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Kazakh security services on guard of Nazarbayev’s regime

Criminal prosecution is one of the main instruments of political struggle in Kazakhstan; with this method, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has successfully eliminated his political opponents and critics for many years. National security services, which continue to remain an influential force in the state, assist him in these endeavours. In order to evade facing politically motivated prosecutions, Kazakh oppositionists are forced to go abroad and seek political asylum in other states. Still, even leaving the country does not guarantee their safety.

The past few years have seen several high-profile cases where representatives of the pro-regime elite, having received public support, went on to join the opposition. Thus, they established direct competition to President Nursultan Nazarbayev; however, subsequently, former members of the government have either died under mysterious circumstances (Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly, Zamanbek Nurkadilov) or have had criminal cases initiated against them with a variety of different charges having been brought . This has prompted many politicians to emigrate from the country.

This was the case with the former Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, Akezhan Kazhegeldin. In 1997, the Prosecutor’s Office of Kazakhstan brought charges of corruption against Mr. Kazhegeldin. In 1998, he joined the opposition and declared his candidacy for president. Soon afterwards he left for the UK. On 6 September, 2011, he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years’ imprisonment on corruption charges.

In 2007, Viktor Khrapunov, former Minister of Emergency Situations and the Mayor of Almaty City, left for Switzerland following disagreements with the president’s daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva. In 2011, following Viktor Khrapunov’s public statements lifting the lid on incidents of corruption, a criminal case was instituted against him in Kazakhstan on charges of embezzlement, fraud and the abuse of power. Viktor Khrapunov intends to return to Kazakhstan, after the threat of his criminal prosecution by President Nazarbayev subsides.

In 2009, the former Chairman of the Board of Directors of the BTA Bank, Mukhtar Ablyazov, was forced to emigrate to Europe. It should be noted that, previously, on 18 July, 2002, Mukhtar Ablyazov was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for illegal conduct of business and abuse of office. In its Resolution of 13 February, 2003, The European Parliament labelled the verdict against Mukhtar Ablyazov ‘politically motivated’ and urged Kazakhstan to carry out an objective investigation of this case. Just three months later, on 13 May, 2003, Nursultan Nazarbayev adopted a decree pardoning Mukhtar Ablyazov, but in 2009, Mukhtar Ablyazov was subjected to prosecution again.

After the nationalisation of the BTA Bank, Mukhtar Ablyazov began to speak publicly in support of the opposition. As a result, criminal charges were brought against people from Mukhtar Ablyazov’s circle. Opposition politician Muratbek Ketebayev and his personal security guard, Aleksandr Pavlov, faced accusations of preparing for terrorist activity in the territory of Kazakhstan. They are both presently residing in Europe. Muratbek Ketebaev reported that on 17 April, 2013, a Spanish court refused to grant an extradition order to Kazakhstan  pertaining to Aleksandr Pavlov, and currently, he remains a free man. Muratbek Ketebayev noted that should Aleksandr Pavlov be extradited to Kazakhstan, security agencies may force him,  by means of torture, to slander himself and other opponents of the government. 

Tatiana Paraskevich, the former head of accounting and financial management of ‘Eurasia’ Investment and Industrial Group Ltd., found herself in a similar situation. She was charged by the Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine and the Russian Federation with committing financial crimes upon prior collusion with Mukhtar Ablyazov. The Prosecutor’s Office of Kazakhstan is directly involved in the investigation of this case. At the moment Tatiana Paraskevich resides in the Czech Republic. Ukraine demands that she be extradited. There are concerns that, should she be extradited to Ukraine, Tatyana Paraskevich will be transferred to Kazakhstan, where she could be subjected to torture in order to impel her to give incriminating testimony in the case of the BTA Bank.

For the Kazakh opposition leaders who fell from grace with President Nursultan Nazarbayev, it is dangerous not only to stay in Kazakhstan but also in the neighbouring countries. As many years’ experience show, the actions of the Kazakh special services are not confined to the national borders. Especially when it comes to the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Cooperation between the security services of post-Soviet states is particularly close, even after more than 20 years following the demise of the Soviet Union. This results from traditional close relations between the former Soviet republics, which continue to cooperate within the framework of the CIS and other regional organisations. Connections and general methods of intelligence, tried and tested for decades, may be another reason behind the current situation.

There are, presently, several mechanisms for multilateral cooperation between the security services of the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), namely:

  • • The Council of Heads of Security and Special Services of the CIS member-states;
  • • The Council of Border Troops Commanders of the CIS member-states;
  • • The Council on Border Affairs of member states of the Eurasian Economic Community;
  • • The CIS Anti-Terrorist Centre.

Within these structures, special services of the CIS exchange experience and information, endeavour to strengthen the overall security system and conduct coordinated (joint) investigative operations.

On 25 November, 1998, the CIS member states signed the ‘Agreement on Cooperation of the CIS Member States in the Fight Against Crime’. According to the Agreement, the Parties shall cooperate, through their competent authorities, in the fight against crime, especially in its organised forms, in compliance with their domestic laws and international obligations.

In addition, it should be noted that within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are currently cooperating in the field of national security in the fight against terrorism, separatism, extremism and transnational crime.

This scale of cooperation explains why the actions of the Kazakh secret services on the territory of the former Soviet Union have been particularly high-handed and untrammelled. Cases where Kazakh opposition politicians, civil society activists and journalists were victimised by the actions of special services of Kazakhstan abroad, have become a habit.  

Listed below are the most prominent cases:

Assassination attempt on Peter Svoik in Bishkek 

On 1 December, 1997, a Kazakh opposition leader, Peter Svoik, co-chairman of the ‘Azamat’ opposition movement and the chairman of the Socialist Party of Kazakhstan, was severely beaten while in Bishkek. Peter Svoik arrived in the capital of Kyrgyzstan in order to take part in the international conference ‘The democratic process in Central Asia: Experiences and Prospects’, during which he was to present a report on the political opposition in Kazakhstan. In the evening, at approx.  10:30 p.m., several masked men burst into the hotel room where Peter Svoik and his wife, Natalia Chumakova, were sleeping. The assailants beat the Kazakh opposition leader and his wife with clubs, after which they fled. An ambulance and the police were called to the scene. Doctors diagnosed Peter Svoik with concussion. Kyrgyz authorities initiated a criminal case in connection with the incident. As the oppositionist stated at that time, the attack was committed by Kazakh security forces in order to intimidate him and impel him to cease his political activities.

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev instructed the Interior Ministry and the Foreign Ministry to catch the perpetrators. “Regardless of the views that Peter Svoik adheres to, no one has the right to use violence against him. He is a citizen of Kazakhstan, and I am responsible for him, and so, I addressed the relevant Kyrgyz services with a request that every effort be made to investigate the attack, “- Nursultan Nazarbayev said. Nevertheless, the attackers were never found.

Assassination attempt against Alnur Musayev and Rakhat Aliyev in Vienna

In 2007, Austria granted political asylum to Alnar Musayev, former chairman of the National Security Committee (NSC), and Rakhat Aliyev, former Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan to Austria. On 25 September, 2008, in Vienna (Austria), an attempt was made to assassinate the political refugees; as a result, Alnar Musayev was seriously wounded and was taken to hospital, and Rakhat Aliyev suffered minor injuries (some media sources later denied the reports that Aliyev had suffered any wounding in the incident). Alnar Musayev’s interpreter, an Austrian citizen Lydia Aykmayer, also sustained injuries.

On the basis of the results of the investigation, Austrian prosecutors put forward the theory that security forces of a foreign state were involved in the assassination attempt. According to law enforcement agencies, the attackers may have tried to abduct Alnar Musayev. The former chairman of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan reported to journalists that he had been attacked by four men armed with pistols. He tried to resist their attack, which drew the attention of passers-by, and the assailants fled.

Alnar Musayev and Rakhat Aliyev currently reside outside of Kazakhstan. In 2008, they were sentenced in absentia to long prison terms by the Kazakh courts. On 15 January, 2008, based on charges of abduction and extortion, Rakhat Aliyev was sentenced in absentia to 20 years’ incarceration in a strict regime prison with confiscation of property. Also in January, 2008, Alnur Musayev faced charges of establishing an organised criminal group, attempting to organise a coup and espionage. He was sentenced in absentia to 15 years’ imprisonment with confiscation of property. In March 2008, another court case was held, in which Rakhat Aliyev and Alnur Musayev were accused of preparing to overthrow the government and were subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison. Kazakhstan issued an international warrant for their arrest.

Rakhat Aliyev argues that he fell from grace because of his intention to run for president. In turn, Alnur Musayev has categorically denied all the charges against him in an open letter to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Surveillance of Daniar Moldashev in Moscow

On 25 March, 2011, the publisher of the ‘Golos Respubliki’ newspaper, Daniyar Moldashev, during a business trip to Moscow, met with the staff of the news website ‘Respublika’. It was later established that in the capital of the Russian Federation, Daniar Moldashev was subjected to surveillance, carried out by unknown persons.

On 26 March, 2011, Moldashev returned to Almaty. On the way from the airport, he was beaten and robbed by unidentified perpetrators. Documents, brought from Moscow by Daniyar Moldashev were stolen.

A few days after the incident, Daniyar Moldashev disappeared – he failed to answer his mobile phone, and it was established that he was not residing at his home address. On 30 March, 2011, the ‘Golos Respubliki’ newspaper issued official information about Daniyar Moldashev’s disappearance. In the evening of the same day, Daniyar Moldashev established contact and reported that he was in Minsk (Belarus). The details of the incident remain unclear. Presumably, Daniyar Moldashev was taken to the Republic of Belarus by the secret services of Kazakhstan.

Attempted kidnap of Ainur Kurmanov in Moscow 

On 15 December, 2012, officers of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan attempted to abduct Ainur Kurmanov, co-chair of the Socialist Movement of Kazakhstan and vice-chairman of the ‘Zhanartu’ trade union. The incident took place on the Revolution Square in Moscow, where Ainur Kurmanov, along with his Russian colleagues, was carrying out a rally of the Communist Party. During the meeting, Ainur Kurmanov made an announcement about the authorised upcoming rally, scheduled for 16 December, 2012, devoted to the anniversary of the shooting at the peaceful demonstration of oil workers in the Kazakh town of Zhanaozen. After that, five unidentified men in civilian clothes tried to take him by force from the rally. However, they presented no documents, and the employees of the Russian police simply elected not to intervene in the apprehension.

It was made possible to thwart the illegal actions of the unknown perpetrators thanks to activists who were present at the rally. It transpired that the attackers were members of the Committee of National Security of Kazakhstan and the Kazakh Embassy situated in the Russian Federation.

Immediately after the incident, the executive director of the All-Russian Movement ‘For Human Rights’, Lev Ponomarev, and a member of the State Duma, Ilya Ponomarev, addressed a number of state institutions of the Russian Federation with statements and requests. On 17 January, 2013, the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation replied to the human rights activist, Lev Ponomarev, that Kazakhstan had not issued any warrants for the arrest and extradition of Ainur Kurmanov.

On 28 January, 2013, MEP Paul Murphy issued a statement to the Government of the Russian Federation, which read: “Ainur Kurmanov, fearing for his life and freedom, was compelled to temporarily move to Russia, where has not violated any local laws. The attempted  abduction in Moscow by Kazakh secret services was clearly a political act, directly related to his labour union activities and his struggle for the liberation of imprisoned oil workers and leaders of workers’ organisations of Kazakhstan”. The Member of European Parliament also enunciated that, when on the territory of Kazakhstan, Ainur Kurmanov may be subjected to politically motivated prosecution.

The incident is currently being investigated by the Russian law enforcement agencies.

Numerous Kazakh opposition activists have been placed on the international wanted list not only by Kazakhstan, but also by other post-Soviet states. This once again confirms the closeness of cooperation between the security agencies of these countries. Civil society activists and opposition politicians say in one voice: it is extremely dangerous to extradite from Europe, persons who have been convicted in absentia in Kazakhstan for political reasons. The statement apparently denotes extradition to any country in the post-Soviet space. Marat Zhanuzakov, an opposition politician who currently represents Vladimir Kozlov, convicted of “inciting social discord”, issued a comment for the Open Dialog Foundation, in which he pointed out that illegal practices, applied by Kazakh special services, may threaten the government’s opponents living abroad. Mikhail Sizov, a former chairman of the Coordinating Committee of the unregistered party ‘Alga!’, expressed the opinion that the main direction of the activity of intelligence agencies is aimed at “ control of the opposition, suppression of dissent, the accumulation of criminal records and damaging information against opposition politicians, leaders and activists” rather than on genuinely striving to ensure national security. Mikhail Sizov also mentioned the risk of torture and forcing interrogated persons to give testimonies, convenient to the security services of Kazakhstan.

The EurasiaNet analysts also reported on the cooperation of security agencies of the post-Soviet states, resulting in the extradition of persons, prosecuted for political reasons, to countries where they are at risk of torture. They also mentioned that the refugees from Andijan, where on 13 May, 2005, government troops opened fire on protesters, killing between 150 and 1,000 civilians are being extradited to Uzbekistan by the Russian Federation and the Republic of Kazakhstan. The Russian Human Rights Organisation ‘Memorial’ believes that Moscow permits the Uzbek authorities to interrogate and threaten the Uzbek refugees who are being detained in Russia.

The human rights organisation ‘Human Rights Watch’ has noted that member states of the CIS and SCO are obliged to protect the rights of detainees, as the UN human rights instruments take precedence over any bilateral and regional agreements on extradition issues. An analyst in the ‘Human Rights Watch’ for Central Asia, Steve Swerdlow, stated: “Unfortunately, most of the elites, ruling in the post-Soviet space, actively oppose the execution of their obligations, requiring them to comply with relevant provisions of international law in the field of human rights and refugees”

The struggle for power in Kazakhstan has never been confined to the usual boundaries of civilised political competition. Over the years of independence, the government has been controlled by one person – Nursultan Nazarbayev. The country lacks political pluralism. A favoured method of dealing with opponents and critics of the regime is prosecution based on fabricated evidence. 

Opposition leaders are forced into exile. Officials in Astana have made attempts (often illegal) to bring them back to Kazakhstan, where they would inevitably face long prison sentences. However, in most cases, such attempts fail, as international law and the risk of tarnishing Kazakhstan’s international image, tend to prevent  political refugees from being sent back to Kazakhstan.

Thus, according to the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person toanother State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture”. The European Convention on Extradition prohibits the extradition of persons accused of committing political crimes. The same prohibition applies in the case where the requested Party has substantial grounds for believing that the request for extradition due to an ordinary criminal offence has been filed with the aim of prosecuting or punishing a person on account of his political beliefs.