Zayd Saidov, an influential Tajik Opposition Party leader and former Minister of Industry was sentenced to 26 years in prison after being convicted on charges ranging from financial fraud and polygamy to having sexual relations with a minor. The original filing of charges in May 2013 coincided with the former Minister’s decision to break from the People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan, the dominant Tajik political party presided over by Tajik president Emomalii Rahmon, and the formation of an opposition party. Prior to his arrest and conviction, Saidov was one of the wealthiest and most influential individuals in Tajikistan, was one of the few opposition figures that worked well with Presient Rahmon and most recently worked as Minister of Industry. Nonetheless, relations between the two quickly soured when Saidov formed a New Tajikistan opposition party that was slated as a potential rival to the president.
Due to the circumstances under which the sentence was handed out, Human Rights Watch released a report condemning the manner in which political opposition is handled in Tajikistan. In addition to the conviction of Saidov and Urunboy Usmonov a BBC journalist critical of the regime, elections in Tajikistan have never been considered fair or free by authorities in the EU or the US, as intimidation and voter fraud is commonplace and the political system has only ever been presided over by one political party.
As a result of the relative lack of freedom experienced by opposition figures and the comparatively low levels of political activism within Tajikistan, the report describes the outlook for the country going forward as less than positive. Rahmon recently was recently elected to his seventh consecutive term amidst rumors of political tampering and intimidation of the only legitimate opposition candidate, and with the recent conviction of Saidov, the capabilities of even the country’s most influential to form an opposition party have been placed in jeopardy.
- Kazkah Central Banker governor, Kairat Kelimbetov, said in Geneva that he expected to see “a lot of emerging market currency devaluations this year,”specifically predicting that the Russian rouble will be “close to collapse again.” This news comes soon after the IMF forecasted a less-than-stellar prediction for growth as inflation continued to exceed the bank’s target. President Putin has tried a variety of schemes to stimulate growth, the most recent being a freeze on fees charged by OAO Gazprom and OAO Russian Railways. The grim forecast parallels as drop in the value of the rouble against the dollar, which has fallen 6.7% against the dollar.
- Foreign ministers of Russia and Tajikistan, Sergei Lavrov and Sirodzhiddin Aslov, have ratified a deal which ensures the continuing deployment of 7,000 Russian troops in Tajikistan in exchange for greater training and equipment transfers to Tajik security forces. The deal, which was pre-approved by the Tajik Parliament in October, extends Russia’s lease on military bases until 2042. It is believed that Tajikistan is concerned with its security outlook with the US withdrawing from Afghanistan later this year, which has driven Tajikistan into diplomatic associations with both Russia and Iran.
- The 35th Meeting of the Ad Hoc working Group of the Convention on Legal Status of the Caspian Sea in Astana, Kazakhstan agreed on a draft concept to divide the waters in the Caspian Sea on a territorial basis. Previous agreements have not included all five states that border the Caspian Sea, and disputes over territory are all but guaranteed with the rich offshore energy reserves that have yet to be fully exploited. Iran has vehemently stated its intention not to acquiesce lucrative offshore oil reserves, and Turkmenistan was previously left out of protocols that took place earlier in the century.
- An Iranian official has indicated that Iran will modify a heavy-water reactor in Arak, one of its nuclear research facilities, perhaps signaling before talks begin with the United States of a willingness to negotiate. The operation of the Arak reactor was the major stumbling block that almost derailed nuclear talks between Iran and other countries last November, with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declaring it mandatory that the reactor shut down before the six-month deal could be signed and ease the sanctions that have hobbled the Iranian economy.
- In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, it is usually difficult for the government to send information to remote villages and hamlets where Taliban and other terrorist groups operate. Both insurgents and government forces have turned to radio as a viable alternative to leaflets and internet news. About 44% of the Kyber Pakhtunkhwa rural population listen to radio at least once weekly, and pro-Taliban mullahs like Mullah Tayyeb are known to disseminate their messages via illegal FM radio broadcasts.