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Report: The list of Kazakhstani political prisoners and other victims of politically motivated prosecution (updated)

1. Introduction

Thus far, more than 38 cases of politically motivated criminal prosecution have been registered in Kazakhstan. Of these, 24 political prisoners are being held in prisons and detention facilities, or even (in two cases) in mental hospitals.

24 people have been incarcerated:

  • civil society activists: Maks Bokayev, Aron Atabek, Sanat Bukenov, Yedige Batyrov, Makhambet Abzhan, Yerzhan Orazalinov, Vadim Kuramshin; 
  • trade union activists: Amin Eleusinov and Nurbek Kushakbayev;
  • Mukhtar Dzhakishev, the former head of ‘Kazatomprom’;
  • Journalists: Aset Matayev and Yaroslav Golyshkin;
  • Saken Tulbayev, persecuted for his religious activities; 
  • social networks users: Sanat Dosov, Ruslan Ginatullin, Igor Chuprina and Igor Sychev;
  • Aset Nurzhaubay, Kenzhebek Abishev and Almat Zhumagulov (all of whom are being held in detention); they have become victims of the state authorities’ struggle against the opposition movement ‘Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’ (DCK);
  • victims of the criminal case carried out against the opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov: Iskander Yerimbetov (currently being held in a detention facility) and Muratkhan Tokmadi (serving a prison sentence);
  • victims of ‘punitive psychiatry’: Ardak Ashim and Natalia Ulasik (forcibly committed to a mental hospital).

Incidents of torture and ill treatment have been registered with regard to Mukhtar Dzhakishev, Muratkhan Tokmadi and Iskander Yerimbetov. Despite the fact that Dzhakishev is suffering from life-threatening diseases, the authorities of Kazakhstan have not provided him with effective medical treatment and, in April 2018, they did not allow international observers to visit him.

The Kazakhstani authorities have been ignoring the UN bodies’ demands to release Maks Bokayev and Mukhtar Dzhakishev.

The cases of Ardak Ashim and Natalia Ulasik have become new examples of the use of ‘punitive psychiatry’ by the Kazakhstani authorities in their fight against dissent.

Eight persons have been subjected to measures of restraint:

  • civil society activists: Olesya Khalabuzar, Alima Abdirova and Bolatbek Blyalov;
  • trade union activist Larisa Kharkova;
  • journalists: Zhanbolat Mamay, Amangeldy Batyrbekov and Bigeldy Gabdullin;
  • victim of criminal prosecution in connection with the ban on the opposition movement DCK, Akmaral Tobylova; a measure of restraint unrelated to detention has been applied with regard to her.

In most cases, court sentences imposing restriction of liberty provide for a ban on engaging in civil society or journalistic activities. Some of the convicts have been placed on the ‘list of organisations and individuals associated with the financing of terrorism and extremism’. As a consequence, their bank accounts have been blocked; they cannot carry out any banking operations and they experience difficulties in finding a job. The same restrictions have been imposed on some former political prisoners, including Vladimir Kozlov.

Restriction of liberty is frequently applied to those who, under torture or the influence of severe conditions in prisons in Kazakhstan, have signed statements of ‘repentance’.

At least six persons have become victims of politically motivated prosecution through misuse of INTERPOL mechanisms, extradition and international legal assistance:

  • Zhanara Akhmetova, a journalist and activist of the opposition movement DCK, which has been banned in Kazakhstan;
  • victims of the criminal case against oppositionist Mukhtar Ablyazov: Anatoliy Pogorelov, Tatiana Paraskevich, the Khrapunov family (Viktor, Leila and Ilyas Khrapunov, etc.). 

In Kazakhstan, activists and journalists are subjected to criminal prosecution and sentenced to prison terms for civil society and trade union activities, participation in peaceful rallies, criticism of the authorities and for public manifestation of dissent, such as publishing posts, comments and ‘likes’ on social networks. The authorities resort to mass intimidation and control over society. The authoritarian regime in Kazakhstan is gradually taking on the hallmarks of a totalitarian regime.

Another wave of prosecution is connected with the fact that in March 2018, the authorities of Kazakhstan banned the opposition movement DCK, having convicted the organisation of ‘inciting social discord’ and ‘creating a negative image of the authorities’. The decision of the Kazakhstani court provides for long prison terms (up to 17 years) for the slightest support of the DCK and its leader Mukhtar Ablyazov. Several citizens of Kazakhstan have already been prosecuted for reading and discussing DCK materials on the Internet. At the same time, the authorities tend to label inconvenient persons ‘supporters of the DCK’.

This report presents the most high-profile cases of politically motivated prosecution in Kazakhstan. In addition to them, there are other cases that have not been publicised. Frequently, being isolated, victims of political persecution cannot address the media or human rights defenders, or they are afraid to do so due to threats by the authorities. In addition, right now, following the court’s decision to ban the DCK, a significant number of citizens of Kazakhstan is under the threat of criminal prosecution (on the messaging app Telegram, the DCK support group has approx. 100,000 subscribers).

The Open Dialog Foundation is carrying out the monitoring of the cases of politically motivated prosecution in Kazakhstan. We do not share the views and opinions of the individuals presented in this report.

2. Persons in detention

A) Those serving time in prison

Maks Bokayev – civil society activist in the city of Atyrau. In April 2016, Bokayev was participant in mass peaceful rallies against amendments to the Land Code. He was accused of ‘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).

On 28 November 2016, the court sentenced Bokayev to 5 years’ imprisonment and banned him from engaging in public activities for three years. Kazakhstan has yet to fulfil the demand of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to release Bokayev.

Aron Atabek (Aron Edigeyev) – a dissident, poet. 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 ‘organising mass riots’ (Article 241 of the CC) 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, 65-year-old Atabek’s health condition has significantly deteriorated; he has been diagnosed with ischemic heart disease, cerebrosclerosis, and osteochondrosis.

Мukhtar Dzhakishev – the former head of the state company ‘Kazatomprom’. He was accused of ‘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. However, Kazakhstan refused to comply with the decision of the UN Committee.

Recently, 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. 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 April 2018, Member of the Polish Sejm Marcin Święcicki and President of the Italian Federation for Human Rights Antonio Stango went to Kazakhstan on an observation mission in order to monitor the observance of human rights. However, the authorities denied their request to visit Dzhakishev.

Аmin Eleusinov – leader of the trade union of the ‘Oil Construction Company’ (Magnistau Province). 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. Eleusinov was accused of ‘misappropriating another’s property’ (Article 189 of the CC), as well as ‘insult’, ‘disobedience’ and ‘use of violence’ against a representative of authorities (Articles 378, 379 and 380 of the CC). 

On 16 May 2017, Eleusinov was sentenced to two years in prison.

Nurbek Kushakbayev – leader of the trade union of the ‘Oil Construction Company’ (Magnistau Province). 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. Kushakbayev was accused of ‘provoking people to participate in a strike recognised by the court as unlawful’ (Article 402 of the CC).

On 7 April 2017, Kushakbayev was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Yaroslav Golyshkin – a journalist working in the ‘Versiya’ newspaper. 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. Golyshkin was accused of ‘extortion’ of money from the Akim of Pavlodar Province (Article 194 of the Criminal Code, Article 132 of the CC).

On 30 October 2015, the court sentenced him to 8 years in prison.

Аset Matayev – the former head of the ‘KazTag’ news agency. He was accused of embezzlement of funds that were allocated for the promotion of the state information policy (Article 190 of the CC).

On 3 October 2016 Aset Matayev was sentenced to 5 years in prison. On 24 April 2018, the court issued a decision to soften the conditions of detention for Aset Matayev: he was transferred to a colony-settlement near his place of residence.

 Sanat Bukenov – a human rights activist from the town of Balkhash. 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. Bukenov was accused of ‘knowingly false denunciation’ (Article 419 of the CC).

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. Batyrov publicly reported violations that had been committed during the registration of land, and helped fellow villagers to resolve conflicts with officials. He was accused of ‘knowingly false denunciation’ (Article 419 of the CC).

On 18 May 2016, the court sentenced him to 3 years in prison.

Sanat Dosov – a civil society activist and entrepreneur in the city of Aktobe. In his posts and comments, he criticised the policies of the President of Russia (in particular, regarding Ukraine), and labelled Putin ‘fascist’ and ‘murderer’. He was accused of ‘inciting social hatred’ in publications on Facebook (Article 174 of the CC).

On 27 December 2016, the court sentenced him to 3 years in prison.

Ruslan Ginatullin – a resident of the city of Pavlodar. 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. He was accused of ‘inciting ethnic hatred’ on social networks (Article 174 of the CC) and ‘participating in a transnational criminal organisation’ (Article 264 of the CC).

On 14 December 2016, the court sentenced him to 6 years in prison. 

Igor Chuprina – a resident of North-Kazakhstan Province. In comments on the social network ‘Vkontakte’, he called for the ‘unification’ of Kazakhstan and Russia. He was accused of ‘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).

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. 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. He was accused of ‘spreading propaganda of violation of the integrity of the Republic of Kazakhstan’ (Article 180 of the CC) on the social network ‘VKontakte’.

On 18 November 2015, the court sentenced him to 5 years in prison.

Маkhambet Abzhan – an activist from Astana, a head of the civil society association ‘Shanyrak’. Abzhan has been engaged in protecting the rights of citizens who had invested in housing construction, but never received their apartments. He was accused of ‘fraud’ (Article 190 of the CC) and ‘arbitrariness’ (Article 389 of the CC).

On 27 November, 2017 the court sentenced him to 3,5 years in prison.

Saken Tulbayev is one of many citizens of Kazakhstan who have been convicted of involvement in the religious organisation ‘Tablighi Dzhamaat’ that was banned in Kazakhstan in 2013. Saken Tulbayev was accused of ‘inciting religious hatred’ (Article 174 of the CC). Unlike other ‘religious’ cases, the case of Tulbayev was publicised. He refused to ‘admit his guilt’ and claimed that the criminal charges against him had been fabricated.

On 2 July 2015, Tulbayev was sentenced to 4 years and 8 months’ imprisonment. Human rights activists claimed that hematomas appeared on his body in prison, which may indicate that he had been subjected to torture.

Yerzhan Orazalinov is an environmentalist, a civil activist from Pavlodar, and one of the leaders of the civil society association ‘The World of Ecology’. Orazalinov fought against violators of environmental legislation, including by filing lawsuits and complaints with state bodies. He was accused of ‘extortion’  (Article 194 of the CC). Journalists pointed to accusatory bias and the questionable nature of the evidence base.

On 23 September 2016, the court sentenced Orazalinov to 5 years in prison. Orazalinov labeled this criminal case ‘retaliation for his environmental activities’, which were against the interests of public officials and business managers.

Vadim Kuramshin is a human rights defender; he is engaged in the protection of the rights of prisoners. In December 2012, Vadim Kuramshin was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment in a strict regime colony with confiscation of property having been convicted of extortion (Article 181 of the CC). A jury had previously acquitted Kuramshin, but by decision of the Appellate Court, the case was ordered to be reconsidered. According to human rights activists, Vadim Kuramshin is a ‘prisoner of conscience’ and was convicted due to his activity in the field of human rights protection. In early February 2018, it became known that Kuramshin had been transferred to the unit with ordinary conditions of detention.

Мuratkhan Tokmadi – a Kazakhstani large businessman. He was accused of ‘extortion’ committed 12 years before. He was placed in the detention facility of the NSC, after which injuries were revealed on his body. The prosecutor’s office stated that he ‘fell off a pull-up bar’. According to the available information, employees of the security services tortured Tokmadi, demanding that he ‘confess’ that he had ‘committed a murder on the instruction’ of opposition politician Ablyazov 13 years before. Asaresult, Tokmadipublicly‘confessed’ everything.

In March 2018, the court sentenced Tokmadi to 10 years and 6 months in prison. Now, the Kazakhstani authorities are likely to use the verdict and the testimony obtained from him under torture as an excuse for continuing the prosecution of the opposition leader Ablyazov in the EU.

B) Those being held in a detention facility

Iskander Yerimbetov is a Kazakhstani businessman, the brother of Botagoz Jardemalie who is the counsel of opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov. Jardemalie resides in Belgium, where she has been granted political asylum. Since November 2017, Iskander Yerimbetov has been held in a detention facility in Almaty on charges of ‘money laundering’ (Article 193 of the CC). Yerimbetov stated that, in the detention facility, national security workers demanded that he convince his sister to return to Kazakhstan and give false testimony which would be convenient to the investigative bodies as it was to incriminate Ablyazov.

Yerimbetov has repeatedly reported that he has been subjected to torture in the detention facility. He confirmed these incidents, among others, at meetings with representatives of the EU, Great Britain, Germany, USA and Poland who have been allowed to visit him in the detention facility. Independent human rights activists who visited Yerimbetov in February 2018 also confirmed the fact that he had been subjected to torture. However, all these statements were ignored by the Kazakhstani authorities, and in February 2018 the criminal case concerning torture was closed.

Kenzhebek Abishev is a Kazakhstani poet and blogger. He has become a victim in the Kazakhstani authorities’ fight against the opposition movement ‘Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’ (DCK). Abishev asserts that he does not support the DCK and has nothing to do with the opposition. He has become an ‘accidental’ victim of a criminal case initiated on charges of ‘spreading the propaganda of terrorism’ (Article 256 of the СС). The criminal charges bear signs of fabrication.

Since November 2017, Abishev has been held in detention. In the detention facility, investigators demanded that he sign a testimony confessing his guilt and ‘give an interview or write a post on Facebook’ against opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov. Abishev was threatened that, should he fail to do so, ‘something might happen’ to his wife and 14-year-old daughter. For several weeks, he was held in a cold prison cell (+8°C) without windows, 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.

Almat Zhumagulov is an activist of the opposition movement DCK. Similarly to Abishev, Zhumagulov has been accused of ‘spreading the propaganda of terrorism’ (Article 256 of the СС). They were both accused of preparing a video message with calls for jihad, although neither of them are present in the video material. At the same time, the people who actually recorded the video material remain at large. The events in this case are likely to be a provocation by the Kazakhstani special services in order to discredit the DCK.

Since November 2017, Zhumagulov has been held in detention. In the detention facility, they demanded that he deny the services of his counsel and sign testimony confessing his guilt under the threat that ‘something may happen’ to his children. For several days he was held in a cell on a concrete floor, without windows, in unsanitary conditions.

Aset Nurzhaubay is a 30-year-old resident of Almaty. On 5 April 2018, police officers searched the house of Nurzhaubay and his mother and seized a poster with the inscription ‘Alga DCK’ (‘Go forward DCK’) and paints for artwork. Nurzhaubay was accused of ‘storing and distributing the property of a criminal group’ (Article 266 of the CC) and ‘participating in the activities of an organisation following its recognition as extremist’ (Article 405 of the CC). The same day, he was taken to the police station. Since 7 April 2018, he has been held in detention in a detention facility in Almaty.

Galiya Ospanova, the mother of the arrestee, stated that his son hadn’t been handed the protocol of detention. Aset Nurzhaubay told her that when he had denied the charges, the prosecutor had shouted in response: “Take him and put him behind bars!”

According to Galiya Ospanova, the search was carried out based on the statement of a policeman’s wife about alleged ‘fraud’, but later the case was closed. There is reason to believe that this statement served as a pretence for the search of the house and the prosecution for support of the DCK. Additionally, the mother of Nurzhaubay learned from the investigator that the police had been wiretapping her phone for a month.

C) Those who are being held in a mental hospital – victims of ‘punitive psychiatry’

Ardak Ashim is a Kazakhstani opposition activist and blogger from Shymkent. She has been accused of ‘inciting social discord’ (Article 174 of the CC) for publishing ‘negative comments against the authorities’ on Facebook. During interrogations, she was asked about the opposition movement DCK. On 27 March 2018, the Shymkent court sanctioned the forcible committal of Ashim to a mental hospital for a month. The decision was issued without the participation of the defendant, her relatives or counsels. On 31 March 2018, the police transferred her under escort to a mental hospital.

In April, the court changed the category of the criminal charges against her from ‘inciting social discord’ to less serious ones: ‘insulting a representative of authority’ (Article 378 of the CC), which can be considered the result of international pressure. The relatives of Ashim have received threats from law enforcement agencies. Ashim reported that her health condition has deteriorated and she believes that, in the mental hospital, psychotropic substances are being added to her food in order to make her ‘insane’.

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.

In July 2017, the mental hospital doctors stated that there was no need for compulsory treatment of Ulasik. However, the court considered the doctors’ opinion ‘inconclusive’ and labelled Ulasik ‘a danger to society’. In January 2018, the Kazakhstani authorities issued a permit to transfer her to a milder-regime mental clinic closer to her place of residence.

3. Persons whose freedom has been restricted

A) Those with regard to whom a preventive measure unrelated to detention has been applied

Akmaral Tobylova is one of the victims of criminal prosecution initiated in connection with the ban on the opposition movement DCK. She was accused of ‘financing or providing information services to a criminal group’ (Article 266 of the CC).Tobylova noted that she only read information and discussed the DCK’s manifesto on social networks. In March 2018, the court placed Tobylova under house arrest. Her relatives emphasise that due to her pregnancy, Tobylova needs proper medical care, but because of the house arrest, she could not go to the hospital. Following international publicity about the case, on 12 April 2018, the court revoked the house arrest against Tobylova and released her on bail. Amnesty International recognised Akmaral Tobylova as a prisoner of conscience who is being persecuted for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

In April, a video material was posted on YouTube in which Tobylova claims that she regrets that she was interested in the DCK manifesto, and that she ‘understood’ that ‘Ablyazov’s true goal is to provoke mass riots’. In this video material, Tobylova asserts that she is ‘not a prisoner of the regime in the least’ and also calls on everyone ‘to refuse to participate in the activities of the DCK organisation’, which is ‘pursuing illegal goals’. Given the typical phrases used by the Kazakhstani authorities, there are serious reasons to believe that this statement is the result of pressure exerted on Tobylova.

In addition to Tobylova, there is information available about several other people who have been prosecuted on charges of ‘supporting the DCK’. They include, in particular, Arsen Zhumatayev, Sabyr Kamalbekov, R. Toychiyev, Maygul Sadykova, and others. An investigation is also being conducted against student Dianara Mukatova on charges of ‘inciting hatred’ (Article 174 of the CC), as she shared DCK information materials on Facebook. 

Aktau resident Aygul Akberdiyeva reported that on 6 March 2018, police officers, using force, detained her and her husband, Ablovas Dzhumayev, and carried out a search in their apartment. According to Akberdiyeva, the policemen planted a leaflet with the DCK manifesto in their apartment. They were transported to the police station, where it became known that a criminal case is being carried out against them on charges of ‘inciting hatred’(Article 174 of the CC), and, at the moment, they allegedly have the status of ‘witnesses’. During the interrogation, they were asked ‘why they supported the DCK’, and were also demanded ‘to provide information about other DCK activists’.

Akberdiyeva noted that while she and her husband were being held at the police station, several policemen went to their apartment, where their minor children where staying unattended. According to Akberdiyeva, the police took her daughter’s phone on which her daughter had earlier recorded the search, and deleted the video footage. In addition, according to Akberdiyeva, the investigator demanded that her 16-year-old son appear at the police station and ‘write an explanatory note’. Akberdiyeva and her husband were summoned to the police station several times, where they were warned not to click the ‘Like’ button and ‘not to publish comments’ on social networks, and also were informed that they are being ‘surveilled’.

B) Those sentenced to restriction of freedom

Оlesya Khalabuzar – the former head of civil society organisations ‘Young Professionals Community’ and ‘The Centre for Social and Political Studies’. 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). She was accused of ‘inciting ethnic hatred’ (Article 174 of the CC).

On 1 August 2017, the court sentenced her to 2 years of restraint of liberty. In December 2017, Khalabuzar learned that all her bank accounts, including the one to which child maintenance for her children was paid, had been blocked. The authorities put her on the list of persons ‘associated with the financing of terrorism and extremism’.

Alima Abdirova – a human rights activist from Aktobe, a former member of the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture. 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. Abdirova was accused of ‘libel’ (Article 130 of the CC) and ‘failure to execute the court’s verdict’ (Article 430 of the CC).

On 18 September 2017, Abdirova was sentenced to 2 years of restriction of freedom. In March 2018, Abdirova reported that the police had demanded that she ‘notify’ them, by sending text messages, each time she ‘leaves home’ to go to a shop, a pharmacy, etc. She was threatened that, otherwise, a protocol would be drafted stating ‘her absence at the place of residence’.

Bolatbek Blyalov – an activist from Astana. The investigation drew attention to Facebook posts and YouTube interviews, in which Blyalov criticised Russia’s policy towards Ukraine, using the term ‘Russian fascism’. Blyalov was accused of ‘inciting social and ethnic hatred’ (Article 174 of the CC).

On 21 January 2016, he was sentenced to 3 years of restraint of liberty. Many restrictions have been imposed on Blyalov, also because of the fact that he has been placed on the list of ‘persons associated with the financing of terrorism and extremism’.

Zhanbolat Mamay – a Kazakhstani journalist and former editor-in-chief of the ‘Tribuna’ newspaper. He was accused of ‘money laundering’ (Article 193 of the CC) within the framework of the case of Ablyazov. According to charges, between 2011-2014, Mamay’s newspaper ‘received sponsorship from Ablyazov’, and the authorities labeled it ‘money laundering’. Mamay refused to ‘confess to the crime’, after which he was beaten in the detention facility.

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.

Larisa Kharkova – former chairperson of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions. 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. She was accused of ‘abuse of power ’ (Article 250 of the CC).

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.

Аmangeldy Batyrbekov – a journalist from the South-Kazakhstan Province, chairman of the civil society organisation ‘Saryagas-Adilet’. 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 was accused of ‘slander against the prosecutor’ (Article 411 of the CC) and ‘knowingly false denunciation’ (Article 419 of the CC).

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 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.

Bigeldy Gabdullin – a former editor-in-chief of the ‘Central Asia Monitor’ newspaper; president of the Kazakhstani PEN club. 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. He was accused of ‘extortion’ (Article 194 of the Criminal Code).

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.

4. Released political prisoners whose freedom is still restricted

  • Talgat Ayan is a civil society activist from Atyrau. On 28 November 2016, he was sentenced to 5 years in prison within the framework of the same criminal case as Maks Bokayev. In April 2017, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention demanded that Bokayev and Ayan be released. On 13 April 2018, the Kazakhstani court decided to replace the remaining unserved time on Ayan’s sentence with restriction of freedomThe court decision should enter into force on 29 April 2018, after which Talgat Ayan should be released. In addition to the three-year ban on carrying out public activities, other restrictions have also been Imposed on Ayan, as his name is on the list of persons ‘associated with the financing of terrorism and extremism’.
  • Sayat Ibrayev is the head of the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics of the Kazakhstani Polytechnic Institute, and a member of the Sufi community. In 2011, he was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment, having been convicted of ‘establishing a criminal group’ and spreading ‘extremism’. On 11 April 2018, the court released him on parole. However, at liberty, Ibrayev will still face restrictions, as his name is still on the list of persons ‘associated with the financing of terrorism and extremism’.
  • Zinaida Mukhortova – a Kazakhstani human rights activist and counsel from the city of Balkhash. She urged the authorities to investigate the information about possible corruption actions of a member of parliament. She was accused of ‘knowingly false denunciation’. Counsel Zinaida Mukhortova was held in various mental hospitals for more than a year. She 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.
  • Vladimir Kozlov is a former political prisoner in Kazakhstan. He had supported the Zhanaozen oil workers who were subsequently shot by the police on 16 December 2011. The politician represented the interests of the protesters in the European Parliament, the European Commission and the OSCE. After that, in 2012, he was sentenced to 7.5 years’ imprisonment. Under pressure from the international community Kozlov was released early from prison, in August 2016. However, he is still on the list of persons ‘associated with the financing of terrorism and extremism’, which prevents him from opening bank accounts and creates difficulties in conducting banking operations.

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 listin connection with the political overtones of the criminal charges. 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.

Zhanara Akhmetova is a journalist and activist of the opposition movement DCK. In October, 2017 she was arrested in Kyiv at the extradition request of Kazakhstan. The Migration Service refused to grant Akhmetova, refugee status, but did not inform her about its decision. In official documents, the Kazakhstani authorities indicated the possible place of Akhmetova’s residence in Ukraine. This can be a sign that the Kazakhstani authorities have carried out operational activities in Ukraine, or the intelligence services of both countries have been collaborating. 

Akhmetova was held in a detention facility for more than a month. In November 2017, the court released her, which became possible due to the efforts of human rights organisations, lawyers, the Ombudsman office, as well as MPs who agreed to take her on bail. Currently, Akhmetova is seeking a review of the decision of the Migration Service which refused to grant her asylum. When her litigation with the Migration Service comes to an end, the Ukrainian court will resume consideration of Kazakhstan’s extradition request. Akhmetova is still facing the risk of extradition.

Аnatoliy Pogorelov – former top manager who was pursued by INTERPOL on the request of Kazakhstan as a defendant in the case of the Kazakhstani opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov. 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, but in December 2017, they received a second refusal from the Czech Republic. 

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.  In April 2017, INTERPOL removed Paraskevich’s name from their wanted list.

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 to Kazakhstan twice (in 2011 and in 2014). According to the Khrapunovs, they received a notice from the Swiss authorities stating that they also refused to extradite 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.

On 11 October 2017, in a written declaration, 26 PACE members stated that the case of the Khrapunovs is one of the examples of politically motivated prosecution in Kazakhstan. More than ten Members of the European Parliament mentioned the case of the Khrapunovs in their letters to the Kazakhstani authorities, expressing their concern over the politically motivated oppression in Kazakhstan.

6. Conclusions

Between 10 and 11 May 2018, a monitoring mission by members of the European Parliament will be carried out in Kazakhstan. The purpose of the visit will be to verify the Kazakhstan’s fulfilment of its obligations under the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement concluded between the EU and Kazakhstan. In particular, the question of Kazakhstan’s fulfilment of its obligations in the field of human rights and civil liberties will be analysed.

On the eve of the visit, the Kazakhstani authorities are striving to create the appearance of the regime softening; therefore, they have released some political prisoners. For example, Talgat Ayan’s punishment was changed from a prison term (which hasn’t been served) to restraint of liberty, while in respect of Sayat Ibrayev, a decision was issued to release him early. Still, at the same time, the number of political prisoners in Kazakhstan is growing.

In an attempt to prevent a reduction in the volume of foreign investment in the country’s economy, and to maintain its positive international image, the authorities of Kazakhstan are being forced to make individual concessions in the cases of political prisoners. In recent years, the consistent pressure exerted by the international community brought about the release of numerous people prosecuted for political reasons – in particular, the activist Natalia Sokolova, the politician Vladimir Kozlov, the counsel Zinaida Mukhortova, the journalists Gyuzal Baydalinova and Zhanbolat Mamay, and oil workers of Zhanaozen. The forthcoming visit by members of the European Parliament is another opportunity for the release of Kazakhstani political prisoners and the cessation of politically motivated prosecution.

We hereby call on the members of the European Parliament to visit political prisoners in their places of detention in order to verify the conditions of their detention and the observance of their rights. The Open Dialog Foundation hereby calls on the participants of the monitoring mission of the European Parliament, in their discussions with the authorities of Kazakhstan, to raise the issue of the immediate release of all political prisoners in the country as a condition for the operation of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement concluded between the EU and Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan must implement the UN recommendations and release Mukhtar Dzhakishev and Maks Bokayev. It is necessary to remind the Kazakhstani authorities that systematic violation of human rights and political prosecution will entail sanctions under the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement concluded between the EU and Kazakhstan.

All those willing to support our demands are kindly requested to address the following persons and institutions.

Contacts in Kazakhstan:

  • General Prosecutor of the Republic of Kazakhstan, K.P. Kozhamzharov – 010000, Astana, 14 Mangilik Yel, e-mail: [email protected][email protected]
  • Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan Kalmukhanbet Kasymov – 010000, Astana, 1 Prospekt Tauelsizdik, e-mail: [email protected];
  • Chairman of the National Security Committee of the RK, K.K. Masimov – 010000, Astana, 31/33 Kenesary Street, e-mail: [email protected]
  • Administration of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan – 010000, Astana city, 6 Mangilik El Street, Government House, e-mail: [email protected]
  • Ombudsman in the Republic of Kazakhstan, A.O. Shakirov – 010000, Astana, Left Bank, The House of Ministries, e-mail: [email protected][email protected];
  • Ministry of Justice of Kazakhstan Marat Beketayev – 010000, Astana, Left Bank, Mangilik El street 8, House of Ministries, e-mail: [email protected][email protected].

International contacts:

  • European Parliament President Antonio Tajani – 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);
  • The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker– 1049 Brussels, Belgium Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200, e-mail: [email protected];
  • 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;
  • 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],тел: +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;
  • OSCE PA President George Tsereteli – 1070 Vienna, Austria, Neustiftgasse 3/8, tel.: +43 1 523 3002;
  • OSCE PA Chair of the Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions Ignacio Sanchez Amor – e-mail: [email protected], tel: +34 91 390 6919;
  • The Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland – e-mail: [email protected], tel: + 33 (0)3 88 41 20 00;
  • PACE President Michele Nicoletti – e-mail: [email protected];
  • 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;
  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye – Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, e-mail: [email protected]
  • Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Ms. Annalisa Ciampi – Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, e-mail: [email protected]
  • UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention – United Nations Office at Geneva, 8-14, avenue de la Paix, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, e-mail: [email protected]
  • US Secretary of State – Online request form;
  • The United States House of Representatives – Washington, DC 20515, tel.: (202) 224-3121,;
  • Office of the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau – ON K1A 0A2, Ottawa, 80 Wellington Street; House of Commons of Canada – Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1A 0A6.