An environmental activist of the initiative group ‘We’ll Protect the Kok Zhailau’, Dagmar Schreiber has been charged with of inciting social discord in connection with her active civic activities associated with the conservation of the Kok Zhailau mountain areapertaining to which, plans to build a ski resort on its territory have been announced. This project is supported by the Kazakh authorities, so, conceivably, the charges against Dagmar Schreiber constitue an attempt to intimidate her and to discredit the initiative group ‘We’ll Protect the Kok Zhailau’.
51-year-old Dagmar Schreiber is a renowned German expert on eco-tourism. For about 20 years she has lived in Kazakhstan, where she is engaged in the development of eco-tourism. Presently, Schreiber works at the Information Resource Centre for Ecotourism in Almaty, arranging travel tours around Kazakhstan. Dagmar Schreiber also writes books about Kazakhstan for foreign travellers. She has twice been bestowed with the title of ‘Honoured Activist for Tourism of the Republic of Kazakhstan’. Additionally, Dagmar is an active member of the initiative group ‘We’ll Protect the Kok Zhailau’.
Activists label the development of the national park ‘illegal’
The group ‘We’ll Protect the Kok Zhailau’ opposes the construction of the Kok Zhailau ski resort in the Ile-Alatau National Park (located in the suburbs of Almaty). The group members claim that the construction of the resort in the given area will destroy the ecological systems of the national park, the deterioration of the ecological situation in the city of Almaty, as well as undermine the tourism potential of the region. In addition, activists state that the construction of the national park is a violation of Articles 31 and 37 of the Constitution of Kazakhstan, which refers to the obligation of the state and citizens to protect the environment and care for the preservation of historical and cultural heritage. Activists note that this development is also contrary to the UN international convention ‘On Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters’, ratified by Kazakhstan, and violates the Land, Water, Forest and Environmental Code as well as the law ‘On Environmental Protection’.
Moreover, activists are concerned over the fact that the implementation of the project in the Kok Zhailau mountain areas has already been launched, despite the absence of approved project and budget documentation, which shows disregard of the project initiators towards public opinion and their readiness to violate the law for the sake of gaining profit.
The request to abandon the construction of a ski resort in the Ile-Alatau National Park was addressed to the President of Kazakhstan on 12 April, 2012 by the president of the German Union for Conservation of Nature (Naturschutzbund Deutschland, NABU), winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize, Professor Dr. Michael Succow and vice president of NABU, the chairman of the NABU International Foundation Thomas Tennhardt.
Despite the public anger and concern of local and foreign environmentalists, the authorities of Almaty noted that the implementation of the project would only have positive results. In March 2013, the Republican Budget Commission decided to allocate funds to develop the project concept. Dagmar Schreiber announced that President Nazarbayev personally became familiarised with the preparatory work and approved of what he saw.
In September 2012, by a decree of the president of Kazakhstan, the city of Almaty was allocated plots of the Ile-Alatau National Park, which is planned to be occupied by a ski resort to a large extent. Kazakh journalists report that the initiator of the allocation was the development company ‘Capital Partners’. Said company was a major investor in the construction of the ski resort ‘Shymbulak’ near Almaty. Still, the construction was carried out with gross violations of technological standards and, according to environmentalists many obligations arising from the project agreement were not met.
It is noteworthy that the former CEO of Capital Partners, Aleksandr Guzhavin was appointed by the local administration of Almaty as head of the limited liability partnership (LLP) ‘Kok Zhailau Ski Resort’, which was established for the feasibility study of the project. Aleksandr Guzhavin may be associated with the circles of the middle son-in-law of the Kazakh President, Timur Kulibayev. In addition, according to Kazakh media, the construction of the ski resort in the Kok Zhailau area may be beneficial also for the current head of the presidential administration of Kazakhstan, Karim Massimov.
The protectress of the national park may face repressions
There is reason to believe that the construction of a ski resort in the suburbs of Kazakhstan’s largest city promises substantial financial gain for some representatives of the government and business, which are closely associated to President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Perhaps this is why activists of ‘We’ll Protect the Kok Zhailau’ face constant obstacles.
In particular, Dagmar Schreiber, one of the most active participants in the movement, was accused of ‘inciting social discord’. Said accusations were presented by the head of the association of legal persons ‘Civil Alliance of Almaty’, Sauleta Tolganbayeva, who supports the construction of a ski resort in the Kok Zhailau mountain area. On 23 October, 2013, Tolganbaeva stated at a press conference that she had written a statement to the prosecutor’s office with a request that the legality of activities undertaken by Dagmar Schreiber be verified. According to Sauleta Tolganbaeva, the main objective of Dagmar Schreiber’s activities in Kazakhstan is ‘undermining the domestic foundations of the state, sowing discord and confusion among the public, setting Kazakhs against each other’. As evidence, Sauleta Tolganbayeva quoted Dagmar Schreiber’s statements: ‘Our people against your people’, ‘Officials against the people’, ‘Authorities are doing a snow-job on you’, ‘Narrow circle of people against society’. Furthermore, Sauleta Tolganbayeva accused Dagmar Schreiber of making unflattering remarks and having a desire to monopolise lucrative business for herself, as she allegedly earned up to three million euros on foreign tourists’ visits to the territory of Kok Zhailau over the last ten years.
Kazakhstan’s Criminal Code provides for up to 12 years in prison for ‘inciting social discord’. Based on this charge, the opposition politician Vladimir Kozlov was sentenced to 7.5 years’ imprisonment with confiscation of property.
It should be noted that Sauleta Tolganbayeva was one of the initiators who established the coalition ‘Let’s bring Ablyazov back’, an organisation which demands the extradition of the opposition politician to Kazakhstan (Mukhtar Ablyazov was granted political refugee status in the UK; at the moment, French courts are considering Ukrainian and Russian requests for his extradition, but the authorities of Kazakhstan do not exclude the possibility of Ablyazov’s onward extradition to Kazakhstan, should he be extradited to Russia). In violation of the presumption of innocence, members of the coalition ‘Let’s bring Ablyazov back’ argue that “Ablyazov shamelessly stole from his own people and siphoned-off money to his bank accounts and offshore companies”. The trial over the charges against Mukhtar Ablyazov in the case of BTA Bank was not carried out in Kazakhstan, it is still in the stage of ‘pre-trial investigation’. It is noteworthy that the Ministry of Culture announces the planned actions of the social coalition ‘Let’s bring Ablyazov back’.
Since Sauleta Tolganbayeva strongly supports the Kazakh authorities, it is possible that the accusations against Dagmar Schreiber constitute an attempt to discredit her and members of the initiative group ‘We’ll Protect the Kok Zhailau’ in the eyes of local and international community with the aim of justifying the construction of a ski resort on the territory of the Ile-Alatau National Park.
Dagmar Schreiber considers the accusations against her absurd. For example, a number of her statements in social networks were taken out of context and quoted incorrectly, while some of them hadn’t been uttered by her at all. In addition, the activist noted that she did not earn money on the Kok Zhailau, as she helps to develop ecotourism in Kazakhstan by virtue of the intergovernmental agreement under the provisions of which, the money is provided by Germany.
In an interview for the Open Dialogue Foundation, Dagmar Schreiber stated that she had merely made a statement that “those people who say that Almaty can bid for the Winter Olympics in 2022, simply tell tall tales”. She also said that she had published on the social network Facebook a poem, which casts doubt on the possibility of transplanting fir-trees from the Kok Zhailau mountain area, having noted in advance that the poem does not constitute a calling for any action, but merely a picture. According to Dagmar, the Consulate of Germany in Kazakhstan has received confirmation that the statement issued by Sauleta Tolganbayeva on behalf of the ‘Civil Alliance of Almaty’ was filed with the Prosecutor’s Office. Still, the investigation into her activities has not been conducted to date.
The conflict has received wide publicity, so the German Consulate in Almaty suggested Dagmar Schreiber refrain from her public activities in Kazakhstan. In this regard, she could not take part in the meeting of the Public Council for the issues pertaining to the project of construction of the ski resort ‘Kok Zhailau’.
Attempts to intimidate and discredit of the movement ‘We’ll protect the Kok Zhailau’
Charges of ‘inciting social discord’ are not the only problem faced by Dagmar Schreiber in connection with the attempts to prevent the construction of the Kok Zhailau ski resort. In August 2013, her apartment was robbed. Criminals did not take money or valuables, but stole electronic data storage devices and equipment: two laptops, a camera, a camcorder and hard disks. These data storage devices contained materials which Dagmar had collected over many years. She also stated that more than a year ago, her computer was hacked, resulting in the disappearance of a particular folder named ‘Kok Zhailau’.
The Open Dialogue Foundation was told by Dagmar that she had addressed the police in connection with the robbery of her apartment, but the case was closed as soon as 8 days after, with no criminals identified or stolen equipment recovered. Given the nature of the robbery, it is possible that it was connected with Dagmar Schreiber’s professional and social activities. Similar robberies and attacks by hackers could be a means of intimidating the activist and halting her activities in defence of Kok Zhailau. In addition, it is possible that local and central authorities, who openly speak in favour of the ski resort project, are involved in such actions.
Dagmar Schreiber noted that the Kazakh authorities are merely carrying out an ostensible dialogue with the group ‘We’ll Protect the Kok Zhailau’. Thus, the ‘public council’ in the Akimat (the Governor’s office) of Almaty was organised for the purpose of discussing how to develop the Kok Zhailau territory correctly, rather than to answer the question whether to build or not to build a ski resort or, where it should be built (this question has been put on the agenda only recently). According to Dagmar, although officially the authorities react calmly to the protests of the community group against the construction of a ski resort, at the level of debate on social networks and meetings their behaviour is very tense. They use techniques such as slander, criminalisation and threats.
Individual cases show that the management of the ski resort is trying to discredit activists of ‘We’ll Protect the Kok Zhailau’. And so, in September 2013, the press service of the ‘The Kok Zhailau Ski Resort’ LLP spread news about the alleged attack by unidentified armed activists against land surveyors: “On 14 September, at approx. 5.30 p.m., an armed attack on land surveyors who were conducting research in the Kok Zhailau mountain area, was carried out. A group of individuals armed with cold weapons, shouting insults, demanded that scientists immediately leave the area. During the conflict, they were crying: “We will protect the Kok Zhailau!”. As a result, the scientists were forced to stop work and leave the area”, – the press–service stated. Activists of ‘We’ll Protect the Kok Zhailau’ were guilty of the attack. Nevertheless, according to the information given by Dagmar Schreiber, the attack did take place, but it was more of a drunken lunge by an unknown man rather than a planned action conducted by activists of the movement: one drunken man carrying a hatchet assaulted the cartographer; still, he wasn’t shouting “We will protect the Kok Zhailau!”.
On 14 January, 2014, Dagmar Schreiber left Kazakhstan, as her visa had expired. In an interview for the Open Dialogue Foundation, the activist noted that she no longer feels safe in Kazakhstan, but if she receives a new visa, she will continue to carry out her seasonal tourist activities in the country. Also, Dagmar is not going to stop her work aimed at protecting the Kok Zhailau, but notes that she will act with caution and do everything she can to prevent the parties involved in the conflict from resorting to violence.
We hereby appeal to the Kazakh authorities, emphasising the need to launch a constructive dialogue with the activists who oppose the construction of the Kok Zhailau ski resort, and to conduct an independent examination of the project. Such large-scale projects in national parks should take into account public interest. The Open Dialogue Foundation also calls on them to ensure safe conditions and freedoms for the lawful activities of the initiative group ‘We’ll Protect the Kok Zhailau’, and, in particular, for Dagmar Schreiber. Charges against her may be considered unfounded and aimed at discrediting her as a civic activist. We demand that law enforcement agencies effectively investigate the robbery of Dagmar Schreiber, which took place in August 2013.
The Open Dialogue Foundation also appeals to international environmental organisations with the call to support Dagmar Schreiber and the environmental initiative group ‘We’ll Protect the Kok Zhailau’. We urge United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to take a stand in support of activists of‘We’ll Protect the Kok Zhailau’, as the Ile-Alatau National Park is included in the preliminary list produced by Kazakhstan for nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We also recommend that the government of the Federal Republic of Germany carry out negotiations with the Kazakh authorities regarding the protection of Dagmar Schreiber from possible harassment and to ensure her ability to continue her work in Kazakhstan.
All those wishing to support our demands are welcome to send their appeals to the following addresses:
- The Akimat of Almaty – 050001, Almaty, 4 Ploshchad Respubliki , tel. – +7 727 271 66 88
- The Prosecutor’s Office of Almaty – 050059, Almaty, 189 Zheltoksan Street, tel. +7 775 010 30 02 (the receiving room of the City Prosecutor, Berik Nogayevich Asylov);
- The Department of Internal Affairs of Almaty – 050012, Almaty, 57 Masanchi Street, tel. – +7 727 263 38 38, +7 727 254 40 96.
- The President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev – Presidential Administration, the ‘Akorda’ building, Left Bank, Astana, 010000, Kazakhstan, fax: +7 7172 72 05 16;
- The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Erlan Idrisov, – 010000, Astana, Left Bank, 31 Kunayeva Street. Tel: +7 (7172) 72-05-18, +7 (7172) 72-05-16, e-mail: [email protected];
- Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, Serik Akhmetov – 010000, Astana, Left Bank, Government House, the Office of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Tel.: +7 (7172) 74-50-01 – Gabidolla Abdrakhimov, Head of the Office of the Prime Minister;
- President of the Association of Legal Entities ‘Civil Alliance of Almaty’, Sauleta Tolganbayeva – 050040, Almaty, 2 Balzaka Street, office 20. Tel.: +7 (7272) 60-81-85, +7 (7772) 39-76-54, e-mail: [email protected];
- The headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation – 7 Place de Fontenoy 75352 Paris 07 SP France; 1 rue Miollis 75732 Paris Cedex 15, France. Тел. +33 (0)1 45-68-10-00.
- Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Angela Merkel – Bundeskanzleramt, Willy-Brandt-Straße 1, 10557 Berlin. Tel.: +49 (0)180 272 00 00.