A jailed opposition leader in Kazakhstan whose case has drawn expressions of concern from Washington and Europe is to remain behind bars after his parole bid was rejected.
Vladimir Kozlov’s application for release from custody was rejected on December 8 at a hearing in the jail outside Almaty where he is being held, his lawyer Aiman Umarova said in postings on her Facebook page. Umarova complained in her post of the judge’s “negative attitude” to Kozlov during the hearing.
Kozlov had exercised his legal right to file for parole after serving half of his seven-and-a-half-year jail term on charges of inciting violence in the western oil town of Zhanaozen in 2011.
He was also found guilty of seeking to use the unrest in Zhanaozen to overthrow President Nursultan Nazarbayev in the capital, Astana, some 2,600 kilometers away.
Speaking at the parole hearing, to which journalists and human rights campaigners were not admitted, Kozlov denied committing any crimes.
He argued, as he always has, that his only link to the Zhanaozen violence — which spiraled out of an oil-sector strike that the government acknowledged mishandling — was his legitimate political activity.
“I have not committed any crimes,” he said in a speech posted by his lawyer on Facebook. “I headed a political party, and when the oil workers of Zhanaozen came and asked for support in their economic and social dispute with employers, we decided to offer them informational, legal and consultative support.”
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has signed off on a controversial law regulating the funding of nongovernmental organizations, against the advice of campaigners.
Critics of the bill drew comparisons to a 2012 law adopted in Russia that requires foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents,” although Kazakhstan’s law contains no such wording.
The law, approved on December 2, will establish a single state operator through which funding for NGOs must be channeled.
In October, as the bill was wending its way through Kazakhstan’s rubberstamp parliament, civil society campaigners urged Nazarbayev to veto it.
The legislation would give the state a veto over which NGOs receive funding and for what kind of activities, they argued. They pointed out that the bill’s wording does not include human rights in the list of areas in which NGOs can legitimately operate, though it does not rule the sphere out either.
The law will grant the government “ideological control over NGOs,” activist Amangeldy Shormanbayev said.
Over 60 NGOs signed a petition calling on Nazarbayev to reject the law, charging that it would “seriously restrict human rights,” including the rights to freedom of speech, conscience and association.
The OSCE’s media freedom representative agreed, warning that the law “could pose a clear threat to free media.”
The government has rejected criticisms of the bill.
When civil war broke out in Syria, Usama Nuraldin was a successful businessman raising a young family in Damascus. Now, he is a jobless refugee in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty, one of a tiny handful of those forced to flee the brutal conflict to have made a new home in Central Asia.
Plenty, for the 99 people who share a full name with the strongman president of Kazakhstan.
This is the number of citizens who have been named in honor of Nursultan Nazarbayev in the 24 years since Kazakhstan gained its independence, statistics released on the occasion of First President’s Day on December 1 show.
The 99 are just the tip of the iceberg. That is the number of children given the president’s first name and his surname too.
But many more share his first name alone — a total of 37,077 children born since 1991 have been named Nursultan, TengriNews reports, citing the Statistics Committee.
The name, combined of the Arabic-origin words “nur” (meaning “light”) and “sultan” (“king” or “ruler”), has long been used by Kazakhs, and the name Nursultan was chosen for Nazarbayev by his paternal grandmother. That factoid is one of 12 offered by state news agency Kazinform, which also informs readers that in his youth Nazarbayev joined in with construction work on his neighbor’s house to raise the funds to buy a harmonica.
A trend for naming children after the president has developed since independence, with parents no doubt hoping that some of Nazarbayev’s luster will rub off on their offspring.
Kazakhstan may be experiencing its toughest economic times in years, but its people have never had it so good.
So says its long-ruling president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who used his state-of-the-nation address on November 30 to issue a rallying cry to his people to tighten their belts and bind together to weather the economic storm battering their oil-rich country.
“We have withstood quite a few tests together, and become hardened and strengthened. We have achieved a pace of economic development unheard of in all our history,” Nazarbayev said in his annual address. “Never before have our people lived as well as they do now. We have achieved a lot.”
Nazarbayev stressed that the economic tribulations are caused by external factors over which Astana has no control — “a global crisis of an all-embracing nature,” as he put it.
Prices for oil prices are and downturns in neighboring Russia and China are hitting Kazakhstan, whose grow is expected to grow by just 1.2 percent this year.
That compares to growth of 4.3 percent last year, which already represented a slowdown for Kazakhstan.
Nazarbayev proposed “de-dollarization" as the key to combating currency woes that have seen the value of the tenge plunge by 40 percent since a move to a free float in August. This has become a buzzword in Astana, but economists say that is easier said than done.
After Nazarbayev’s speech, the central bank announced it would be issuing a new banknote worth 20,000 tenge ($65), twice as much as the largest existing bill.
Kazakhstan’s annual human rights consultations with the European Union took place this week against the backdrop of what activists say is an alarming spike in arrests over social media postings.
Astana is set to upgrade its relations with EU with the signing of an expanded partnership agreement, prompting concerns that Brussels may choose to gloss over rights issues for geopolitical ends.
While tolerance for dissent has always been low in Kazakhstan, authorities appear to have opened a new front by chasing down what they deem to be critical postings on websites like Facebook and Russia’s VKontakte.
Ahead of the human rights consultations, which took place in Astana on November 26, advocacy groups urged Brussels to address the clampdown.
“The EU should insist that the Kazakhstani authorities stop criminally prosecuting individuals who are legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression to voice opinions or share information that may not be to the liking of those in power,” said Brigitte Dufour, director of the Brussels–based International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), in a joint statement with the Almaty-based Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR). “Open debate – both off- and online – is a key element in any society aspiring to be a free and democratic one.”
On November 11, activist Bolatbek Blyalov of the Anti-Heptyl movement, which campaigns against Russia’s use of Kazakhstan’s Baikonur space station, was arrested on charges of inciting ethnic strife in social media postings.
Blogger Yermek Taychibekov is on trial on the same charge over postings in which he argued Kazakhstan should become part of Russia.
Kazakhstan has issued a diplomatic call for restraint from its allies Russia and Turkey following Ankara’s shooting down of a Russian warplane involved in airstrikes on Syria.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement, issued the day after Turkey downed the Russian fighter jet, that the “tragic incident” on November 24 was cause for regret.
Both sides should exercise restraint and explore “all possible measures and channels of communication for the de-escalation of the situation,” Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said.
The statement follows an ill-tempered war of words between Ankara and Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned what he called “a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists” and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has canceled a planned trip to Ankara.
The standoff between two of Kazakhstan’s allies that have long been at loggerheads over Syria — with the Kremlin backing embattled incumbent Bashar al-Assad with airstrikes targeting rebels and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan seeking his overthrow and backing the militants — is uncomfortable for President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kazakhstan is a staunch ally of Russia and a fellow member of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union, but also has a close partnership with Turkey and is a fellow member of the Ankara-led Turkic Council.
Turkey’s links with Turkic peoples have played a role in the controversy, as the fighter jet crashed in an area of Syria inhabited by ethnic Turkmen, some of whom are believed to be Ankara-backed rebels.
Astana was careful not to apportion blame for the shooting down of the aircraft, in which one pilot died and the other was rescued by Russian special forces.
The use of child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest is becoming rarer, but there were indications that adults are being press-ganged into service this year, the World Bank has said in a report.
While offering hope of improvement, the report published on November 20 evinced disquiet about the harassment of independent harvest monitors — a sure indication authorities remain nervous about damage incurred to the country’s cotton public image in recent years.
The findings were based on observations by the International Labor Organization (ILO), which was this year asked to broaden its remit by checking for signs of forced labor.
Claims that child labor is on the wane echoes conclusions from independent campaigners since 2012, when the government banned the practice following a punishing cotton boycott by leading western brands.
“Authorities have taken a range of measures to reduce the incidence of child labor and make it socially unacceptable,” the World Bank said.
The assessment is broadly shared.
Apparent efforts by Uzbekistan to reduce reliance on underage workers prompted the U.S. State Department to promote Uzbekistan from Tier 3 to Tier 2 on its watch list in its 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report.
The burden of meeting harvest quotas has instead shifted to adults, who are often recruited against their will.
“Large numbers of citizens seem to be willing recruits and see the harvest as an opportunity. But organized recruitment of large numbers of people in such a short period of time carries certain risks linked to workers’ rights, which need further work, and certain indicators of forced labor have been observed,” the World Bank said.
As the economy sputters in Kazakhstan, the government has been forced into a review of the ambitious and costly infrastructure projects it had hoped would prove a tonic for growth.
Providing a fresh and sobering update, economy minister Yerbolat Dosayev told a meeting of the Cabinet on November 18 that it is now expected the economy will grow by 1.2 percent in 2015, down from the earlier forecast of 1.5 percent.
A spike in inflation is also expected as a result of the plunging value of the national currency, the tenge, Dosayev said in remarks quoted by Tengri News. The tenge has fallen by nearly 40 percent against the dollar since the move to a free float in August.
The inflation forecast has been increased to 8-10 percent from the previous expectation of 6-8 percent, Dosayev said.
Kazakhstan’s exports fell by 42 percent in the first nine months of this year, Total.kz quoted Dosayev as saying.
With President Nursultan Nazarbayev ordering belt-tightening to combat the revenue squeeze, Prime Minister Karim Masimov has ordered a review of the vast Nurly Zhol stimulus program, which was approved last year.
All regional governors are to review projects planned under the Nurly Zhol (Bright Path) strategy, Kazinform reported on November 23. Aset Isekeshev, the minister for industry and development, is to report back to the Cabinet with revised plans by March 1.
Security services in Kazakhstan’s capital recently foiled a major terrorist conspiracy, city mayor Adilbek Dzhaksybekov has claimed.
He gave no details of the alleged terrorist plot beyond that it was thwarted four months ago, or in the summer.
“Anti-terror questions are now coming to the fore,” Dzhaksybekov told a law-enforcement meeting in Astana. “The National Security Committee uncovered, literally four months ago, a major clandestine and well-equipped group which was planning terrorist acts in Astana.”
In recent months city residents have reported no evidence of heightened security in Astana, where security is not particularly tight and residents can stroll freely quite close to government buildings on the Left Bank.
Dzhaksybekov spoke of the need to be vigilant in preventing acts of terrorism following this month’s attacks in Paris.
Kazakhstan has not witnessed any major terrorist attacks. It experienced its first suicide bombing in 2011, and that year and the next year the country saw a series of low-level, mainly botched explosions and attacks on law-enforcement officers in which scores – mostly alleged extremists and members of the security forces - died.
In the most serious incident, seven people were killed when a gunman went on a rampage in the southern city of Taraz in 2011.