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Weekly news wrap

This week marked the 63rd birthday of Turkmen President, Sapamurat Niyazov. The autocratic leader and president for life - known as Turkmenbashi the Great, or Father of all Turkmen - was hailed as a prophet on Wednesday by his admirers: this despite growing international criticism of his hardline approach on political opposition and human rights following an alleged assassination attempt in November.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on Thursday that it was very worried about human rights in the reclusive Central Asian state, with OSCE Chairman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer reportedly saying he would further press the Turkmen authorities on the issue when he visited the country later this year.

But his mission could prove difficult. Diplomats said Turkmenistan had thus far failed to cooperate with the OSCE human rights expert appointed this month, the University of Paris law professor, Emmanuel Decaux, even to the extent of denying him entry to the country, despite OSCE rules that he be given access for fact-finding, Reuters said.

In further criticism, the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights said this week it was alarmed by the introduction of new laws, describing them as representing a return to the Stalinist methods of the 1930s. For its part, Amnesty International (AI) declared Wednesday a day of action to draw international attention to what it described as Turkmenistan’s "appalling" human rights record.

In Kazakhstan, meanwhile, the government has reacted harshly to a European Parliament resolution issued a week earlier, calling the document "biased". The resolution focused specifically on charges of statutory rape against journalist Sergei Duvanov and the sentencing last year on embezzlement charges of opposition politicians Mukhtar Abliyazov and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov. The resolution called on the Kazakh authorities to conduct independent investigations of all three cases and to make public their findings, as well as ongoing investigations and trials. It also called on the government to criminalise the use of torture.

In neighbouring Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s most populous state, Tokhtamurod Toshev, the editor-in-chief of the Adolat newspaper, operated by the Social Democratic Party, was arrested on Thursday, according to the Associated Press (AP). While it was unclear why he had been arrested, there is speculation that it might stem from his support for a businessman who had filed a complaint of alleged maltreatment by law enforcement agencies.

Official pre-publication censorship had been abolished last year in Uzbekistan, but journalists still practised widespread self-censorship, because all newspapers were government-controlled to varying degrees, the report said.

Toshev's arrest follows the sentencing of an independent Uzbek journalist to seven years in prison for alleged membership in an extremist group and anti-constitutional activity earlier this week, in a case media advocates said was motivated by the journalist's independent views, it added.

Meanwhile, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov met the Uzbek ambassador in the capital, Bishkek, on Wednesday, and called for a thorough investigation into the latest border incident to occur between the two countries. According to an AP report, Uzbek border guards last week crossed into Kyrgyz territory, harassing residents and firing a rifle. Border tensions between the newly independent former Soviet states are common, with much work still needed on border demarcation.

Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev on Tuesday signed into law the country’s new constitution after it was approved in a referendum that has been criticised as detrimental to the country’s developing democracy. According to the AP, Kyrgyz opposition groups allege that the 2 February referendum was rife with fraud, following an unsuccessful bit to postpone the vote for more discussion.

Once viewed as an island of democracy in Central Asia, human rights groups allege an increase in abuses over the past year, maintaining that the new constitution strengthens the president’s powers at the expense of civil rights.

Constitutional changes were also on the agenda in Tajikistan, with the lower chamber on Monday discussing a proposal by a group of deputies from both chambers to amend and add to the country’s constitution. According to the Asia Plus news service, the deputies reasoned that such changes were needed now that peace and stability had become irreversible and major transformations had taken place in political, social and economic life. The proposed amendments would increase the role and powers of the parliament, strengthen mechanisms for protecting human and civil rights, and promote development.

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

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