The unregistered Alga! party, one of Kazakhstan’s only genuine opposition forces, has lost its legal battle against closure, it announced by Twitter today.
On December 21 a court in Almaty declared Alga! “extremist” and ordered its closure, the party said. It had been battling the closure bid since last month, when prosecutors announced they were seeking to shut it over allegations that it was involved in inciting fatal unrest in Zhanaozen last December.
Alga! leader Vladimir Kozlov is serving a jail term on charges he fomented that violence and sought to overthrow the administration of long-time President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Kozlov denies the charges and argues that he and his party -- which the authorities have for years refused to register to operate legally -- engaged only in legitimate opposition activity. Independent watchdog groups called the trial a sham.
In related cases, authorities are seeking the closure of around 40 media outlets. Two, the Stan TV Internet station and K+ satellite TV have already been closed. Outspoken newspapers Respublika (which has long operated under pressure in Kazakhstan) and Vzglyad (whose editor Igor Vinyavskiy was arrested in a post-Zhanaozen crackdown and later amnestied) continue their battles against closure, which Respublika deputy editor Oksana Makushina has condemned as a “reprisal” for critical reporting. The bid to ban these media outlets targets all web pages associated with them, including their Facebook and Twitter pages.
Prosecutors allege the outlets aired material “aimed at inciting social enmity” and contained calls to overthrow the state in their reporting on Zhanaozen, and that they 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 that Ablyazov, a vocal Nazarbayev opponent, was Kozlov’s funder and co-conspirator.
Pressure on the independent media was stepped up this week with raids by the security services on Respublika and Stan TV; documents and equipment were confiscated. Officers also raided Alga! offices and sealed the home of Kozlov’s wife Aliya Turusbekova, evicting her and impounding not only most of her possessions but also her dogs, Respublika reported.
The crackdown has sparked expressions of concern from international watchdogs such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Article 19 and Human Rights Watch. On December 13 the US mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe noted its “serious concern [over] recent efforts by the government of Kazakhstan to use the legal system to silence opposition voices and those critical of the government.”
Astana denies any political component to the cases. On December 18 Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov published a commentary defending the government’s response to the Zhanaozen crisis and outlining measures taken in response. “[W]e believe that our response over the last year shows a growing maturity and underlines our determination to keep learning and improving our country,” he said.