This report examines the cases of 56 victims of politically motivated criminal prosecutions in Kazakhstan. Among them, at least 16 are political prisoners who remain in prisons or pre-trial detention facilities.
In Kazakhstan, civil society representatives are subjected to criminal prosecutions, imprisonment and torture for their civil society, human rights, and trade union activities, participation in peaceful protests and criticism of the authorities on social networks.
Transit of power
In March 2019, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had been President for 30 years, announced his resignation. On 9 June 2019, extraordinary presidential election was held, which was won, as expected, by Nazarbayev’s protege, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev. The OSCE reported systemic election irregularities, but the newly elected President called the OSCE conclusions “politically biased”.
In this way, the transit of power in Kazakhstan was formalised. Nursultan Nazarbayev is now the Chairman of the Security Council of Kazakhstan and has control over all key government agencies. His protege, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, who became President, continues Nazarbayev’s policy, strengthening the authoritarian regime and suppressing civil liberties.
Mass arbitrary detentions of peaceful protesters
At the moment, the total number of politically persecuted persons in Kazakhstan is growing, primarily due to the detentions of participants in peaceful rallies.
In 2018 and 2019, anti-government protests of thousands of people were held in various regions of the country. Protesters spoke against corruption, low social standards, and lack of democracy and justice. They also demanded the release of political prisoners, an end to torture in Kazakhstan, and increased social guarantees, called for a boycott of the election, spoke out against election fraud, against the renaming of Astana to Nur-Sultan (in honour of Nazarbayev), and against Chinese expansion.
Peaceful rallies ended with mass arbitrary detentions of protesters, unprecedented in the history of Kazakhstan. In 2018-2019 more than 6000 participants in peaceful assemblies were detained:
- During the peaceful rallies on 10 May 2018, 23 June 2018, 6 July 2018, 16 December 2018 and 27 February 2019, about 620 people were detained.
- During the peaceful rallies on 21–22 March 2019, 1 May 2019 and 9 May 2019, about 400 people were detained.
- At the rallies on 9–12 June 2019, according to official data alone, about 4000 people were detained (677 people were awarded administrative arrest – they were tried at night directly at police stations and without access to lawyers).
- Before and on the days of peaceful protests on 6 July 2019, 21 September 2019 and 26 October 2019, more than 1000 activists were detained   .
- Before and on the day of the peaceful rally on 16 December 2019, more than 110 people were detained.
Over these two years, more than 230 victims of these persecutions have sent their powers of attorney to the Open Dialogue Foundation with the aim of having their rights protected.
In order to disperse the rallies, the authorities used police officers, special police units and internal troops, as well as internal troops’ equipment. The police beat peaceful protesters and dragged them into transport vehicles, holding them by their arms and legs. The detainees included minors and the elderly, as well as journalists and human rights activists.
Persons detained at peaceful rallies were taken to police stations and interrogated about their political views. The police also confiscated phones from detainees and checked whether they were subscribed to the pages of the opposition movement “Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan” (DCK).
Ban of the opposition movement “Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan”
In March 2018, at the request of the Prosecutor’s Office, the Kazakhstani court recognised the DCK as an “extremist” organisation. The court stated that the DCK “incites social discord” and “forms a negative image of authorities”. In its resolution on the human rights situation in Kazakhstan dated 14 March 2019, the European Parliament noted the peaceful nature of the DCK. Referring to the court’s decision to ban the DCK, the Kazakhstani prosecutor’s office criminalised “positive approval” of the ideas of the DCK and its leader Mukhtar Ablyazov.
Mukhtar Ablyazov is a Kazakhstani opposition politician who has been prosecuted by the Kazakhstani authorities for many years. The reason for his prosecution is the long-standing conflict between him and Nazarbayev. Ablyazov, being the majority shareholder and head of the private BTA Bank, supported the opposition. In 2009, the Kazakhstani authorities accused Ablyazov of embezzlement of BTA Bank’s funds. For over 10 years now, Kazakhstan has been abusing the Interpol system and seeking the extradition of Ablyazov and his associates from the EU. In December 2016, the French Council of State recognised the request for Ablyazov’s extradition as politically motivated. Interpol removed him from the search list.
Criminal charges for participation in rallies and reposting from the DCK pages
Since March 2018, more than 40 people have been prosecuted based on the decision to ban the DCK. The Kazakhstani authorities regard their criticism in social media and participation in peaceful rallies as “participation in the activities of the organisation after its recognition as extremist” (Article 405 of the Criminal Code). In fact, this criminalises any opposition activity in the country. UN Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin expressed concern about Kazakhstan’s practice of “the use of extremism laws against political groups and critical voices”.
In their indictments in the DCK cases, investigators accuse activists with such “criminal actions” as “active support for the ideas of the DCK and Ablyazov”, “reposting materials from the pages of the DCK and Ablyazov”, “posts in social networks that discredit the Head of State and the current government” and “shouting out ideas at rallies that form a negative image of authorities”,“obtaining 2000 flags and 4000 blue balloons to be used at the rally”, “publishing a brochure with a picture of Mukhtar Ablyazov on Facebook”. At the same time, investigators in these cases refer to physical evidence: Kazakhstani flags and blue balloons (which are regarded as “prohibited propaganda materials”).
Persons prosecuted under Art. 405 of the Criminal Code also face threats from intelligence services and pressure on their families.
Persons convicted for supporting the opposition ideas of the DCK
At the moment, the cases of the following persons convicted for supporting the DCK in social media and participating in peaceful rallies have been widely publicised:
- 3 political prisoners continue to serve their sentences in prison: Aset Abishev, Almat Zhumagulov and Kenzhebek Abishev. Earlier, another person — Ablovas Dzhumayev — was released from prison on parole.
- 6 former political prisoners who were held in a detention centre were given suspended sentences: single mothers Gulzipa Dzhaukerova and Zhazira Demeuova, mother of many children Oksana Shevchuk, and activists Anuar Ashiraliyev, Bolatkhan Zhunusov and Serik Zhakhin.
- In total, more than 23 people were given suspended sentences, in particular activists Aslan Makatov, Karlygash Asanova, Yerkin Kaziev, Dianara Mukatova, Muratbek Argynbekov, Askar Ibraev, Medet Eseneev, Vyacheslav Mamin, Serik Idyryshev, Muratbek Tungishbayev, Aset Nurzhaubay, Farit Ishmukhametov, Azat Ibrayev, Arman Alakayev, Bakiza Khalelova, as well as mothers of many children Gulmira Kalykova and Akmaral Kerimbayeva.
It should be noted that the Kazakhstani court imposes additional restrictions on persons with suspended sentences, such as bans on participating in public associations, attending meetings and using social networks. For example, the court forbade Bakiza Khalelova to write comments on social networks “aimed at discrediting the activities of the authorities” for 1 year.
Larisa Kharkova, a trade union activist, and Serikzhan Bilash, who defends the rights of Xinjiang camp prisoners, were banned from engaging in public activities for 5 and 7 years, respectively. Thus, the authorities keep the activists “on the hook”: if they resume their social activities, they will again face criminal prosecution.
Persons convicted to prison terms on politically motivated charges
In addition, the following political prisoners are currently held in Kazakhstani prisons:
- Activists convicted for social activity, Yerzhan Yelshibayev and Kaiyrly Omar, human rights activist Sanat Bukenov, trade union leader Erlan Baltabay and dissident poet Aron Atabek, who has been imprisoned and subjected to ill-treatment for 13 years.
- Bloggers Zhambyl Kobeysinov, Ruslan Ginatullin, Igor Chuprina and Igor Sychev convicted of posting on social networks.
- Asylum seekers who fled persecution in the “re-education camps” of Xinjiang, Murager Alimuly and Kaster Musakhanuly.
- Human rights activist Maks Bokayev (almost four years in prison) and torture victim Maks Dzhakishev (more than ten years in prison), who is facing a life-threatening illnesses. UN bodies are demanding their immediate release  , but authorities refuse to do so.
In general, the UN treaty bodies have issued more than 32 decisions that recognise violations committed by Kazakhstan. Of these, at least 25 decisions were not executed by Kazakhstan.
Torture and ill-treatment to obtain evidence against opposition activist Mukhtar Ablyazov
In addition, in November 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention demanded the immediate release of political prisoner Iskander Yerimbetov. However, he was not released until a year later, on 27 December 2019. At the same time, the reason for the release was not the implementation of the UN decision, but Yerimbetov’s serious health condition. Yerimbetov continues to be at risk of re-imprisonment: if the authorities consider that he has “recovered,” the execution of the sentence may be resumed. In November-December 2017 and January 2018, Yerimbetov was brutally tortured in the pre-trial detention facility of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan. Intelligence officials demanded that he convince his sister, Botagoz Jardemalie, who was a refugee and Mukhtar Ablyazov’s attorney, to return to Kazakhstan and “cooperate in the case” against Ablyazov.
The authorities of Kazakhstan never admitted the violations and did not meet the requirements of the UN and the international community: no one was punished for the brutal torture of Yerimbetov, and he received no compensation for an unfair trial and illegal imprisonment.
Another high-profile case of torture used to obtain testimony against opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov was the case of businessman Muratkhan Tokmadi, who was arrested in 2017. Tokmadi’s wife, Dzhamilya Aimbetova-Tokmadi, has repeatedly reported that Tokmadi was tortured by security officials who forced him to confess that in 2004 he “killed banker Yerzhan Tatishev by order of Mukhtar Ablyazov”. In 2004, Tokmadi fatally wounded Tatishev while hunting. 15 years ago, the court found him not guilty.
In a pre-trial detention centre, physical injuries were discovered on Tokmadi’s body, but the Prosecutor General’s Office stated that Tokmadi “Fell off a pull rod during a morning walk”. In March 2018, Tokmadi escaped from custody, but was detained. After that, a video was recorded in which Tokmadi stated that he considered his action “a mistake”. Tokmadi gave the investigation the necessary testimony. On 16 March 2018, the court found Tokmadi guilty of the murder of Tatishev and sentenced him to 10.5 years’ imprisonment. After that, based on Tokmadi’s testimony, in November 2018 a Kazakh court sentenced Ablyazov to life imprisonment in absentia on charges of “organising a contract killing”.
Several persons accused of supporting the DCK were ill-treated: Kenzhebek Abishev and Almat Zhumagulov, Aset Abishev, Ablovas Dzhumayev, Oksana Shevchuk, Zhazira Demeuova, Aset Nurzhaubay, Muratbek Tungishbayev. They were required to “repent”, speak publicly on video and testify against Ablyazov. These conditions were met by Aset Nurzhaubay and Muratbek Tungishbayev, who made almost identical statements in which they renounced opposition ideas and urged citizens “not to support” Ablyazov.
Lack of fair justice
In Kazakhstan, more than 99.8% of sentences are convictions. In case of political prisoners, the authorities set the following condition: “plead guilty” in exchange for release or reduction of the sentence. Serikzhan Bilash and Maks Bokayev reported that representatives of the Presidential Administration gave them the opportunity to “repent” in exchange for their release. This is another confirmation of the lack of an independent judiciary in Kazakhstan. In political affairs, decisions “come from above”, in particular from the Presidential Administration.
This report examines the cases of politically prosecuted persons (including those who remain in pre-trial detention facilities and prisons – political prisoners) who are prosecuted under both general criminal articles and “political” articles of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan. The latter include charges of “inciting social discord” (Art. 174 of the CC), “participation in the activities of the organisation after its recognition as extremist” (Art. 405 of the CC), “deliberately disseminating false information” (Article 274 of the CC), “violation of the procedure for holding rallies” (Art. 400 of the CC) and “public calls for the seizure of power” (Article 179 of the CC).
The authorities include persons prosecuted under “extremist” articles (Art. 174 and 405 of the CC) in the national list of persons linked to the financing of terrorism and extremism, which results in a ban on the use of banking, postal, notarial, and insurance services (this list includes, in particular, former political prisoners Vladimir Kozlov and Ablovas Dzhumayev).
The inclusion in the list of politically prosecuted persons means the presence of confirmed facts that the person is persecuted for expressing opinions, participating in peaceful rallies and social activities, as well as for other political reasons. This does not mean that the Open Dialogue Foundation shares the views and opinions of all persons included in this report.
2. Persons in detention – political prisoners
2.1. Persons whom UN bodies demand to be released immediately, but authorities refuse to do so
Мukhtar Dzhakishev – the former head of the state company ‘Kazatomprom’ (1998–2001, 2002–2009).
Charges: ‘embezzlement of entrusted property’ (Article 176 of the CC), ‘accepting bribes’ (Article 311 of the CC) and ‘fraud’ (Article 177 of the CC).
In 2010 and 2012, two court trials were held against Dzhakishev. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison. In December 2015, the UN Human Rights Committee acknowledged that Dzhakishev had not been provided with the right to a fair and public trial, the right to defence, the right to communicate with lawyers and the right to humane treatment. The UN demanded the verdict be annulled and Dzhakishev released (Communication No. 2304/2013). However, Kazakhstan refused to comply with the decision of the UN Committee.
Dzhakishev has been in prison for more than 10 years. Dzhakishev’s life-threatening diseases have been aggravated. He is now at risk of stroke and heart attack. The latest examinations have revealed impaired brain function. The Kazakhstani authorities are failing to provide him with effective and long-term treatment, which may result in his death at any time. At the same time, representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs refer to his state of health as ‘relatively satisfactory’, and the prosecutor’s office reports that ‘no complaints have been filed in this regard’.
In June 2018, Dzhakishev was officially recognised as a person with disability. According to the lawyer, there is no place in Kazakhstan adequately equipped to treat complex disorders such as those from which Dzhakishev suffers.
Dzhakishev’s mother died in September 2018, but the Interior Ministry did not allow the prisoner to say goodbye to her.
In November 2018 and July 2019, a Kazakhstani court twice refused to release Dzhakishev on parole. The formal reason for the refusal was that Dzhakishev failed to pay over 260 million dollars of damages stipulated by the sentence. The court did not take into account the lawyer’s arguments that Dzhakishev has a disability, as well as the fact that it is impossible to earn such a sum in prison. On 10 September 2019, the court rejected his appeal, once again refusing to release him. This court decision is a “sentence to a slow, agonising death in captivity“ – said the Kazakhstan International Bureau of Human Rights. Dzhakishev refused to “repent” and “confess guilt”. The authorities systematically refuse to allow international human rights missions to visit Dzhakishev.
Maks Bokayev – civil society and human rights activist from the city of Atyrau.
Charges: incitement of social discord’ (Article 174 of the CC), ‘dissemination of knowingly false information’ (Article 274 of the CC) and ‘violation of the order of organising rallies’ (Article 400 of the CC).
In April 2016, Bokayev was participant in mass peaceful rallies against amendments to the Land Code. After then-President Nazarbayev threatened that the government will take “the harshest measures” against the protesters, more than 1,000 participants of peaceful rallies were detained. Subsequently, on 28 November 2016, the court sentenced Bokayev to 5 years’ imprisonment and banned him from engaging civil society activity for 3 years.
In January 2017, Bokayev was transferred to a penal colony in Petropavlovsk – 2,000 km from Atyrau, where his relatives live. He made several unsuccessful attempts to appeal against the transfer decision. For six months, the administration of the colony kept Bokayev in strict conditions of detention. In September 2018, Bokayev was transferred to the penal colony in Aktobe.
In September 2019, Bokayev said that a representative of the Presidential Administration suggested that he write an application for parole. “They stubbornly want me to plead guilty in my statement. The same Tokayev’s representative hinted that they could release me if I guaranteed that I would no longer participate in public trials”, – said Bokayev, who refused to accept the authorities’ terms.
In April 2017, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for Bokayev’s immediate release and compensation (Opinion No. 16/2017). The Kazakhstani authorities have not yet complied with the UN request.
While in detention, Bokayev has suffered with severe health problems, specifically, Hepatitis C and osteochondrosis. He says that he is unable to walk normally due to an exacerbation of the intervertebral hernia.
On 30 September 2019, Bokayev reported that the Ministry of Internal Affairs again refused to transfer him to a colony at his place of residence.
2.2. Individuals who have been prosecuted for participating in peaceful rallies, supporting the DCK opposition movement and criticising the authorities in social media
Kenzhebek Abishev and Almat Zhumagulov
Zhumagulov is an activist of the opposition movement DCK. Abishev is a poet and blogger, who said that he didn’t support the DCK.
Charge against Abishev: “propaganda of terrorism” (part 2, Art. 256 of the CC).
Charges against Zhumagulov: “propaganda of terrorism” (part 2, Art. 256 of the CC), “inciting national discord” (part 1, Art. 174 of the CC).
According to the charges, between August and November 2017, Zhumagulov and Abishev “distributed leaflets in support of the DCK programs” with the goal of “destabilizing the situation in the society. In addition, Zhumagulov and Abishev were accused of preparing a video calling for jihad, even though neither of them was present in the video. The facts indicate that Abishev and Zhumagulov were victims of a provocation by the Kazakhstani security services. The purpose of the provocation was to categorise the opposition as terrorists. The video message was recorded at the initiative of a former law enforcement officer – said Oralbek Omyrov, a former prisoner who participated in the recording.
In the detention center, investigators demanded that Abishev and Zhumagulov sign incriminating statements and dismiss their lawyers. They were threatened that “something might happen” to their families. According to Abishev, investigators demanded that he “give an interview or write a post on Facebook against M. Ablyazov”. From December 2017 to January 2018, Zhumagulov and Abishev were held in cold cells in unsanitary conditions. Abishev suffers from pyelonephritis and heart problems. In the detention facility, he had several episodes of severe pain in the heart area. He was refused hospitalisation.
On 21 December 2018, the court sentenced Zhumagulov to eight years in prison, and Abishev to seven years in prison. On 20 May 2019, the appellate court upheld the sentence.
Aset Abishev is a resident of Almaty.
Charge: “providing information services to a criminal group” — the DCK (Art. 266 of the CC) and “participation in the activities of an organisation after its recognition as extremist” (Art. 405 of the CC).
He was accused of publishing posts on Facebook in support of the DCK that ‘discredit the Head of State, members of his family and the current government of Kazakhstan‘.According to the investigation, Abishev ‘formed a negative image of the authorities’ and ‘provoked a protest mood among the citizens’.
On 3 November 2018, the court sentenced Abishev to four years in prison.
According to the lawyer Gulnara Zhuaspayeva, at the end of April 2019, internal troops were introduced into the LA 155/14 colony in Almaty region, where Aset Abishev is being held. As a result, prisoners were severely beaten. Aset Abishev received bruises and a concussion. He demands that those responsible for torture be held criminally accountable, but the investigation so far gave no results.
2.3. Persons persecuted for civil society activity
Aron Atabek (Aron Edigeyev) – a dissident, poet.
Charge: ‘organising mass riots’ (Article 241 of the CC).
Atabek was the chairman of the housing committee of the Shanyrak district (the suburbs of Almaty). Here, on 14 July 2006, clashes broke out between the law enforcement agencies and local residents who protested against the demolition of their homes. Atabek was accused of ‘mass riots’ that resulted in the death of a policeman.
On 18 October 2007, the court sentenced Atabek to 18 years in prison. Twice, following the publication of the series of opposition poems, he was placed in solitary confinement in the strictest prison in Kazakhstan in Arkalyk.
For attempts to defend his rights, he was repeatedly put in a punishment cell as a ‘malicious offender’. In prison, 67-year-old Atabek’s health condition has significantly deteriorated; he has been diagnosed with ischemic heart disease, cerebrosclerosis, and osteochondrosis. The authorities are denying him a comprehensive medical examination.
In August 2018, when a human rights mission came from Switzerland and wanted to visit Atabek in his prison, the government of Kazakhstan denied the mission members access to Atabek.
Sanat Bukenov – a human rights activist from the town of Balkhash.
Charge: ‘knowingly false denunciation’ (Article 419 of the CC)
In 2014, Bukenov, speaking in court as a defender in one case, stated that the police leadership, judges, prosecutor and employees of the administration of Balkhash have been involved in corruption schemes related to apartment fraud.
On 3 March 2017, the court sentenced him to 4 years in prison.
Yerzhan Yelshibayev is a civic activist from Zhanaozen.
Charge: ”Deliberate infliction of grievous bodily harm from hooligan motives” (Article 106, section 2 of the CC).
Yelshibayev was an active participant in mass peaceful rallies of the unemployed in Zhanaozen, which took place in February 2019. The protesters demanded employment, improved social security and democratic change. Dozens of them were detained.
During the protests, police came to Yelshibayev several times. On 26 March 2019, he was placed in a pre-trial detention facility. The investigation states that he allegedly participated in a fight in 2017. The lawyer notes that the person who is involved in the case as the victim has no claims against Yelshibayev. There are reasons to believe that the authorities have made an attempt to eliminate the undesirable activist with the help of this case.
On 17 October 2019, the court sentenced him to 5 years’ imprisonment. On 25 November 2019, appeal court upheld the verdict. In December 2019, he was transferred to another region — according to some reports, to the city of Shymkent, which is located 2000 km from his family’s place of residence.
Kaiyrly Omar is an activist from Nur-Sultan.
Charge: “Misappropriation or embezzlement of entrusted property” (part 2, Art. 189 of the CC), “Abuse of authority” (Article 250, section 1 of the CC).
In 2016, Omar was an active participant in peaceful protests against the land reform. He is also the chairman of a cooperative of apartment owners. One of the members of the cooperative wrote to the police that he would like to know how the residents’ contributions are spent on repairs of the house, in particular, how the 4000 tenge (10 euros) he contributed were spent. As a result, the authorities opened a criminal case and accused Omar of embezzling 11 143 450 tenge (26 000 euros). The case is being handled by the anti-extremism unit. Subsequently, the charges in the case were reclassified to the article on “abuse of authority”.
Since 16 October 2018, Omar was held in a pre-trial detention facility. He was diagnosed with arterial hypertension, discirculatory encephalopathy and hypertensive crisis. Still, the court ignored all of Omar’s complaints about his state of health.
On 29 October 2019, he was sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment. On 24 December 2019, the appeal court upheld the sentence.
Erlan Baltabay is the leader of Kazakhstan’s independent trade union of workers in the fuel and energy sectors.
Charge: “misappropriation or embezzlement of entrusted property” (part 4, Art. 189 of the CC).
Baltabay was charged with the same offences as former political prisoners and union leaders Amin Eleusinov and Nurbek Kushakbaev. In connection with the persecution of trade union activists, the International Trade Union Confederation included Kazakhstan in the list of 10 countries with the worst conditions for trade union activity.
In July 2019, Erlan Baltabay was sentenced to 7 years in prison. However, due to international public pressure, he was pardoned in August 2019. The unserved part of Baltabay’s sentence was replaced with a fine. Nevertheless, Baltabay refused to pay the fine because he considers himself innocent. He also announced his intention to appeal the verdict. On 31 October 2019, the court arrested Baltabay for 5 months because of his refusal to comply with the terms of the pardon.
Murager Alimuly and Kaster Musakhanuly are Chinese citizens who applied for asylum in Kazakhstan.
Charge: “Illegal crossing of the state border” (Article 392 of the CC). In October 2019, two Chinese citizens, ethnic Kazakhs Murager Alimuly and Kaster Musakhanuly, illegally crossed the border of Kazakhstan and applied for political asylum. On 14 October 2019, they held a press conference. Alimuly and Musakhanuly stated that they had been persecuted in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China due to their ethnic origin.
Musakhanuly noted that, for more than four years, he had been held in a political re-education camp where he was tortured. Previously, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan stated that “there are no ethnic Kazakhs” in these camps. Immediately after the press conference, Alimuly and Musakhanuly were detained by intelligence officers. They are being held in detention centre.
On 30 October 2019, the migration service provided them with certificates of asylum seekers, which can be regarded as the result of wide public attention drawn to this case. On 21 January 2020 a Kazakh court sentenced them to 1 year imprisonment, without being expelled to China.
It was only due to publicity of the case that in 2018 Kazakhstan did not deport Chinese citizen Sairagul Sauytbai who had illegally crossed the border to Kazakhstan. Sauytbay applied for political asylum in Kazakhstan, but her application was denied. After that, with the assistance of the UN, she left for Sweden.
In 2019, ethnic Kazakh and asylum seeker Kaisha Akan fled from China, fearing being imprisoned in a political re-education camp. On 23 December 2019, a Kazakh court sentenced her to a six months suspended sentence for illegally crossing the border, but without being expelled to China. Another ethnic Kazakh, Tlek Tabarak, who illegally crossed the China-Kazakhstan border, also escaped deportation to China. However, on 16 January 2020, the Kazakhstani court sentenced him to 6 months in prison.
2.4. Prosecuted bloggers
Zhambyl Kobeysinov is a blogger and activist from the Mangistau region, and Dilbar Begzhanova is his wife. They have six minor children.
Charge: “Defamation using the media or telecommunication networks” (part 2, Art. 130 of the CC).
The criminal case against Zhambyl Kobeysinov and his wife Dilbar Begzhanova was instituted based on a private lawsuit filed by the head of Mangistau district police department, Rashid Kuandykov.
According to the prosecution, Kobeysinov allegedly slandered Kuandykov in a video on YouTube. At the request of Kuandykov, Kobeysinov and Begzhanova recorded a video with an apology, but the lawsuit was not withdrawn.
On 13 December 2019, the court sentenced Zhambyl Kobeysinov to 6 months of imprisonment and Dilbar Begzhanova to 6 months of restriction of liberty.
Zhambyl Kobeysinov was repeatedly subjected to administrative arrest because of his social activities.
Ruslan Ginatullin – a resident of the city of Pavlodar.
Charges: ‘inciting ethnic hatred’ on social networks (Article 174 of the CC) and ‘participating in a transnational criminal organisation’ (Article 264 of the CC).
On the social network ‘Vkontakte’, Ginatullin published links to a publicly available video footage about military operations in the East of Ukraine and nationalists in Russia.
On 14 December 2016, the court sentenced him to 6 years in prison.
Igor Chuprina – a resident of North-Kazakhstan Province.
Charges: ‘inciting ethnic hatred’ on social networks (Article 174 of the CC) and ‘spreading propaganda of violation of the integrity of the Republic of Kazakhstan’ (Article 180 of the CC).
In comments on the social network ‘Vkontakte’, he called for the ‘unification’ of Kazakhstan and Russia.
On 5 December 2016, the court sentenced him to five and a half years in prison.
Igor Sychev – a resident of the city of Ridder.
Charge: ‘spreading propaganda of violation of the integrity of the Republic of Kazakhstan’ (Article 180 of the CC)
Sychev was the administrator of the “VKontakte” page named ‘Podslushano v Riddere’ [‘Overheard in Ridder’]. The investigators accused him of allowing the publication of a survey on the prospect of ‘joining’ Russia by East Kazakhstan Province on the page.
On 18 November 2015, the court sentenced him to 5 years in prison. On 8 October 2019, the court granted Sychev’s application for parole, but the Prosecutor’s Office appealed the decision. On 10 December 2019 and 15 January 2020, the appeal instances took the side of the Prosecutor’s Office and issued decisions to keep Sychev in prison.
3. Individuals who continue to serve suspended sentences
Oksana Shevchuk, Zhazira Demeuova, Gulzipa Dzhaukerova and Anuar Ashiraliyev are activists from Almaty. At the same time, Shevchuk is a mother of many children, and Demeuova and Dzhaukerova are single mothers (the latter has a dependent child with disabilities).
Charge: “participation in the activities of an organisation after its recognition as extremist” (part 2 Art. 405 of the CC).
They were held in detention centre for several months. It is worth noting that on 9 May 2019, Shevchuk and her nine-month-old infant were held for three hours in a temporary detention facility.
The investigation accused them of “actively supporting the ideas of the DCK and Ablyazov, who called for participation in unauthorised rallies”.
The Prosecutor’s Office also considers a criminal offence the fact that Shevchuk, Demeuova, Dzhaukerova and Ashiraliyev “made a video in support of political prisoners, after which the video was published on M. Ablyazov’s Instagram page”. In the video, they said: “We want to support Kazakhstan’s political prisoners today. Freedom to political prisoners! Alga Kazakhstan!”.
Dzhaukerova was accused of making posters with the inscriptions: “Shal ket” (go away, old man), “No to illegitimate elections”, “No to Chinese expansion”, as well as of the fact that she tried to obtain 2,000 flags of Kazakhstan and 4,000 blue balls for a protest action. According to the court, one of the facts confirming Ashiraliyev’s guilt is his words at the rally: “Why do educated people leave Kazakhstan? Because there are no job opportunities for them and the salary is meager. … Shal ket (go away, old man)!”
According to the verdict, Shevchuk took part in the rally on 22 March 2019, where “she voiced the demands of the DCK, published by the Instagram account ‘mukhtarablyazov’: ‘Maternity benefits package! Credit amnesty! Freedom for Serikzhan Bilash and Sairagul. Alga Kazakhstan!’”. The verdict stated that on 4 April 2019, Demeuova and Shevchuk “approached various people in a park and talked to them, forming a negative opinion about the political and socio-economic situation in the Republic of Kazakhstan and the upcoming presidential election”.
During the trial, Demeuova withdrew her earlier testimony. She said that in the pre-trial detention facility, intelligence officers pressured her to give a prepared statement in front of a video camera. However, the court noted that it “found no confirmation of these facts”. Shevchuk’s lawyer reported that in the pre-trial detention facility, law enforcement officers put pressure on her, demanding her to “give up her beliefs” and threatening to prosecute her husband.
On 19 November 2019, the court sentenced Shevchuk, Demeuova, Dzhaukerova and Ashiraliyev to one year of restriction of freedom and a ban on participating in public associations for a period of two years.
Bolatkhan Zhunusov is a 68-year-old pensioner from the city of Taldykorgan (Almaty region).
Charge: “participation in the activities of an organisation after its recognition as extremist” (part 2 Art. 405 of the CC).
The investigation charged Zhunusov with calling for a rally on 6 July 2019. Earlier, in February 2019, he was sentenced to a year of restriction of liberty under Article 405 of the Criminal Code for comments in support of the DCK programme in social networks.
Since 5 July 2019, he was held in pre-trial detention. On 21 October 2019, he was sentenced to one year and four months of restraint of liberty.
Aslan Makatov is an activist from Aktobe.
Charge: “violence against a representative of the authorities” (Art. 380 of the CC).
Investigators claim that during the rally on 6 July 2019, Makatov “grabbed a policeman by his uniform”, ‘tore his trousers’’ and “hit him once”. On 8 July 2019, Makatov was placed under house arrest. He has a disability and needs eye surgery.
On 7 October 2019, Makatov was sentenced to one year of restraint of liberty.
Karlygash Asanova is an activist from Aktobe.
Charge: “violence against a representative of the authorities” (Art. 380 of the CC).
Investigators charge Asanova with the fact that during the rally on 6 July 2019, she “demonstrated resistance” during her arrest, namely she allegedly pricked a policeman in the buttock with a needle. The policeman’s underwear and needle were attached to the physical evidence in the case. In the case of Asanova, the victim is the same policeman as in the case of Makatov. The police blocked her bank account.
On 25 October 2019, she was sentenced to 1.5 years of restriction of freedom.
Gulmira Kalykova is a mother of many children from Nur-Sultan.
Charge: “participation in the activities of an organisation after its recognition as extremist” (part 2 Art. 405 of the CC).
The investigation charged her with the fact that on her Facebook page she reposted campaign materials of the DCK and its leaders, and also made a post demanding freedom for political prisoner Mukhtar Dzhakishev.
The court verdict stated that one of her “criminal acts” was the dissemination of information “from the personal page of user” Mukhtar Ablyazov, his video message, in which he “calls for unity and participation in rallies against the current regime, asks for reposting and shooting videos in support of the DCK movement”. During the searches, Kazakhstani flags were confiscated from her, which were included in the physical evidence.
Since 9 June 2019, she was held under house arrest.
On 21 October 2019, the court sentenced her to one year of restriction of freedom and banned her from using social networks for two years.
Akmaral Kerimbayeva is an activist from Nur-Sultan and a mother of many children.
The investigation stated that Kerimbayeva committed “an offence against morality and the socio-political, moral and ethical ideas of the population, which pose a real threat to the foundations of statehood”. Her “criminal actions” consist in the fact that on her Facebook page she“reposted propaganda materials from the pages of the DCK and leaders of the movement Mukhtar Ablyazov and Zhanara Akhmetova”. As an example, investigators cite Kerimbayeva’s repost in support of Kazakhstan’s political prisoners, the content of which, according to the charge, “is aimed at inciting political disobedience”.
450 Kazakhstani flags and 100 blue balloons seized from her house were used as physical evidence in the case. The court said that these items “bear all the attributes of the banned organisation DCK”.
Since 9 June 2019, Kerimbayeva was held under house arrest.
On 28 October 2019, the court sentenced Kerimbayeva to one year of restriction of liberty, and also banned her from participating in rallies and engaging in civil society and political activities, including on social networks, for two years.
Yerkin Kaziev is an activist from Kaskelen, Almaty region.
Kaziev was ill-treated by police officers at the time of his detention on 30 April 2019, which resulted in a leg injury and a dislocated shoulder. He was held under house arrest. On 15 October 2019, Kaziyev was sentenced to one year of restriction of liberty.
Serik Zhakhin is a civic activist from Nur-Sultan.
The investigation accuses Zhakhin of reposting materials from the DCK and Ablyazov’s pages on his Facebook profile. The court verdict provides one example of such reposting: “There is very little left and tomorrow tens of thousands of people will go to the squares and streets of the country, and this regime will be replaced. It will be replaced peacefully, as in Armenia, Georgia, and Ukraine in 2004”, “Mukhtar Ablyazov is a candidate for the post of Prime Minister of Kazakhstan”.
Since 9 June 2019, he was held in a pre-trial detention facility.
According to his relatives, Zhakhin has a long history of pituitary glandular adenoma and should be regularly observed by doctors.
On 15 October 2019, a Kazakhstani court sentenced Zhakhin to one year of restriction of liberty, and also banned him from using social networks and participating in rallies for two years.
Dianara Mukatova is a civic activist from Atyrau.
In 2018, Mukatova was accused of “inciting social discord” (Article 174 of the Criminal Code) for her likes and comments under the posts of the DCK’s pages in social networks. Her case received wide publicity and was closed.
On 1 May 2019, the police brutally detained Mukatova for holding a poster with the inscription “You can’t run away from the truth”. Mukatova was also detained during the rallies on 9 May 2019 and 9 June 2019. As a result of police brutality, she had bruises on her body.
In 2019, a criminal case was brought against her again for “reposting the information materials of the DCK in social network”. On 21 October 2019, she was sentenced to one year of restriction of liberty with a ban on the use of social networks.
Askar Ibraev, Medet Eseneev and Vyacheslav Mamin are activists from Kostanay. Ibraev is a former police officer.
In August 2019, Ibraev, together with Medet Eseneev and Vyacheslav Mamin, hung two banners in Kostanay calling for the release of Mukhtar Dzhakishev. Also, according to the investigation, they made several inscriptions in paint in support of the DCK: “DVK Alga” (“Go, DCK”), “Shal ket” (“Go away, old man”) and “Power to the people”.
The indictment states that Ibraev “acted as the organiser of an underground cell of the DCK” and “maintained constant contact with representatives of the DCK headquarters, as well as was registered in the Telegram messenger and signed to pages related to the DCK”.
Ibraev and Eseneev refused to plead guilty. Mamin said that he “pleads guilty” and “repents” of what he had done.
On 22 January 2020, the court sentenced Askar Ibraev and Medet Eseneev to one year of restriction of freedom, and Vyacheslav Mamin to 6 months of restriction of freedom.
Serik Idyryshev is a resident of the East Kazakhstan region.
According to the prosecution, Idyryshev called for participation in an anti-government rally on 6 July 2019. In particular, as stated in the case file, Idyryshev recorded a video message in which he said: “Kazakh people, come out July 6, don’t be afraid. This rotten government needs to be replaced”.
On 5 December 2019, Serik Idyryshev was sentenced to one year restriction of freedom.
Serikzhan Bilash is the leader of the “Atazhurt eryktileri” public association. He is known for protecting the rights of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, China. In particular, he raises the problem of “political education camps” located in China.
Charge: “Inciting national discord” (Art. 174 of the CC).
In March 2019, the authorities opened a criminal case against Bilash. He was under house arrest for several months. Bilash’s lawyer stated that the investigators were exerting pressure on him.
As a result, he signed a “plea bargain”. According to Bilash, he was persuaded to do so by a presidential advisor. On 16 August 2019, the court sentenced him to a fine and a ban on running public associations for 7 years.
Muratbek Argynbekov – is a resident of Akmola region.
Charge: ‘participation in the activities of an organisation after its recognition as extremist’ (Art. 405 of the CC)
The indictment states that Muratbek Argynbekov ‘published a brochure with Mukhtar Ablyazov’s photographs on Facebook’ and ‘urged to support DCK’ while ‘being well aware’ that ‘the country’s population will read the information he published’.
The investigators claimed that Argynbekov’s Facebook entries show ‘signs of approving the idea of support of DCK’s ideology’ as well as ‘negative assessment of the current government and the President of Kazakhstan, N. Nazarbayev’.
On 2 November 2018 the court of the town Akmol, Akmol region, sentenced Argynbekov to 1 year’s restriction of liberty and to 100 hours of compulsory labour.
Larisa Kharkova – former chairperson of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions.
Charge: ‘abuse of power’ (Article 250 of the CC)
Kharkova was prosecuted after oil workers’ hunger strike by which they protested against the ban on the activities of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions.
On 25 July 2017, the court sentenced her to 4 years of restraint of liberty, confiscation of property and 5 years of a ban on holding senior positions in civil society associations.
4. Politically persecuted persons who are under investigation, and threatened with imprisonment
Aigul Akberdiyeva is the wife of Ablovas Dzhumayev, who was sentenced to prison for his support of the DCK and criticism of the authorities in social media.
Charge: “propaganda or public calls to seize or retain power” (part 2 Art. 179 of the CC). Akberdiyeva is prosecuted in the same case as Dzhumayev. The prosecutor asked to sentence Akberdiyeva to five years of restriction of freedom. However, on 6 February 2019, the Aktau court acquitted her. After that, the chairman of the court, Malik Kenzhaliyev, was dismissed from his post. He distributed audio recordings, according to which judges were pressured in this case. As a result, the prosecutor’s office succeeded in cancelling the acquittal. Now, Akberdiyeva’s case should be reconsidered in court. On 16 December 2019, i.e. the day of the rally, police brutally detained Akberdiyeva and her husband and took them for interrogation.
Sabyrzhan Kasenov is an activist from Almaty.
Kasenov was repeatedly detained and interrogated in March, May and June 2019. He is accused of participating in unauthorised rallies called for by the DCK as well as of supporting the organisation.
In December 2019 and January 2020, law enforcement agencies continued to shadow and interrogate Kasenov.
Azamat Baikenov is a blogger from Petropavlovsk.
Charge: “inciting social hatred” on social networks (part 1, Art. 174 of the CC).
On 15 December 2019, a pre-trial investigation was launched against Baikenov “due to the facts of dissemination in social networks of materials with signs of incitement of social discord”. Police conducted a search at Baikenov’s place of residence.
The case materials claim that Baikenov publishes files on social networks with “opposition content, expressing his own and other persons’ opinions supporting the ideas of the DCK”. At the moment, Baikenov’s procedural status in the criminal case is not officially defined.
At the moment former political prisoner Iskander Yerimbetov continues to be at risk of renewed imprisonment. Other victims of political prosecution on this case – Dmitriy Pestov and Vasilina Sokolenko – continue to serve time in prison.
Iskander Yerimbetov is a Kazakhstani businessman, the brother of Kazakhstani human rights defender and lawyer Botagoz Jardemalie. She provided legal consulting services to opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov and victims of political persecution in Kazakhstan. Jardemalie resides in Belgium, where she has been granted political asylum.
In November-December 2017 and January 2018, Yerimbetov was subjected to repeated brutal torture at a Kazakhstani detention center. Employees of the special services demanded that he testify against Ablyazov and convince his sister to return to Kazakhstan to “cooperate with the investigation” in the Ablyazov’s case. Yerimbetov noted that he was placed in a cell with convicted persons who severely beat him, including with a wooden stick given to them by a facility guard.
Yerimbetov spoke about torture at meetings with representatives of the EU, Great Britain, Germany, USA and Poland who have been allowed to visit him in the detention facility. Ignoring the data of human rights defenders and the demands of the international community, on 22 February 2018 authorities closed the criminal case on torture.
A politically motivated trial was organised against Yerimbetov, which was accompanied by an unprecedented number of violations. The prosecution stated that the Sky Service company (founded by Yerimbetov) had allegedly overpriced its services “in violation of the law”. In the legislation of Kazakhstan, however, there is no such notion as “unlawful overpricing”. The company was selling its services via open tenders.
On 22 October 2018 Iskander Yerimbetov was sentenced to 7 years in prison, and his colleagues Dmitriy Pestov and Vasilina Sokolenko, who stated about pressure by investigators, to 5 years in prison. Another defendant, Mikhail Zorov, who had agreed to cooperate with the investigating officers, was given 3 years of suspended sentence. On 20 November 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention demanded the immediate release of Iskander Yerimbetov (Opinion No. 67/2018).
On 27 December 2019 Iskander Yerimbetov was released. But this decision was not accepted as execution of requirements from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Kazakhstan authorities released Yerimbetov due to illness. Yerimbetov’s poor health condition is a consequence of brutal tortures he endured. But representatives of penitentiary system will control Yerimbetov’s health condition. If authorities consider that Yerimbetov “has recovered”, they can resume the execution of his sentence and put him in jail again.
In addition, there is currently no information on two other politically persecuted persons: Kalas Nurpeisov (school teacher from Almaty) and Syrym Rakhmetov (doctor from Almaty). Rakhmetov was detained on 14 June 2019. He was accused of “calling for rallies and riots on social networks“. According to available information, he was ill-treated in the detention centre and his relatives are afraid to consult a lawyer. Almaty police distributed a video in which Rakhmetov called to “appreciate peace” and “not to show the state to the world in a bad way”. Kalas Nurpeisov is persecuted for his participation in the rallies called for by the DCK. In August 2019, news was released that Nurpeisov’s pre-trial restriction was changed into one not involving detention.
5. Those included in the list of “persons linked to the financing of terrorism and extremism”
In 2016, a joint order of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the National Security Committee, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance approved the national list of “persons linked to the financing of terrorism and extremism”.
The list now includes more than 1 500 Kazakhstani citizens convicted on charges that the authorities regard as “extremist”.
Inclusion in the list is based on the court’s verdict, and removal is possible after the expiration of the sentence. In practice, however, persons remain on the list for several years after the end of the sentence.
Persons included in the list face restrictions in their use of banking, postal, notary, and insurance services. As a result, they are unable to find jobs or even drive a car, because they cannot conclude an insurance contract.
Vladimir Kozlov is an opposition politician, civil society activist and publicist.
Charges [the numbers of articles refer to the Criminal Code of 1997, according to which Kozlov was tried]: “inciting social discord” (Art. 164 of the CC), “demanding overthrow of the constitutional order” (Art. 170 of the CC), “establishing a criminal enterprise” (Art. 235 of the CC).
In October 2012, the Kazakhstani authorities sentenced him to 7,5 years in prison for supporting the peaceful strike of oil workers who were shot on 16 December 2011 in Zhanaozen (Mangistau Region). Kozlov met with peaceful protesters and represented their interests at meetings in the European Commission, the European Parliament, the OSCE and the Polish Sejm. The authorities said that Kozlov’s actions “provoked” the Zhanaozen tragedy “on the instructions” of opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov.
UN bodies, as well as the EU, PA OSCE and US bodies, recognised the verdict as politically motivated. Testimony of the arrested oil workers was used against Kozlov, although the oil workers themselves stated in court that they had given the evidence under severe torture. In prison, Kozlov was subjected to ill-treatment. As a result of prolonged international pressure, the authorities released him on parole in August 2016.
After his release, he found out that he was included in the “list of extremists”. According to Kozlov, law enforcement officials threatened him that, since he would have a criminal record in the next 7 years, any of his opposition or public activities would be regarded as a “relapse”.
Ablovas Dzhumayev is a resident of Aktau.
Charges: ‘inciting social discord’ (Article 174 of the CC) and ‘publicly calling for the seizure of power’ (Article 179 of the CC).
The investigation accused Dzhumayev of “subscribing to the pages of the DCK and Ablyazov” on social networks, “reading the DCK programme” and “calling for participation in rallies”
Ablovas Dzhumayev stated that special service officer exerted pressure on him in the detention facility and demanded to sign accusatory statements. Dzhumayev’s elderly sick father was brought to him in the detention centre, where he said: “Son, confess. …They say that tomorrow something might happen to you and then they will bring your body”.
The court refused to summon the special service officer (who participated in Dzhumayev’s case) for questioning. On 18 September 2018, Dzhumayev reported the death of his father. The defendant felt ill and asked to postpone the trial. Judge Aralbai Nagashibayev refused, saying: “Aren’t you the one responsible for this situation?”.
On 20 September 2018, the court sentenced Dzhumayev to 3 years in prison. On 11 July 2019, the Kazakhstani court granted the request of Dzhumayev and replaced the unserved part of his sentence with restriction of freedom. As it turned out, he was included in the “list of extremists” on 23 January 2019.
Bakiza Khalelova – is a resident of Uralsk.
Charge: ‘participation in the activities of an organisation after its recognition as extremist’ (Art. 405 of the CC)
According to the prosecution, after that she ‘called for a rally in support of the DCK and a change of power’, thereby ‘positively endorsing the ideas of the DCK’. During the search, three Kazakh flags and a deflated blue balloon were seized from Khalelova. They have been attached to the case as evidence.
On 26 September 2018 the Criminal Court of the city of Uralsk sentenced Khalelova to one year’s restriction of freedom. In addition, the court prohibited Khalelova from “attending actions, protests and meetings” and writing comments “aimed at discrediting the activities of the authorities” on social networks.
Khalelova’sbank accounts were blocked for some time. On 9 April 2019, the court granted her request for early release. However, it is still unknown whether she has been removed from the “list of extremists” and whether all the restrictions imposed on her have been removed.
Azat Ibrayev and Arman Alakayev – civil activists from Kostanay.
Charge: ‘participation in the activities of an organisation after its recognition as extremist’ (Art. 405 of the CC).
Azat Ibrayev and Arman Alakayev were accused of conducting ‘propaganda activities in support of the DCK’, which was ‘accompanied by’ giving ‘two blue balloons’ to police officers. In this way, Ibrayev and Alakayev wanted to celebrate the Day of Defender of the Fatherland.
During a search of Ibrayev’s car, officers found blue ribbons and balloons as well as photographs of political prisoners Mukhtar Dzhakishev and Iskander Yerimbetov. During the search, 3 blue balloons and 4 blue ribbons were seized from Alakaev.
On 19 June 2018, the Court № 2 of the City of Kostanai sentenced Azat Ibrayev to one year of restriction of freedom. On 13 July 2018, the same court sentenced Arman Alakayev to one-and-a-half years of restriction of freedom. The court also prohibited Alakayev from posting information and comments ‘related to the support of the DCK’ on the Internet.
After their conviction, they were included in the “list of extremists” and their bank accounts were blocked.
Farit Ishmukhametov – is a resident of Semey.
Charge: ‘participation in the activities of an organisation after its recognition as extremist’ (Art. 405 of the CC).
According to the charges, Farit Ishmukhametov ’published a Facebook post expressing negative attitude towards the current government and therefore creating conditions for other social network users to comment. Then Ishmukhametov expressed his dissatisfaction with the current government in his comments’. The case files state that Ishmukhametov ‘claimed the necessity of calling for the resignation of the current government’, ‘demanded that the social status of the working people be raised’and ‘expressed his approval of DCK’s ideas’.
On October 24 2018, the court No. 2 of the city of Semey sentenced Ishmukhametov to one year’s restriction of liberty and to one hundred hours of compulsory labour.
On 23 January 2019, he was included in the “list of extremists”.
Evgeniy Kravets – is a DCK activist from Pavlodar.
Charge: ‘participation in the activities of an organisation after its recognition as extremist’ (Art. 405 of the CC).
DCK activist Yevgeniy Kravets was detained and arrested in the Kazakh city of Pavlodar for participating in meetings of 10 May 2018 and 23 June 2018. He recorded video material in support of the DCK, for which he faced criminal charges.
Yevgeniy Kravets arrived in Ukraine, where he continued his participation in the DCK. In conversation with him, the investigator ‘asked’ him to return to Kazakhstan. The Kazakhstani authorities may begin to seek his extradition.
On 25 July 2019, he was included in the “list of extremists”.
Aset Nurzhaubay is a resident of Almaty.
Charges: ‘storing and distributing the property of a criminal group’ (Article 266 of the CC), ‘participating in the activities of an organisation following its recognition as extremist’ (Article 405 of the CC), ‘fraud’ (Article 190 of the CC).
Nurzhaubay was accused of having written the phrase “Shal ket” (“Old man, leave”) and “Alga DVK” (“Go, DCK”) at several bus stops. He also put up a poster on the street with the same inscriptions. Subsequently, the police seized a poster and some paint used for drawing from Nurzhaubay.
Nurzhaubay was arrested in April 2018. Nurzhaubay said that in the pre-trial detention centre, law enforcement officers had wrung his arm and hit him several times on the kidneys. Doctors noticed a bruise on Nurzhaubay’s right shoulder.
He was asked to give ‘confessions’. According to Nurzhaubay, officers of the NSC promised to ‘close the case’ if he made a ‘video message to people’ with the statement that allegedly “Mukhtar Ablyazov promised to pay him and them deceived him. The investigator threatened to imprison his mother. As a sign of protest, Nurzhaubay cut his veins.
In the courte Nurzhaubay read a statement of ‘repentance’. Nurzhaubay read the words that repeat verbatim the theses of the Kazakhstani state propaganda, ‘that… in Kazakhstan, no one is being persecuted for political reasons. Everyone is punished for acts committed‘. Nurzhaubay called Ablyazov’s promises ‘false and empty ‘and stated that Ablyazov ‘is trying to justify himself before the European community’.
After the reading of the ‘repentance’, the court sentenced Nurzhaubai to 4 years of probation.
On 20 December 2018, the authorities included him in the “list of extremists”.
Muratbek Tungishbayev is a well-known Kazakhstani blogger who used to create videos about human rights violations in his country.
Charges: ‘providing information services to a criminal group’, that is the DCK (Article 266 of the CC), and ‘participation in the activities of the organisation after its recognition as extremist’ (Article 405 of the CC).
On 26 June, 2018, Muratbek Tungishbayev was extradited from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan with gross violations of the law. The authorities of Kyrgyzstan did not wait for his appeal and for the end of the procedure for the consideration of Tungishbayev’s application for asylum.
Upon arrival in Kazakhstan, Tungishbayev was put in a detention centre in Almaty. According to the lawyer, the investigator told Tungishbayev that he could be released under house arrest only in exchange for “confessions”.
Previously, before his arrest, Tungishbayev underwent an eye surgery. Tungishbayev was diagnosed with central retinal vein thrombosis caused by hypertension. In detention centre Tungishbayev repeatedly reported vision impairment and pain, but the Kazakhstani authorities ignored him. In the detention centre, due to the lack of proper medical care, he risked completely losing his sight.
On 11 October, 2018, Kazakhstan’s propaganda media distributed a video recording of Mira Kaliyeva, Tungishbayev’s wife. Kaliyeva’s statements may indicate that she ‘cooperated with the investigation’. Mira Kaliyeva said that her husband suffered ‘because of Ablyazov’s ambitions and the fact that he wanted to build his own image as an opposition politician‘.
After Mira Kaliyeva’s public repentance, Muratbek Tungishbayev was released from pre-trial detention. On 26 November 2018, a video with the participation of Muratbek Tungishbayev was distributed in Kazakhstani pro-government media, in which he stated that he “realised his guilt” and urged “not to believe what Ablyazov was saying”. He also repeated the propaganda theses previously voiced by Nurzhaubay.
Tungishbayev has been on the “list of extremists” since 4 June 2019.
6. Kazakhstan misuses the mechanisms of INTERPOL and international legal assistance
Using the mechanisms of INTERPOL and international cooperation in criminal cases, the Kazakhstani authorities are striving to lay hands on their opponents residing abroad. In most cases, it is a question of ‘hunting down’ of former colleagues of oppositionist Mukhtar Ablyazov, whom President Nazarbayev considers his personal enemy.
On 9 December 2016, the French Council of State recognised this case as political. INTERPOL removed the names of Ablyazov and several other defendants in the case of BTA Bank from the wanted list. 13 colleagues and relatives have been granted asylum or additional protection in the EU and the US.
Ignoring the decisions of France and other EU states, the Kazakhstani authorities began to search for new ways to bring about Ablyazov’s extradition, making attempts to obtain ‘additional testimony’ against him. To this end, Kazakhstani investigators have been using threats, torture, exerting pressure on their counsels, and harassing their relatives.
On 18 February 2019, the European Parliament held a presentation of the report ‘Misuse of Interpol’s Red Notices and impact on human rights’  , prepared at the request of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights. This report identified several victims of the abuse of INTERPOL by Kazakhstan, in particular, Zhanara Akhmetova, Tatiana Paraskevich, Viktor and Ilyas Khrapunov.
Zhanara Akhmetova is a journalist, one of the leaders of the opposition movement DCK and program director of the Kazakhstani opposition TV channel “16/12”. In 2009, a Kazakhstani court sentenced her to 7 years’ imprisonment on charges of fraud. The execution of the court sentence was postponed until the time when her child turns 14 years old (i.e. until 2021).
Zhanara Akhmetova began to actively engage in journalism and opposition activities, after which the Kazakhstani authorities began shadowing her and exerting pressure on her. In June 2017, with no legal grounds, the authorities cancelled the postponement of the execution of the court sentence.
In October 2017, Akhmetova was arrested in Ukraine based on an extradition request from Kazakhstan. In November 2017, the court released her from custody, which was made possible thanks to the efforts of human rights organisations, counsels, MEPs and the international community. The trial revealed facts that could indicate cooperation between the Ukrainian and Kazakhstani special services for the purpose of extraditing Akhmetova.
The Migration Service of Ukraine refused to grant her refugee status. However, on 31 July 2018, the Kiev Appellate Court ordered that the migration service reconsider the application of Akhmetova. On 17 September 2018, the Supreme Court of Ukraine confirmed this decision. However, the Migration Service repeatedly refused Akhmetova’s application for asylum. Akhmetova continues litigation with the Migration Service, seeking refugee status. In case of refusal of asylum, she faces expulsion or extradition to Kazakhstan.
Reposts from the Facebook page of Zhanara Akhmetova became the basis for the criminal prosecution of Akmaral Kerimbayeva and Gulmira Kalykova in Kazakhstan. This gives grounds to believe that a new criminal case has been initiated against Akhmetova on charges of “organising the activities of the organisation after its recognition as extremist” (Art. 405 of the CC).
Akhmetova has repeatedly reported that representatives of Kazakhstani security services had been watching her and her home in Ukraine. There were also two attempts to kidnap her.
International and Ukrainian human rights organisations, as well as some European parliamentarians, emphasise that Zhanara Akhmetova is persecuted for political reasons — i.e. for expressing her views and engaging in opposition activities as one of the leaders of the DCK.
In particular, the head of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, deputies of the European Parliament   and the Italian Parliament, Reporters Without Borders, the Italian Federation for Human Rights, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Center for Civil Liberties and other human rights organisations spoke out in defence of Akhmetova.
Viktor Khrapunov – the former Minister of Energy of Kazakhstan, former Mayor of Almaty. Leila Khrapunova – a businesswoman and former head of the state-owned Television Corporation. Ilyas Khrapunov is a Kazakhstani businessman, the son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov.
The authorities of Kazakhstan are persecuting the Khrapunov family due to their opposition views and family ties with Ablyazov. Viktor Khrapunov is the author of the book ‘About the dictatorship of Nursultan Nazarbayev’. The Khrapunovs have reported that between 2008-2011, the Kazakhstani authorities demanded that they severe relations with Ablyazov and give a testimony against him. They refused to do so, and, consequently, they became victims of criminal prosecution.
Between 2011-2012, the Kazakhstani authorities initiated 21 criminal cases against Viktor Khrapunov and other members of the Khrapunov family. The Kazakhstani investigators labelled the Khrapunovs ‘a criminal group bound by family ties’. According to the Kazakhstani authorities, Ilyas Khrapunov “was a member of a criminal group” at the age of 14 when he was attending a Swiss school.
Switzerland refused to extradite Victor Khrapunov and Leyla Khrapunova to Kazakhstan. The family of Khrapunovs has officially resided in Switzerland.
In the European media, information about Kazakhstani authorities’ attempts to bribe some Swiss parliamentarians and former officials in order to persuade them to lobby for the Khrapunovs’ extradition, received wide reverberation.
In October 2018, a Kazakhstani court in absentia sentenced Viktor Khrapunov to 17 years in prison and Leyla Khrapunov to 14 years in prison. As part of interstate legal assistance, Switzerland has investigated the charges brought by Kazakhstan. On 12 November 2019, the Geneva Prosecutor’s Office closed the criminal case against the Khrapunov family due to lack of evidence. The Swiss authorities stated that Kazakhstan did not comply with the conditions of international legal assistance, as the case violated the European Convention on Human Rights, including the clauses on the inadmissibility of political persecution.
Таtiana Paraskevich – Mukhtar Ablyazov’s former colleague who resides in the Czech Republic. In 2014, the Czech Republic refused to extradite Paraskevich to Russia and Ukraine. However, Russia and Ukraine have expressed their disagreement with this decision. In 2016, the countries almost simultaneously sent repeated requests for the extradition of Paraskevich, but in December 2017, they received a second refusal from the Czech Republic.
In 2014 and 2015, the Czech Republic provided Paraskevich with subsidiary protection. Counsels of the nationalised Kazakhstani BTA Bank repeatedly appealed to the Czech law enforcement agencies to prevent the granting of international protection to Paraskevich. In April 2017, INTERPOL removed Paraskevich’s name from their wanted list. In September 2018 the Czech Republic provided Paraskevich with international protection (asylum) due to the political nature of the case.
Artur Trofimov is a defendant in the same case as Paraskevich. In January 2014, Austria refused Russia to extradite Trofimov. In 2016 Interpol removed him from the wanted list. However, Russia has achieved a second extradition arrest.
In October 2018, the government of Uzbekistan invited Trofimov to Tashkent for the International Investment Forum. According to Trofimov, the Consul of Uzbekistan provided him with security assurances. In November 2018, Trofimov was arrested in Tashkent at the request of Russia. However, as a result, he was extradited to Kazakhstan. This was reported on 28 January 2019, by the General Prosecutor’s Office of Kazakhstan. Thus, the authorities of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia, being close allies, jointly carried out the illegal extradition of a person accused in a politically motivated case.
The extradition was carried out with the aim of bringing Trofimov to criminal responsibility in the case of Mukhtar Ablyazov in Kazakhstan. However, earlier Trofimov, Russian citizen, was accused only in the Russian criminal case against Ablyazov. In Russia, the case against him is being conducted by investigators included in the ‘Magnitsky List’. Austria provided Trofimov with international protection against Russia, which means that his extradition to Russia is expressly prohibited by international law.
Most likely, in order to avoid another scandal, it was decided to extradite Trofimov to Kazakhstan. There is every reason to believe that for this purpose, the Kazakhstani authorities ‘organised’ a criminal case against Trofimov and submitted an extradition request in such a short time.
In September 2019, the Kazakhstani authorities announced that Trofimov “voluntarily returned” to Kazakhstan “with of a written declaration of will”, after which he “fully cooperated with the investigation” and “sincerely repented” .
Given the methods of Kazakhstan’s law enforcement agencies, there is every reason to believe that the authorities can now obtain from Trofimov any statements and “confessions” that are beneficial to them. Earlier, there were several similar cases in which victims of illegal extradition to Kazakhstan declared a “voluntary return” having arrived in the country, went to “cooperate with the investigation” and disseminated theses of state propaganda.
In January 2017, the Kazakhstani authorities transferred Zhaksylyk Zharimbetov, another defendant in Ablyazov’s case, from Turkey on a charter plane. Zharimbetov was granted refugee status in Great Britain. Therefore, Turkey and Kazakhstan violated one of the basic norms of international law: the principle of non-refoulement. After the illegal extradition, Zharimbetov began to “contribute to the investigation”.
In June 2017, Zharimbetov made a phone call to Yerzhan Kadesov, another defendant in the case, who was arrested in Hungary at the request of Kazakhstan and at that time stayed in the Hungarian prison. Zharimbetov promised Kadesov ‘guarantees of protection’ if he would come to Kazakhstan and give an incriminating testimony. Following this phone call, Kadesov abruptly changed his position and requested that he be ‘voluntarily extradited’ to Kazakhstan.
Earlier, in November 2016, the Hungarian authorities allowed a Kazakhstani prosecutor and diplomat to visit Kadesov in prison; both of them threatened him. They shouldn’t have been allowed to visit Kadesov, who, at that time, had the status of an asylum seeker.
In Kazakhstan, Zharimbetov and Kadesov were placed in a detention centre, they “pled guilty”, testified against Ablyazov and stated that they had “voluntarily returned to Kazakhstan”. They also began to spread libellous information regarding human rights defenders, including the Open Dialogue Foundation, that had stood in their defence. In fact, the Kazakhstani authorities are using those defenders for propaganda purposes.
In exchange for “cooperation with the investigation” and indictment against Ablyazov, they were both given non-custodial sentences. In June 2017, Zharimbetov received a five-year suspended sentence. In August 2019, Trofimov and Kadesov were fined.
Botagoz Jardemalie – a human rights lawyer from Kazakhstan, a member of the New York Bar Association. Her case is a vivid example of how, by misusing interstate legal assistance mechanisms, Kazakhstan obtains confidential information about political refugees, and also brings about their interrogations and searches.
She was providing legal advice to the opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov and victims of political persecutions in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan accused Jardemalie within the framework of the Ablyazov case and made attempts to bring about her extradition. In 2013, Belgium’s authorities granted her political asylum. In 2016, Interpol removed her from their wanted list.
Jardemalie was under surveillance, and an attempt was made to kidnap her in Belgium. According to a Belgian prosecutor, the perpetrators of the crime are likely to be associated with the Kazakhstani authorities. On 29 November 2019, the Brussels Court sentenced three persons who had been spying on Jardemalie to two years’ imprisonment, partly with suspended sentences.
In November-December 2017 and January 2018, Iskander Yerimbetov, the brother of Botagoz Jardemalie, was subjected to repeated brutal torture at a Kazakhstani detention centre. Employees of the special services demanded that he testify against Ablyazov and convince his sister to return to Kazakhstan to “cooperate with the investigation” in the Ablyazov case.
On 1 October 2019 in Brussels, the Belgian police conducted a search in Jardemalie’s flat. The search was conducted at the request of the Kazakhstani authorities. Jardemalie notes that the Belgian police did not produce a search warrant. Present during the time of the search were two unknown Kazakhstani officials, who were allowed to remain without supervision by the police and were photographing the seized documents. Jardemalie had computers, mobile telephones, and information storage media seized, as well as documents containing confidential and privileged attorney-client information.
Several hours after the search, unknown persons obtained access to four of Jardemalie’s email accounts, which contained information connected with her law and human rights activities. Most likely, the access to her accounts was obtained by representatives of the Kazakhstani authorities.
On 4 October 2019, Jardemalie was summoned for interrogation by the Belgian police, having been threatened with arrest in the event of her refusal. At the police office, she was asked questions that the Kazakhstani authorities had sent in their letter of instruction within the framework of interstate criminal cooperation. The questions concerned, inter alia, Jardemalie’s activity as a lawyer and information about her parents, as well as about opposition activists whom she is defending. The Belgian police ignored the fact that such actions violate Jardemalie’s rights as a lawyer and as a person with refugee status.
In the course of the interrogation, it became known to Jardemalie that the Belgian police had already passed on some information about her banking activities and personal life to Kazakhstan. The further transfer to Kazakhstan’s authorities of the seized computers and documents, which contain confidential and privileged attorney-client information, will subject victims of political persecutions who are in Kazakhstan and whom Jardemalie is defending to serious danger. Among them – activists, lawyers, journalists.
Kazakhstan’s authorities may begin to once again seek Jardemalie’s extradition.
7. Conclusions and recommendations
When holding the post of President for 30 years, Nursultan Nazarbayev declared the path to stability and democracy. However, as a result, the opposition was destroyed in Kazakhstan and almost all non-state media, critical of the authorities, were banned. The authorities are fighting dissent, taking control of the Internet, and narrowing down the space for non-governmental organisations to a minimum.
On 20 January 2020, another meeting of the EU-Kazakhstan Cooperation Council was held. As a result of the meeting, the EU stated that Kazakhstan was taking steps to “successfully implement” the Enhanced Partnership Agreement, including the clauses regarding the rule of law. The EU also welcomed the amendments to the law on peaceful assembly announced by President Tokayev, as well as promises made by the authorities to decriminalise charges of “libel” and “incitement of social discord”.
However, it should be borne in mind that the statements of newly elected President Tokayev about his commitment to democratic freedoms remain only a declaration. Tokayev expresses his readiness to take only partial positive steps that will not change the systemic nature of the problem.Representatives of Kazakhstani civil society note that the new law on peaceful assemblies proposed by the authorities continues to limit this right and contradicts recommendations of the OSCE, the UN and the EU.
Mass political persecution for dissent illustrates the real state of the unreformed Kazakhstani justice.
Over the past few months, the UN bodies have been paying particular attention to dispersals of peaceful protesters, widespread practice of Internet blocking and using criminal charges of ‘extremism’ to oppress the civil society in Kazakhstan. Still, the Kazakhstani authorities have ignored the UN recommendations.
In September 2019, the Open Dialogue Foundation presented a list of 136 employees of Kazakhstani law enforcement agencies and facts, indicating their involvement in the persecution of participants in peaceful assemblies. Thus far, no one has been punished for numerous arbitrary detentions and the use of brute force against peaceful protesters in Kazakhstan.
It should be emphasised, however, that international public pressure remains an important factor limiting the repression. Fearing reputational risks and personal sanctions, the Kazakhstani authorities are forced to react. In this case, the authoritarian regime makes halfway concessions, trying not to “lose face”, but this helps save the lives of individual political prisoners.
Over the past few years, sustained pressure at the diplomatic and political levels has led to the release of several political prisoners Moreover, in most cases, after release the authorities continues to keep them “on the hook”. Being under the threat of re-imprisonment, they cannot criticise authorities. In particular, there were released Zhanaozen’s oil workers; opposition politician Vladimir Kozlov; activists Zinaida Mukhortova and Ardak Ashim, who were subjected to punitive psychiatry; journalists Guzal Baidalinova, Seitkazy Matayev, Aset Matayev, Yaroslav Golyshkin and Amangeldy Batyrbekov; activists Talgat Ayan, Yerzhan Orazalinov, Makhambet Abzhan, Sanat Dosov and Ablovas Dzhumaev; trade union leaders Amin Eleusinov and Nurbek Kushakbayev; researcher Sayat Ibrayev; torture victim Iskander Yerimbetov.
In most cases, for these persons early release entailed being constantly monitored by the authorities, which meant that they could not continue their human rights or public activities. In many cases, one of the conditions for early release is “repentance”. Still, some political prisoners were not released earlier, so they served their full term (for example, Saken Tulbaev and Yedige Batyrov).
Another result of the diplomatic reaction to political persecution in Kazakhstan was that on 17 January 2020, the Director of the Department for International Cooperation of the Kazakhstani Ministry of Justice, Maksat Bereketov, announced the establishment of a Working Group with the U.S. to discuss the issue of political prisoners. However, he was immediately interrupted by the Minister of Justice, who said: “I would like to clarify this statement: we do not have any political prisoners. You must carefully choose your words”.
Now it is important to make clear to the authorities of Kazakhstan that one cannot only imitate dialogue. The Working Group needs to make a real impact and include independent Kazakhstani human rights defenders [in particular, representatives of the expert council of Kazakhstani human rights defenders, KIBHR, Ar.Rukh.Khak, Qaharman]. We call on the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in anticipation of his visit to Kazakhstan, to intensify the work of the Working Group in order to raise the issue of the release of political prisoners.
Kazakhstan ignores key requirements of the UN, the European Parliament, the OSCE and the PACE in the field of human rights and the rule of law. Democratic states should not only demand that Kazakhstan fulfil human rights obligations and comply with the rule of law, but also independently follow these principles when building relations with Kazakhstan. Trade and economic relations between democratic states and Kazakhstan should be developed on conditions of fulfilment of human rights obligations. On 31 January 2020 28 PACE deputies in the written declaration called to review trade co-operation with Kazakhstan and impose personal sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations and abuse of international co-operation instruments.
The EU has confirmed that the Enhanced Partnership Agreement with Kazakhstan will enter into force on 1 March 2020. We call on EU bodies to emphasize the need for the effective implementation of human rights and rule of law obligations under the Agreement. We also call on the EU representatives to point out these problems during the first official visit of President Tokayev to Brussels in February 2020, and to demand that the Kazakh authorities:
- Implement the provisions of the European Parliament Resolution on the situation of human rights in Kazakhstan of 14 March 2019, which calls for an end to politically motivated prosecutions and the release of political prisoners.
- Meet the requirements of UN to release political prisoners Mukhtar Dzhakishev and Maks Bokayev, as well as to provide compensation to former political prisoner Iskander Yerimbetov, provide him full release without additional restrictions and risks of re-imprisonment, and investigate the facts of torture used against him.
- Cease the persecution of participants in peaceful assemblies and release those who are detained or under house arrest.
- Undertake proper reform of the justice system and, as recommended by the UN and the OSCE, remove explicitly political articles from the criminal law.
- ease the misuses the mechanisms of Interpol, extradition procedures, and international legal assistance, which are carried out with the aim of persecution of political opponents abroad.
- Stop using the “fight against extremism” as an instrument for violating the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion.
- Ensure that torture is effectively combated and that all allegations of torture are properly addressed by increasing the number of cases of torture that go to trial.
We emphasise the need to introduce personal sanctions against persons who are responsible for or involved in serious human rights violations in Kazakhstan, including torture and politically motivated criminal prosecutions.