Kyrgyz rights activists vow to fight 'criminal' Gazprom school transfer

By Kanat Altynbayev


The new Bishkek school built by Gazprom is shown in an undated photo. Gazprom delivered a costly private school instead of a public school and reneged on a promise to have children with disabilities comprise 20% of the student body. [File]

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz rights activists are vowing to keep up the fight against a series of actions carried out by Russian energy giant Gazprom that amount to a shocking "fraud against society" and a violation of a lucrative energy deal.

A court in Bishkek has upheld the controversial transfer of a public school to Gazprom, rejecting a lawsuit by Bishkek human rights activists.

Last November, the NGO Our Right filed a lawsuit to challenge the transfer, which the Bishkek city council authorised.

The Russian energy giant built and opened the school last year, fulfilling one of the requirements for Gazprom's acquisition of a 100% stake in Kyrgyzgaz, Kyrgyzstan's largest gas supplier, for the token amount of $1 in 2013.

At that time, the company promised to build an ultra-modern public high school, where disabled children as well as children from low-income, socially disadvantaged families, would be able to study for free. Additionally, Gazprom was supposed to build sports facilities and schools in various cities of Kyrgyzstan.

Bishkek city hall was supposed to administer the school.

However, after opening its doors last fall, the Gazprom school found itself embroiled in scandal. It emerged that parents would have to pay a monthly sum, unaffordable to almost every Kyrgyz, if their children enrolled.

The monthly tuition at the Gazprom school is 22,000 KGS ($315). The average monthly salary in Kyrgyzstan in 2018 was 16,415 KGS ($235), according to official statistics.

Shocked locals who had eagerly anticipated sending their children to the school called Gazprom's about-face a "fraud against society", and human rights activists said that transferring public educational institutions to private entities was illegal.

City hall compounded the public's fury by transferring the school to Gazprom, citing its inability to pay for the school's operation.

The court ruling came down last week, as reported by February 7.

Gazprom's illegal actions

The court did not rule on the lawfulness of transferring the school to Gazprom, said Svetlana Antropova, a spokesman for Our Right. Rather its ruling found that the action did not violate the plaintiffs' rights.

The human rights group has prepared a letter to the prosecutor's office highlighting alleged shortcomings in the court ruling. It intends to appeal the decision all the way to the Supreme Court, she said.

"The decision to transfer the school to Gazprom is a crime, since 3.5 hectares of our [Kyrgyz] land will be forever given to Gazprom for free, without a bidding process, without payment from Gazprom. What's more, the interests of citizens are not taken into account," said Antropova.

"Although utility lines and roads in this area were built at ... taxpayers' expense, Gazprom will receive the benefit, but local residents will not see benefit from the school, which is specially designed for the rich," she added.

Bishkek activists and human rights activists wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking him to not sign an inter-governmental agreement on the school's transfer to Gazprom.

"In the letter, we called on Putin to examine the legality of Gazprom's actions," Antropova said.

Few Bishkek residents expect Putin to come to the rescue.

"In Russia's foreign policy, Putin places the interests of our countries -- including us, ordinary citizens -- last," said Bishkek resident Aizad Kydyrova, who was unable to send her son to the Gazprom school because of the excessively high tuition.

"What benefits Gazprom benefits Russia, so he won't meet us halfway," she said.

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Katsaps should never be trusted [katsap: Ukrainian ethnic slur meaning Russian]