JULY 31 (The Bulletin) — If there was doubt about the direction of travel for media and human rights in Central Asia and the South Caucasus, the past fortnight has dispelled it.
First Tajikistan and Azerbaijan teamed up to block a second term for two highly thought-of senior officials at the Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Solrun Gisladottir, as head of its vote monitoring unit ODHIR, and Harlem Desir, the OSCE’s media representative. All 57 members of the OSCE have to agree on each of the key appointments and Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, with some support from Turkey, said that Desir and Gisladottir had been biased against them.
In truth, Desir and Gisladottir had just been clear on calling out Tajikistan and Azerbaijan for what they are. Serial abuses of democratic principles, media freedom and civil rights.
And then there is also the death in a Kyrgyz prison of Azimzhan Askarov. He was an ethnic Uzbek whose mistake was to irritate the Kyrgyz authorities in the south of the country in the years before inter-ethnic fighting broke out in 2010. The police in Kyrgyzstan are dominated by ethnic Kyrgyz and Askarov accused them of bias against Uzbeks, torture and abuse.
He was arrested in the aftermath of the fighting in 2010 and accused of murdering a policeman. Human rights groups and Western diplomats said that the charges were fabricated but their protests were ignored and Askarov was imprisoned for life.
Even when it was clear that Askarov was gravely ill, the authorities in Kyrgyzstan refused to grant him any clemency. Human Rights Watch accused the Kyrgyz authorities of wanting Askarov to die in prison.
So, there we have it. Tajikistan and Azerbaijan undermine one of the more effective on-the-ground peace-making organisations and Kyrgyzstan targets an annoying Uzbek human rights activist to die in one of its prisons.
Myopic, narcissistic and nihilist, their true colours have been visible for all to see over the past fortnight.
The region is less stable without an effective OSCE and less equitable without Askarov.
— This story was published in issue 455 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on July 31 2020.
— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2020