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Repression and concession in Kazakhstan

Campaign Kazakhstan Reporter

May 3rd is designated ‘International Day of Freedom of the Press’. It will come as no surprise that Kazakhstan comes very near the bottom of the world’s press freedom league – 157th out of 180.

This year, a group of brave protesters in the country marked the day by gathering outside the detention centre where a well-known ‘dissident’ journalist in Kazakhstan is being held. Zhanbolat Mamai is chief editor of Sayasi Qalam (‘The Political Pen’) which has published many articles justifiably critical of the Nazarbayev regime. Trumped up charges have been levelled against him for supposedly laundering stolen money on behalf of the former bank chief and oppositionist, Mukhtar Ablayazov.

Journalists, human rights activists, friends and relatives donned T-shirts with a portrait of the writer on it and a message saying ‘Mamai, you’re no demon!’  People unknown to the demonstrators, who had been sitting around on nearby benches in ‘civvies’, began to move in and take video film of the proceedings. They were obviously working hand in glove with a representative of the local mayor who tried to tell the demonstrators that their protest was not sanctioned. He was told in no uncertain terms that he had no legal authority to disperse them and had to back off.

Protest continues

The demonstrators shouted slogans and words of support over the high metal gate. Three were allowed onto the premises to hand in food and solidarity messages for the persecuted journalist.

No-one, even his wife, Inga Imanbai, is allowed to actually see Mamai. She has protested against him being held prisoner at all when no trial has taken place. At the end of April, a court prolonged his detention until at least 10 June on the basis that investigations have not been completed and material has to be studied.

“Let the investigations carry on”, says his wife, “We have no intention of obstructing them in any way but there are no grounds for holding Zhanbolat. Let him be under house arrest if necessary, undertaking not to leave. We have given assurances that Zhanbolat has no intention of going anywhere. He is a family man. He has elderly parents, a small child and Zhanbolat is not a criminal” (from the ‘Kazakhstan International Bureau for human rights and observance of of law’)

The authorities have also refused to allow his father to act as citizen’s defence in court. They say he is too old but there is no legal limit laid down. The family is continuing to make official complaints on this score and threaten legal action of their own if they get no satisfaction. So far, complaints and appeals against Mamai’s treatment have been turned down, apart from him being moved out of a cell where he was being viciously beaten by thugs (background information available on this site).

World-wide protest and some success

High level talks are taking place in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, on the atrocious situation in Syria. But new protests are needed to let the Nazarbayev dictatorship know that its war with its own people is condemned and must stop. A new wave of protests and letter-writing is needed world-wide to demand an end to the persecution of dissidents and the release of all political prisoners.

If the regime continues to repress democratic and trade union rights, sooner or later there can be an explosion that can shake the present regime from the bottom up. There are signs that protests can succeed. A project launched in February by activists in seven regions of Kazakhstan to establish a new independent trade union federation was refused permission to register in March. An appeal and protests were made and this month permission was granted to go ahead with registration. The task now is to build a real force for change in Kazakhstan.