Civil rights fall across Central Asia/South Caucasus

EDINBURGH/NEW YORK, FEB. 11 (The Conway Bulletin) — Civil freedoms in Central Asia and the South Caucasus took a turn for the worse in 2014 as governments moved closer to Russia and worried that street demonstrations in Ukraine may spread, Freedom House said in an interview.

The sharpest deterioration in civil rights in 2014, according to the US-based lobby group, came in Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.

“Governments restricted freedom of assembly and speech to prevent ‘maidans’ and Russian encouragement of separatism,” Nate Schenkkan, a Eurasia Programme Officer at Freedom House, said in an interview with The Bulletin. Schenkkan’s reference to so-called maidans was to Ukrainian street demonstrations which morphed into a full scale revolution.

The interview was conducted over twitter with questions also taken from viewers.

At the end of last year Azerbaijani police raided the office of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In the interview with The Bulletin, Schenkkan said the police raid was the culmination of a tough year for media and government critics in Azerbaijan.

“There was a full-scale crackdown. Now (there are) 90 plus political prisoners, all independent media shuttered in Azerbaijan,” he said. “Sanctions for Azerbaijani officials should be on the table and EU leaders should skip the European Games.” Azerbaijan is hosting the inaugural European Games later this year.

As for Kyrgyzstan, Schenkkan said new legislation had dented Kyrgyzstan’s image.

“Kyrgyzstan is the most disappointing because it is a reversal after relative gains recently,” he said. “Copycat attempts at Russian legislation against LGBTI and NGOs nearly passed.”

Copyright — The Conway Bulletin

>>This story was first published in issue 218 of The Conway Bulletin, a weekly independent newspaper covering Central Asia and the South Caucasus. To subscribe and for more information on the Bulletin, click here

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