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Open letter to French President Francois Hollande from Russian human rights activists

Francois Hollande,
President of the French Republic

Your Excellency, Mr. President,

Your visit to Kazakhstan, which is scheduled for 5-6 December, has now becomethe central focus of Russian human rights activists and civil society.

Human rights activists and representatives of the Russian intelligentsia, are anxiously watching the world revert to the era of confrontation between the individual and the dictatorship. And the question which should be given priority – human rights or economic benefit, has once again been included in the list of those most important. We believe that in historical moments such as these, France must demonstrate to the world its commitment to the ideals of democracy, which are endangered in many parts of the world.

Kazakhstan of the Nursultan Nazarbayev era serves as an example of an oppressive authoritarian regime. Throughout all the 23 years of its independence, Kazakhstan has been in the hands of one man, and all attempts to manufacture even a mere opportunity to introduce a political alternative to his regime, have resulted in the persecution of opponents.

The brutal oppression after the Zhanaozen events in December 2011, when a peaceful demonstration of protesting workers of oil-producing companies was dispersed by shooting, led to the almost absolute elimination of dissenters and oppositionists in Kazakhstan.

An example of inhumane oppression was the torture exerted on activist Roza Tuletayeva, who was subsequently sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment. Vladimir Kozlov, the leader of the opposition party ‘Alga’, was arrested and sentenced in a show trial to 7.5 years imprisonment immediately after his return to Kazakhstan, having presented a report, prepared by human rights activists, in the European Parliament and the European Commission. The report regarded the issues of torture and the falsification of the parliamentary elections of 2012 in Kazakhstan.

Journalists of independent Kazakh press were virtually prohibited from conducting their professional activities, and Kazakh media outlets covering the events of the Zhanaozen oppression, were deemed to be ‘extremist’.

Also, after the presentation of the report regarding incidents of torture in Kazakhstan’s penitentiary system at the annual OSCE conference in Warsaw, a prominent human rights defender, Vadim Kuramshin,was subjected to oppression – he was harshly sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Even those who were forced to flee abroad did not evade persecution. Unfortunately, the French Republic has also become an ally in the war, waged by the Nazarbayev regime against its opponents. Masking its political objectives with allegations of economic crimes, for many years Astana has been striving to get its hands on and eliminate the famous oppositionist and businessman, Mukhtar Ablyazov, and others related to him.

The methods of persecution exerted on Ablyazov comprise many similarities with the political oppression of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Russia and Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine.

I shall refrain from elaborating on the essence of the economic charges, levied against Mukhtar Ablyazov – this is the task of a court. However, the court in this case should be independent; taking into account the politically motivated persecution of the Kazakh oppositionist, and most importantly, the country in which the trial takes place must ensure the security of the life and health of the Kazakh dissident.

Unfortunately, neither the authoritarian Russia nor Ukraine, currently engulfed in war (the countries to which, by the decision of the French court, Mukhtar Ablyazov is to be extradited) meet any of these conditions. In addition, Kazakhstan is Russia’s main ally in Central Asia. The rendering of Mukhtar Ablyazov to Russia is actually tantamount to his rendering into the hands of the security services of Kazakhstan, who are not accustomed to complying with the law and who do not, generally, handle their victims fastidiously.

Dear Mr. President,

We hereby appeal to you to raise the issue of the above-cited incidents of mass violations of human rights, as well as the practice of oppressing opposition and independent media outlets, during your official visit to Kazakhstan.

We hope that you will remain faithful to the highest principles of democratic France, and that human rights issues will be one the integral topics to feature in your talks. We hope that no matter how tempting the offers extended to French business as regards access to the natural resources of Kazakhstan, they will not cause you to forget about the obligation to respect human rights and freedoms in the country whose mineral wealth has been exploited almost exclusively to the benefit of corrupt ruling elites for many years.

We believe that even with the keenest interest of the Kazakh authorities in getting their hands on Mukhtar Ablyazov – the main political opponent of President Nazarbayev, France, which has transpired to be an unwitting accomplice in the oppression against him, will not succumb to any promises in exchange for the deportation of Ablyazov to Russia or Ukraine, and in fact, in exchange for his life.

We are certain that you share our hope that the great ideals, for which the blood of participants of the French Revolution, the French freedom fighters, and members of ‘Resistance’ was shed, will not be sacrificed on the altar of mercantilist foreign trade considerations.

Lyudmila Alexeeva, Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Valery Borschev, Member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Svetlana Gannushkina, ‘Civic Assistance’
Lev Ponomarev, All-Russian movement ‘For Human Rights’”
Coordinator of the International Committee for Solidarity
with political prisoners in Kazakhstan

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