In modern Kazakhstan, activists and journalists receive prison terms for civil and trade union activities, for public criticism of the authorities, for participating in peaceful rallies, for publishing and sharing posts on social networks, and for conducting journalistic investigations.
In this report, the Open Dialogue Foundation has presented more than 35 cases of politically motivated prosecution by Kazakhstan:
- 17 people are being held in prison: civil society activists Maks Bokayev, Talgat Ayan, Aron Atabek, Sanat Bukenov and Edige Batyrov; trade union activists Amin Eleusinov and Nurbek Kushakbayev; journalists Seytkazy Matayev, Aset Matayev and Yaroslav Golyshkin; users of social networks Sanat Dosov, Ruslan Ginatullin, Igor Chuprina, Ermek Taychibekov and Igor Sichev; and victims of criminal prosecution against Mukhtar Ablyazov – Mukhtar Dzhakishev and Muratkhan Tokmadi.
- 8 people have received suspended sentences: civil society activists Olesya Khalabuzar, Alima Abdirova and Bolatbek Blyalov; trade union activist Larisa Kharkova; journalists Zhanbolat Mamay, Gyuzal Baydalinova, Amangeldy Batyrbekov and Bigeldy Gabdullin.
- One activist is being forcibly held in a mental hospital: Natalia Ulasik.
- With regard to 2 activists, the prosecution continues: Makhambet Abzhan (he is being held in detention) and Marat Dauletbayev.
- With regard to more than 5 people, Kazakhstan has carried out politically motivated prosecution with the use of the INTERPOL mechanisms, extraditions and international legal assistance: victims of the criminal case against Mukhtar Ablyazov, namely: Anatoliy Pogorelov, Tatiana Paraskevich, the Khrapunov family (Viktor, Leila and Ilyas Khrapunov and others).
- 3 persons who reside outside Kazakhstan, may face prosecution with the use of the aforementioned mechanisms: Dzhamilia Aimbetova-Tokmadi (the wife of the political prisoner Tokmadi), Aidos Sadykov and Natalia Sadykova (journalists).
Having eliminated the systemic opposition, the Kazakhstani authorities began to destroy independent trade unions, as well as neutralise activists who air problems in the regions. Following the closure of all influential non-state media, the authorities intensified the persecution of individual journalists. The media managers who had received the state funding but later came into conflict with the authorities, have also been subjected to persecution.
Bloggers have been sentenced to prison terms for hot political discussions on social networks. Kazakhstan uses totalitarian Soviet practice, inculcating fear of any talk about politics in the society.
In the fight against dissent, Kazakhstan’s authorities are increasingly frequently using ‘punitive psychiatry’. Activists file complaints with law enforcement agencies. In response, the authorities initiate criminal proceedings against the complainants themselves and forcibly send them for a psychiatric examination.
Oppressive articles of the new Criminal Code are used against representatives of the civil society. The articles used include: ‘inciting social and ethnic discord’ (Article 174 of the Criminal Code), ‘libel’ (Article 130 of the Criminal Code), ‘dissemination of knowingly false information’ (Article 274 of the Criminal Code), ‘knowingly false denunciation’ (Article 419 of the Criminal Code), ‘violation of the order of organising rallies’ (Article 400 of the Criminal Code), ‘provoking people to participate in an illegal strike’ (Article 402 of the Criminal Code).
Given the weak support of the EU countries and the torturous conditions in Kazakhstan’s prisons, illegally accused persons sign statements of ‘repentance’. When they do so, they receive conditional sentences with a ban on engagement in the civil society or journalistic activities. Those who do not ‘admit guilt’, receive prison terms.
Dictator Nazarbayev has governed Kazakhstan for as long as 28 years now. On the eve of the transfer of power to Nazarbayev’s successor, the Kazakhstani regime is experiencing an acute crisis of legitimacy and is heading towards total control over society.
In this situation, an important condition in the negotiation process for the ratification of the EU-Kazakhstan Partnership Agreement should be the immediate release of political prisoners and the cessation of politically motivated prosecution.
2. Civil society activists
Maks Bokayev and Talgat Ayan – civil society activists in the city of Atyrau.
They were accused of ‘incitement of social discord’ (Article 174 of the Criminal Code), ‘dissemination of knowingly false information’ (Article 274 of the Criminal Code) and ‘violation of the order of organising rallies’ (Article 400 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan).
In April 2016, Bokayev and Ayan were participants in mass peaceful rallies against amendments to the Land Code. President Nazarbayev threatened the participants to take ‘the most severe measures’, after which more than 1,000 participants were detained, of which more than 30 protesters were arrested.
According to the prosecutors, Bokayev and Ayan ‘incited discord between the authorities and the people’. The evidence base bears clear signs of falsification. Even the judge stated that the case is ‘political in nature’. On 28 November 2016, the court sentenced Bokayev and Ayan to 5 years’ imprisonment and banned them from engaging in public activities for three years.
Bokayev and Ayan were transferred to Petropavlovsk which is located in the north of Kazakhstan, 1500 km from the city of Atyrau, the place of residence of their family members. Bokayev was denied a transfer to Atyrau. In protest, he went on a hunger strike in June 2017. Ayan was transferred to the colony in Aktobe.
Human rights organisations and representatives of the United Nations strongly condemned the conviction of Bokayev and Ayan. In April 2017, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, having reviewed the case, recommended that the Kazakhstani authorities immediately release Bokayev and Ayan.
Aron Atabek (Aron Edigeyev) – a dissident, poet.
He was accused of ‘organising mass riots’ (Article 241 of the Criminal Code).
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 convicted on the basis of the testimony of two witnesses, who later reported that they had been subjected to torture. On 18 October 2007, the court sentenced Atabek to 18 years in prison. He was transferred from one prison to another several times. 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’. He was diagnosed with ischemic heart disease, cerebrosclerosis and osteochondrosis.
For several years, Kazakhstan has ignored appeals of human rights organisations, urging the authorities to release Atabek from prison.
Sanat Bukenov – a human rights activist from the town of Balkhash.
He was accused of ‘knowingly false denunciation’ (Article 419 of the Criminal Code).
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.
As a result, a criminal case was initiated against Bukenov; in the case, the majority of victims were employees of law enforcement bodies. In October 2016, Bukenov was sent for a compulsory psychiatric examination; as a result, he was declared ‘sane’. He complained about the unbearable conditions in the detention facility. In protest against the actions of law enforcement agencies, Bukenov refused to participate in the court trial.
On 3 March 2017, the court sentenced him to 4 years in prison.
Edige Batyrov – a farmer and civil society activist from the East Kazakhstan Province.
He was accused of ‘knowingly false denunciation’ (Article 419 of the Criminal Code).
Batyrov publicly reported violations that had been committed during the the registration of land, and helped fellow villagers to resolve conflicts with officials. Based on the reports, filed by Batyrov, 18 criminal cases were initiated against local officials.
In July 2015, Batyrov was arrested, after which he was sent for a compulsory psychiatric examination. For a month and a half, Batyrov was held in a mental hospital; the conditions in the hospital were described by him as ‘torturous’. As a result of the examination, he was declared ‘sane’.
The Kazakhstani International Bureau for Human Rights carried out a campaign in defence of Batyrov.
On 18 May 2016, the court sentenced him to 3 years in prison.
Natalia Ulasik – a civil society activist and blogger in the town of Zhezkazgan.
On social networks, Ulasik wrote about social problems and criticised local authorities. Based on the report, filed by her former husband, criminal charges of ‘libel’ were brought against her.
Based on the results of the forensic medical examination, Ulasik was diagnosed with ‘chronic delusional disorder’. On 14 October 2016, the court ordered that she be compulsorily referred to the State Mental Hospital, the most severe hospital of this type, where dangerous criminals are held. According to Ulasik, she is being forced to take medicines causing malaise.
In July 2017, mental hospital doctors stated that there was no need for compulsory treatment of Ulasik, and recommended that she be transferred to a regular hospital near the place of her residence. However, the court found the doctors’ opinion ‘inconclusive’ and labelled Ulasik ‘dangerous for society’. In this case, the court decision mentions a completely different person with a different surname (most likely, the text was copied from a different judgement).
Kazakhstani human rights defender Eugene Zhovtis stated that the case bears signs of punitive psychiatry: ‘Local authorities, which, as it appears, became frustrated with the active blogger, were happy to use their chance to isolate her in a mental hospital, even if only for a while’.
Zinaida Mukhortova – a Kazakhstani human rights activist and counsel from the city of Balkhash.
She was accused of ‘knowingly false denunciation’.
Mukhortova urged the authorities to investigate the information about possible corruption actions of a member of parliament. The court sent Mukhortova for psychiatric examination, as a result of which she was diagnosed with ‘delusional disorder in relation to specific individuals’.” The medical director of the mental hospital stated as follows: ‘Over the last 7-8 years, patient Mukhortova has constantly written complaints’.
For more than 12 months, she was kept in different mental hospitals. Mukhortova was released in December 2014 after repeated appeals from the UN and human rights organisations.
Mukhortova is still obliged to report in the mental hospital every month. She cannot engage in professional activities.
Маkhambet Abzhan – an activist from Astana, a head of the civil society association ‘Shanyrak’.
He was accused of ‘fraud’ (Article 190 of the Criminal Code) and ‘arbitrariness’ (Article 389 of the Criminal Code).
Abzhan has been engaged in protecting the rights of citizens who had invested in housing construction, but never received their apartments. According to the Kazakhstani International Bureau for Human Rights, a statement against Abzhan was filed by a representative of a construction company, who himself is under investigation.
In June 2017, Abzhan was arrested and has since been held in detention.
In August 2016, Abzhan was sentenced to 1 of restraint of freedom, having been convicted of ‘insult and disobedience’ to police officers. Abzhan made attempts to appeal the verdict, but the appellate court increased the term of restraint of freedom for another year and additionally banned him from participating in rallies.
Оlesya Khalabuzar – the former head of civil society organisations ‘Young Professionals Community’ and ‘The Centre for Social and Political Studies’. As an expert, she appeared in the media with critical comments against the authorities.
She was accused of ‘inciting ethnic hatred’ (Article 174).
According to the prosecution, Khalabuzar ‘committed a grave crime against the peace and security of mankind’, as a text of the leaflet was found on her computer, in which ‘information on the negative consequences of amending the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan was presented’ (regarding the Land Reform). The prosecutors assert that the leaflets were disseminated in Almaty.
There are no victims or witnesses in the case. In order to mitigate the sentence, Khalabuzar declared ‘repentance’ at the trial. On 1 August 2017, the court sentenced her to 2 years of restraint of liberty.
When Khalabuzar was prosecuted, she announced her resignation from public activities.
Alima Abdirova – a human rights activist from Aktobe, a former member of the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture.
She was accused of ‘libel’ (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) and ‘failure to execute the court’s verdict’ (Article 430 of the Criminal Code).
In 2014, Abdirova, as a member of the National Preventive Mechanism, visited the Centre for Adaptation of Minors in Aktobe Province. The revealed violations were reported by her in the report to the Ombudsman, where, in particular, she used the phrase: ‘Over the years, the adaptation centre for minors has become morally corrupt: there is no documentation produced whatsoever, there is no work of a psychologist, there is no training for narrow specialists in the rehabilitation of children’. The head of the Centre for Adaptation of Minors had reservations regarding the words ‘morally corrupt’ and filed a lawsuit, claiming the protection of honour.
In May 2016, the court ordered that Abdirova apologise and pay compensation for moral damages in the amount of approx. €1300. She refused to do so, and so, in April 2017, the court additionally imposed on her, a fine of approx. €3200. On 18 September 2017, Abdirova was sentenced to 2 years of restriction of freedom. The human rights activist reported that her accounts had been blocked. She intends to seek the acquittal.
Previously, Abdirova had been subjected to administrative punishments for participation in unsanctioned rallies.
Мarat Dauletbayev – the chairman of the civil society organisation ‘Baikonur For Civil Rights’ (Baikonur is the administrative unit of Kazakhstan, which is rented by Russia).
Dauletbayev was accused of ‘libel’ (Article 130 of the Criminal Code).
On the Facebook page, he published information about the possible theft of precious metals at the Baikonur cosmodrome. The Kazakhstani investigative bodies allege that Dauletbayev is striving to ‘attract attention by a means of discrediting’ Russian officials. At the trial, Dauletbayev stated that he had only informed law enforcement bodies about the incidents of which he had become aware. The criminal case against the activist was referred for further investigation.
Previously, in February 2017, Dauletbayev was sentenced to a year in prison, having been convicted of ‘libel’ against the Mayor of Baikonur. The activist requested that the law enforcement agencies verify the legality of the issuance of land in the city.
In July 2017, local authorities announced that Dauletbayev’s civil society organisation has no right to work in the city until it goes through the registration process in the Ministry of Justice of Russia.
3. Trade union activists in oil companies
Аmin Eleusinov and Nurbek Kushakbayev – leaders of the trade union of the ‘Oil Construction Company’ (Magnistau Province).
Eleusinov was accused of ‘misappropriating another’s property’ (Article 189 of the Criminal Code), as well as ‘insult’, ‘disobedience’ and ‘use of violence’ against a representative of authorities (Articles 378, 379 and 380 of the Criminal Code). Kushakbayev was accused of ‘provoking people to participate in a strike recognised by the court as unlawful’ (Article 402 of the Criminal Code).
On 5 January 2017, more than 600 oil workers of the Oil Construction Company went on a hunger strike in protest against the liquidation of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan. The confederation which had united approx. 100,000 people, wasn’t able to fulfil burdensome requirements of the new registration procedure for trade unions. The Kazakhstani court recognised the oilmen’s hunger strike illegal. The protesters were subjected to fines and dismissals from work.
On 20 January 2017, Kushakbayev and Eleusinov were detained during the hunger strike. On 7 April 2017, Kushakbayev was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. On 16 May 2017, Eleusinov was sentenced to two years in prison. According to the court judgement, Kushakbaev and Eleusinov were banned from engaging in public activities for two years and five years, respectively. The court also ordered them to pay to the oil company, large amounts of money in ‘damages’ (Kushakbayev – more than €60,000, while Eleusinov – more than €20,000). During the criminal prosecution, Eleusinov signed a statement of ‘repentance’ in exchange for mitigating the punishment.
International human rights organisations and the international confederation of trade unions expressed their outrage with the fact that Eleusinov and Kushakbayev were convicted for their legitimate work to protect labour rights.
Larisa Kharkova – former chairperson of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions.
She was accused of ‘abuse of power ’ (Article 250 of the Criminal Code).
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.
The international community sharply criticised the criminal prosecution of Kharkova.
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. In addition, the court imposed on Kharkova ‘forced labour for 100 hours a year’, although there is no such concept in the Kazakhstani legislation. Perhaps the court had in mind ‘public works’, but this type of punishment is not envisaged for the crime, incriminated to Kharkova.
Kharkova claims to be shadowed by unknown persons. In September 2017, her son’s car was set on fire, but, according to her, the police refused to conduct a proper investigation.
4. The journalists
Seytkazy Matayev – the chairman of the Union of Journalists of Kazakhstan. Аset Matayev – his son, the head of the ‘KazTag’ news agency.
They were accused of embezzlement of funds that were allocated for the promotion of the state information policy (Article 190 of the Criminal Code). Seytkazy Matayev also faced charges of tax evasion (Article 245 of the Criminal Code).
Seytkazy Matayev stated that this criminal case has been orchestrated on political grounds by high-ranking officials who seek to control the Union of Journalists of Kazakhstan and the news agency ‘KazTag’.
On 3 October 2016, the court sentenced Seytkazy Matayev to 6 years in prison (subsequently, his term of punishment was reduced by half under amnesty). Aset Matayev was sentenced to 5 years in prison. The court forbade them from holding senior positions for life (subsequently, the appellate court reduced the ban to 10 years).
In its resolution on freedom of opinion in Kazakhstan (of 10 March, 2016), the European Parliament called on the Kazakhstani authorities to cease the persecution of the Matayev family. The US Embassy in Kazakhstan, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, Article 19, and the International PEN Club labelled the Matayev case ‘an example of restricting media freedom in Kazakhstan’.
Yaroslav Golyshkin – a journalist working in the ‘Versiya’ newspaper.
He was accused of ‘extortion’ of money from the Akim of Pavlodar Province (Article 194 of the Criminal Code, Article 132 of the Criminal Code).
Golyshkin conducted a journalistic investigation into the rape case in Pavlodar. The journalist recorded the testimony of two female victims, according to which the son of the Akim of Pavlodar Province participated in the rape. Entrepreneur Nurzhan Suleymenov helped the journalist to establish contact with the girls.
According to media reports, the son of Akim was transferred to the category of witnesses, and the female victims were forced to abandon the charges in exchange for $ 5,000. The criminal case was discontinued.
Shorty after that, information was spread that unknown persons are making attempts to extort $ 500,000 from Akim of Pavlodar Province, threatening to publish the testimonies of the women. According to ‘Adil Soz’, the entrepreneur Nurzhan Suleymenov ‘was caught red-handed when transferring money’. Another suspect was former investigator Farhat Aliyasov. Journalist Golyshkin stated that Suleymenov and Aliyasov had given false testimonies and presented him as ‘the mastermind behind the extortion’.
On 30 October 2015, the court sentenced him to 8 years in prison. ‘Reporters Without Borders’ enunciated that Golyshkin became a victim of fabrication of criminal charges within the framework of a politically motivated criminal case. Also, the human rights organisation ‘Article 19’ stood in defence of the journalist.
Gyuzyal Baydalinova – a journalist of the ‘Nakanune.kz’ online portal.
She was accused of ‘spreading knowingly false information’ (Article 274 of the Criminal Code).
Baydalinova published articles on possible violations in financing of the ‘Kazkommertsbank’ projects. The investigation bodies stated that the articles were ‘propaganda plants’ and they damaged the reputation of the bank. At the same time, the articles suggested that law enforcement agencies had verified the information provided.
The criminal charges are based on Article 274 of the Criminal Code, although the article only appeared in legislation in 2015, while the journalist’s publications date back to 2014.
One of the suspects, journalist Rafael Balgin, ‘repented’ and was transferred to the category of witnesses. Baydalinova refused to sign a statement of ‘repentance’.
On 23 May 2016, the court sentenced Baydalinova to one and a half years in prison. The international community sharply criticised the judgement. On 12 July 2016, by the decision of the Appellate Court, the term of imprisonment was replaced with a suspended sentence. The journalist was released from prison. The portal ‘Nakanune.kz’ was forced to cease its activity.
Аmangeldy Batyrbekov – a journalist from the South-Kazakhstan Province, chairman of the civil society organisation ‘Saryagas-Adilet’.
He was accused of ‘slander against the prosecutor’ (Article 411 of the Criminal Code) and ‘knowingly false denunciation’ (Article 419 of the Criminal Code).
The lawsuit against the journalist was filed by Prosecutor Nurlan Saparov. The journalist had published information about Saparov’s involvement in the fabrication of a certain criminal case. Batyrbekov claims that he cited documentary evidence. On 29 October 2015, the court sentenced him to one and a half years in prison.
The case of Batyrbekov was publicised among human rights activists. On 29 January 2016, the court quashed the conviction, pointing out that Saparov should have filed a lawsuit as an employee of the prosecutor’s office, rather than a private person. As a result, Batyrbekov was released from custody. The prosecutor filed a lawsuit again.
On 19 January 2017, the court acquitted the journalist of ‘false denunciation’, but found him guilty of ‘libel’, sentencing him to one and a half years of restriction of freedom. Batyrbekov sought full acquittal, but the Appellate Court upheld the judgement.
Bigeldy Gabdullin – a former editor-in-chief of the ‘Central Asia Monitor’ newspaper; president of the Kazakhstani PEN club.
He was accused of ‘extortion’ (Article 194 of the Criminal Code).
According to the prosecutors, Gabdullin carried out ‘information attacks on the leaders of state bodies by publishing materials that discredited the reputation of officials’, after which he allegedly demanded that the state financing of his newspaper be increased.
At the trial, Gabdullin ‘pleaded guilty’. On 24 January 2017, he was sentenced to 5 years of restriction of freedom and was banned from holding executive positions for a period of 10 years.
On 11 August 2017, General Prosecutor filed an appeal, demanding that Gabdullin be sentenced to 7 years in prison and deprived of state awards. On 24 August 2017, Gabdullin announced that he ‘is leaving journalism’ and stressed that ‘he remains a strong supporter of President Nazarbayev’. On 29 August 2017, it became known that the General Prosecutor withdrew his appeal.
5. Social media users
Sanat Dosov – a civil society activist and entrepreneur in the city of Aktobe.
He was accused of ‘inciting social hatred’ in publications on Facebook (Article 174 of the Criminal Code). In his posts and comments, he criticised the policies of the President of Russia (in particular, regarding Ukraine), and labelled Putin ‘fascist’ and ‘murderer’.
The Kazakhstani authorities referred to these statements as being ‘extremist’ in nature. According to the counsel, the expert did not find any criminal elements in Dosov’s statements. After that, the expert was questioned by the special services and wrote in the opinion that ‘it does bear signs of incitement to discord’.
At the trial, Dosov announced his ‘repentance’ and ‘support for Nazarbayev’, and also promised ‘not to write any comments’ on social networks. On 27 December 2016, the court sentenced him to 3 years in prison.
Ruslan Ginatullin – a resident of the city of Pavlodar.
He was accused of ‘inciting ethnic hatred’ on social networks (Article 174 of the Criminal Code) and ‘participating in a transnational criminal organisation’ (Article 264 of the Criminal Code).
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. Ginatullin asserts that the video materials are intended to cause a negative attitude towards the policy of the Russian authorities, which undermines interethnic concord.
In addition, Ginatullin was accused of involvement in the activities of the religious organisation ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’, which was recognised as ‘terrorist’ by Russia and Kazakhstan. However, democratic states do not consider this organisation to be terrorist. Between 2010-2012, Ginatullin served a prison sentence due to his membership in ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’. The counsels claim that the new charges are fully based on the materials of the old criminal case.
On 14 December 2016, the court sentenced him to 6 years in prison.
Bolatbek Blyalov – an activist from Astana.
He was accused of ‘inciting social and ethnic hatred’ (Article 174 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan).
The investigation drew attention to Facebook posts and YouTube interviews, in which Blyalov criticised Russia’s policy towards Ukraine, using the term ‘Russian fascism’. The investigation bodies claimed that Blyalov posted this information ‘intentionally, with the purpose bearing signs of incitement of social, national enmity or discord’ – this wording is used by the investigation bodies.
At the trial, Blyalov announced the ‘confession of guilt’. On 21 January 2016, he was sentenced to 3 years of restraint of liberty.
At the moment, Blyalov cannot find a job, or open a bank account, as, on the basis of the judgement, the authorities placed him on the list of persons ‘connected with the financing of terrorism and extremism’.
Igor Chuprina – a resident of North-Kazakhstan Province.
He was accused of ‘inciting ethnic hatred’ on social networks (Article 174 of the Criminal Code) and ‘spreading propaganda of violation of the integrity of the Republic of Kazakhstan’ (Article 180 of the Criminal Code).
In comments on the social network ‘Vkontakte’, he called for the ‘unification’ of Kazakhstan and Russia. These actions, according to the prosecutors, led to ‘the emergence of an unconstitutional type of civil and political behaviour’.
At the trial, Chuprina stated that he had spoken out in the framework of the discussion, and that other users had provoked him. On 5 December 2016, the court sentenced him to five and a half years in prison.
Еrmek Taychibekov – a blogger and entrepreneur in the Zhambyl Province.
He was accused of ‘inciting ethnic hatred’ in publications on Facebook (Article 174 of the Criminal Code).
In his posts, Taychibekov spoke for the ‘unification’ of Russia and Kazakhstan into one State headed by Nazarbayev, as well as the economic and political unification of the EU and the Eurasian Union.
Taychibekov was sent for a compulsory psychiatric examination, according to which he demonstrates ‘signs of a thought disorder in the form of circumstantiality and a tendency to engage in argumentation’. Subsequently, another examination recognised him as ‘capable of taking responsibility for his actions’.
On 11 December 2015, the court sentenced him to 4 years in prison.
Igor Sychev – a resident of the city of Ridder.
He was accused of ‘spreading propaganda of violation of the integrity of the Republic of Kazakhstan’ (Article 180 of the Criminal Code) on the social network ‘VKontakte’.
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.
Igor Sychev is not the author of the survey and he deleted it immediately after the receipt of the claims. He stated that he had accidentally published the survey, the idea of which had been suggested to him by an unknown user. The media watchdog foundation ‘Adil soz’ denied the presence of signs of propaganda of separatism in Sychev’s actions.
On 18 November 2015, the court sentenced him to 5 years in prison.
6. The victims of the prosecution of Mukhtar Ablyazov.
Opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov, whom President Nazarbayev considers his personal enemy, was accused of ‘embezzlement of funds of BTA Bank’. On 9 December 2016, the French Council of State recognised this case as political. Ablyazov’s 13 colleagues and relatives have been granted asylum or additional protection in the EU and the US. INTERPOL removed the names of Ablyazov and several other defendants in the case of BTA Bank from the wanted list.
The Kazakhstani authorities ignored the decisions of France and other EU states and began to look for new ways to place Ablyazov’s name on INTERPOL’s wanted list, and seek his extradition. Kazakhstan intensified the ‘hunt’ for former employees of BTA Bank and Ablyazov’s other colleagues in order to obtain ‘additional testimonies’ against Ablyazov. In addition, Kazakhstan intends to bring against Ablyazov, additional serious charges of murder.
Мukhtar Dzhakishev – the former head of the state company ‘Kazatomprom’.
He was accused of ‘embezzlement of entrusted property’ (Article 176 of the Criminal Code), ‘accepting bribes’ (Article 311 of the Criminal Code) and ‘fraud’ (Article 177 of the Criminal Code).
In 2010 and 2012, two court trials were carried out against Dzhakishev; at the same time, they were accompanied by gross violations. Dzhakishev was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Dzhakishev is a close friend of Ablyazov. In 2009, President Nazarbayev instructed Dzhakishev to ‘convince’ Ablyazov to cease his opposition activities and return to Kazakhstan. Ablyazov refused to accept Nazarbayev’s terms, which, as he said, was the reason for Dzhakishev’s prosecution.
Dzhakishev is being held in Karaganda Province, in one of the most strict regime penal colonies in Kazakhstan. He has been denied transfer to a colony near his place of residence in Almaty Province.
Dzhakishev’s severe chronic diseases – arterial hypertension and left ventricular hypertrophy sharply worsened. Due to excessively high blood pressure, he is at a constant risk of stroke and ischemia. He needs urgent hospitalisation in a public clinic.
The UN Human Rights Committee acknowledged that Kazakhstan had violated the norms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights during the criminal prosecution of Dzhakishev. The UN demanded that the judgement be cancelled and Dzhakishev be released from prison. However, the Kazakhstani authorities refused to comply with the decision of the UN Committee.
Мuratkhan Tokmadi – a Kazakhstani large businessman.
He was accused of ‘extortion’ committed 12 years before. In the detention facility, the representatives of the National Security Committee demanded that Tokmadi ‘confess’ that in 2004, he allegedly committed ‘a murder which was ordered by Mukhtar Ablyazov’. Tokmadi refused to give the testimony, convenient to the investigators. Subsequently, another two criminal cases were initiated against him on charges of ‘possession of weapons’ and ‘murder committed 19 years before.
The counsels became aware of the fact that investigators had promised to create ‘unbearable conditions in the detention centre’ for Tokmadi, should he refuse to give the testimony, convenient for them. Tokmadi’s wife stated as follows: ‘There are traces of torture on his body.’ Still, on 8 August 2017, the General Prosecutor’s Office stated that Tokmadi had ‘fell off a pull-up bar’. He was transferred from the detention facility of the National Security Committee to the hospital.
On 12 September 2017, the Almaty City Prosecutor’s Office stated that ‘Tokmadi expressed the desire to conclude a procedural agreement with the prosecutor in the form of a plea bargain’. According to Tokmadi’s wife, during the recent visit of his counsels, he did not say anything about ‘confession of guilt’. He could only do it under torture – his wife emphasises.
In addition, the authorities left Tokmadi without counsels. By its decision, the prosecutor’s office withdrew Counsels Dzhokhar Utebekov and Alimzhan Oralbay from the case, as they refused to sign a non-disclosure statement regarding the data of the investigation. Tokmadi still had one counsel, Erik Sultanov; however, according to the prosecutor’s office, Tokmadi ‘denied his services’. Tokmadi’s wife asserts that he couldn’t have done it voluntarily.
On 12 October 2017, a statement was published on the website of the Almaty City Court that on 10 October 2017, Tokmadi was sentenced to 3 years in prison, having been convicted of ‘extortion’ (Article 194 of the Criminal Code) and ‘illegal possession of weapons’ (Article 287 of the Criminal Code). “A procedural agreement in the form of a plea bargain was concluded between the defendant M. Tokmadi and the procedural prosecutors. (…) The defendant voluntarily expressed his desire to conclude the agreement without contesting the charges”, the court stated. It is from this message that the media became aware of the fact that the lawsuit against Tokmadi was launched and closed. The authorities claim that the trial was public. Tokmadi’s wife emphasized that her husband was convicted in a closed trial.
Zhanbolat Mamay – a Kazakhstani journalist and former editor-in-chief of the ‘Tribuna’ newspaper.
He was accused of ‘money laundering’ (Article 193 of the Criminal Code).
The charges are fully on the testimony of Zhaksylyk Zharimbetov and his relatives (his sister and her ex-husband). Zharimbetov is a former top manager of BTA Bank and a former colleague of Mukhtar Ablyazov. In January 2017, Zharimbetov was detained in the Istanbul airport, after which the Kazakhstani special services transferred him to Kazakhstan on a chartered plane. At the same time, Great Britain has granted him refugee status in relation to Kazakhstan. After ten days of detention in the Kazakhstani detention facility, Zharimbetov began to ‘actively cooperate with the investigative bodies’ and gave evidence against Ablyazov.
The investigative bodies stated that between 2011-2014, on the instruction of Ablyazov, Zharimbetov passed certain amounts of money to the journalist Mamay through third parties; the money was used to issue the newspaper. At the trial, Mamay stated that he was not familiar with Ablyazov. According to Mamay, between 2013-2014, Zharimbetov provided sponsorship assistance, but ‘never interfered in the editorial policy’.
The court concluded that the money that was transferred to Mamay was ‘stolen from BTA Bank’. At the same time, according to the prosecutors, Mamay received money between 2011-2014, while the decision of the Kazakhstani court against Ablyazov and Zharimbetov was only issued in June 2017 (on the basis of Zharimbetov’s testimony, the court sentenced Ablyazov in absentia to 20 years in prison).
In fact, the Kazakhstani authorities consider all Ablyazov’s financial means ‘stolen from BTA Bank’. Therefore, any use of this money is labelled ‘money laundering’. Thus, a clear signal was given to journalists and activists: they may be subjected to criminal liability for any links with Ablyazov. The prosecutor asked Mamay the question: “You issued articles about Ablyazov, and so, can it be fairly concluded that you supported the actions of Ablyazov, his family, etc.?”. This means that any Kazakhstani media, which doesn’t quote solely the position of the authorities, when covering the case of Ablyazov, will fall into disgrace.
On 7 September 2017, the court sentenced Mamay to 3 years of restriction of freedom and imposed on him, a three-year ban on engagement in journalistic activities. After six months in prison, the journalist was released. The newspaper ‘Tribune’ ceased its activity.
7. Persons who may face prosecution by Kazakhstan’s authorities through the Interpol mechanisms, interstate mutual assistance in criminal cases, or extradition requests
Dzhamilia Aimbetova-Tokmadi – Muratkhan Tokmadi’s wife. She gave publicity to the case of Tokmadi, in particular, during meetings with representatives of the European Parliament, OSCE and PACE. After that, the investigators began to threaten her with criminal prosecution. She was forced to leave Kazakhstan.
Аnatoliy Pogorelov – former top manager who was pursued by INTERPOL on the request of Kazakhstan as a defendant in the case of the BTA Bank. Currently, Pogorelov resides in the United Arab Emirates, which is not a party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Kazakhstani authorities can kidnap Pogorelov from the UAE. He is striving to receive the opportunity to travel to a secure State.
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. In 2014 and 2015, the Czech Republic provided Paraskevich with additional protection. Recently, she has applied for an extension of the status. Counsels of the nationalised Kazakhstani BTA Bank repeatedly appealed to the Czech law enforcement agencies to prevent the granting of international protection to Paraskevich.
Through the INTERPOL mechanisms, extradition requests and interstate cooperation on criminal cases, Kazakhstan pursues the Khrapunov family (Viktor Khrapunov, Leyla Khrapunova, Ilyas Khrapunov and other family members). The Kazakhstani authorities demanded that they break off relations with Ablyazov and testify against him. They refused to do so. In addition, Viktor and Leila Khrapunov have a long-standing conflict with Dariga Nazarbayeva, the daughter of the President of Kazakhstan. Viktor Khrapunov is the author of the book ‘About the dictatorship of Nursultan Nazarbayev’.
The authorities of Kazakhstan labelled the Khrapunov family ‘a criminal group’ and instituted against them, more than 20 criminal cases on charges of financial crimes. For example, according to the Kazakhstani authorities, Ilyas Khrapunov ‘was the head of a criminal group’ as early as in 1997, when he was 14 years old.
Switzerland has twice (in 2011 and in 2014) refused to extradite Viktor Khrapunov to Kazakhstan. Members of the Khrapunov family have a residence permit in Switzerland. The Kazakhstani authorities have filed a request with the Swiss law enforcement authorities to initiate criminal proceedings in Switzerland. In the framework of cooperation with Kazakhstan, Ukraine sent an extradition request to Switzerland regarding Ilyas Khrapunov. Also, Kazakhstan filed civil lawsuits in Great Britain and the US against several members of the Khrapunov family.
Aidos Sadykov – a Kazakhstani oppositionist, a member of the steering committee of the ‘Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’, an opposition movement whose activities were launched by Mukhtar Ablyazov.
Natalia Sadykova – a Kazakhstani journalist, against whom the authorities of Kazakhstan have brought criminal charges of ‘libel’. In November 2014, the Sadykov family were granted refugee status in Ukraine.
In 2016, they created a portal ‘Base’, which highlights the problems of human rights and corruption in Kazakhstan. After that, in October 2016, Sadykova learned from a reliable source that the Kazakhstani authorities intend to seek the extradition of the Sadykovs or may even resort to their kidnapping. This information was widely publicised, after which, according to Sadykova, no new incidents of threats have been recorded.
8. Conclusions and recommendations
Until recently, Kazakhstan declared its adherence to democratic values. Currently, Kazakhstan, being Russia’s closest ally, is on a par with other authoritarian states of Central Asia. The situation with human rights in the country has deteriorated sharply.
Kazakhstan bluntly violates the provisions of the ratified International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The authorities of the country ignored the recommendations of the EU and the UN by adopting oppressive criminal legislation. Kazakhstan systematically fails to follow the decisions of the UN bodies on the release of political prisoners (Maks Bokayev, Talgat Ayan, Mukhtar Dzhakishev).
Kazakhstan has systematically abused the INTERPOL mechanisms and international cooperation on criminal cases. In most cases, it is a question of ‘hunting down’ of former colleagues of Ablyazov in order to obtain new testimonies against him.
Despite the obvious political rollback to authoritarianism, Kazakhstan, due to the presence of large amounts of valuable minerals, continues to be an important economic partner for the countries of the West, thus maintaining high positions in the international arena. In December 2015, the enhanced partnership and cooperation agreement between the EU and Kazakhstan was signed in Astana. In June 2016, Kazakhstan was elected non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for a period of two years. In March 2016, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker labelled Nazarbayev ‘a good friend’ who is ‘sensitive’ to human rights issues.
Such an assessment is sharply at odds with the real state of affairs in Kazakhstan. If the West, guided by economic interests, will pursue a policy of double standards and turn a blind eye to the curtailment of human rights in the country, this will help toughen the authoritarian regime of Nazarbayev and create new security threats in the region.
The resolution of the European Parliament of 9 March 2016 states that the strengthening of economic and political cooperation in accordance with the agreement between the EU and Kazakhstan “must be based on shared values and correspond to an active and concrete engagement by Kazakhstan to conduct political and democratic reforms”.
The desire to maintain their positive image forces the Kazakhstani authorities to make concessions from time to time in the cases of political prisoners. The consistent pressure from the international community has led to the release of Natalia Sokolova, Vladimir Kozlov, Zinaida Mukhortova, Gyuzyal Baydalinova, Zhanbolat Mamay and oil workers of Zhanaozen, and helped prevent the arrest of representatives of independent media and the civil society. The firm position of the international community will help save lives of activists, journalists and political prisoners in Kazakhstan.
The Open Dialogue Foundation hereby calls on the international community (the EU, the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, PACE as well as the governments and parliaments of democratic states) to increase pressure on the Kazakhstani authorities in order to bring about the release of political prisoners and the cessation of political oppression. In order to achieve this goal, we consider it necessary:
- In the course of international contacts with representatives of the Kazakhstani authorities, raise the issue of the release of political prisoners, as well as discontinuation of politically motivated criminal prosecutions in the country. The issue of economic and political cooperation should be made directly dependant on the observance of human rights (in particular, the freedom of speech as well as the freedom of assembly and association) in Kazakhstan.
- Participate in the monitoring of politically motivated cases. To this end, it is necessary to have diplomatic representations of democratic countries in Almaty, which is the largest city in the country and the centre of opposition activity. The majority of politically motivated court trials are held in Almaty.
- To promote the provision of qualified legal assistance for persons prosecuted for political reasons.
- To demand from the Kazakhstani authorities that they provide information about the details of the criminal prosecution, the state of health and conditions of detention in places of imprisonment of persons subjected to politically motivated criminal prosecution.
- The condition for signing a new partnership agreement with the EU should be the release of political prisoners, the exclusion of explicit politically motivated articles from the Criminal Code, and compliance by Kazakhstan with obligations to protect the freedom of speech as well as the freedom of assembly and association.
- The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) should take into account the problem of human rights violations in Kazakhstan when considering the issue of closer cooperation with Kazakhstan.
- Within the framework of preparation for the planned report on the relations between the Council of Europe and Kazakhstan (Rapporteur Axel Fischer), the Council of Europe’s Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy should carefully analyse and take into account, the incidents of Kazakhstan’s repeated violation of freedom of speech as well as the freedom of assembly and association.
- Introduce personal sanctions against persons involved in politically motivated criminal prosecutions in Kazakhstan.
All those wishing to support our demands are welcome to send their statements to the following persons and institutions:
- PACE President Stella Kyriakides — e-mail: [email protected];
- OSCE PA Presidente Christine Muttonen— e-mail: [email protected], tel: +43 (1) 401 10 3660, +43 (1) 401 10 3444;
- The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker– 1049 Brussels, Belgium Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200, e-mail: [email protected];
- The Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland – e-mail: [email protected], tel: + 33 (0)3 88 41 20 00;
- United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein – Palais des Nations CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, tel: +41 22 917 9220;
- Secretary General of the OECD Angel Gurria – 75775 Paris Cedex 16, 2, rue André Pascal, tel.: +33 1 45 24 82 00;
- NATO PA President Paolo Alli – 1000 Brussels, Belgium, 3 Place du Petit Sablon, a form for online requests: http://www.nato-pa.int/Default.asp?SHORTCUT=2098, tel: +32(0)2 513 28 65;
- US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – a form for online requests: https://register.state.gov/contactus/contactusform;
- United States House of Representatives – Washington, DC 20515, tel: (202) 224-3121, http://www.house.gov/contact/;
- Chairman of the US Helsinki Commission Senator Chris Smith – 20515, Washington, D.C., USA, 2373 Rayburn House Office Building, tel: +1 (202) 225 37 65;
- Office of the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau – ON K1A 0A2, Ottawa, 80 Wellington Street.
- OSCE PA Chair of the Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian QuestionsIgnacio Sanchez Amor – e-mail: [email protected], tel: +34 91 390 6919;
- European Parliament President Martin Schulz – 1047 Brussels, Belgium, Bât. Paul-Henri Spaak 09B011, Rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60, e-mail: [email protected], tel: +32(0)2 28 45503 (Brussels), +33(0)3 88 1 75503 (Strasbourg);
- EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini– 1049 Brussels, Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200, e-mail: [email protected], tel: +32 2 584 11 11; +32 (0) 2 295 71 69;
- The Head of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs David Mcallister – 1047 Brussels, Belgium, Bât. Altiero Spinelli 05E240, Rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60, e-mail: [email protected], tel: +32(0)2 28 45323 (Brussels), +33(0)3 88 1 75323 (Strasbourg);
- The Head of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights Antonio Panzeri – 1047 Brussels, Belgium, Bât. Altiero Spinelli 11G354, Rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60, e-mail: [email protected], tel: +32(0)2 28 45846 (Brussels), +33(0)3 88 1 75846 (Strasbourg);
- EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis- e-mail: [email protected], tel: +32(0)2 584 230;
- The President of the European Council Donald Tusk-– 1048 Brussels, Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 175, e-mail: [email protected], tel: +32 2 28 15650;
- Prime Minister of UK Theresa May- SW1A 2AA, London, 10 Downing Street;
- Prime Minister of FranceÉdouard Philippe– 75007, Paris, Hôtel de Matignon 57, rue de Varenne;
- Prime Minister of ItalyPaolo Gentiloni- 00187, Rome, Palazzo Chigi Piazza Colonna 370, e-mail: [email protected], тел: +39 06 6779 1.