Prosecutors have moved to silence some of the few dissenting voices left in Kazakhstan’s tightly controlled political arena, seeking to muffle media and opposition groups for allegedly calling for the overthrow of the state in the run-up to fatal violence in Zhanaozen last December.
A statement by the prosecutor’s office on November 21 accused two vocal opposition forces -- the unregistered Alga! party and the People’s Front organization, consisting of Alga! and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan -- of extremist actions and said it had filed a court case to ban them, along with a host of media outlets.
Alga! is led by Vladimir Kozlov, who on November 19 lost his appeal against a seven-and-a-half year prison sentence over the Zhanaozen unrest. Critics -- including international human rights organizations and the US government -- fear Kozlov’s imprisonment was designed to silence Kazakhstan’s battered opposition.
“The authorities are themselves radicalizing dissent, pushing it out of the legal field,” Amirzhan Kosanov, deputy leader of another -- still tolerated -- opposition party, OSDP Azat, commented on his Facebook page.
The Kozlov verdict pronounced that Alga! and the People’s Front are “extremist,” the prosecutor’s office said, adding that leaflets activists distributed to oil strikers in Zhanaozen (whose strike was the catalyst for the unrest last December) and speeches they made in the town “were aimed at inciting social enmity and contained calls for the forcible overthrow of power.”
As well as seeking a shutdown of the two political movements, the prosecutor’s office asked for a ban on Respublika newspaper and associated outlets (a total of eight newspapers and 23 websites); Vzglyad newspaper (whose editor Igor Vinyavskiy was arrested in a post-Zhanaozen crackdown and later amnestied); the K+ satellite TV channel; and the Internet TV station Stan TV. All are accused of airing material “aimed at inciting social enmity” and containing calls to overthrow the state.
“We are journalists and we believe we have carried out our professional duty, “Respublika’s deputy editor Oksana Makushina told EurasiaNet.org on November 21. “We believe this is a reprisal against the independent press.”
The authorities allege that Alga! and these media outlets are funded by fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov (who is on the run from British justice in a separate fraud case).
Prosecutors at Kozlov’s trial alleged there was a plot to politicize the oil strike in order to overthrow President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Ablyazov’s political foe, who is now in his third decade in power. Kozlov countered that he only engaged in legitimate political opposition.
Prosecutors are almost certain to win their case, further reducing Kazakhstan’s already restricted space for opposition voices.