Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court has freed six people jailed for their roles in fatal unrest in December 2011, when police opened fire on protestors in the western oil town of Zhanaozen.
The ruling, which surprised many observers, suggests that the authorities are making further moves to put behind them a bout of turmoil that left 15 civilians dead and damaged the reputation of President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his administration. The unrest spun out of a protracted energy sector strike that the government acknowledges was mishandled.
The Supreme Court ruled on May 28 to free six of 13 Zhanaozen protestors jailed last June, Tengri News reports. The ruling left their convictions intact but suspended their sentences.
The sentences of seven others jailed after a controversial trial last year amid allegations of torture, including prominent strike leader Roza Tuletayeva, were left unchanged. Tuletayeva was originally handed a seven-year sentence; it was cut to five on appeal.
Of four protestors jailed separately over a bout of related violence in the town of Shetpe near Zhanaozen, one was freed by the Supreme Court on appeal in January.
Kazakhstan’s self-appointed morality police are taking on the gay and lesbian community: In recent weeks, lawmakers’ homophobic rants have echoed through the hallowed halls of parliament as they call for homosexuality to be criminalized.
Homosexuality is “amorality of the highest degree,” blustered deputy Aldan Smayyl in parliament on May 22, Kazakhstan Today reported.
“A law should be adopted which would allow [homosexuals] to be considered criminals against humanity,” Smayyl – who represents the ruling Nur Otan party, headed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev – continued.
He has sent a query to Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov about adopting a law and is awaiting a response.
“In Almaty there are already 20 gay clubs; in Astana four clubs! What sort of disgrace is this?” Smayyl ranted in further remarks broadcast on KTK TV.
His bid to criminalize homosexuality – which flies in the face of Kazakhstan’s constitutional guarantee of equal rights for all – comes as the rights of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community are increasingly the subject of public debate in Kazakhstan, partly sparked by a symbolic lesbian wedding held last month.
There is no legal mechanism for gay marriage in Kazakhstan, nor is any planned. But that didn’t stop parliamentary deputy Kairbek Suleymenov (another Nur Otan stalwart) from demanding action against something that doesn’t exist.
It has long been an open secret that some police officers in Kazakhstan turn a blind eye to criminal activity in exchange for a share of the proceeds. But rarely do male officers end up fleeing the scene of the crime dressed in drag.
This is what happened in the western city of Atyrau last week, according to a report carried in local newspaper Ak Zhayyk on May 26. Its correspondent on the scene described seeing two male police officers decked out in women’s clothes bolting from a brothel.
According to the newspaper, two officers arrived at an apartment block in Atyrau around 5 a.m. after a confrontation between alleged pimps and sex workers working out of an apartment and their infuriated neighbors.
The officers entered the apartment, but when they hadn’t emerged after an hour neighbors called another police squad, whose officers arrived and sat outside in their car.
A woman then emerged from the alleged brothel, got into the squad car and proceeded to hurl insults at the neighbors and throw a bottle at them while the newly arrived police looked on, Ak Zhayyk said.
A bizarre scene then ensued as, amid the disturbance, the first two police officers emerged from inside the brothel, “one in a long beige women’s jacket, under which [police] uniform pants were peeping out,” the other in “tight” women’s pants.
When the officers sitting outside failed to make a move, a pregnant woman and an elderly man resorted to giving chase themselves. But “the forces were unequal” and the two sergeants in drag escaped.
Following the launch of a corruption probe in the UK involving a natural resources giant with strong links to Kazakhstan, the company, ENRC, has become the subject of a hostile takeover bid by powerful interests with connections to the Central Asian state.
The three oligarchs who founded the London-listed Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation – Alexander Machkevitch, Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov (who are all believed to have powerful connections in Kazakhstan) – have teamed up with the Kazakh government to mount the takeover. Together the four parties hold a combined 55.33 percent of ENRC, with the three founders owning equal shares of 14.56 percent each and Astana owning 11.65 percent.
ENRC’s committee of independent directors has rejected the bid on the grounds that it “materially undervalues ENRC,” according to a May 17 statement.
The committee said that the City of London’s Panel on Takeovers and Mergers, which regulates takeover bids for London Stock Exchange-listed firms, had granted its request for an extension until June 3 for a decision on the bid, to allow the consortium time to make a better offer – something there is no guarantee it will do.
The takeover panel issued a statement on May 20 saying that another London-listed company linked to Kazakhstan, the Kazakhmys copper miner, is officially to be treated as part of the takeover bid, because Astana plans to use its stake in Kazakhmys to finance the ENRC buyout.
The jailed former boss of Kazakhstan’s nuclear industry has marked the fourth anniversary of his arrest by voicing suspicions from his prison cell that Russian machinations were behind the charges against him.
Mukhtar Dzhakishev, the highly respected head of Kazakhstan’s state nuclear company Kazatomprom until he was abruptly fired and arrested on May 21, 2009, said he was “convinced” Moscow had “prepared a bundle of accusations and ‘proof’ tailored to Soviet mentality” to have him arrested to stymie a nuclear deal.
On the day of his arrest, Dzhakishev was scheduled to meet Sergey Kiriyenko, the visiting head of Russia’s state-run Rosatom nuclear giant, to discuss possible trilateral nuclear collaboration with Japan, he said in comments posted on a website set up by his daughter, Aigerim Dzhakisheva.
“[The Russian] delegation had been in Japan and made an offer of a partnership that would exclude Kazakhstan,” Dzhakishev said. “The Japanese refused and demanded to have Kazakhstan included in these deals, as I had previously discussed and agreed with them.”
Video filmed after Dzhakishev’s arrest and leaked to YouTube showed him discussing his ambition to transform Kazakhstan's nuclear industry into a world leader and saying he wanted to stop Russian investors gaining a controlling stake in Uranium One, a Canada-based company with operations in Kazakhstan, which he believed would impede Kazakhstan's atomic ambitions.
A group of villagers is held in thrall by omnipotent rulers, who warn that misfortune will befall the inhabitants if they defy authorities. And then, one day, the emperor is revealed to have no clothes.
A major terror trial has opened in Astana, hearing allegations that a group of radicals intended to blow the city’s landmark pyramid sky high and plotted to assassinate senior officials, Tengri News reports.
The iconic pyramid, called the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation and designed by British architect Norman Foster, has become a symbol of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s glitzy capital. It is also a symbol of religious tolerance, every few years hosting a Congress of World and Traditional Religions to promote inter-faith dialogue.
Prosecutor Malika Shashdauletova alleged that the group also planned to attack the HQ of the National Security Committee’s domestic intelligence service (KNB) and murder agents; plotted the assassinations of unidentified “senior figures of the Republic of Kazakhstan”; and planned an act of terrorism at the opening of Astana Opera, the city’s new opera house.
Shashdauletova said that alleged ringleader Serik Koshalakov opened a kebab shop near an Astana mosque to recruit followers to pursue the ultimate goal of setting up an Islamic caliphate in Kazakhstan.
Almaty’s arts scene has acquired an innovative new theater that aims to promote experimental drama and also prove that theater can be a profitable business.
Theatre BT launched in March as “an open, experimental platform,” director Aigul Sultanbekova said. BT stands for “business theater,” and the idea is to harness the corporate world to make an economic success out of the project -- a rarity in Kazakhstan, where few theaters turn a profit.
Theatre BT is offering five-day corporate training programs based on improvisational acting techniques, which should help finance its drama productions.
The training, conducted by psychologist Valeriy Bochkarev (who is the theater’s deputy director and also acts in its productions), in tandem with an actor, is targeted at business people and covers areas such as effective communication and conflict management.
“The main value driver is the business theater, for the time being, but in the long run we want to come to the point where the place would be self-sustainable,” Sultanbekova told EurasiaNet.org.
“My idea is that theater could be profitable; it could be economically viable, but of course you need to get to that point. [...] The market should be ready."
Most theaters in Kazakhstan receive heavy state subsidies and continue the Soviet tradition of charging low prices for tickets to make culture accessible for the masses.
Theatre BT’s prices won’t break the bank: It charges 2,000 tenge (around $13) for tickets. The repertoire includes Amerika, based on the novel by Franz Kafka, and O.k.no, based on the play Jean et Béatrice by Canadian playwright Carole Fréchette.
In the foothills of the Tien Shan mountains in southeastern Kazakhstan, a falcon perches in a tree. Its eyes dart to and fro, all senses on alert. Suddenly it swoops, snapping up some prey and soars off.
The industrial city of Karaganda in northeastern Kazakhstan has seen an event utterly out of the ordinary for the former Soviet Union: a wedding between two women.
The couple organized the symbolic wedding to celebrate their union, the Vox Populi website reports in a photo story showing the elaborate celebration, which included all the usual trappings: from the white limousine that the bride and groom ride in during more traditional celebrations to the flutes of champagne to toast the happy couple.
The marriage has no legal force in Kazakhstan, where same-sex weddings are not recognized by law – but the two women, identified only as Karolina and Kristina, decided to tie the knot symbolically. As Vox Populi put it, “love has no law.”
The pictures showed the elegant couple – one wearing a white wedding dress and the other a white suit – popping champagne corks and following the usual tradition of stopping off at popular sites around the city to have a glass of champagne with wedding guests.
When the wedding party dropped into a shopping mall to buy some food, eyebrows were raised, said Vox Populi. It described onlookers' mood as “spiteful,” with “hostile looks from the shoppers, whispering into walkie-talkies by the security guards, surprised looks from the salespeople.”
The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community tends not to be very visible in Kazakhstan, where anecdotal evidence suggests that members face widespread discrimination.
Vox Populi’s story on the wedding sparked a lively discussion thread, with some participants openly and proudly voicing those prejudices while others stood up in defense of LGBT rights.