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Voices of Kazakhstan #3: pre-election review of human rights situation (23 Dec-3 Jan)

Kazakh regime flexes its muscles in the run-up to the January elections

Tightening the authoritarian grip (source: Int. media coverage)

Despite the encouraging news of Kazakhstan abolishing the death penalty on Jan 2nd, the wider picture is not all so rosy. With the elections approaching, the authorities put further pressure on the civil society – inspecting tax returns of NGOs & alleging they violated reporting requirements on foreign funding. 

As elaborated in previous newsletters (here & here), the authorities are also tightening control over the internet, now accusing the critics of the state-imposed “digital security certificates” of being “NATO stooges”. 

Furthermore, the regime resorted to harsher punishments against dissenters, restoring the grim practice of “punitive psychiatry.

A Russian court sentenced Mukhtar Ablyazov, a leader of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, to 15 years in prison in absentia, which is likely a sign of the regime trying to discredit the opposition before the election with the help of foreign intermediaries. Importantly, on Sep 29th, the National Asylum Court of France stated that “the civil and criminal proceedings brought against Mr. Ablyazov (…) in Kazakhstan or in other foreign jurisdictions are in fact motivated by political aim.” See also Ablyazov’s position re. the court’s decision.

On a positive note, a new app, “Voices of Kazakhstan” was launched, allowing election observers & voters for documenting electoral fraud and irregularities.

What to expect? Mass protests and gross falsification (source: ODF’s monitoring)

Peaceful protests are planned for Jan 10th to take place across the country. To prevent the mass mobilization to be broken down, the #ActivistsNotExtremists group is coordinating the creation of a real-time map showing the location and movements of special forces. 

Similarly, the Kazakhstanis are encouraged to take pictures and record offenses of special service personnel sent to quench the protests. 

The Central Election Commission (CEC) granted permission to conduct social surveys to just seven pro-government organizations. The decision came after, on Dec 29th, the opposition channel 1612 published the results of its internet survey that contradicted the survey by a pro-government Astana-Zertteu Foundation.

CEC was also caught lying to the OSCE Election Observation Mission, claiming it hasn’t received any complaints as of Dec 20th. However, at least one such complaint has been sent with activist Abaybek Sultanov filing the complaint on Dec 11th.

Violating electoral observers’ rights & electoral process

On 28 Dec the government made it compulsory for the election observers in the so-called yellow and red zones – which are delineated fully arbitrary – to take a PCR test for COVID-19. The new requirement will allow the authorities to identify organizations that are training observers, and, possibly, for disqualifying many observers from monitoring the elections. 

Citizens wishing to become election observers also face groundless administrative & criminal cases or are forced to quarantine even though they have not contracted the virus, nor have been in touch with an infected individual. 

Meanwhile, complaints filed by a number of activists against the Dec 10th decision of CEC – de facto banning participation of election observers – were dismissed by the Supreme Court

The authorities also silence those campaigning for political parties other than Nur Otan. For this purpose, they are using the absurd law requiring to obtain written consent of a candidate to campaign on his/her behalf (art. 28 par. 7). On Dec 21st, Asanali Sutubayev was also placed in a psychiatric clinic for tearing down the Nur Otan poster.

The authorities keep violating the electoral law (“On Elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan”), incl. citizens’ right to carry on peaceful agitation. Activists are punished by administrative fines up to 150 euro, subjected to illegal searches, put in pre-trial detention facilities, and labelled suspects in criminal cases (read more here). The police has also confiscated, at minimum, 100.000 leaflets from hundreds of activists across the country.

Meanwhile, the US Congress-sponsored RFE/RL Kazakh Service, known as “Azattyq”, keeps ignoring the pre-election violations reported by activists and NGOs. Worryingly, OSCE international observers monitor the coverage of Azattyq, Tengrinews, Informburo, Kaztag and Vlast – none of which constitutes a reliable source of information.

Activists supporting Ak Zhol party ambushed by security forces

Dozens of activists were ambushed by security forces for campaigning for the Ak Zhol party, e.g.: 

  • Between Dec 21st-Jan 3rd activist Eldos Kyrykbayev from Taraz was detained at least three times for his refusal to vote for the “Nur Otan” party, and his support for the “Ak Zhol” party. He was tortured, “advised” to commit suicide, and violently beaten incl. in front of the Court building where he wanted to fill a complaint against police illegal actions; 
  • for joining the Ak Zhol party and enrolling in training for election observers, Azamat Rayev, a father of five from Balkhash, was severely beaten and put under the National Security Committee surveillance; 
  • Other cases of persecution incl., e.g., the beating of Camille Bagzhanova for wearing a mask with a logotype of the Ak Zhol party (the police broke her collarbone by throwing her repeatedly on the floor to “serve a summons”); illegal search of the house of Marat Musabayev and Muratbek Tolegen harassed for wearing a party’s t-shirt and distribution of Ak Zhol party leaflets; illegal interrogation of Asiya Bakayeva for campaigning in favor of Ak Zhol party; summoning for interrogation in an unknown criminal case of Gulmaira Mukusheva, a day after she volunteered to be an election observer; or harassment of human rights defenders from “Veritas human rights movement” who document human rights violation in the pre-election period –
    Alma Nurusheva and Rosa Musaeva.

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