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The “Alga!” party: a ban on its activities and oppression of activists

The establishment of the political party ‘Alga!’ (Kazakh – ‘Forward!’) was first announced on 29 April, 2005. Among the initiators of the establishment of a new political democratic party in Kazakhstan were Kazakh civil society activists, namely: – Bolat Atabayev, Batyrkhan Darimbet, Zhumabay Dospanov, Zhenis Doszhanov, Marat Zhanuzakov, Sagat Zhusip, Utegen Ikhsanov, Asylbek Kozhakhmetov, Vladimir Kozlov, Igor Kolov, Gulnara Kurbanbayeva, Adilzhan Kinzhegaleyev, Viktor Novikov, Olga Saygakova, Mikhail Sizov, Bakhyt Tumenova, Baniyamin Fayzulin, Kazis Toguzbayev. The first founding congress of the People’s Party “Alga!” was held on 23 July, 2005.

The unregistered opposition party ‘Alga!’ is the successor of another opposition party ‘Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’ (DCK), which was shut down by court order in January 2005 (on charges of ‘political extremism’ and ‘inciting social discord and hatred’).

The charter of the party was adopted on 5 September, 2009. It proclaimed the main goal of the party, namely “to change of the political system of the Republic of Kazakhstan with constitutional methods and transform it into a presidential-parliamentary Republic in which there is a true separation of all branches of government, the equality of citizens before the law is ensured, integrity of a person is strictly enforced, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is executed, the economy is socially oriented, and people, as a constitutional source of power, have a real opportunity to exercise this power”.

At the time of the official ban (21 December, 2012), the Coordinating Committee of the People’s Party ‘Alga!’ included: Zhenis Doszhanov, Marat Zhanuzakov, Sagat Zhusip, Aysulu Kadyrbayeva, Muratbek Ketebayev, Adilzhan Kinzhegaliyev, Vladimir Kozlov, Igor Kolov, Valentina Makhotina, Mikhail Sizov, Baniyamin Fayzulin and Yuriy Khramov. 

Problems with the registration of the party

Due to the authoritarian nature of the government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the opposition party ‘Alga!’ began to experience difficulties from the very beginning of its existence.

In May 2005, members of the liquidated People’s Party ‘Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’ formed the Initiative Group for the Establishment of the People’s party ‘Alga, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’. However, the new party could not be called ‘Alga, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’, as amendments to Kazakh legislation had previously been adopted, prohibiting the use of words that had been included in the names of liquidated parties.

In September 2005, the Ministry of Justice of the RK received documentation for the registration of the ‘People’s Party ‘Alga!’, including a list of 63,000 party members (under Kazakh law, for party registration it is necessary that the party has no less than 40 000 members). However, the Ministry of Justice refused to register the party, citing discrepancies in some of the applications. In February 2006, an application for registration was filed again with 53,000 applications from members of the party. The registration was not granted on the grounds that 5 people had allegedly addressed the Ministry of Justice stating that they had been enrolled in the party without their consent. The inquiry has proven that none of the five members (named by the Ministry) had ever applied to the Ministry of Justice with such a statement.

In November 2006, the Committee of Registration Service of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Kazakhstan (CRC of MJ of RK) once again received documents for the state registration of the People’s party ‘Alga!’. In December 2006, the process of registration of the NP ‘Alga!’ was interrupted by the order of the CRC of MJ of RK in order so additional checks could be carried out. However, the registration process has never been resumed.

Thus, in the period from 2005 to 2012 (up to the date of the arrest of the party leader Vladimir Kozlov) the party was carrying out its activities whilst unregistered.  

 Prosecution of activists of the ‘Alga!’ party

Fatima Kasenova (the town of Semey, East Kazakhstan Province)

“Personally, I have been brought to administrative liability three times and received penalties for organising public meetings in the framework of the ‘Agitpoyezd’ (‘Agitation train’) project, where we were informing people about the charter and manifesto of the ‘Alga!’ party, we organised free legal advice for the public and provided free personal services. I was arrested by the police along with my colleagues from the party, Perizat Kasimova (the town of Pavlodar) and Aliya Tezekpayeva (the town of Semey), although no charge or warrant was presented to us. The car, which we drove, was fully searched. I have been repeatedly arrested by the police for ‘organising an unsanctioned rally”. Last time, Fatima Kasenova was taken to the police station in Aktau for dissemination of information about the trial of Vladimir Kozlov, in October 2012.

Aliya Tezekpayeva (the town of Semey, East Kazakhstan Province)

Alia Tezekpayeva reminisces that the activists of the ‘Alga!’ party did not have the opportunity to inform the public about the socio-political situation in the country. Activists organised teams, pasted information leaflets on poles and bulletin boards, but were constantly harassed by people in plain clothes, who immediately tore up the leaflets. In 2010, Alia Tezekpayeva was arrested after the dissemination of informative materials – for alleged damage to property.

Before taking part in any public events, activists of the party would receive threatening phone calls from members of the National Security Committee, who gave false names. In 2010, party activists, who had gathered near the Ministry of Justice to protest against delays in registration of the party, were arrested. Aliya Tezekpayeva also stated: “During the entire time of operation of the party, moral and psychological pressure has constantly been exerted on family members and friends of members, with threats of dismissal from their jobs or to “ruin their lives”, not to mention the demands addressed to the party members that they give up party membership and slander other activists”.

Marina Nistoliy (Petropavovsk, North Kazakhstan Province) 

Marina Nistolyy has been arrested by police several times for “organising an unsanctioned rally” in Petropavlovsk and Astana along with other activists: Sergey Izmaylov, Zhanat Kazhekov, Ruslan Aitov etc. Marina Nistoliy states: “Before going to the meeting of the Initiative Group to convene a referendum in Almaty, which was held on 16 March, 2013, my 14-year-old son started to receive letters from an unknown young man which contained death threats directed at him and my family. Thiscorrespondence has been preserved”.  

Ayzhangul Amirova (the city of Almaty) 

Ayzhangul Amirova is the former head of the Almaty city branch of the People’s Party ‘Alga!’, a member of the Central Council of the People’s Movement ‘Khalyk Maydany’ (Kazakh – ‘Popular Front’). Ayzhangul Amirova was involved in a prolonged strike of oil workers in Zhanaozen in 2011.

On 8 October, 2011, in Zhanaozen, an armed attack was carried out against Ayzhangul Amirova, as well as another activist of the ‘Alga!’ party, Zhanar Saktaganova. As a result, Zhanar Saktaganova suffered a gunshot wound to the lumbar region.

On 6 January, 2012, Ayzhangul Amirov was arrested; she was accused of inciting social discord during the Zhanaozen events in 2011. She remained in custody for more than 6 months: until 20 June, 2012.

At the trial of Vladimir Kozlov, Serik Sapargali and Akzhanat Aminov, Ayzhangul Amirova acted as a witness and testified against the defendants. At trial, Vladimir Kozlov stated that he did not condemn Ayzhangul Amirova for her actions, as she was pressurised into them by NSC members: “I do not condemn Ayzhangul and do not advise others to do so. Only a person who has gone through all this can judge someone. For five and a half months of being held captive even men have cracked, and she is a woman. And she should be treated as a woman. And I do not condemn her, I understand her”.

 Below we present some other cases, where the activists of the ‘Alga!’ party were harmed, presumably because of their social activities or cooperation with the party. 

On 11 October, 2010, in Shakhtinsk, a car of a member of the ‘Alga!’ party, an activist of the civil association ‘Shakhtyorskaya semya’ (‘Miner Family’), Takhir Mukhamedzyanov, exploded. According to the unofficial version, the blast was carried out with explosives, which are used in enterprises such as ‘Arsselor Mittal Temirtau”. According to the official report, it was set on fire. Prior to this incident, T. Mukhamedzyanov repeatedly received phone calls from unknown persons, demanding that he cease his public activities in the civil association ‘Shakhtyorskaya semya’, and two days before the explosion, he was attacked by drunken hooligans. On 5 June, 2012, Takhir Mukhamedzyanov was found dead in a rented apartment in Shakhtinsk. Officially, the cause of death of the civil society activist was a heart attack.

On 17 January, 2011, a financial adviser of the ‘Alga!’ party, Gulzhan Lepisova, was found guilty by a court for failing to pay taxes in the amount of more than 8.5 million tenge (approx. 44,000 euros). At the request of the leader of the People’s Party ‘Alga!’, Vladimir Kozlov, Gulzhan Lepisova carried out money transfers for the party activists in the regions. The Tax Department contended that this money belonged to Gulzhan Lepisova personally and imposed a tax penalty on her.

On 17 November, 2011, Vladimir Kozlov stated that the National Security Committee (NSC) of Kazakhstan orchestrated a campaign of intimidation against Gulzhan Lepisova’s brother, demanding that he induce Gulzhan Lepisova to cooperate with the NSC.

On 23 January, 2012, (the day of the arrest of Vladimir Kozlov), the NSC officers searched Gulzhan Lepisova’s house, as well as the houses of other members of the ‘Alga!’ party: Mikhail Sizov and Askar Tokmurzin.

On 17 August, 2012, the son of Marat Zhanuzakov (a member of the ‘Alga!’ party), Baurzhan Zhanuzakov, was arrested by the police. First, he was checked for involvement in drug trafficking, and then accused of evading military service. “I realise now that they kept me for a reason, it was a form of psychological pressure. All these actions are most likely connected with the activities of my father, to whom I adhere”- said Baurzhan Zhanuzakov. It is noteworthy that the incident took place on the day when Marat Zhanuzakov went to court to participate in Vladimir Kozlov’s trial.

An official ban on the activity of the party

On 21 December, 2012, the unregistered party ‘Alga!’ has been recognised by the court as extremist and its activities were banned throughout the territory of Kazakhstan. The trial, during which the party was banned, was directly related to the events of Zhanaozen in December 2011. Then, months-long demonstration of oil workers who demanded higher salaries and better working conditions, were dispersed by the police officers with the use of firearms. As a result, 17 people were killed and over 100 injured (according to official data).

After the incident, a number of lawsuits connected to the Zhanaozen events followed; however, the trials did not meet international fair trial standards, according to observers. Apart from the Open Dialog Foundation, the progress of legal proceedings was also monitored by other international human rights organisations, such as: Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders. Moreover, representatives of the European Union and the United States also expressed their concern about the results of the trials.

On 19 November, 2012, a verdict against Vladimir Kozlov, the leader of the ‘Alga!’ party, entered into force. The court considered that the activities of some civil society associations and mass media outlets during the Zhanaozen events were of the extremist nature. It is on the basis of this judgment, that the Alga!’ party was banned.

After the announcement of the guilty verdict against Vladimir Kozlov, all his movable and immovable property was confiscated. The apartments that belonged to Vladimir Kozlov, were, in fact, offices of the ‘Alga!’ party. 

Marina Nistoliy informed us that during the confiscation of the office of the ‘Alga!’ party in Petropavlovsk, some items belonging to her and her child were seized as well: “My appeal to various authorities (the Department of Internal Affairs of Petropavlovsk, the Department of Execution of Court Judgements for the North Kazakhstan Province, the Prosecutor’s Office in Petropavlovsk, the Regional Prosecutor’s Office) transpired to be to no avail. On 5 March, 2013, I filed a complaint against the actions of the bailiff with court No. 2 in Petropavlovsk. On 27 March, 2013, at the trial, I learned that on 7 March, 2013, some of my belongings were destroyed (a sheepskin coat, boots, kitchen utensils, certificates and diplomas issued in my name, etc.), as evidenced by the act of destruction, conducted by the bailiff. The remaining items were assessed and put up for auction, including a new washing machine, which I bought on hire purchase on 13 July, 2012.

In addition, all documents belonging to the civil association ‘The Civil Committee for Human Rights of North Kazakhstan Province’, were destroyed. The Chairman of the civil sssociation, Sergey Izmailov, during the gaining of access to the apartment by court bailiffs, was beaten by the police and fined 34,620 tenge (180 euros) for ‘committing obstruction of enforcement proceedings’, when trying to prevent the seizure of property owned by the organisation”.

The confiscation of the offices paralysed the work of the party. Now, activists have no facility in which they could gather, they have no means of transport, they are unable to provide reception of citizens. Moreover, activists may face criminal liability if they conduct any political activity on behalf of the ‘Alga!’ party, since any activity of the party on the territory of Kazakhstan is prohibited. At present, the party is being run informally by a small group of its key former activists.

The prosecution of party leaders 

Vladimir Kozlov has been the chairman of the Coordinating Committee of the People’s Party ‘Alga!’ since 2007. On 23 January, 2012, he was detained and arrested on suspicion of committing a crime “against peace and humanity”. Vladimir Kozlov was accused, along with a group of persons of “committing intentional acts aimed at inciting social discord, through the distribution of literature and other media that promote social discord, which led to serious consequences”.

The trial of Vladimir Kozlov was carried out from 16 August, 2012 to 8 October, 2012. As a result, the court found him guilty of commiting crimes under three articles of the Criminal Code (Article 164, section 3 – “Inciting social discord” and Art. 170, section 2 – “Calling for the overthrow of the constitutional order”, Art. 235, section 1 – “The establishment of a criminal organisation and its leadership”). Vladimir Kozlov was sentenced to 7.5 years imprisonment with confiscation of property. Both at the appeal and cassation trials, the court upheld the sentence of first instance.

Muratbek Ketebayev is a former vice chairman of the Coordination Committee of the People’s Party ‘Alga!’, the president of the Civil Society Foundation ‘Civic Engagement’. He currently resides in Poland, where he is applying for a political asylum.

On 28 March, 2012, the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Kazakhstan announced that the National Security Committee had prevented terrorist attacks at the stage of their preparation in the city of Almaty. Muratbek Ketebayev was named among organisers of the planned terrorist attacks. No conclusive evidence of Ketebayev’s guilt was presented, nor was the suspicion proven that a terrorist attack was indeed planned in the city of Almaty. As a result, the incident was perceived by the Kazakh public, as a staged and failed attempt to discredit the opposition leaders.

On 29 June, 2012, the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan presented to Muratbek Ketebaev, in absentia, the charges of committing crimes under Art. 235, section 1, Art. 164, section 3, Art. 170, section 2 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan (the same charge as brought against Vladimir Kozlov). On 11 December, 2012, the court ruled on the arrest of Muratbek Ketebayev.

Aliya Turusbekova is the wife of Vladimir Kozlov. She was the only defendant at the trial where the banning of the ‘Alga!’ party was considered. The prosecutors presented to Aliya Turusbekova a warning of bringing her to justice in the event that the party ‘Alga!’ carry out any activities.

On 19 December, 2013, in connection with the criminal case against the opposition politician Muratbek Ketebayev, the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan confiscated private property of Aliya Turusbekova and sealed the house, as it belonged to Muratbek Ketebayev.

In March, 2013, the Kazakh press warned of a potential provocation by the security services of the Republic of Kazakhstan in relation to Aliya Turusbekova, due to her political and civic activity.

Mikhail Sizov was a deputy of Vladimir Kozlov. After the arrest of Vladimir Kozlov on 23 January, 2012, he was an acting chairman of the Coordination Committee of the party. After the ban of the ‘Alga!’ party, he has made attempts to register the ‘Committee for the Defence of Political Prisoners of Kazakhstan’. On 5 December, 2012, the Ministry of Justice of Kazakhstan refused to register the Committee, as its name includes the word ‘Kazakhstan’, which, according to the authorities, contravenes the law. But representatives of the Committee draw attention to the fact that the website of the Ministry of Justice mentions several registered associations, whose names also include the word ‘Kazakhstan’. Therefore, Mikhail Sizov believes that the government deliberately refuses to register a civil society organisation, as was the case with the ‘Alga!’ party.

At present, Mikhail Sizov does not publicly represent the ‘Alga!’ party. The ‘Alga!’ party and its convicted leader, Vladimir Kozlov, is represented by Marat Zhanuzakov – a teacher, a journalist, and a former member of the Presidium of the Political Council of the People’s Party ‘Alga!’. Marat Zhanuzakov has been repeatedly punished with administrative fines for taking part in unsanctioned rallies and pickets. Until January 2013, he was the editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper ‘Azat’, but by a court order, on 17 January, 2013, the edition of the newspaper was suspended for three months due to violation of the periodicity of the newspaper.

 What are members of the party involved in at present?

Valentina Viktorovna Makhotina (the town of Karaganda, Karaganda Province)

After the disbanding of the party, she continues to be actively involved in civic activities; she is a member of the Discussion Club ‘Golos Sary-Arki’ (‘The Voice of Saryarka’), whose members are engaged in the preparation of recommendations for change in the legislation of Kazakhstan, discuss various topical issues of public interest. She maintains contact with former party members, and Valentina Viktorovna also reports that they continue to provide free legal assistance and advice to citizens of Kazakhstan.

Valentine Makhotina very sedately announces that her phone is being tapped; it is common to tap civil activists in Kazakhstan. She is not afraid of prosecution as she always acts within the law.

Aliya Tezekpayeva notes that the activists of ‘Alga!’ feel the threat of provocation which can be orchestrated against them by law enforcement agencies.

Fatima Kasenova reports that people continue to address her with various issues, but since she does not have a room to work in, she is forced to receive citizens either at home, or at the offices of associate non-governmental organisations, or to have conversations on the street. Now Fatima Kasenova deals with the problem of unjustified increase in housing costs and communal services. Fatima Kasenova states: “We still feel we are being shadowed and tapped – it is apparent by the way that people in plain clothes – police officers, representatives of the Akimat ‘meet and escort’ us to the places where we are to conduct our activities, even though the time and place of such actions is determined by us over the phone, literally one hour before the event. The pressure on children continues. I feel that the current level of risk is much higher than before, because now that the party has been recognised as extremist, any speech, action or a statement that I make, which is inconvenient for the authorities, can be considered extremist with all the ensuing consequences”.