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Central Asia in Focus: Kazakhstan’s Lower House Passes Controversial Draft Media Law

In this week’s edition: Kazakhstan’s lower house of parliament passed a controversial draft media law, massive dust storms are hitting Central Asia, and more.

TAJIKISTAN – A dust storm blows through Dushanbe, September 30, 2016. Photo: Radio Ozodi, RFE/RL.

In the Region

Kazakhstan’s Lower House Passes Controversial Draft Media Law

Kazakhstan’s Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, passed amendments to the media law on April 17 and sent it to the Senate for consideration.

One of the key changes is a measure giving the Foreign Ministry the power to deny accreditation of foreign media and their representatives if they pose a threat to national security.

Responsibility for accreditation was transferred to the Foreign Ministry in January 2024.

The International Press Institute (IPI) issued a statement on the proposed changes in January.

IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said IPI was worried by “vague ‘national security’ rules and new accreditation rules that, together, risk seeing foreign correspondents prevented from working in Kazakhstan…”

Another amendment would introduce the status of “online publication” that would apply to all online publications and news agencies.

If the law is adopted, all online publications and news agencies would have to apply for registration with the Ministry of Information.

There are concerns that authorities could withhold registration from publications and outlets that have been critical of authorities in the past.

Why It’s Important: Many of the amendments seem practical, such as increasing the use of the Kazakh language to 55 percent in 2025 and 60 percent in 2027.

However, there are suspicions about how the proposed law would affect the work of foreign media outlets and representatives.

After responsibility for accreditation was given to the Foreign Ministry, it did not renew or declined to grant accreditation to 36 correspondents of RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, known as Azattyq.

Azattyq filed a lawsuit to have its correspondents accredited. On April 23, Azattyq reported an agreement was reached with Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry.

Five Azattyq correspondents have already received accreditation, and more are expected to receive their accreditations soon.

However, there are worries that if the draft media law passes, Azattyq and other foreign media outlets might be facing accreditation problems in the future. It is not clear when the Senate will consider the new media law. 

The Growing Dust Problem in Central Asia

Massive dust storms once hit Central Asia a few times a year. In recent years, however, they are multiplying and intensifying.

A study by the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research and the Free University of Berlin concluded that there has been a seven percent increase in dust in Central Asia in the last 30 years.

The study laid much of the blame on the drying of the Aral Sea, which 50 years ago was the fourth largest inland lake in the world but is now more than 90 percent dried up.

The study was presented at the second Central Asian Dust Conference in Nukus, Uzbekistan, from April 15-22.

Nukus was once 125 miles south of the Aral Sea. Now it is more than twice that distance from the remaining water.

The new desert that is left where the sea once was is 23,170-square-miles and called the Aralkum. At times, the dust has blown more than 500 miles away.

In late March 2024, a huge storm hit areas in and around Almaty, Kazakhstan and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Two dust storms blew across areas of Turkmenistan in the first ten days of 2024.

In May 2018, heavy winds blew alkaline soil from the desiccated Aral Sea, creating a salt storm that damaged crops in northern and eastern Turkmenistan.

A dust storm blowing from the Aral Sea covered most of Uzbekistan and reached nearly 700 miles away to the Tajik capital Dushanbe in June 2023.

Why It’s Important: Research from the Iranian Water Research Center blamed Russia’s overuse of the Volga River for the Caspian Sea’s water decline. According to experts, if Russia’s practices continue, the Caspian Sea will lose half its size within 20 years and will dry up within 70 years.  

Combatting the problem is now essential as there are predictions that the shrinking Caspian Sea will add to the dust misery.

That report said if Caspian Sea waters continue to drop at current levels, dust storms will begin to appear in Caspian coastal areas in a decade.

Majlis Podcast

The most recent Majlis podcast looks at how the Tajik government’s repression of its people and the lack of opportunities in Tajikistan might be pushing some Tajiks to join terrorist groups.

In the last half year, Tajik citizens have carried out or been involved in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran, Germany, Austria, and most recently, the Crocus City Hall attack in Moscow.

How much has the hopeless situation at home influenced a small number of Tajik nationals to commit such acts?

The guests on this podcast are:

What I’m Following

Uzbekistan Takes Control of Kyrgyz Exclave

The last Kyrgyz living in the Barak exclave departed their village on April 14 as the territory became part of Uzbekistan.

The exclave was a mere 2.5 miles from the Kyrgyz border, but during more than 30 years of independence, Uzbekistan often closed the road, leaving Barak residents isolated.

The Kyrgyz and Uzbek governments agreed on the transfer of the exclave to Uzbekistan.

Barak residents are being resettled in Kyrgyzstan’s Kara-Suu district, located along the border with Uzbekistan.

There are many exclaves in Central Asia in the Ferghana Valley, where Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan meet and there have been land and water disputes in these areas.

The case of the Barak exclave is the first time two Central Asian governments have transferred ownership of an exclave. 

IMF Disputes Turkmen GDP Figures

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released its own figures for Turkmenistan’s GDP growth in 2023 that were less than one-third the figure given by Turkmen authorities.

In February, Turkmen authorities said GDP growth was 6.3 percent in 2023.

An IMF mission visited Turkmenistan from March 27-April 9 to assess Turkmenistan’s economy.

Based on the findings of the mission, the IMF released a statement on April 15 that put Turkmen GDP growth at two percent and said it was likely to be “around 2.3 percent” in 2024.

It will be interesting to see if Turkmen authorities respond to the IMF statement, though it is unlikely anyone from Turkmenistan will do so.

The IMF finally stopped relying on the Turkmen government’s suspiciously high claims of economic successes in its report for 2020, the first year of the global pandemic.

Turkmenistan reported 5.9 percent GDP growth for 2020. The IMF said Turkmenistan’s growth was 0.8 percent. 

Fact of the Week

In 2023, more than 46,000 Turkmen citizens visited Uzbekistan for business purposes, “topping the list of foreign business travelers,” according to

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on X, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia.

Until next time,

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