Human rights issues were very much in focus this week in Central Asia. Hundreds of protesters gathered on the outskirts of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on Thursday, demanding the resignation of the country's president. The group wants to see the prosecution of officials responsible for the violent break-up of a demonstration last spring. They also demanded that their candidate for parliament be permitted to compete in elections.
The protest was the latest in a series sparked by the police killing of five demonstrators in March in the impoverished southern region of Aksu. The incident was the first political violence in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, which is hosting US and other troops taking part in anti-terror operation in nearby Afghanistan.
Many of the approximately 500 participants in the protests had travelled for days to Bishkek from the restive southern region, where they had held simultaneous protests in various towns. President Akayev's regime was praised in the 1990s as the most progressive in authoritarian Central Asia. But he has come under strong criticism following the jailing of opposition figures and a crackdown on independent media.
The State Department and the European Union (EU) expressed concern this week about the continued detention in Kazakhstan of a journalist, Sergei Duvanov. Spokesman Richard Boucher said US diplomats have met with Kazakh authorities to discuss the case of Duvanov, editor of the bulletin of the International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law and a member of the democratic opposition in the former Soviet republic.
Duvanov was brutally beaten by unknown assailants in August. Following his detention on 27 October, he was charged with raping an underaged girl. "Our primary concern is that any legal process against him be carried out in a fair, transparent and open manner," Boucher said. He added that Duvanov apparently has ended a hunger strike but that U.S. officials remain concerned about his health.
In a statement, the EU said that it did not rule out that Duvanov's detention and subsequent charge were politically motivated. A delegation from the British House of Lords, recently returned from Almaty, also expressed concern about Duvanov's detention in particular and the lack of human rights in general in Kazakhstan this week.
Local media in Kazakhstan reported that experts there estimate the total number of HIV-positive people in Central Asia numbers over 50,000 and about half of them live in Kazakhstan. The information was made public at an international conference on HIV/AIDS that opened in the former capital, Almaty on Wednesday.
Specialists from the Kazakh AIDS Centre in Almaty told the gathering that the epidemic's history in Central Asia is similar to Russia and Ukraine, where more than 1 million HIV-positive people have been registered. Kazakh Deputy Health Minister Anatoliy Belonog said that six or seven anti-AIDS programmes are being carried out in Kazakhstan, apart from the state programme for prevention and fight against HIV/AIDS. They include programmes by UNDP, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Soros-Kazakhstan Foundation.
Chechen refugees would rather return to Kazakstan, the scene of their 1940s deportation, than face Russian troops in their homeland or police harassment elsewhere in Russia, human rights activists said on Thursday. "Chechens no longer have their place on Russian territory," a spokeswoman for the Memorial rights group said, but a Kazakh official warned that a request by hundreds of Chechen families to settle in the central Asian republic was "unrealistic."
Memorial spokeswoman Svetlana Ganushkina denounced a sharp increase in police actions against Chechens in Russia since last month's Moscow hostage crisis in which 128 civilians died, and said that many Chechens now saw a move to Kazakhstan as their only hope. As a result, "several families of Chechen refugees have already sent their relatives to Kazakhstan," she said.
On a more positive note, local media reported on Wednesday that a human rights information centre opened this week in the Tajik capital Dushanbe. The office is a branch of the UN Tajikistan Office on Peace-Building (UNTOP), it was opened at the Academy of Sciences in Dushanbe.
The project is being implemented with the help of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and is funded by the German government. The centre will promote the observance of human rights in the country, first of all, through disseminating information and holding seminars for state organisations and NGOs.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions