Isabel Santos, chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, wrapped up a short visit to Kazakhstan on June 11. In talks with officials, Santos raised concerns about Astana’s track record on democracy and civil society. At the conclusion of the visit Santos sat down with EurasiaNet.org to discuss her impressions, especially her meeting with jailed opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov.
EurasiaNet.org: Could you tell us about your trip to Kazakhstan?
Santos: The government invited me to come to Kazakhstan in reaction to some statements that I have made. I answered that I would be able to come only if the government allowed me to visit Mr. Kozlov and Ms. [Roza] Tuletayeva [both jailed on charges of inciting fatal violence in Zhanaozen in 2011 http://www.eurasianet.org/node/66032]. I visited only Mr. Kozlov as my request to visit Ms. Tuletayeva was not processed by the authorities in time. I was, however, informed that Ms. Tuletayeva has been transferred to a more open system, working outside the colony and at night staying in it. What I regret is that from the first moment the authorities knew I wanted to visit both of them, and they only answered positively in the case of Mr. Kozlov. I regret that, but I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to visit Mr. Kozlov, as I’ve done this morning.
EurasiaNet.org: How did you find him? Do you accept the view that he’s a political prisoner?
Santos: I spent 45 minutes with him – one to one. He told me that at this moment he doesn’t have any complaints regarding the current prison administration. He was in a positive mood. I think he’s a strong man with a very constructive attitude.
I’ve raised the case of Mr Kozlov as a political prisoner several times, in the Permanent Council, in human dimension meetings – as a person imprisoned for political motives. I don’t want to judge because I don’t have all the elements, but the elements I have from the media, activists, and members of civil society make me believe I’m facing a case that is politically motivated.
EurasiaNet.org: In your meetings with Kazakhstani officials did you raise his case and those of others whose supporters believe they are political prisoners, including former director of the state nuclear company Mukhtar Dzhakishev, and dissident poet Aron Atabek?
Santos: Yes, of course. I have concerns, and I explained those concerns to officials. They gave me the official explanation.
EurasiaNet.org: Do you have concerns about Kazakhstan’s justice and penitentiary systems?
Santos: Yes, of course I have concerns, and I’m following the improvements that the authorities are implementing now. The National Preventive Mechanism [to prevent torture in prisons] was presented to me as an important step, and I think it could be an important step – it all depends on the implementation of this mechanism. I hope the authorities make a good investment, involving civil society in this mechanism and providing the administrative and financial resources needed to implement it.
EurasiaNet.org: Do you share civil society activists’ concerns about freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and political freedoms?
Santos: Of course. I explained those concerns that I have to the governmental side. I know that my visit is taking place at a very important moment for this country, because it is taking decisions about the Criminal Code and the Administrative Code. I hope that the criticisms and concerns of civil society can be heard by the politicians and have an impact on the final document.
EurasiaNet.org: Civil society activists have asked the president to veto the Criminal Code adopted by parliament. What’s your reaction?
Santos: It is a moment to think and reflect about that. I hope the voice of civil society will be heard.
EurasiaNet.org: Kazakhstan has never held an election judged free and fair by OSCE Parliamentary Assembly or ODIHR observers, parliament contains only pro-government parties, civil society operates under pressure, and President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled for over two decades. What can you say about Kazakhstan's record on democracy?
Santos: I raised those kinds of questions in my meetings. I hope this will be translated into deep democratization. I appreciated the open discussion that I had with the Kazakhstani authorities. I hope that from talk to reality we will see results. I hope the commitments will really be translated into the life of this country.
EurasiaNet.org: Kazakhstan chaired the OSCE in 2010, but in 2012 President Nazarbayev criticized the OSCE and threatened to bar election observation missions. What does this mean for Kazakhstan-OSCE cooperation?
Santos: The mission of the OSCE, as a bridge between east and west, cannot be transferred to another organization. We are a unique Euro-Atlantic platform, and a very powerful platform – in democratization, in development, and in security. This is very important, and I’m sure Mr. Nazarbayev understands the importance of this for such an ambitious country as Kazakhstan.
On the ground we have a very powerful tool, the OSCE Center, which I hope the government will use even more in future to implement the international commitments I was told it’s committed to implementing. I would advise against the potential downgrading of the mandate of the OSCE Center in Astana.
I hope the electoral monitoring missions will continue to be conducted in this country. That is very important for a serious process of democratization, and it’s also very important for the image of Kazakhstan. I think the president understands very well the importance of these missions for the image of Kazakhstan.
I want to send a special word to civil society, to the courageous people I have found here, most of them women with strong views and strong causes, who are doing the best they can, 24 hours a day, to construct a better country for the younger generation. I have found a very active civil society here, and that’s a strong resource for the process of democratization. You don’t have good democracy without a civil society. That’s a basic principle.