It falls upon France to protect the refugee on its soil. A withdrawal of Ablyazov’s asylum status and his expulsion under Kazakhstan’s influence, if effective, would be a dangerous precedent and further encouragement for autocrats to weaponize the law against their opponents, making a mockery of French, European and international justice.
We, the representatives of international human rights organisations and rule of law defenders, express grave concern over the latest, highly questionable decision ordering the Kazakh opposition leader and political refugee Mukhtar Ablyazov to leave France. The police order follows the controversial decision stripping him of political refugee status (while his appeal is still pending). We hereby urge you to prevent the execution of the expulsion order, as it would violate international human rights agreements, put his life and activity in extreme danger, as well as constitute a gross misuse of the French and European justice systems by an authoritarian state.
On 29 September 2020, the National Court of Asylum of France (CNDA) recognized Mukhtar Ablyazov as political refugee and annulled the decision of 31 May 2018 by the Director of the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (“OFPRA”) refusing him this status. Surprisingly, the CNDA’s decision was appealed by OFPRA, whose motives are hard to understand unless one recalls France’s economic links with Kazakhstan.
In December 2021, the Conseil d’État (French highest administrative court) overturned the CNDA’s 2020 decision and referred Mukhtar Ablyazov’s asylum case for reconsideration back to CNDA. Not denying the political motive of Ablyazov’s prosecution, his credible fear for his life, nor well- established facts of political interference by Kazakhstan with the British, French and other justice systems, in 2022, CNDA overturned its own 2020 verdict granting Ablayzov refugee status.
CNDA’s new decision stated there were substantial grounds to regard Ablyazov as guilty of “a serious non-political crime”. The justification was solely based on the past British civil courts judgements concerning multiple commercial disputes in London. The claims were launched by Kazakh authorities, who concealed their involvement behind the façade of BTA Bank (formerly owned and controlled by Ablyazov). Since its nationalisation, BTA Bank was brought to bankruptcy and is kept in existence solely to transnationally pursuing Ablyazov and his associates worldwide. CNDA arbitrarily diregarded that the UK judgments were made against Mukhtar Ablyazov in a non-adversarial civil proceedings, without Ablyazov having had the opportunity to defend himself. CNDA also disregarded its own extensive reasoning of the 2020 decision, including the fact that – apart from political, unreliable prosecutions in Kazakhstan and Russia – Mukhtar Ablyazov has never been found guilty of any crime, and that the series of decision of several other European states which have refused to prosecute him, regarding all the charges and claims originating in Kazakhstan as fabricated and groundless.
As of now, Ablyazov’s appeal against the latest CNDA’s revoking his asylum status awaits examination by the Conseil d’État. Therefore, a final decision is yet to be made.
The order from the Police Prefect to leave the country within 30 days, handed to Ablyazov on 30 June 2023, appear to violate both the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as well as the French law, depriving the Kazakh opposition leader – before his fate is decided – the right to be heard by a court. The order was issued with violation of Ablyazov’s residence permit and despite the fact that his refugee application have not yet been finally examined. The order contained no specific legal grounds, it stated no legal and factual considerations, and was not even signed by the Police Prefect nor anyone duly authorised (in direct violation of the law). Ablyazov was summoned to the police prefecture under false pretences (allegedly for an asylum examination). Moreover, this police order cannot be carried out because an investigating judge has issued a judicial review order prohibiting Ablyazov from leaving the country. This judicial review order was issued in connection with a politically motivated criminal investigation opened against Ablyazov in France for alleged fraud and money laundering. The complaint against Ablyazov in France was once again made by BTA Bank that is utilised by the goverment of Kazakhstan as an instrument for transnational repressions. This criminal investigation was initiated by the judicial authorities of Kazakhstan through diplomatic channels with to the Minister of Justice of France.
Given the years-long history Ablyazov’s and his associates’ prosecution by Kazakhstan, involving fabrication of evidence, employment of extrajudicial means including illegal surveillance, stalking, abductions, threats, torture, assassination attempts and political murders as well as public campaigns of discrediting, bribery of officials, diplomatic and economic pressure on foreign governments – as evidenced not only by numerous press reports but also earlier French court rulings – the degree of danger he has been subjected to, cannot be overstated. It falls upon France to protect the refugee on its soil. An arbitrary withdrawal of his asylum status and his expulsion under Kazakhstan’s influence, if effective, would be a dangerous precedent and further encouragement for autocrats to weaponize the law against their opponents, making a mockery of French, European and international justice.
Since the rejection of Ablyazov’s extradition to Russia and release from custody in 2016, he has remained the instrumental figure to the Kazakh democratic opposition. In 2017, he reactivated the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK; initially established in 2001) and as its leader – from his exile in Paris – campaigned for democratic reform of the country and its geopolitical shift towards the Western partners – instead of the current cooperation with authoritarian, hostile powers of Russia and China. DCK has quickly become the driving force of the opposition, mobilising thousands of people to participate in peaceful rallies, defending civil and political rights. Predictably, on March 13, 2018, a district court in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, ruled that the DCK was an “extremist organisation” and banned its activities throughout Kazakhstan, including online and on social media networks. Subsequently, hundreds of people were imprisoned for their affiliation with DCK on the “participation in an extremist organisation” charges.
In January 2022, President of Kazakhstan Tokayev called for Russian military support to quash the country-wide mass peaceful protests. There are documented cases of severe torture of dozens of peaceful protesters being forced to give false testimony that the alleged unrest during the protests was organised by Mukhtar Ablyazov. Tokayev’s shoot-to-kill order and violent intervention of foreign troops led to the massacre of at least 256 people as of now identified by human rights defenders. The events were followed by a massive wave of repression, condemned, i.e., by the European Parliament. Nowadays, even a loose or imagined association with Ablyazov, DCK and other related organisations may, for a Kazakh citizen, result in serious financial fines and prison terms. There are political prisoners in Kazakhstan jailed as alleged “extremists for their social media interactions with Ablyazov’s profiles.”
Following Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine, Ablyazov, with the help of civil society groups, co- launched a campaign documenting the fast-growing volume of economic cooperation between Russia, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries aimed at evading sanctionson Russia imposed by democratic countries. Ablyazov’s extensive social media presents and comprehensive reports, established him as a prominent opinion-maker in Kazakhstan and Ukraine. His revelations about actual business ties between the regimes further fueled their anger against him.
Apart from Kazakhstan, Russia and, possibly, other countries influenced by them, no state is likely to allow Ablyazov to enter its territory as he has no valid identification documents. Ablyazov was also almost completely deprived of his livelihood, his family is scattered across Europe for security reasons, and any forced change of his place of living makes him even more vulnerable to further attacks. In particular, the French press reported him being targeted with assassination attempts. As a person hunted by Russia and Kazakhstan, he can easily become subjected to another extradition request that, even in a democratic country, may bring him into custody and prolonged proceedings for years, repeating the path he has suffered in France since 2013. It would also mean a paralysis of his activities, to the detriment of democratic movements in Kazakhstan, and the advantage of its oppressive regime. If ever expelled to Kazakhstan, Russia or its allies, Ablyazov would face imminent torture, a show trial and death.
The world’s leading human rights organisations and civil society representatives have for years advocated against the extradition of Ablyazov and for his protection in France. In light of the above, once again we feel obliged to speak firmly in his defence, and, by extension, in support of Kazakh civil society struggling against oppression. Hope represented by Ablyazov and his unwavering resistance to dictatorship must not be killed.
We call to stop the expulsion of Mukhtar Ablyazov, restore his asylum status and put an end to his persecution by Kazakhstan in France. Will the homeland of human rights cease to serve as a playground for transnational repression orchestrated by dictators and kleptocrats?
Lyudmyla Kozlovska, President of the Open Dialogue Foundation; coordinator of the human rights monitoring group #ActivistsNotExtremists, Ukraine
Bakhytzhan Toregozhina, Head of the human rights organization “Ar-Rukh-Hak”, Kazakhstan
Yevgeniy Zhovtis, human rights defender, Director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Kazakhstan
Svetlana Gannushkina, human rights advocate, Founder and Chairperson of the Civic Assistance Committee and the Board member of the International Memorial, Russia
Antonio Stango, President of the Italian Federation for Human Rights – Italian Helsinki Committee, Professor of International Organisations and Human Rights at Rome Link Campus University, Italy
Oleksandra Matviichuk, human rights lawyer, Head of the Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine
Lev Ponomarev, President of the Andrei Sakharov Institute, Russia
Prof. Dimitry Kochenov, Lead Researcher, Rule of Law Group, Central European University
Prof. Wojciech Sadurski, Challis Chair in Jurisprudence, University of Sydney and University of Warsaw
Prof. Paul Craig, Emeritus Professor of English Law, St John’s College, Oxford
Prof. Grainne de Burca, Director, Jean Monnet Center for International and Regional Economic Law & Justice, New York University and European University Institute
Prof. Martin Krygier, Gordon Samuels Professor of Law and Social Theory, University of New South Wales and Senior Research Fellow, Rule of Law Group, Central European University
Prof. Gábor Halmai, European University Institute, Robert Schuman Centre of Advanced Studies
Quentin Guillemain, President of the NGO Cosmopolitan Project Foundation, Whistleblower illegally monitored by Kazakhstan in the context of the PEGASUS affair, France
Gennady Gudkov, opposition politician from Russia, the Russian democratic club in France
Human Rights Protection Foundation “Qaharman”, Kazakhstan
Human rights movement “405”, Kazakhstan
Human Rights Initiative “Bostandyq Kz”, Kazakhstan
The human rights movement “Veritas”, Kazakhstan
Human Rights Movement “Femina Virtute”, Kazakhstan
Human rights movement “Article 14”, Kazakhstan
The Human Rights movement “Elimay”, Kazakhstan