Thus far, more than 42 cases of politically motivated criminal prosecution have been registered in Kazakhstan.
18 political prisoners are being held in prisons and detention facilities:
- Maks Bokayev, Mukhtar Dzhakishev, Aron Atabek, Ablovas Dzhumayev, Kenzhebek Abishev, Almat Zhumagulov, Muratbek Tungishbayev, Aset Abishev, Iskander Yerimbetov, Yaroslav Golyshkin, Sanat Bukenov, Makhambet Abzhan, Sanat Dosov, Ruslan Ginatullin, Igor Chuprina, Igor Sychev, Muratkhan Tokmadi, Saken Tulbayev.
13 persons have been subjected to measures of restraint:
- Olesya Khalabuzar, Alima Abdirova, Bolatbek Blyalov, Larisa Kharkova, Zhanbolat Mamay, Amangeldy Batyrbekov, Bigeldy Gabdullin, Aset Nurzhaubay, Farit Ishmukhametov, Azat Ibrayev, Arman Alakayev, Bakiza Khalelova, Muratbek Argynbekov.
Punitive psychiatry is being used against two persons:
- Ardak Ashim and Natalia Ulasik.
At least 5 persons have become victims of politically motivated prosecution through misuse of INTERPOL mechanisms, extradition and international legal assistance:
- Zhanara Akhmetova, Tatiana Paraskevich, the Khrapunov family (Viktor, Leila and Ilyas Khrapunov, etc.).
At the moment, with respect to some politically motivated cases, the reaction of the EU bodies is particularly important. Some prisoners are in need of urgent help due to serious health problems. Some of the criminal cases are still at the stage of consideration or appeal, which means it is possible to exert significant influence on the situation.
Political prisoners who are in the process of appealing the court sentences:
- Ablovas Dzhumayev was sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment for criticising the authorities on social networks and supporting the opposition movement ‘Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’ (DCK).
- Iskander Yerimbetov was sentenced to 7 years’ imprisonment. Authorities subjected Yerimbetov to illegal prosecution in order to force his sister, lawyer Botagoz Jardemalie, to return to Kazakhstan and ‘cooperate with the investigation bodies’ in the case against oppositionist Mukhtar Ablyazov.
Political prisoners who are being held in detention facilities pending a court decision:
- Kenzhebek Abishev, Almat Zhumagulov, Muratbek Tungishbayev, and Aset Abishev, who have been accused of posting on social networks, comments in support of the DCK opposition movement and ‘creating a negative image of the authorities’. They are being prosecuted on the basis of a decision of a Kazakhstan court, which ruled in March 2018 that the DCK ‘encourages political disobedience’ and is ‘extremist’.
Activists who are currently at large, but are participants in the investigation and are facing imprisonment:
- Aigul Akberdiyeva, Zhenis Bisengaziyev, and Evgeniy Kravets who have been accused of supporting the opposition movement DCK and criticising the authorities on social networks.
- Human rights activist Elena Semenova, who, at meetings with members of the European Parliament, spoke about incidents of mass cruel torture of prisoners in Kazakhstan. With regard to these statements, the Kazakhstani authorities initiated a criminal case against her for ‘disseminating deliberately false information’.
Political prisoners who have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment:
- Iskander Yerimbetov, Muratkhan Tokmadi, Aset Nurzhaubay, Muratbek Tungishbayev, Mukhtar Dzhakishev, Ablovas Dzhumayev, Almat Zhumagulov, and Kenzhebek Abishev. In all of the aforementioned cases, the Kazakhstani authorities have ignored international appeals and refused to carry out proper investigation into the incidents of torture.
The Kazakhstani authorities use ‘confessions’ obtained under torture in order to carry out further political persecution and discredit human rights defenders:
- According to the information available, Muratkhan Tokmadi was subjected to torture in the NSC detention facility. They demanded that he ‘confess’ having ‘committed a contract murder’ on the order of the opposition member Mukhtar Ablyazov 13 years before. Based on these ‘confessions’, the authorities organised a new trial in absentia against Ablyazov.
- As part of the ‘deal with the investigation bodies’, the authorities demand that the accused not only ‘repent’, but also make defamatory statements about human rights defenders. This happened in the cases of torture victims Aset Nurzhaubay and Muratbek Tungishbayev. Nurzhaubay, his mother, and Tungishbayev’s wife Mira Kaliyeva made public statements in which they asserted that those prosecuted have been ‘presented as political prisoners’ before the European community, human rights defenders have been ‘controlled by Ablyazov’, and members of international human rights observation missions are ‘pseudo-defenders’.
Critical health condition of those held in detention:
- Mukhtar Dzhakishev is suffering from life-threatening diseases. However, the authorities of Kazakhstan have not provided him with effective medical treatment. Over the past few months, the authorities have denied the request of three human rights observation missions to visit Dzhakishev.
- Also, serious health problems have been recorded in the case of Maks Bokayev, Aron Atabek, and Kenzhebek Abishev.
In addition, the Kazakhstani authorities have been ignoring the UN bodies’ demands to release Maks Bokayev and Mukhtar Dzhakishev.
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. The authorities resort to mass intimidation and control over society.
Moreover, following the ban on the opposition movement ‘Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’, opposition activity in the country was, de facto, outlawed. On this basis, from March to October 2018, in Kazakhstan, approx. 450 people were forcefully detained for participating in peaceful rallies. For reading, sharing and ‘liking’ ‘prohibited materials’ of the DCK one can be sentenced to a prison term. Any criticism of the authorities can be interpreted as ‘supporting the DCK’ and, accordingly, to be prosecuted as ‘support for an extremist organisation’ or ‘incitement of social hatred’.
The Open Dialogue 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 3 years.
In January 2017, Bokayev was transferred to a penal colony in Petropavlovsk – 2,000 km from Atyrau, where his relatives live. He made several unsuccessful attempts to appeal against the transfer decision.In 2018, the penal colony management imposed disciplinary sanctions on Bokayev, as a result of which he spent 6 months in austere conditions, without the right to telephone calls or correspondence. The reason for the sanctions was Bokayev’s failure to obey the internal regulations of the Ministry of Interior, namely his refusal to go out for exercise when it was -25°C and his refusal to take off his hat during an inspection. Bokayev pointed out that these regulations are arbitrary and violate the prisoners‘ rights. He has filed respective complaints but the prosecutor’s office and the court dismissed them.
In September 2018, Bokayev was transferred to the penal colony in Aktobe. He has been diagnosed with a number of diseases, including Hepatitis C and osteochondrosis.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.
In August 2018, when a human rights mission came from Switzerland and wanted to visit Atabek in his prison, the government of Kazakhstan denied the mission members access to Atabek.
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 June 2018, Dzhakishev was officially recognised as a person with disability.In August 2018, his lawyer reported that Dzhakishev cannot move on his own anymore.According to the lawyer, there is no place in Kazakhstan adequately equipped to treat complex disorders such as those from which Dzhakishev suffers.
Between April and August 2018, three human rights monitoring missions visited Kazakhstan and requested to see Dzhakishev. However, the authorities denied them access to Dzhakishev.
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.
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.
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.
In April 2018, Sanat Dosov filed an appeal to replace the remainder of his prison sentence with a fine but the court dismissed his appeal, referring to the results of an examination allegedly conducted by a psychologist from the state research centre “Ansar”; the report claims that Dosov “has a mainspring – a religious devotion”, and “is endowed with eloquence, has an analytical mind and inflated self-esteem”. According to Dosov, he did not undergo this examination. Speaking with Dosov’s wife, representatives of centre “Ansar” denied any involvement with this examination.
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.
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 contract murder’ of banker Yerzhan Tatishev on the orders of opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov 13 years earlier. As a result, Tokmadi publicly “confessed” to everything.In March 2018, the court sentenced Tokmadi to 10 years and 6 months in prison. Kazakhstani government tried Mukhtar Ablyazov in absentia on charges of organizing Tatishev’s murder. Tokmadi is the key witness in the case.
Ablovas Dzhumayev from Aktau was detained on 10 May 2018 near the place of the rally organised by DCK (opposition movement “Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan”) activists. Dzhumayev faced charges of inciting social discord’ (Article 174of the CC) and ‘publicly calling for the seizure of power’ (Article 179 of the CC). The investigation accused Dzhumayev of “subscribing to the pages of the DCK and Ablyazov” on social networks, “reading the DCK programme” and “calling for participation in rallies”.
Ablovas Dzhumayev stated that special service officer exerted pressure on him in the detention facility and demanded to sign accusatory statements. Dzhumayev’s elderly sick father was brought to him in the detention centre, where he said: “Son, confess. …They say that tomorrow something might happen to you and then they will bring your body”.
Trial against Dzhumayev was carried out within a very short period of time (about a month). The court refused to summon the special service officer (who participated in Dzhumayev’s case) for questioning. On 18 September 2018, Dzhumayev reported the death of his father. The defendant felt ill and asked to postpone the trial. Judge Aralbai Nagashibayev refused, saying: “Aren’t you the one responsible for this situation?”.
On 20 September 2018, the court sentenced Dzhumayev to 3 years in prison. Dzhumayev appealed against this sentence. On 8 November 2018, the court of appeal ordered new proceedings.Dzhumayev’s wife, Aigul Akberdiyeva, was also charged with “calls for the seizure of power” (Art. 179 of the CC). Akberdiyeva noted that law enforcement officers exerted pressure on her family. Ablovas Dzhumayev and Aigul Akberdiyeva have four minor children.On 24 September 2018, the Aktau court began to consider the case of Akberdiyeva.
B) Those who are being held in a detention facility in anticipation of the trial or going through the stages of appeal of the court’s decision
Iskander Yerimbetov is a Kazakhstani businessman, the brother of Kazakhstani human rights defender and lawyer Botagoz Jardemalie. She provided legal consulting services to opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov and victims of political persecution in Kazakhstan. 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. He was charged with ‘money laundering’ (Article 193 of the CC), the money being allegedly stolen by Ablyazov. 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.
When the investigating officers failed to fabricate a criminal case on charges of ‘money laundering’, another criminal case (this time on charges of ‘fraud’) was opened against Iskander Yerimbetov (Article 177). The investigation of the new case was carried out within the period of three days. The prosecution stated that the Sky Service company (founded by Yerimbetov) had allegedly overpriced its services “in violation of the law”. In the legislation of Kazakhstan, however, there is no such notion as “unlawful overpricing”. The company was selling its services via open tenders.
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.
Apart from Iskander Yerimbetov, several of his business partners – Mikhail Zorov, Dmitriy Pestov and Vasilina Sokolenko – were prosecuted. During the trial, Pestov and Sokolenko claimed that the investigating officers had been threatening them and demanding that they confess to a crime they did not commit.
On October 22, 2018, the court found Yerimbetov, Zorov, Pestov and Sokolenko guilty of ‘fraud’. Yerimbetov was sentenced to 7 years in prison, Pestov and Sokolenko – to 5 years in prison. Zorov, who had agreed to cooperate with the investigating officers, was given three years of suspended sentence.
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.
Besides, Abishev is accused of distributing leaflets in support of the DCK with the aim of “destabilising the situation in the society” and “forming a negative image of the current government”.
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.Attorney Gulnara Zhuaspayeva managed to open a criminal case concerning torture used against Abishev, but the case was closed by the authorities.
In October 2018, court proceedings on this case started in Almaty.
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). He was also accused of’inciting national discord’ (Art. 174 of the CC). Almat Zhumagulov and Kenzhebek Abishev 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.
According to the charges, Zhumagulov conducted pro-DCK propaganda with the aim of “creating a socio-psychological atmosphere of public anxiety“ and “provoking a protest mood among the citizens“.
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.
In October 2018, court proceedings against Zhumagulov and Abishev started in Almaty.
Muratbek Tungishbayev is a well-known Kazakhstani blogger who used to create videos about human rights violations in his country. The Kazakhstani authorities opened a criminal case against him on charges of supporting and participating in the activities of the opposition movement ‘Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’ (DCK). He was accused of ‘providing information services to a criminal group’, that is the DCK (Article 266 of the CC), and ‘participation in the activities of the organisation after its recognition as extremist’ (Article 405 of the CC).
On 26 June, 2018, Muratbek Tungishbayev was extradited from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan with gross violations of the law. He was taken from Bishkek without informing his lawyers and relatives. The authorities of Kyrgyzstan did not wait for his appeal and for the end of the procedure for the consideration of Tungishbayev’s application for asylum.
Upon arrival in Kazakhstan, Tungishbayev was put in a detention centre in Almaty. According to the lawyer, the investigator told Tungishbayev that he could be released under house arrest only in exchange for “confessions”.
Previously, before his arrest, Tungishbayev underwent an eye surgery. Tungishbayev was diagnosed with central retinal vein thrombosis caused by hypertension. In detention centre Tungishbayev repeatedly reported vision impairment and pain, but the Kazakhstani authorities ignored him.
Doctors stress the need for his urgent hospitalisation. In the detention centre, due to the lack of proper medical care, he risks completely losing his sight. Such an attitude towards an arrestee is a form of torture and cruel treatment.
On 11 October, 2018, Kazakhstan’s propaganda media distributed a video recording of Mira Kaliyeva, Tungishbayev’s wife. Kaliyeva’s statements may indicate that she ‘cooperated with the investigation’. Mira Kaliyeva said that her husband suffered ‘because of Ablyazov’s ambitions and the fact that he wanted to build his own image as an opposition politician‘. Kaliyeva also said that ‘there is no help‘ from human rights defenders and international human rights missions and that they are ‘controlled by Ablyazov‘ and ‘present Tungishbayev as a political prisoner‘.
Considering the practices of Kazakhstani investigative bodies, there is every reason to believe that the authorities forced Kaliyeva to ‘cooperate’and also used her to discredit human rights defenders.In particular, in the propaganda video footage, Kaliyeva mentioned Kazakhstani human rights activists Bakhytzhan Toregozhina and Yevgeniy Zhovtis.
Aset Abishev – is a resident of Almaty. He was accused of publishing posts on Facebook in support of the DCK that ‘discredit the Head of State, members of his family and the current government of Kazakhstan‘.According to the investigation, Abishev ‘formed a negative imageof the authorities’ and ‘provoked a protest mood among the citizens’.
Aset Abishev was accused of “providing information services to a criminal group” — the DCK (Art. 266 of the CC) and “participation in the activities of an organisation after its recognition as extremist” (Art. 405 of the CC).
Since July 2018, Aset Abishev has been detained. He stated that before the beginning of the court hearing, he was transferred to a small cold cell, where he was kept in inhumane and unhygienic conditions.
On 26 September 2018, Almalinsky District Court of Almaty began to consider his case.
3. Persons whose freedom has been restricted
Aset Nurzhaubay is a resident of Almaty. Nurzhaubay was accused of having written the phrase “Shal ket” (“Old man, leave”) and “Alga DVK” (“Go, DCK”) at several bus stops. He also put up a poster on the street with the same inscriptions. Subsequently, the police seized a poster and some paint used for drawing from Nurzhaubay.
Nurzhaubay was accused of ‘storing and distributing the property of a criminal group’ (Article 266 of the CC), ‘participating in the activities of an organisation following its recognition as extremist’ (Article 405 of the CC) and ‘fraud’ (Article 190 of the CC).
According to the prosecution, Nurzhaubay ‘participated in the DCK groups on social networks‘, ‘called for protests’ and ‘tried to involve the largest possible number of citizens in his activities‘. The investigators called these actions ‘a grave criminal offence against public order’.
Nurzhaubay was arrested in April 2018. Nurzhaubay said that in the pre-trial detention centre, law enforcement officers had wrung his arm and hit him several times on the kidneys. Doctors noticed a bruise on Nurzhaubay’s right shoulder.
He was asked to give ‘confessions’. According to Nurzhaubay, officers of the NSC promised to ‘close the case’ if he made a ‘video message to people’ with the statement that allegedly “Mukhtar Ablyazov promised to pay him and them deceived him. The investigator threatened to imprison his mother. As a sign of protest, Nurzhaubay cut his veins.
In the courte Nurzhaubayread a statement of ‘repentance’. Nurzhaubay read the words that repeat verbatim the theses of the Kazakhstani state propaganda, ‘that… in Kazakhstan, no one is being persecuted for political reasons. Everyone is punished for acts committed‘. Nurzhaubay called Ablyazov’s promises ‘false and empty ‘and stated that Ablyazov ‘is trying to justify himself before the European community’.
Nurzhaubay stated that he had ‘no complaints against law enforcement officers’. The exact same phrase was publicly used by his mother, Galiya Ospanova, a few days earlier. On 18 September 2018, the police did not allow her to meet with the delegation of the European Parliament, and, in response to criticism of the European parliamentarians, the Kazakhstani authorities appealed to the fact that Ospanova had ‘no complaints’.
After the reading of the ‘repentance’, the court sentenced Nurzhaubai to 4 years of probation.
Farit Ishmukhametov– is a resident of Semey. He was accused ofparticipation in the activities of the organisation after its recognition as extremist’ (Art. 405 of the CC).
According to the charges, Farit Ishmukhametov ’published a Facebook post expressing negative attitude towards the current government and therefore creating conditions for other social network users to comment. Then Ishmukhametov expressed his dissatisfaction with the current government in his comments’. The case files state that Ishmukhametov ‘claimed the necessity of calling for the resignation of the current government’, ‘demanded that the social status of the working people be raised’and ‘expressed his approval of DCK’s ideas’.
On October 24 2018, the court No. 2 of the city of Semey sentenced Ishmukhametov to one year’s restriction of liberty and to one hundred hours of compulsory labour.
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 national hatred’ (Article 174 of the CC).
On 1 August 2017, the court sentenced her to 2 years of restraint of liberty. She is forbidden to leave Almaty. 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.
In 2018, a private lawsuit was filed against Kharkova requesting the collection of trade union dues from her (2.5 million KZT, which amounts to approximately 6,000 EUR). Kharkova claimed this case to be a political put-up job. On 12 November 2018, the court of Shymkent dismissed the lawsuit and closed the case.
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 CC).
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.
Azat Ibrayev andArman Alakayev– civil activists from Kostanay. Azat Ibrayev and Arman Alakayev were accused of conducting ‘propaganda activities in support of the DCK’, which was ‘accompanied by’ giving ‘two blue balloons’ to police officers. In this way, Ibrayev and Alakayev wanted to celebrate the Day of Defender of the Fatherland. They were accused of ‘participation in the activities of an organisation after its recognition as extremist’ (Art. 405 of the CC).
A few hours later, Ibrayev and Alakayev were detained by police and NSC officers. During a search of Ibrayev’s car, officers found blue ribbons and balloons as well as photographs of political prisoners Mukhtar Dzhakishev and Iskander Yerimbetov.
At the interrogation, Ibrayev was ordered to ‘confess’ that he ‘received money from Ablyazov’. During the search, 3 blue balloons and 4 blue ribbons were seized from Alakaev.
On 19 June 2018, the Court № 2 of the City of Kostanai sentenced Azat Ibrayev to one year of restriction of freedom. On 13 July 2018, the same court sentenced Arman Alakayev to one-and-a-half years of restriction of freedom. The court also prohibited Alakayev from posting information and comments ‘related to the support of the DCK’on the Internet.
Bakiza Khalelova – is a resident of Uralsk. She was accused of ‘participation in the activities of an organisation after its recognition as extremist’ (Art. 405 of the CC).
Bakiza Khalelova was one of the persons detained during a peaceful rally on 10 May 2018 dedicated to the issues of torture and political prisoners. According to the prosecution, after that she ‘called for a rally in support of the DCK and a change of power’, thereby ‘positively endorsing the ideas of the DCK’.
During the search, three Kazakh flags and a deflated blue balloon were seized from Khalelova. They have been attached to the case as evidence.
On 26 September 2018the Criminal Court of the city of Uralsk sentenced Khalelova to one year’s restriction of freedom. In addition, the court prohibited Khalelova from “attending actions, protests and meetings” and writing comments “aimed at discrediting the activities of the authorities” on social networks.
On 2 November 2018, the court of appeal dismissed Khalelova’s complaint, leaving the sentence unchanged.
Muratbek Argynbekov – is a resident of Akmola region. He was accused of ‘participation in the activities of an organisation after its recognition as extremist’ (Art. 405 of the CC).
The indictment states that Muratbek Argynbekov ‘published a brochure with Mukhtar Ablyazov’s photographs on Facebook’ and ‘urged to support DCK’ while ‘being well aware’ that ‘the country’s population will read the information he published’.
The investigators claimed that Argynbekov’s Facebook entries show ‘signs of approving the idea of support of DCK’s ideology’ as well as ‘negative assessment of the current government and the President of Kazakhstan, N. Nazarbayev’.
On 2 November 2018 the court of the town Akmol, Akmol region, sentenced Argynbekov to 1 year’s restriction of liberty and to 100 hours of compulsory labour.
4. Activists who are being investigated for and facing the risk of imprisonment
Elena Semenova – human rights defender from Pavlodar.
In July 2018, Semenova held a series of meetings with members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where she spoke about numerous incidents of cruel torture of prisoners in Kazakhstan. She voiced the information she had received directly from prisoners and their relatives. In connection with these statements, which were considered to be ‘false’ by investigators, a criminal case was initiated against Semenova under Article 274, of the CC.
During interrogations the investigator said that the statements by Semenova ‘caused political harm to the country‘.
During the search, a computer, a telephone, and many documents, including prisoners’ allegations of torture, were seized from Semenova.
On 8 October 2018, Semenova wasn’t allowed to leave Kazakhstan, on the basis of a decision of the investigating authorities. Because of this, Semenova was unable to go to Strasbourg, where she was supposed to participate in the scheduled human rights meetings with PACE members.
On the night of 9 October 2018, someone threw two incendiary bottles into her house, as a result of which one of the windows of the house burned.
Semenova is facing 3 years’ imprisonment. Moreover, an employee of the penal colony of Semey has filed a private lawsuit against Semenova, complaining that Semenova “disseminates information about use of torture” and requesting to protect his honour and dignity; this lawsuit is currently under consideration.
Aigul Akberdiyeva – is a resident of Aktau. She was accused of ‘public calls to seize power’ (Article 179 the CC).
Aigul Akberdiyeva is being prosecuted in the same case in which her husband Ablovas Dzhumayev was sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment. According to the indictment act, Akberdiyeva‘became acquainted with the manifesto of M. Ablyazov’, after which she ‘had ideas of a negative tendency’ and ‘formed a negative image of the current government’.
On 24 September 2018, the Aktau court began to consider the case of Akberdiyeva. The article under which she has been accused provides for a punishment of up to 10 years in prison.
According to Akberdiyeva, the investigator Usen Unalbekov told her: “We will lock your husband and you up. And we will send your children to the orphanage.” Aigul Akberdiyevaand Ablovas Dzhumayev have four minor children.
Zhenis Bisengaziyev – is a resident of Aktau. He was accused of ‘inciting social discord‘(Article 174 of the CC) and ‘public calls to seize power‘ (Article 179 of the CC).
According to the indictment act, in January 2018 (before the court issued a ruling banning the DCK), Bisengaziyev pasted up DCK leaflets. On 6 March 2017, during a search of his house, the police again found DCK leaflets. Bisengaziyev claims that the policemen distracted his wife and planted the leaflets in his apartment.
According to Bisengaziyev, the investigators brought about his dismissal from work by his employer.
Currently, Bisengaziyev is under travel restrictions and is facing arrest.
Evgeniy Kravets – is a DCK activist from Pavlodar. He is currently residing in Ukraine. Kravets was accused of ‘participation in an organisation’s activities following its recognition as extremist‘ (Article 405 of the CC).
DCK activist Yevgeniy Kravets was detained and arrested in the Kazakh city of Pavlodar for participating in meetings of 10 May 2018 and 23 June 2018. He recorded video material in support of the DCK, for which he faced criminal charges.
Yevgeniy Kravets arrived in Ukraine, where he continued his participation in the DCK. In conversation with him, the investigator ‘asked’ him to return to Kazakhstan. The Kazakhstani authorities may begin to seek his extradition.
5. Victims of punitive psychiatry
Ardak Ashim is a Kazakhstani opposition activist and blogger from Shymkent. She was accused of “inciting social discord” (Art. 174 of the CC) and “insulting a representative of the authorities” (Article 378 of the CC).
Ardak Ashim was accused of publishing posts “negative of the authorities” on Facebook. Investigators stated that Ashim had written about Mukhtar Ablyazov and President Nazarbayev.
The authorities of Kazakhstan forcibly placed Ardak Ashim in a mental hospital, where she spent more than a month. There, Ashim complained of feeling unwell, which, in her opinion, could be related to the addition of psychotropic drugs to her food in order to make her appear “insane”. On 5 May 2018, under pressure from the international community, the authorities released Ashim from the mental hospital.
On 10 May 2018, the Abay District Court of Shymkent ruled that at the time of the crime, Ardak Ashim “was in a state of insanity”. On this basis, the court released her from criminal responsibility and, instead, appointed compulsory outpatient treatment in a mental hospital. In June 2018, the court additionally ordered a psychiatric examination.
Currently, Ardak Ashim is residing in Ukraine, where she is waiting for a response to her application for refugee status from the migration service.
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.
On 10 September 2018, the court granted the psychiatric clinic’s request to transfer Ulasik to detention under general conditions, which allowed her to spend weekends at home.
6. Kazakhstan misuses the mechanisms of Interpol and international legal assistance
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 list in 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 2009, a Kazakhstani court sentenced her to 7 years’ imprisonment on charges of fraud. The execution of the court sentence was postponed until the time when her child turns 14 years old (i.e. until 2021).
Zhanara Akhmetova began to actively engage in journalism and opposition activities, after which the Kazakhstani authorities began shadowing her and exerting pressure on her. In June 2017, with no legal grounds, the authorities cancelled the postponement of the execution of the court sentence.
In October 2017, Akhmetova was arrested in Ukraine based on an extradition request from Kazakhstan. In November 2017, the court released her from custody, which was made possible thanks to the efforts of human rights organisations, counsels, MEPs and the international community. The trial revealed facts that could indicate cooperation between the Ukrainian and Kazakhstani special services for the purpose of extraditing Akhmetova.
On 5 July 2018, Zhanara Akhmetova reported that unknown persons had tried to kidnap her in Kyiv. The journalist claim that Kazakhstan’s special services are involved in this matter. This happened on the eve of a rally in defence of Kazakhstani political prisoners, of which Akhmetova was one of the organisers. In Ukraine, the activist often notices that she is being shadowed.
The Migration Service of Ukraine refused to grant her refugee status. However, on 31 July 2018, the Kiev Appellate Court ordered that the migration service reconsider the application of Akhmetova. On 17 September 2018, the Supreme Court of Ukraine confirmed this decision.
Akhmetova is still facing the risk of extradition.If Akhmetova is granted asylum, then legislation obliges Ukraine to deny her extradition.
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 and recomendation
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 – Vladimir Kozlov, Gyuzyal Baydalinova, Seytkazy Matayev, Aset Matayev, Talgat Ayan, Edige Batyrov, Yerzhan Orazalinov, Sayat Ibrayeva, Zinaida Mukhortova and oil workers of Zhanaozen, as well as trade unionists Amin Eleusinov and Nurbek Kushakbayev, who spent more than a year imprisoned for their protest against liquidation the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan. Still, at the same time, the number of political prisoners in Kazakhstan is growing.
Respect for democratic freedoms, human rights and the rule of law are the fundamental principles on which the internal and external policies of the European Union are based. European states should not sacrifice these principles in exchange for economic cooperation with authoritarian regimes.
The Open Dialogue Foundation hereby urges the competent bodies of the EUand governments of democratic states to take a firm stand: the provision of financial assistance and the development of trade and economic cooperation with Kazakhstan should be made dependent on concrete improvements in the situation of the freedom of opinion, freedom of assembly and association, and the freedom of dissemination of information in the country.
We urge the European Commission:
- Immediately intervene in the politically motivated cases where the final judicial judgements have not yet been handed down. In particular, these are the cases of Ablovas Dzhumayev, Iskander Yerimbetov, Kenzhebek Abishev, Almat Zhumagulov, Muratbek Tungishbayev, Aset Abishev, Aigul Akberdiyeva, Zhenis Bisengaziyev, and Elena Semenova.To demand that the Kazakhstani authorities cease the criminal prosecution, and release those persecuted who are being held in custody. The case of Elena Semenova should be particularly important and fundamental for the EU. The human rights activist was persecuted in connection with her speech in the European Parliament. The authorities forbade her from leaving Kazakhstan in order to participate in human rights meetings in the EU.
- Within the framework of the Partnership Agreement between Kazakhstan and the EU, to launch comprehensive monitoring of the conditions of detention of political prisoners in Kazakhstan, and to inform the European Parliament and the international community about progress in negotiations with the authorities of Kazakhstan aimed at releasing all political prisoners and ensuring human rights.
- To express a public stance regarding the incidents of torture and politically motivated prosecution in Kazakhstan.
- To demand cessation of politically motivated prosecutionin Kazakhstan.
- To 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.
- To recommend that the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and governments of the EU states to develop economic and investment cooperation with Kazakhstan with reference to the human rights situation in the country.
- To demand that the authorities of Kazakhstan remove vague and politically motivated articles from the Criminal Code that provide for criminal responsibility for ‘slander’, ‘incitement of social discord’, ‘dissemination of false information’ and ‘violation of the order of organising rallies’.
- To warn the Kazakhstani authorities about the inadmissibility of exerting any form of persecution or pressure on counsels and lawyers for their professional activities. In particular, the persecution of the family members of counsels and lawyers is inadmissible.
- To demand that the authorities of Kazakhstan revoke the decision to ban the peaceful opposition movement ‘Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’, as it does not have legal certainty and makes it possible to sentence people to prison terms for exercising their right to freedom of speech and assembly.
- During visits to Kazakhstan, to hold meetings with representatives of civil society and victims of politically motivated prosecution.
- To send observation missions and monitor court trials against activists, journalists and people prosecuted for political reasons.
- To send inquiries to the Kazakhstani authorities regarding the situation of political prisoners, as international control contributes to putting a stop to torture being exerted on them and to ensuring their release from prison.
All those willing to support our demands are requested to send their appeals to the following persons and institutions:
- European Parliament President Antonio Tajani – 1047 Brussels, Belgium, Bât. Paul-Henri Spaak 09B011, Rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: +32(0)2 28 45503 (Brussels), +33(0)3 88 1 75503 (Strasbourg);
- 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@example.com, тел: +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: firstname.lastname@example.org,тел: +32(0)2 28 45846 (Brussels), +33(0)3 88 1 75846 (Strasbourg);
- The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker – 1049 Brussels, Belgium Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200, e-mail: email@example.com;
- The President of the European Council Donald Tusk -– 1048 Brussels, Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 175, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, 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@example.com, tel: +32 2 584 11 11; +32 (0) 2 295 71 69.