Police in Kazakhstan have thrown two activists behind bars on suspicion of fomenting ethnic strife through postings on social networks in which they quoted from an old, unpublished book.
The arrests of Serikzhan Mambetalin and Yermek Narymbayev – who are vocal online critics of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s rule, but wield little on-the-ground influence to rally support against it – are symptomatic of the extent to which the authorities in Kazakhstan go to crush even limited, or virtual, dissent.
The two were arrested on October 12 on the basis of allegations of “their dissemination on social networks of information containing clear signs of fomenting ethnic strife, [and] insults against ethnic honor and dignity,” the Almaty police department said in a statement put out the following day.
They are being investigated under a broad charge covering incitement to social, ethnic, tribal or religious strife. The offense is punishable with a fine or up to 12 years in jail.
This is one of the charges under which opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov was jailed in 2012 for seven and a half years after being found guilty of fomenting social strife that prosecutors argued led to fatal unrest in the town of Zhanaozen.
Police did not further specify the nature of the suspicions against the two activists, but Mambetalin offered a clue before his arrest. Writing on his Facebook page two days earlier, he said they were under attack for citing the writings of Murat Telibekov, another activist who is known for his anti-regime views.
Kazakhstan held poetry jamborees, horse races, musical performances, wrestling competitions and even a marathon push-ups session to mark the 550th anniversary of the creation of a Kazakh khanate, as authorities fired up patriotic pride.
France’s prime minister has ruled that a Kazakhstani oligarch who has been fighting a mammoth extradition battle with the French justice system for two years should be handed over to Russia to face fraud charges.
The ruling deals Mukhtar Ablyazov a major setback in his battle not to be extradited to a state that might then hand him over to his home country of Kazakhstan, which he says is pursuing him for political reasons.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls signed the extradition order on September 17. Ablyazov’s lawyer Peter Sahlas told AFP on October 12 that his client was informed of the decision last week.
Ablyazov will contest the ruling at the Conseil d’Etat, France’s supreme court of appeals in administrative cases, Sahlas said.
If he loses, he will be handed over to Russia to face charges of fraud and embezzlement in a convoluted case brought against him by Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, which charges that he stole at least $6 billion from the financial institution, which he once ran and owned through an undeclared stake.
Ablyazov has always contested that the case was politically motivated, spearheaded behind the scenes by the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev because of Ablyazov’s support for the opposition.
A human rights campaigner who alleges that she was tortured, gang-raped and forcibly sterilized while in custody in Uzbekistan has won a landmark United Nations ruling ordering Tashkent to investigate and prosecute those responsible for her ordeal.
The UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) found there had been “multiple violations” of the rights of Mutabar Tadjibayeva, an activist who now lives in exile in Paris, a press release issued by three human rights groups on October 8 said.
These include her rights “to be free from torture and ill-treatment; to liberty and security; to a fair trial; to freedom of expression; and to be protected against discrimination on the grounds of sex and opinion,” the press release from Tadjibayeva’s own group, the Fiery Hearts Club, and two international groups supporting her, London-based Redress and Paris-based FIDH.
“I hope this decision adds to the struggle against impunity in Uzbekistan and serves to put an end to the many indignities committed against human rights defenders by its repressive regime,” Tadjibayeva said in response to the UNHRC ruling, issued on October 6.
Tadjibayeva alleged in a complaint filed with the UN in 2012 that she was tortured, gang-raped and forcibly sterilized (a practice the government denies but which has been documented by the BBC) while in custody in Uzbekistan, where she was jailed in 2005 shortly after a bout of fatal unrest in her hometown of Andijan.
Legislation approved last month by Kazakhstan’s parliament is creating onerous rules on how nongovernmental organizations are funded and sparking alarm among activists of a fresh crackdown on civil society.
Critics of the bill have drawn comparisons to a 2012 law adopted in Russia that requires foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents,” a label with toxic Cold War-era associations.
Although the wording of the bill in Kazakhstan is different, many fear the results may be similar.
The law will grant the government “ideological control over NGOs,” activist Amangeldy Shormanbayev warned on October 6.
Over 60 NGOs have signed an appeal for President Nursultan Nazarbayev to veto the bill, which was approved by the lower house of parliament on September 23 and is now awaiting a vote in the Senate.
The petition warns that “if this draft law is adopted, it will seriously restrict human rights,” including the rights to freedom of speech, conscience and association.
Since the constitution guarantees those rights, the law is anti-constitutional and also breaches international human rights commitments to which Astana subscribes, the appeal said.
The law will establish a single state operator through which funding for NGOs must be channeled. Activists believe that will give the state a veto over which NGOs receive funding, and for what kind of activities.
The law “contradicts the principles of open civil society, because NGOs cannot be 100 percent dependent on the state,” Shormanbayev, a representative from the International Legal Initiative, a nongovernmental foundation offering legal advice, told a news conference in Almaty on October 6.
The United States diplomatic mission in Uzbekistan has been targeted in a firebomb attack in an unusual incident that will kindle chatter of a possible new terrorist menace in the repressive Central Asian nation.
Attacks on diplomatic missions in the heavily policed country are rare, but not unprecedented.
The US Embassy was targeted by bomb attacks on diplomatic and security targets in Tashkent in 2004 that killed two security guards at the Israeli Embassy.
This most recent attack occurred early September 28. The US mission said in a statement that “an unidentified assailant tossed two improvised incendiary devices onto embassy grounds,” one of which exploded.
Nobody was injured in the blast, but the embassy was closed as a precaution. The mission has now returned to business as usual, the statement said.
The embassy offered no possible motivation for the attack, which would have required the assailant to approach a robustly patrolled building surrounded by high razor-wire walls and guarded by U.S. Marines and local police.
The embassy said it was cooperating with authorities to investigate the attack and that it had identified “no specific threat information against Americans and/or American interests.”
Terrorist attacks are extremely rare in Uzbekistan, where the presence of police and security service officers is ubiquitous and stifling. This blast came three weeks after an explosive device detonated at Tashkent’s Chorsu Bazaar in an incident that the authorities belatedly explained was a security exercise.
Kazakhstan’s diplomatic balancing act over the conflict in Ukraine has been upset by a fresh row about the status of the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula.
Ukraine’s embassy in Astana on September 25 addressed a note of protest to Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry over school textbooks that show Crimea — which most of the international community, including Kazakhstan, recognizes as part of Ukraine — as belonging to Russia.
The information in the textbooks “contradicts the position of the international community and the leadership of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which has more than once stated its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” the embassy said in its statement.
Only a handful of countries, including North Korea, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela, have recognized Crimea as part of Russia. Other members of the international community — even usually staunch Moscow allies, like Belarus — insist the territory should be handed back to Ukraine.
Kiev has asked Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry and Education and Science Ministry to work toward “the immediate recall of these textbooks from secondary schools,” the embassy statement said. No response was immediately forthcoming.
The Ukrainian embassy’s contacts with Mektep, the publishing house that put out the offending textbooks, “testified that, unfortunately, a certain part of Kazakhstani society is deeply infected by Russian propaganda,” the statement said.
It urged action to boost Kazakhstan’s information security by restricting broadcasting of Russian television channels, which are beamed into homes all across Kazakhstan and play a large public opinion-forming role.
The downward trajectory of Kazakhstan’s national currency since last month has caused economic pain all around, but the free-float engineered by the country’s financial authorities was intended to benefit at least one group: exporters.
Not so, says Moody’s Investors Service.
“Any positive revenue effects for exporters from depreciation will be offset by the revaluation of debt and higher expenses, owing to exporters’ significant share of expenses pegged to foreign currency and cost inflation,” Moody’s vice president Denis Perevezentsev said in a briefing note on September 21.
Importers will take the biggest hit from the devaluation of the tenge, which has lost 50 percent of its value since mid-August, Perevezentsev said.
“Import-oriented businesses, such as food and non-food wholesalers and retailers, will suffer the most and we expect that these companies will find it difficult to quickly pass price increases on to their customers without incurring a possible reduction in demand,” he said.
This echoes what retailers are saying on the ground in Kazakhstan, where they are fretting over the rocketing costs of the goods they import, which they doubt they can pass on to customers.
A rise in inflation as a result of a weaker tenge will also end up “eroding the upside for companies that stand to benefit from a reduction in their cost bases while lower real incomes and higher prices for imported goods will result in reduced demand,” Moody’s said.