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.
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.
Genuine trade unions blocked
A court in Astana has sentenced Nurbek Kushakbaev, a union health and safety inspector working at an oil construction company, to two and a half years in prison. He was found guilty of inciting an illegal strike.
The criminal prosecution of Kushakbaev began during the hunger strike of oil workers in January. The judge ruled that the civil complaint the oilfield service company Techno Trading Ltd must be satisfied: the sum of 25.7 million tenge (more than 80 thousand dollars) must be collected from Kushakbaev – the amount the company estimates to be the damage allegedly caused to it by the actions of the trade union leader. According to the judgement, the state duty and procedural costs are also to be collected from the defendant.
Nurbek Kushakbayev was detained in January – at the height of the hunger strike of oil workers. Then, several hundred workers in Aktau and in the Kalamkas and Zhetybai fields held a hunger strike in protest against the closing down of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions by order of the Ministry of Justice. Another activist, chairman of the trade union at the oil construction company, Amin Yeleusinov, was detained along with Kushakbaev and was accused by the authorities of involvement in alleged embezzlement of trade union funds. (The Yeleusinov trial has not started yet.)
Kushakbaev and Eleusinov were both arrested and taken to Astana where they were held. After their detention, the hunger strike, which the court in Aktau earlier called illegal, was forced to come to an end. The oil workers who were on the hunger strike dispersed after the Aktau city prosecutor stated that the protesters “are acting against the state”.
Between January 19 and 24, dozens of oilworkers were brought before the civil and administrative courts. They were ordered to pay fines and some were sacked. Again they were accused of “Actions provoking the continuation of participation in a strike recognised by the court as illegal”. An audio recording was presented of Kushakbaev’s conversation with three oilworkers where, according to the prosecution, he is giving them “instructions”.
The International Trade Union Confederation has appealed to the Kazakhstan authorities to halt the prosecution of Nurbek Kushakbaev and Amin Yeleusinov. The human rights organisation Human Rights Watch has also called on Kazakhstan’s international partners, including the European Union, the United States and Canada, to put pressure on the Kazakhstan authorities to release the leaders of the trade union organisation. Representatives of Human Rights Watch called these arrests, in response to peaceful non-violent protest, “unacceptable.”
Further state repression
Repressive action by the authorities of Kazakhstan is becoming commonplace. Half a year ago, Max Bokaev and Talgat Ayanov were convicted to five years in prison for organising a peaceful rally.
In February this year, Zhanbolat Mamai, who edits a publication that is critical of the government, was arrested. Charged with “money-laundering” on behalf of a political opponent of President Nazarbayev, he faces seven years imprisonment. Within days of his detention, Mamai was being brutally assaulted by inmates of the same cell. His lawyers demanded that he be moved to another cell, even on his own, rather than be subject to a campaign of intimidation through psychological and physical intimidation.
Further attempts to set up genuine representative organisations of workers have been blocked. Last month, an application from a conference of worker-activists representing seven areas of Kazakhstan to register an independent ‘Friendly Society’ called ‘Amanat’ was turned down.
More protests needed
Campaign Kazakhstan is calling for a new round of international protests. Resolutions, letters, petitions and pickets can all help in demanding that the repression against activists is stopped.
Below is an idea of what needs to be said:-
We are appalled that once again the authorities in Kazakhstan are persecuting workers and not allowing the basic right to organise in pursuit of their rights.
We demand a halt to the harassment of oil-workers’ representatives. Release Nurbek Kushakbayev and Amin Yeleusinov now and drop all charges against them.
Allow the right to organise trade unions without government interference and prohibition. Register Amanat and reinstate the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions.
The democratic right to peaceful protests must be allowed and guaranteed by law. Free Max Bokaev, Talgat Ayanov and Zhanbolat Mamai now and drop all charges against them!
Release all political prisoners in Kazakhstan, including the writer Aron Atabek and the human rights lawyer, Vadim Kuramshin.
Stop the persecution of activists who campaign for basic trade union and democratic rights. Change your policies or make way for those who will truly represent the people!
Correspondents for Campaign Kazakhstan recently reported that up to 20 oil-workers from Mangistau in Western Kazakhstan have been arrested. Some of them, possibly as many as 20, were said to have been taken to Astana for trial and no access to them was being allowed. These workers have been trying to establish independent trade unions with the backing of the International Confederation of Trade Unions.
Today, Human Rights Watch published an article about the repression of the oil-workers, hundreds of whom went on hunger strike which was declared illegal. It also points to trumped up charges brought against two of the leaders and other arrests.
For more detail see: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/01/26/kazakhstan-2-union-leaders-arrested
All this has been happening while Kazakhstan hosts peace talks about the Syrian War. Not a word in the media!
In another development, prison sentences of five years have been meted out to Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov for the simple ‘crime’ of organising peaceful protests against land sales last year. (See articles on this site)
Protest to your nearest Kazakhstan embassy and demand the release of all political prisoners and of the trade union organisers, the dropping of all charges and the full freedom of workers to organise independent trade unions.
By Andrei Prigor, Astana
On 22 December last year, the president of Kazakhstan signed amendments to the Administrative Code which mean everyone has to register with the police wherever they happen to be. This applies whether they are on a private visit, getting treatment somewhere, on a work visit or any other reason.
Everyone has to register their presence in a particular locality and their reason for being there within 10 days of arrival and the length of time they will be staying.
After a warning, punishment for non-compliance can be meted out within 30 days.
Total control over the population is being established by this ruling. The authorities say the reason for it is the intensification of the fight against terrorism. But the public thinks otherwise. By introducing this registration scheme, large sums of money will be collected in penalties for non-compliance.
The regulations came into effect from 7 January and most people feel it is a form of totalitarian control and repression comparable to being put in some form of concentration camp and just adding to the financial burdens they already have. They believe it is no accident that this form of taxation is happening at a time when the national budget has been plundered and the national EXPO exhibition is not far off!
Refuse to implement!
We are calling for people to boycott this law and conducting a campaign to explain that this initiative of the government goes against the country’s constitution and infringes the freedom of its citizens. Mass disobedience could lead to the law being abolished immediately. Alternatively, in the future, once the police begin to impose fines, there could be big protests.
Eighty per cent of Kazakhstan’s citizens have to move around the country or stay in places other than where they have had their original permanent address. It seems as if now everyone is supposed only to stay in the place they are registered in. But the conditions do not exist in Kazakhstan, nor are likely to, for living permanently in one place.
Incidentally, a visa-free regime exists in Kazakhstan for the residents of many foreign countries; but for its own population, it is shackles and handcuffs! It is said that the Nazarbayev regime is trying to turn Kazakhstan into a ghetto under totalitarian control. All this is probably due to the regime’s increasing fear for the future.
Andrei Prigor, Astana, Kazakhstan
In the spring of this year, Kazakhstan society was stirred up by the government making amendments to the law on land which would give foreigners the right to buy land. In an unprecedented development, all opposition movements, liberals and socialists and just activists came out against the law.
In the city of Atirau, at the beginning of April, notice was given for holding a peaceful rally but the local authorities refused to allow it. Regardless of this, on the 24 April, between 4,000 and 5,000 came out onto the square. Then a series of demonstrations swept through many other towns across the country. Aktobe, Semipalatinsk, Kizil-Orda, Almaty, Zhanaozen and many others took part in Kazakhstan-wide demonstrations.
Arrests and detention
As these were all spontaneous protests, it was decided to hold similar peaceful demonstrations on the same day – May 21- across the whole of Kazakhstan. In the middle of the month, organisers from Atirau were arrested and detained for 15 days. Among them were Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov.
On the eve of the 21 May demonstration, over 400 more people in various cities were subject to arrest and detention, with the aim of the peaceful protests being prevented from going ahead. In Astana, for example, in the early hours of 21 May about 30 potential participants were held.
Later, on May 31 – the day in Kazakhstan on which the victims of political repression are remembered (!) – Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov were arrested again – this time on criminal charges. They were accused of “aiming to overthrow constitutional order and seize power by violent means”, “inciting social discord”, “spreading false information” and “violating the procedure for organising peaceful gatherings”.
The first charge was later withdrawn. However, a trial is now proceeding on the remaining three charges and is causing a huge public outcry. The judge, either accidentally or deliberately, announced that the trial is ‘political’. This meant it was immediately taken up by human rights activists; international observers are now following the court proceedings. The authorities are taking all possible measures to prevent supporters of Max and Talgat from participating in the trial, trying to put a limit on the numbers who can participate. But activists are finding various ways of protesting and supporting these brave fighters.
This trial shows openly the rottenness of the Nazarbayev regime, which is actually shaking with fear before its own people. It is showing its nervousness in the run up to the fifth anniversary of the state massacre of oil-workers in Zhanaozen – December 16th. They want to get this trial over before then. They have been stepping up harassment of activists to try and prevent any public demonstrations to mark the anniversary. On the other hand, they have made sure that concessions have been made in relation to demands put forward recently by Zhanaozen workers.
Socialists, activists and trade unionists in Kazakhstan are actively involved in campaigning for the release of Max and Talgat. Their only ‘crime’ has been to help organise genuine peaceful protest against the anti-people laws of the Nursultan Nazarbayev regime.
Azharkulova Kizdigoy has been an active member of the Coordination Committee of the association called “Leave the people their homes” since 2009. She is chair of the organisation in Shimkent, South Kazakhstan called “Protecting our homes”. For all of this time she has participated, together with members of the association, in all the national activities:- protests (pickets, demos, marches, motor cavalcades etc.), conferences, round tables, working committees with Members of Parliament, government agencies, the National Bank, created under the pressure of the movement with the aim of resolving the problems of the impoverished mortgage-holders.
However, everything points to the fact that all the funds allocated from the budget went to support the banks, which are owned by government officials. But, thanks to the activities of the movement mass evictions were prevented across the country, the legal carrying out of extrajudicial repossessions were stopped and repayments reduced from figures like 300 to 500% to refinancing arrangements costing between 0 to 3%.
Personally, Kizdigoy managed to get homes returned to 16 families who were previously evicted by court decisions, not to mention many other achievements. In recent years, she has spoken out about crimes committed by the banks, exposed through criminal proceedings initiated by her. She openly criticised the government, which not only covers up all of this, but also fully supports them. All these years Kizdigoy has been a dependable ally of the leader of the mortgagees – Esenbek Ukteshbaev – in spite of threats and pressure, which is particularly disliked by the authorities.
And so, on December 13, 2015 at exactly 9 in the morning, seven people at the same time turned up at the South Kazakhstan regional offices of the Interior Ministry and wrote identical complaints that Kizdigoy supposedly promised to write get their loans written off on the basis of taking possessions of theirs as collateral. Four of them she did not know but the others were members of her NGO “Protecting our homes”. They reckon that Azharkulova K. should repay their joining fee and monthly subscriptions as well as expenses for legal costs, advice and representation in the courts.
According to the rules of the organisation “Protecting our homes”, members are obliged to pay membership and registration fees, as well as one-off costs of activities. On being expelled, membership fees will not be refunded.
A lawyer and colleagues have gathered all the documents in her defence. The investigator has repeatedly tried to confiscate the defence documents, to order their seizure and threatened to remove the legal counsel of the defendant.
At the trial, after the interrogation of victims and witnesses, K.Azharkulova testified her innocence and stated the reasons for which the four complainants, whom she saw for the first time, were testifying against her. They are friends of the convicted Beiten Raushan, in whose case Azharkulova K. won losses and damages amounting to 10 million tenge which have still not be refunded. Two of them admitted in court that they are friends of the condemned woman (BR).
Regardless of her age (56) and physical state (bronchitis, allergies and stomach ulcers), as well as high blood pressure and an attempt to make her confess to her guilt and a crime that did she did not commit, she stays strong and does not go on about the investigator and prosecutor keeping her in custody for a seventh month.
Currently, there is a lawsuit. The evidence and the prosecution against her are zero. No one doubts that the case was fabricated to order to intimidate activists and to weaken the movement of mortgage holders, which keeps the powers that be awake at night.
Azharkulova Kizdigoy is being held in solitary confinement in Shimkent. Please send protests demanding her immediate and unconditional release to the Kazkahstan Embassy in your country.
Please send messages of support to Azharkulova Kizdigoy:
mkr-n “Saule”, n/3,
Respublikanskoye Gosudarstvennoye Uchrezhdeniye ICH 166/11,
Komiteta ugolovno-ispolnitel’noy sistemy M V D,
Please send copies to her lawyer via firstname.lastname@example.org