In connection with the criminal case against opposition politician Muratbek Ketebayev, the staff of the National Security Committee have sealed-off offices and confiscated the property of the ‘Golos Respubliki’ newspaper, the ‘stan.kz’ news website, the unregistered party ‘Alga’ and the civil foundation ‘Amansaulyk’. Also, the house and personal property of Aliya Turusbekova, the wife of Vladimir Kozlov, was sealed-off. By confiscation of the editor’s equipment, the NSC is exerting psychological pressure and is limiting the activities of independent media outlets and NGOs in the country.
The sealing-off of the offices of independent media outlets and opposition groups took place immediately after the anniversary of the tragedy in Zhanaozen. On the 13th of December, 2012, the civil foundation ‘Amansaulyk’ held a round table entitled “The assessment of the Zhanaozen events a year later” with the participation of international experts. Participants of the round table pointed to the inaction of local and central government as main cause of the tragedy. On the 16th of December, 2012, the video portal ‘stan.kz’ 16.12.2012 was broadcasting programmes, devoted to a Day of Remembrance commemorating the tragic events in Zhanaozen. Yesterday, in Finland and Latvia, Aliya Turusbekova spoke with journalists and NGO representatives on Zhanaozen events and political repression in Kazakhstan. The newspaper ‘Golos Respubliki’ actively covered the events to mark the anniversary of the tragedy, which were held in towns throughout Kazakhstan.
On the 19th of December, 2012, representatives of independent media outlets and opposition groups were told that the NSC had a warrant to search their offices. The official reason for the pressure on the independent media outlets and NGOs has become a criminal case against opposition politician Muratbek Ketebayev. He is the owner of all offices and premises in which the NSC conducted the search. According to the court order, in order to secure the claim, the property and real estate owned by Muratbek Ketebayev is being seized. The investigation suggests that the items, relevant to the case, are kept in these premises.
Special investigative measures have been carried out in the offices of the ‘Golos Respubliki’ newspaper, the news website ‘stan.kz’, the unregistered party ‘Alga!’ and the civil foundation ‘Amansaulyk’ in Almaty. The NSC sealed-off all these offices and confiscated documents, office equipment and personal property of office workers.
The NSC officers brought two witnesses to the premises of the video portal ‘stan.kz’. Journalists argue that these people are the very same NSC workers who previously seized the circulation of the ‘Vzglyad’ newspaper. Journalists were not allowed inside the office.
During the search of the ‘Golos Respubliki’ editorial office, NSC workers did not allow journalists or lawyers to attend. The search was carried out by seven NSC workers, who had two witnesses with them. Without an inventory drawn up, not only documents, but also office equipment – printers and computers have been seized. NSC workers also smashed the camera of a correspondent of ‘Azatyk’ radio, Kazis Toguzbayev, who was trying to take some pictures at the scene.
Journalists of the editorial teams of ‘Golos Respubliki’ and ‘stan.kz’ issued a statement about the actions of the special services. The media workers fear that there their lives and freedom of occupation are endangered. They claim that the special services were not allowed to seize accounting documentation, equipment, and electronic media outlets, as the editors only lease these offices and have no legal connection to the landlord. The editor of ‘Golos Respubliki’, Tatiana Trubacheva, believes that the recent search is an attempt to paralyse the work of the newspaper, since all previous attempts to intimidate journalists have failed. “Nowwe’re mostafraid ofprovocation -as happenedwith AskarMoldashev, the brother of the publisherof the newspaper. It seems that the time has come for GuzyalBaidalinova(Deputy Director ofthe newspaper’s publisher- ed.)-The Committee membershave already taken herfor questioningat the beginning ofthe year andnow, they have apparentlydecided to take up her case again”,- said Tatiana Trubacheva. Founder of the LLP ‘Stan-production’, Elina Zhdanova, also fears that the search may result in a provocation (planting of leaflets or drugs), and that President of the company, Baurzhan Musirov, may be arrested.
It also emerged that searches have been carried out at the offices of the unregistered party ‘Alga!’ and the NGO ‘Amansaulyk’ that are located in the same building. It was reported that the NSC workers were carrying an unknown package into the office of the ‘Alga!’ party. Seven officers of the NSC conducted the search in the presence of only one witness. But during the search of the office of ‘Amansaulyk’, not a single representative of the NGO was present. Employees of the Amansaulyk’ Foundation also claim that they only rent the office space, and their activity has nothing to do with Muratbek Ketebayev.
The same day, the National Security Committee conducted a search and sealed-off the house occupied by Aliya Turusbekova, the wife of the convicted Vladimir Kozlov. The house was owned by Muratbek Ketebayev. Security services did not permit anyone, apart from Aliya Turusbekova, to be present during the search. Stela Ogay, the head of the press service of the ‘Alga!’ party, confirmed that the NSC has also confiscated Aliya Turusbekova’s personal property, including her winter clothes. In the property, sealed-off by the NSC, Aliya’s pets have been imprisoned. By their actions, the NSC have left Aliya Turusbekova without access to her dwelling and property, as the only place where she can live in is Vladimir Kozlov’s apartment, which, according to the verdict, is also subject to confiscation. Aliya Turusbekova informed us: “Everything was seized and sealed-off, I was left only with the clothes I was wearing”.
A renowned Kazakh human rights activist Evgeniy Zhovtis stressed that according to the Criminal Procedure Code, before the search, the operatives should have presented a court warrant, indicating which specific items are subject to search. The law also provides that, before the search, the NSC should have offered the owner of the premises or tenants to voluntarily hand over the items, required for the investigation. Lawyer Amangeldy Shormanbaev emphasised that the evidence obtained during the search, conducted without witnesses, cannot be used in court. Moreover, the witnesses must be independent, random people, not those who had been specially appointed by the NSC.
Opposition politician Muratbek Ketebayev stated on his Facebook page that such actions carried out by the special services are illegal: “If the basis for the search is a criminal case instituted against me, what do all these entities, who rent office rooms, have to do with it? After all, they are not participants in a criminal case!”. Since 2010, Muratbek Ketebayev has resided outside Kazakhstan due to political persecution.
The Open Dialogue Foundation hereby expresses its concern in connection with the unlawfulness of actions of the Kazakh special services and the violation of the procedure for collection of evidence. The searches of the offices of independent media outlets and opposition organisations have been conducted in violation of Article 232 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Kazakhstan:
- The NSC workers have brought witnesses with them, which calls into question their impartiality.
- The court ruling did not specify what kind of items were subject to confiscation. The confiscated property was not directly related to the case of Muratbek Ketebayev. For example, the journalists and activists had their computers and printers confiscated, which halted their work completely. Also, Aliya Turusbekova’s winter clothes were confiscated and at a temperature of -24 C, the house was ‘sealed-off’ with the pets inside, leaving them to die from starvation and cold. In this way, psychological pressure is being exerted on Vladimir Kozlov’s wife.
- During the search of the office of ‘Amansaulyk’, not even one representative of the organisation was present. In other offices, the number of witnesses was not sufficient to ensure the objective recording of all actions of the National Security Committee workers. This made it possible for the NSC to carry out provocations that journalists and activists now fear.
The aforementioned facts give grounds to suppose that the NSC conducted searches in order to restrict the actions of the independent media outlets and NGOs in Kazakhstan. We cannot allow a situation where journalists and non-governmental organisations will be at risk of prosecution for their professional activities. The Open Dialogue Foundation hereby urges the Kazakh authorities not to disturb the work of independent media organisations and NGOs in the country. We also demand that the special forces return all the office equipment and personal items seized during the searches carried out on the 19th of December, 2012, since they have no bearing on the case of Muratbek Ketebayev.
The criminal case against Muratbek Ketebayev was initiated on the basis of the court sentence in the case of Vladimir Kozlov. On the 11th of December, 2012, the Aktau City Court issued an arrest warrant against Muratbek Ketebayev. He is charged under the same articles as Vladimir Kozlov: 164 (‘incitement of social hatred’), 170 (‘calling for the overthrow of the constitutional order’) and 235 (‘the creation and management of a criminal organisation’). Muratbek Ketebayev was one of the founders of the opposition party ‘Alga!’ as well as Vladimir Kozlov’s confidant and friend.
On the 23rd of January, 2012, the day of the arrest of Vladimir Kozlov, property belonging to Muratbek Ketebayev in Kazakhstan was seized. It was these houses that the NSC workers searched on the 19th of December, 2012.