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EU Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights asked to draw up blacklist of Kazakh Government officials

We are carrying below a report of the recent intervention at the European parliament by Kazakhstan activists. There is no doubt that pressure from outside Kazakhstan has an effect on the Kazakh elite around President Nazarbayev. The dictator desperately craves acceptance from the West and it lifts the spirits of opposition activists when they get support from European MPs and see that they are not isolated.

Recently there have been demonstrations across Kazakhstan against the sudden devaluation of the Tenge (the Kazakhstan currency). In Almaty, more than 300 took to the streets and some were arrested. It is forces on the ground who will undoubtedly be in the forefront of forcing change and ending dictatorship.

Mick Whale (Secretary, Campaign Kazakhstan)

On 12 February representatives of non-governmental and human rights organisations from Kazakhstan appeared at a sitting of the Committee on Human Rights at the European Parliament. They included Ainur Kurmanov, Deputy Chair of the Kazakh Workers’ Trade Union (Zhanartu) and Co-Chairman of the Socialist Movement, Kazakhstan; Evgeni Zhovtis, leader of the International Kazakh Bureau on Human Rights and Igor Vinyavski, former editor of Vzglyad, a newspaper closed by the authorities, who represented the European Foundation Otkryti Dialog (Open Dialogue).

 The event was linked with the planned visit to Kazakhstan of a delegation from the European Parliament from 24 March. The meeting itself, as well as the forthcoming visit, were largely initiated by the left and green fraction.  On 1 April the European Parliament Human Rights Committee will assemble again to assess the meetings that the MEPs will have with representatives of the Kazakh opposition, journalists from the closed down media organisations, activists of independent unions from Mangystau province and human rights activists.

Evgeni Zhovtis pointed out the reactionary nature of the new Criminal Code, pointing to the persecution of different religious communities and outlined clearly the attacks being carried out against the opposition in Kazakhstan and the agents of the free press. Igor Vinyavski focused on questions relating to the persecution of journalists, the the closing down of newspapers and on the question of ensuring that Mukhtar Ablyazov and Aleksander Popov are not extradited to Kazakhstan.

He said that if such a step were to be taken by the European authorities, it would set a negative precedent which would affect all refugees from Central Asia. The Governments of the European Union, in his opinion, are unfortunately more interested in matters of economic co-operation and in the extraction of mineral reserves and the redistribution of profits than in human rights.  And now we are back to the old ways of “oil in exchange for (a lack of) democracy”.

Ainur Kurmanov raised more questions about the abuse of human rights and the freedom of workers.  It is evident that these issues are set to become even worse when the new Criminal Code is introduced shortly, as well as the new trade union law which allows no opportunity for the setting up of independent trade unions nor the right to strike. Nazarbaev, according to Kurmanov, took a decision to permit only one state trade union, that is the Federation of Trade Unions of Kazakhstan.  And all others must be eliminated.

Since the EU has already decided to blacklist the Ukrainian officials who were responsible for the deaths of three demonstrators in Kiev, Ainur Kurmanov called on MEPs to look at the possibility of imposing sanctions on those high level Kazakh officials who were directly responsible for the massacre of oil workers and civilians in Zhanaozen.  Among those are the former Prime Minister, who is currently the leader of the President’s Administration, Karim Masimov; Minister of the Interior, Kalmukhanbet Kasymov; Head of KNB (Kazakh National Security Bureau), Nurtay Abykaev and the Defence Minister, Adilbek Jaksybekov.

He also proposed to the MEPs the setting up of controls to regulate the sale of arms to Nazarbaev’s regime and even to impose an embargo against the sale of military equipment, including military drones,  recording equipment and firearms, that could be used against peaceful demonstrators in the civilian population.

MEP Paul Murphy showed delegates shocking photographs of dead workers and citizens of Zhanaozen, whose bodies showed signs of bullet wounds and beatings.  These people were not included in the official list of fatalities of 16-17 December 2011, although it was obvious to everyone that they died a violent death. Evidence is being compiled on these people and will be made public at a later date.  Paul also asked his colleagues not to limit their stay to Astana and mere talks with government bureaucrats and pro-Government NGOs, but to travel down to Zhanaozen and to the prisons in order to visit political prisoners.

The MEPs started a serious discussion about the possibility of imposing sanctions against individual government officials and the names mentioned were noted. Obviously, the Committee could not make any decisions during the meeting.  However, the discussion has been started and the European Parliament intends to seriously look into political repression in Kazakhstan.

The Committee on Human Rights and the delegates assured those present that they would definitely visit one of the political prisoners at their place of detention.  Most likely it would be Vladimir Kozlov, although the names of Roza Tuletaeva and Vadim Kuramshin were also put forward.   Meetings with the representatives of the opposition and trade unions would also be arranged.

All the speakers and the Committee leaders declared it necessary to monitor all the political activists and public figures who had spoken, as they are subject to persecution upon their return home. Vladimir Kozlov, Vadim Kuramshin and other activists have been imprisoned on returning to Kazakhstan after speaking out at European organisations’ meetings.

Paul Murphy drew attention to the situation regarding the trade union activists Kinzhigali Suyeyov and Mukhtar Umbetov from Aktau, whose family and relatives have suffered harassment as a result of their speeches at the European Parliament on 16 December 2013 at the hearing commemorating the second anniversary of the Zhanaozen oil workers’ massacre.

The Kazakhstan Ambassador was not given the opportunity to speak in the debates, the reason cited as being lack of time for any comments or reports. The large group of Embassy officials and pro-government ‘journalists’, some of whom looked like KNB (Kazakhstan Secret Police) officials, had to leave empty handed.  Being ignored in this way has never happened before. It could be seen as an indication that the MEPs, members of the Committee on Human Rights, were angry and were trying to demonstrate their hostility towards the regime.

The attitude of some MEPs is changing.  The European Parliament provides at least some kind of platform to promote the ideas of the opposition and human rights activists of Kazakhstan.

 

Psychological pressure on Vadim Karamshin continues

Ekaterina Kuramshina, his partner, reports

On the 28th December, I and Vadim’s mother Olga Stepanovna visited Vadim in prison. At first glance, the visit seemed to be going OK. On arrival, the staff at the prison colony were very pleasant and the Head of the prison was polite and attentive. We have waited for this visit for over 6 months. But when we arrived in the visiting room we found ourselves separated by a huge glass screen behind which our loved one was sitting. We were asked to take a seat and were handed an ordinary telephone, on which we were expected to conduct the whole four-hour meeting. Apart from us, there were several prison guards in the room, whom we ignored.

Vadim has become very thin. Vessels in his eyes have burst. It was clear from how he looked that Vadim’s health has been damaged. He suffers from bad insomnia due to serious headaches. Although he has been to the medical officer on several occasions for treatment, all they do is wring their hands with inaction.

Vadim gave just one example of what life in the colony is like, which gave us the impression that his situation is full of stress. Because of his insomnia, he cannot get enough sleep. One morning, after yet another sleepless night, he got up at the morning alarm call and put his bunk in order. He dressed, drank tea and sat down on his bunk again.

As he sat down a bright light lit up over his bunk. As a reaction to the sharp pain in his head, he shut his eyes just as the guard entered the cell shouting “Kuramshin, are you still asleep?”.  Vadim went up to him, pointed out he was dressed and fully awake, and that he would very much like to sleep as he had been awake all night, but that at that moment he had been merely sitting down. Nevertheless the guard wrote a report and the next day Vadim was called to write an explanation, which he refused to do.

We are worried that at any time, Vadim could be sent into an isolation cell. They try to catch him out on any excuse. They even follow him with a video camera hoping to catch him making some minor infringement of the regulations whilst taking exercise in the yard. Then they will punish him as they see fit, and undoubtedly send the videos on elsewhere to justify taking stronger action.

According to Vadim this is complete madness; someone high up, outside the colony, very much wants that he is not released from the strict regime colony into easier conditions. All he needs is one infringement and they will use that as an excuse to keep him in the harsh regime for another year. In March it will be exactly a year since he has been in the colony “Bur-barak”.

This affects literally everything that happens, both in the colony and outside. Our family is hoping that in March we will eventually be allowed a prolonged visit at which we will be allowed to be together for at least three days in conditions that are like a home (allowed under present prison regulations). But whether that will be granted or not can only be guessed at.

Vadim is prepared to stay at “Bur-barak” if for no other reason than that he can have family visits there. At least they do not beat him in the literal sense of the word. There are no visible bruises or wounds. They have instead decided to use moral pressure. It is very difficult not to see your loved ones for months on end. And even when it is possible to see them at the whim of the Head of the prison, to do so only through a thick glass window for a few hours watched all the time by guards.

He has not been given the medicines that we have sent by the parcel service, or, to be more exact, he was given them just a day before our visit. They have not given him newspapers for months on end, nor allowed him telephone calls, which other prisoners are allowed. We can list without end,  for those who are interested, all the tricks they use, and neither the prison administration, nor Vadim himself, nor we, his loved ones can do anything as long as those above who decide the issue want to continue trying to destroy our lives.

Paul Murphy MEP hosts hearing to mark the second anniversary of the Zhanaozen killings

“Indignation, repression and anger prevails”

Tanja Niemeier‎ (Euro-parliament left group staff member in personal capacity)

Two years have gone by and still there is uncertainty about how many people lost their lives when Kazakhstan state forces brutally cracked down on peaceful protesters on Kazakhstan’s Independence Day in 2011. They were mainly oil workers who had previously been involved in strike actions, their supporters and families.

Kinzhigali Suienov and Mukhtar Umbetov are independent trade unionists from the “Aktau” regional trade union as well as members of a local investigation committee that is trying to establish the truth of what happened on that day. They told the hearing convened by Paul Murphy on December 16th in Brussels that it was an event which has shaken and changed Kazakhstan.

They explained how the families of the victims are still suffering from the after-effects of the killings. No compensation has been paid for the victims and their families, the exact number of people who died at the hands of the state forces still has not been established, it is still not clear who ordered the shootings and questions remain as to why special forces were already in the area on that day. Moreover, strike leaders and worker-activists like Roza Tulataeva remain in prison.

Release all political prisoners

The meeting endorsed the call for the release without delay of all political prisoners, including the opposition politician, Vladimir Kozlov, and the human rights lawyer, Vadim Kuramshin. There was broad unanimity among the participants of the meeting that Zhanaozen has marked a turning point in Kazakhstan and that – at least at this stage – it has led to an increase in repression and fear amongst broader layers of the population. The shutdown of practically all opposition media appears to have strengthened the Nazarbayev regime but at the same time illustrates its fear of the voice of ordinary people, discontented with the way society is run and organised in the interests of the political and economic elites.
Bolat Atabayev, exiled theatre director and winner of the Goethe Medal, underlined this point by giving examples of how big business interests take priority over human rights concerns. He was in particular referring to German business interests in the exploitation of natural resources in Kazakhstan.
The EU is Kazakhstan´s first trading partner by a long mark. Nearly a third of its foreign trade (31.6 %) is with the EU, followed by China at just under a quarter (23%) and Russia 18.7%. A full 60% of all foreign direct investment into Kazakhstan comes from EU businesses. Generally, oil and gas account for around 80% of all of Kazakhstan´s exports.

However, the representative of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU´s diplomatic service involved in the negotiations for an enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Kazakhstan insisted that the EU is raising human rights concerns through the appropriate channels and, according to her, is doing its utmost to monitor trials of oppositionists.
Non-Governmental Organisations like the International Partnership for Human Rights and the Open Dialogue foundation, who were present at the meeting, nevertheless suggested that a lot more could be done if the EU was serious about defending its human rights commitments.

OSCE “fails ordinary people in Kazakhstan”

Pedro Teres, a former worker at the OSCE offices in Astana, attended the hearing in order to share his utter disillusionment with a respected organisation such as the OSCE. He explained how he was strongly discouraged by senior staff from addressing concerns in relation to the human rights situation in general and in Zhanaozen in particular. This is while the local OSCE office seems to be concerned over the possibility of getting expelled from Kazakhstan if they ask too critical questions,

Pedro clearly felt that the OSCE was failing ordinary people in Kazakhstan and it does not really care about human and trade union rights. Instead, as Pedro rightly says, it is compliant with the Nazarbayev dictatorship and organises vacuous workshops in which government officials and OSCE staff flatter and congratulate each other over luxurious banquets.

Pedro subsequently went to Zhanaozen on his own accord to carry out interviews and take pictures in order to find out what exactly happened on 16 December 2011.  People told him, “When the streets were crowded with people, some men in black clothes set on fire the office of the Akimat (mayor) and the offices of UzhenMunaiGas.  When the shooting started, most people claimed that shots were coming from snipers placed at the old hotel and beside the mayor’s office. Troops from other regions had been recruited days before in a plan orchestrated by the authorities to terminate a strike that could jeopardise the oil sector which fuels the country’s economy.”

He also visited the local cemetery and found that more than 20 protesters had died of their injuries only in January 2012. The Kazakhstan regime still has a lot of questions to answer.

Work ahead

Paul Murphy MEP and the organisation he set up – Campaign Kazakhstan – continue to call for an independent, international inquiry into the events at Zhanaozen.

Nicole Kiil-Nielsen, MEP for the Green Party in France is one of the few members of the European Parliament genuinely involved in defending human rights in Central Asia. She told the hearing that the European Parliament’s Human Rights Sub-committee will undertake a visit to Kazakhstan in March of this year. We will see if such a delegation turns into another exercise of flattery over luxurious banquets or actually assists those who genuinely attempt to find out what happened on 16 December 2011.

MEPs should take inspiration from Pedro Teres who risked his job with the OSCE by speaking out. He felt he had no other alternative but to tell the truth. He contacted Paul Murphy’s office on his return from Zhanaozen where people had remembered very positively the Irish MEP’s visit during the oil workers’ strike in 2011.

A full recording of the hearing can be watched here: 

http://youtu.be/1LEfcTyoBU0

Keep up protests please to local embassies via http://www.embassypages.com/kazakhstan 

Campaign Kazakhstan events in London on anniversary of Zhanaozen massacre

Campaign Kazakhstan held two very successful events in London, commemorating the second anniversary of the Zhanaozen massacre, and the ongoing struggles in Kazakhstan. On the 16 December, we held a protest at the Kazakhstan embassy, of which you can see a selection of photographs here http://www.demotix.com/news/3516956/protesters-london-demanding-justice-kazakhstan-oil-workers#media-3516846 and a short video on our facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=482079041908349&set=vb.129918950457695&type=2&theater .
Campaign Kazakhstan, alongside Article 19, also held a cultural event on 17 December. This featured a panel discussion, hearing from representatives of Campaign Kazakhstan, the Socialist Party and visitors to Zhanaozen reporting on their experiences. There was also a performance of imprisoned poet Aron Atabeks poetry, and music from Alfia Nakipbekova and James Hesford.
A fuller report and videos will come soon.

Two years since Zhanaozen massacre – fight for justice and freedom in Kazakhstan

Protest and cultural event in London

For a downloadable pdf please see here – CK 2013 dec events A4

Two years since Zhanaozen massacre – fight for justice and freedom in Kazakhstan

Protest and commemoration

Monday, 16 December

12 noon

Protest to highlight the ongoing imprisonment of innocent trade union, political and human rights activists in the aftermath of the state massacre in Zhanaozen on December 16 2011

Kazakhstan embassy, 125 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5EA

Tuesday, 17 December

7pm -8.30 (Doors open at 6.30)

Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA

Kazakhstan: Zhanaozen remembered

Panel discussion and cultural evening

Join ‘Campaign Kazakhstan’ and ‘Article 19’ for an evening of discussion, music, poetry and films dedicated to the struggle against dictatorship in Kazakhstan

No entrance charge. Donations welcome.

Drinks and refreshments available before and after the event

Almost two years ago, President Nazarbayev showed the kind of Kazakhstan he wanted to run. Up to a hundred oil workers, on strike for several months, were massacred by the police and state forces on December 16 2011. Leading activists in the union were tried and convicted, and currently face long prison sentences – for the ‘crime’ of standing up for their rights, for taking peaceful strike action against brutal employers and for getting shot at.

The workers in Zhanaozen have done nothing wrong. But the Kazakhstan regime has blood on its hands. Many human rights activists, trade union members, political campaigners opposed to Nazarbayev languish in jail.

Vadim Kuramshin is a human rights activist and lawyer, imprisoned effectively without trial for highlighting the many injustices faced by ordinary people in Kazakhstan. In a letter describing his arrival in jail, Vadim wrote:  “Those joining me in the van were all, without exception, people who had already served sentences. Everyone had, at some time, cut their wrists in an attempt to escape torture. In other words, they were all hardened… Each of us was thinking about what would happen on our arrival. Everyone was bracing themselves for a “warm reception” – either having to run the gauntlet, to have “a roasting” or being tortured “on your own”.

But this vicious treatment from the regime has not deterred Vadim or others from campaigning. Vadim was awarded the 18th Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize for his tireless work, but had to accept the prize from behind bars.

Aron Atabek is a political activist and poet, imprisoned during protests over housing rights in Shanyrak six years ago. He was sentenced to eighteen years, and recently had to celebrate his sixtieth birthday in jail. He is kept in forced solitary confinement, under 24-hour video surveillance, and forced even to write his poems in secrecy.

Hundreds of protesters campaigning for decent housing conditions recently defied mass arrests to make their point heard by Nazarbayev and co. Mass protests of workers in Zhezkazgan managed to put a halt to plans to lay off a large amount of the workforce.  There is big anger and resistance to the attacks of the government and the employers, despite the harsh conditions.

Campaign Kazakhstan fights for human rights for all. We fight for the immediate release of all political prisoners, including Aron Atabek, Vadim Kuramshin, Zhanaozen strike leaders and more. We fight for the right to peaceful protest without fear of intimidation or arrest. We fight for the right to join a trade union of your choosing and the right to strike action and representation.

Campaign Kazakhstan has been active for well over two years, bringing support and solidarity to those involved in struggle in Kazakhstan. The campaign has been instrumental in winning the release from jail of activists, as well as providing practical support to those affected by the regimes vicious methods. We have organised numerous protests in Britain and internationally to highlight the conditions faced in Kazakhstan. The campaign is supported by many organisations, including the RMT transport union, the Haldane Society of socialist lawyers, MEP Paul Murphy, MP Jeremy Corbyn and many more.

If you agree with what we are doing, join us on the 16 and 17 December for protests and solidarity, and get involved in Campaign Kazakhstan!

See Campaign Kazakhstan web-site campaignkazakhstan.org

Contact us on campaignkazakhstan@gmail.com

 

Imprisoned Kazakh activist awarded prize given to Nelson Mandela in 1985

Nelson Mandela was the first recipient in 1985 of the Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize. Coincidentally it was on the day of his death,  5 December, that the ceremony took place in Paris for this year’s winner, Vadim Kuramshin. Like Mandela, when he was awarded this prize, Vadim Kuramshin is being held in prison under a brutal dictatorship.

Vadim Kuramshin was awarded the 18th Ludovic-Trarieux Prize for his courageous campaigning for human rights and prisoners’ rights in Kazakhstan.

Ben Robinson, spokesperson for Campaign Kazakhstan, says:  “Vadim has played a courageous role in standing up for human rights, despite the huge self-sacrifice this has led to. He has consistently stood on the side of those victims of torture, discrimination and victimisation by a regime determined to keep power in its own hands by any means necessary.”

“This is the real reason why Vadim is currently in prison – because he has been a consistent thorn in the side of the regime. He was unanimously acquitted by a jury in his first trial, but then rearrested under the same charges and tried without a jury, where Vadim himself was not allowed a defence lawyer or any representation. Vadim is currently facing 12 years in jail. The Supreme Court, on 25 November, dismissed his case. His family and supporters are aiming to lodge the papers for an appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Commission before the end of this year.”

“Campaign Kazakhstan welcomes this recognition of Vadim Kuramshin’s tireless work for human rights in Kazakhstan, where many languish in prison for daring to oppose Kazakhstan’s president Nazarbayev and his supporters.”

Campaign Kazakhstan has consistently fought for the unconditional release of Vadim and recently  assisted in getting lawyers to the High Court and also arranging for his mother and brother to be in Paris to receive the award on his behalf.

Campaign Kazakhstan is holding a protest on 16 December at 12 midday at the Kazakhstan embassy (125 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5EA) to demand the release of all political prisoners in Kazakhstan.

The campaign was launched in 2010 and has the affiliation of the RMT transport union, the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Paul Murphy MEP and Jeremy Corbyn MP, amongst others.

ENDS