The trial of the Kazakh opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov who faced charges of ‘inciting social discord’, ‘calling for an overthrow of the constitutional order’ and ‘leadership of a criminal organisation’ quite predictably, concluded with a long prison sentence for the politician. Despite numerous statements by local and international observers regarding the injustice and political nature of the criminal charges, all court instances of Kazakhstan refused to mitigate the sentence of Vladimir Kozlov. The oppositionist should serve a sentence of 7 and a half years in prison. Thus, the Kazakh authorities have demonstrated their decisiveness in the fight against political pluralism and dissent in the country.
On 16 December, 2011, in the town of Zhanaozen (Mangistau Province), the police dispersed a peaceful demonstration by oil workers of the ‘OzenMunaiGaz’ company and their family members, with the use of firearms. The police fired on unarmed citizens and minors, amongst others, with the use of automatic weapons (AKM-47). On 17 December, 2011, at the railway station of the village of Shetpe, oil workers halted a passenger train and demanded that the authorities put an end to the shooting of civilians in Zhanaozen, the withdrawal of troops from the town and the restoration of electricity and cellular communication. The police also used firearms against demonstrators in the village of Shetpe. As a result of these events, according to official data, at least 17 people were killed and 108 were wounded. Civil society activists and independent journalists estimate the death toll to be around 70, with 500-800 people having been injured. On 4 May, 2012, the police officers reported that during the unrest in Zhanaozen, unregistered weapons were issued to them without confirmation of receipt. Half of the weapons have not been returned to the armoury. On 28 May, 2013, the General Prosecutor of Kazakhstan, Askhat Daulbayev confirmed that no weapons, seized during the riots in Zhanaozen, were registered in the cartridge case repository of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA).
The Kazakh Prosecutor’s Office accused Vladimir Kozlov of, along with the opposition politicians Mukhtar Ablyazov and Muratbek Ketebayev, establishing an organised criminal group in order to support the striking oil workers and thusly, provoking the tragedy. 37 oil workers were brought to criminal responsibility on charges of organising and participating in mass disorder, and only 3 of them were acquitted. 13 oil workers were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 3 to 7 years, 16 persons were given suspended sentences of 2 to 3 years, and 5 were released under amnesty. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Kazakhstan released 6 oil workers from custody, but upheld the sentences of the remaining 7 prisoners, especially those who testified about the use of torture and ill-treatment by the investigating bodies (battery, suffocation, threats of rape or harm caused to relatives). Numerous reports of torture, exerted by the investigating authorities on the convicted oil workers and witnesses in the case of the Zhanaozen tragedy, were ignored by the court.
Contrary to the calls of the European Parliament and of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, the Kazakh government failed to provide a full and objective investigation into the Zhanaozen events. On 28 May, 2012, five police officers were convicted under Article 308, section 4 of the Criminal Code on ‘abuse of power or official authority’ without further qualification of the deed under Article 100 ‘homicide committed using force in excess of that necessary to apprehend a perpetrator’. In this case, as stated by Amnesty International, the number of police officers who shot at civilians in order to kill, was far greater.
Instead, Vladimir Kozlov, the opposition party ‘Alga!’ and 34 non-state media outlets, which had provided the most comprehensive coverage of the Zhanaozen events, were labelled as ‘main perpetrators of the tragedy’ by the authorities. On the basis of the judgement against Vladimir Kozlov, their activities were banned as they had allegedly ‘incited social discord’. In their statements made to their European colleagues, Kazakh Embassies noted: “The investigation revealed that labour disputes had been caused by external forces; there is evidence to suggest that this tragedy resulted from deliberate action… We may be accused of limiting the freedom of the media outlets and muzzling them, but the court handed down its decision based on a fair and transparent judicial hearing. There is clear evidence of guilt”.
Vladimir Kozlov’s imprisonment, the banning of the opposition party ‘Alga!, as well as the closure of a number of independent media outlets dealt a severe blow to the opposition movement in Kazakhstan, forcing it to the verge of extinction. The Republic of Kazakhstan, which previously, had repeatedly declared its commitment to democratic principles and freedoms, is today on a par with other authoritarian states of Central Asia.
The report is based on information collected by members of the Monitoring Mission for the protection of human rights in the Republic of Kazakhstan, who were present at Vladimir Kozlov’s trial as international observers. The observers visited Kazakhstan from 16 August, 2012 to 5 August, 2013. The mission included representatives of the Open Dialogue Foundation: Igor Savchenko, Katerina Savchenko and Jędrzej Czerep. In addition, with the support of the Open Dialogue Foundation, the hearings on the case of Vladimir Kozlov were attended by MEP Piotr Borys, who acted as a witness, and by members of the Polish Sejm: Tadeusz Woźniak, Tomasz Makowski, Marcin Święcicki, Adam Rybakowicz and Piotr Cieśliński; members of the Italian Parliament: Daniel Del Grosso, Alessandro Di Battista, Manlio Di Stefano, Skalyusi Emanuele, Sibilia Carlo, who acted as observers. The hearing regarding the supervisory appeal in the Supreme Court was attended by representatives of the EU embassies, Belgium, the USA, Finland, France and Great Britain.
Independent observers of the trials included representatives of Kazakh civil society: the human rights activist Yevgeniy Zhovtis, Zhemis Turmagambetova, Galym Ageleuov, Zauresh Battalova; the freelance journalist Zhanar Kasymbekova, the representative of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, Aktota Elyubayeva; Vladimir Kozlov’s associates from the party ‘Alga!”: Mikhail Sizov, Marat Zhanuzakov, Erlan Kaliyev, Valentina Makhotina.
The report is based on international pacts on human rights, which Kazakhstan has ratified, namely: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Also, the report refers to the legislative acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan: the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan (the CC of the RK), the Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan (the CPC of the RK) and the Criminal Executive Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan (the CEC of the RK).