Kazakhstan: detention of activists and searches on the eve of the presentation of the ‘Freedom’ award

  • 03.06.2013
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Presentation of the annual ‘Freedom’ awards was not held as a result of obstacles being put in place by the authorities. The Kazakh Prosecutor’s Office stated that the event is associated with the banned political party ‘Alga!’ and is therefore illegal. Also, searches in the offices of non-governmental organisations ‘Arka Suyeu’ and ‘Balga’ have been carried out. 

The presentation of ‘Freedom’ awards was scheduled to be held on the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression, i.e. 31 May, 2013. On 29 and 30 May, 2013 employees of the Prosecutor's Office in Almaty made attempts to serve the members of the ‘Freedom’ award organising committee warnings against legal violations in connection with this event. Such warnings were served upon Mikhail Sizov, Marat Zhanuzakov and Sergei Duvanov. The wording of the warning states that the ceremony of the presentation of the ‘Freedom’ awards must not take place as it is directly linked to the banned political party ‘Alga!’. The afore mentioned conclusions of the Prosecutor’s Office were made purely on the basis of the fact that the founder of the award is the movement ‘Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’. "In articles published on the website of the ‘Freedom’ award and its online community in the social network ‘Vkontakte’, it is indicated that this award was established by the movement ‘Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’ and was later continued by the successor of the movement: the unregistered civil organisation ‘People's Party Alga’. Thus, the ‘Freedom’ award is inextricably linked to the unregistered CO ‘People's Party Alga’, any activity of which is prohibited throughout the Republic of Kazakhstan", - the warning reads.

Attempts have also been made to present the warning to the human rights activist, Yevgeniy Zhovtis, as he is a member of the Organising Committee of the Award. According to the human rights activist, the actions of the prosecutors' office go beyond the legal framework. "The logic is quite strange. It is based on the fact that in the past, the ‘Freedom’ award was established by the movement ‘Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’, and the successor of this movement was the party ‘Alga’, which is recognised as extremist. And that the awards presentation is bankrolled by means of funds which were allegedly stolen. So my question is: do you have any evidence that the awards are linked to the party or that the money was stolen? Obviously, there is no such evidence. I am a memeber of the organising committee for the presentation of the award, but I have nothing to do with the party ‘Alga’ and never have had", - Yevgeniy Zhovtis announced.

The prosecutor's office in Almaty expressed with confidence that the funding of the ‘Freedom’ award originates from Mukhtar Ablyazov, whom Kazakhstan placed on the international wanted list in connection with allegations of committing financial crimes. At the same time, in the judgment made against the opposition politician Vladimir Kozlov, Mukhtar Ablyazov was indicated as an accomplice in the plot to overthrow of the constitutional order of Kazakhstan", "...With the use of the constitutional order, Ablyazov, Ketebayev and Kozlov endeavoured to destroy the very same constitutional order." 

The prosecutor's office explained that one of the reasons behind the searches and arrests of activists of the organising committee of the ‘Freedom’ award were the words of the former head of the Pavlodar regional branch of the ‘Alga!’ party, Perizat Kasimova. On 29 May, 2013, during a press conference, Perizat Gasimova announced that the funding of the ‘Freedom’ award was performed by Mukhtar Ablyazov. In the opinion of M. Ablyazov himself, Perizat Kasimova’s press conference was organised under the direct influenceof Kazakhstan’s special services and is the result of the pressure being exerted on Perizat and her family.

It is noteworthy that the ‘Freedom’ award winners do not benefit from any financial gain, but are presented only with a statuette and certificate.

On 30 May, 2013, Financial Police raided the offices of the civil associations ‘Arka Suyeu’ and ‘Balga’. The leaders of these organisations are former members of the ‘Alga!’ party - Mikhail Sizov and Marat Zhanuzakov respectively. A search was also conducted in Marat Zhanuzakov’s apartment.

So far, it is not yet known what reasons were behind the searches. The Financial Police officers reported that they have been carried out in connection with the investigation of financial crimes committed by Mukhtar Ablyazov. As a result of the search, the officers seized the founding documents of the CF ‘Arka Suyeu’ along with 8 laptops, and seven statuettes, which were to be presented at the upcoming ‘Freedom’ awards ceremony.

Aliya Turusbekova reported that during the course of the search, the financial police officers also confiscated personal belongings effects belonging to civil activists. After the search was concluded, Mikhail Sizov, Marat Zhanuzakov, Aliya Turusbekova, Daniil Bekturganov, Stella Ogay, Stepan Mityukov and Aisulu Kadyrbayeva were taken to a police station for questioning. They were questioned by officers of the department responsible for combatting religious extremism and terrorism. It is possible that, should the ceremony of the presentation of the ‘Freedom’ award still take place, it will be regarded as an act of extremism on the part of the opposition. On 31 May, 2013, on the day of the ‘Freedom’ award ceremony, social activists had to report for questioning at the police station once again.  

On 31 May, 2013, instead of the planned presentation of the ‘Freedom’ award, a verbal announcement of names of its winners was held. It was carried out on a street in the centre of Almaty. One of the members of the organising committee of the ‘Freedom’ award, Bolat Abilov, announced the list of the seven winners: 

  • Yelena Kostyuchenko – journalist of the Russian newspaper ‘Novaya Gazeta’;
  • Kanat Ibragimov - artist, civic activist;
  • Roza Tuletayeva - activist of the oil workers’ strike movement in Zhanaozen;
  • Atabergen Duysekenov - a resident of Zhanaozen, who was killed during the riots in the city on 16-17 December, 2011;
  • Aleksandr Bozhenko - one of the witnesses in the case of the “riots in Zhanaozen" (died under mysterious circumstances);
  • Vadim Kuramshin - civic activist;
  • Torebek Tolegenov - a resident of Mangistau Province, who died during the events at the railway station in Shetpe on 17  December, 2011.

 This gathering of opposition activists did not escape the close attention of law enforcement officials. Two members of the organising committee of the ‘Freedom’ award - Nurlan Zholdasov and Gulzhan Lepesova were taken away for questioning by the Department of Financial Police.

A few other opposition activists (Zhasaral Kuanyshalin, Sagat Zhusip and Zhenis Doszhanov) were arrested when laying a wreath of flowers at the memorial to the victims of political repression.

 

The Open Dialog Foundation hereby expresses its concern regarding the searches, conducted in the offices of civil organisations and the arrests of opposition activists. We demand from the competent authorities (the General Prosecutor's Office of Kazakhstan and the Ministry of Internal Affairs) that an official explanation regarding the aforementioned events be issued. International human rights organisations are welcome to submit their appeals and formal requests to the following addresses: 

  • The Department for Combating Economic and Corruption Crimes (Financial Police) of Almaty - the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty, 050002, 15 Zhibek Zholy Prospekt, tel.: +727 278-75-78, e-mail: almaty@abekp.kz, the person in charge – the Head of the DCECC Amanbayev Amirkhan Tapashevich;
  • The Prosecutor's Office in Almaty - the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty, 050059, 189 Zheltoksan Street, tel.: +727 265-03-01, fax: +727 263-05-68, person in charge - Deputy Prosecutor of the city of Almaty, Umiraliyev Zhandos Zhanibekovich.

More on this topic: opposition, Freedom award, repressions