later. As in other post-Soviet republics, banks have been vehicles for oligarchs ascendancy by way of using government funds to build massive business empires. Tokayev has publicly stated that the government needed to “immediately stop this orgy of leaking state...

7 days ago

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