A court in Kazakhstan has banned the outspoken independent newspaper Respublika, amid what critics see as a year-long political crackdown following fatal unrest in the town of Zhanaozen last December that has seen an opposition leader jailed, his party shut down, and media outlets critical of the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev closed.
On December 25 the court ordered Respublika to shut down its print version and all associated print outlets and websites containing the word “Respublika,” Almaty-based media freedom watchdog Adil Soz reported. The ruling was issued four days after a key opposition party, Alga!, was closed.
Respublika – which has long operated under pressure in Kazakhstan, and once had the corpse of a decapitated dog pinned to its wall as an apparent threat – was among around 40 media outlets targeted for closure by prosecutors who allege their coverage of the Zhanaozen unrest was “extremist” and contained calls to overthrow the state. Prosecutors say the outlets are funded by fugitive oligarch and Nazarbayev opponent Mukhtar Ablyazov (who is on the run from British justice in a separate fraud case).
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.
“Money for blood: Their weapons are dirty games and provocations, their business is unrest and social conflicts.” It sounds like a trailer for an exciting new movie, but it is actually an advert for a state TV “documentary” in Kazakhstan sullying the names of political opponents of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The program, broadcast on Khabar TV on November 15 ahead of an appeal hearing by jailed opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, consists of a 20-minute diatribe against Kozlov and alleged accomplices, including fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov. They are portrayed as greedy criminals who stoked deadly unrest in the town of Zhanaozen last December to make money.
The “documentary” -- which has echoes of the “Anatomy of a Protest” aired on Russian TV to slur Russia’s opposition -- is entitled “Amoral Alga!rhythm,” a play on words with the name of Kozlov’s unregistered political party, Alga!. The party is described as “a criminal group,” a secretive network that funneled money from Ablyazov into Kazakhstan to foment unrest.
As the anniversary of last December’s killing of 15 protestors in Zhanaozen approaches, a lobbying war is heating up in Washington that looks set to focus new attention on the Kazakhstan violence.
A group of Kazakhstani activists, with the support of a New York-based human rights watchdog, has been pushing for sanctions on officials they deem responsible for the shootings, from President Nursultan Nazarbayev on down. That’s upset one associate of the Nazarbayev administration, who has sent the rights group a letter threatening legal action.
The letter to the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) was penned by lawyers for Alexander Mirtchev, a businessman who chairs the Krull Corp. Krull describes itself as a “global strategic solutions provider” and is linked to Kazakhstan’s administration through Mirtchev’s position as an independent director of the country’s sovereign wealth fund. Mirtchev also sits on various think tanks in the US and UK that critics say are lobbying organizations.
Mirtchev’s lawyers take issue over allegations made by Kazakhstani civil society activists in an open letter HRF helped publish last month that Mirtchev is a “fixer” who was among people who “enriched themselves while serving a ruthless tyrant that ordered oil workers killed” in Zhanaozen, and “peddled the lie that Kazakhstan is the story of a ‘young democracy’… rather than a totalitarian police state.”
Kazakhstan got a new prime minister on September 24 after President Nursultan Nazarbayev accepted the resignation of premier Karim Masimov and promoted Masimov’s former deputy, Serik Akhmetov.
Early in the day, Masimov tendered his resignation and Nazarbayev immediately asked the rubberstamp parliament – which contains no opposition parties – to vote on Akhmetov’s candidacy for the job. Deputies obliged with a unanimous vote in favor.
Masimov, who served for nearly six years, is Kazakhstan’s longest-serving prime minister since independence. His removal was long rumored amid suggestions that he had carved out a political powerbase that Nazarbayev – who guards his own enormous power jealously -- might see as a threat.
But Masimov – an affable character credited with steering Kazakhstan through the credit crunch – did not depart in disgrace: Nazarbayev praised his premiership, and Masimov got a powerful new job as head of the presidential administration, making him Nazarbayev’s gatekeeper. Masimov thus retains the influence that has led some analysts to tip him as a possible presidential successor.
As President Nursultan Nazarbayev took to the podium September 3 to address parliament, observers sat back ready to hear what he had to say about the troubles that have plagued Kazakhstan over the last year, from terrorism and deadly unrest to two mysterious mass murders this summer.
Instead, what they got was a diatribe against graffiti and garbage: Nazarbayev used his speech to rail against anti-social behavior, including cussing and public drunkenness. (This is not a new fixation: In April the president instructed police in the capital, Astana, to arrest people who leave chewing gum at street crossings.)
Nazarbayev also urged parliament to adopt laws to promote economic growth and improve ordinary people’s lives -- quite sensibly, since the investigation into the turmoil in Zhanaozen on Independence Day last December that left 15 dead acknowledged social grievances as a contributing factor.
The president noted that “at my instruction, last year, by the 20th anniversary of independence, every town and village was to have become a model of comfort and orderliness” -- though his message had obviously not reached Zhanaozen, if the official investigation findings are to be believed. Nazarbayev did not mention the violence or its aftermath.
For some observers, his speech was long on style -- buzzwords included “social modernization” and “green economy” -- and short on substance.
“Evidently, the president simply has nothing to say,” opposition leader Bolat Abilov told the Guljan website, accusing Nazarbayev of ignoring “serious topics.”
Star of stage and screen, fairy-tale hero – Kazakhstan’s Leader of the Nation is now getting his place cemented in the history books with the publication of his first official biography.
The tome offers a “historical retrospective” of the life and times of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the first (and so far only) president of independent Kazakhstan, under whose astute tutelage the country’s “dramatic” march forward will be viewed.
Being billed by state media as the first attempt at “a historical biographical study of the life and activity” of Nazarbayev, the book, overseen by the president’s office, follows “his path from simple rural guy to national leader.”
If the territory sounds familiar, it is: The early stages of this rise to power and glory were charted in last year’s movie Sky of My Childhood, and Nazarbayev’s life has also featured in a hagiography written by disgraced former British MP Jonathan Aitken (after Aitken served time in a British jail for perjury).
Forbes Kazakhstan has published a list of the petro-state’s 50 wealthiest people. Unsurprisingly, a number of the country's multimillionaires swim close to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
According to the list, published in the magazine's May issue and not available online, Kazakhstan’s richest man is copper magnate Vladimir Kim, who is worth a cool $3.5 billion.
He is followed by mining boss Alidzhan Ibragimov, part owner of the ENRC resource group, with $2.9 billion. (Ibragimov’s partners Aleksandr Mashkevich and Patokh Shodiyev are excluded from the list as they hold foreign passports).
So far, so predictable – Kim and Ibragimov feature as Kazakhstan’s wealthiest people on the international Forbes rich list too – but from here the rankings diverge.
The world rich list features mining and banking entrepreneur Bolat Utemuratov as Kazakhstan’s third wealthiest person – but, according to Forbes Kazakhstan, Utemuratov’s wealth of $1.6 billion is surpassed by oil magnate Rashid Sarsenov’s $1.8 billion. Sarsenov is best known as the one-time business partner of Rakhat Aliyev, the Malta-based disgraced (and wanted) son-in-law of the president.
Sarsenov’s sister Sofya Sarsenova also features (at number 12), with a fortune of $660 million, which she made after acquiring a majority stake in Nurbank from Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva in 2010.
Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has launched a broadside against the West, warning in a TV interview of the dangers of seeking to export Western values to states with different traditions.
Speaking to Russia’s state-run Rossiya 24, Nazarbayev identified the West’s use of media spin to manipulate public opinion and generate protests as a “threat.” He attacked the West for attempts at “implanting their own ideas with the aim of influencing states’ domestic policy, creating people who are pro-protest.” Though he did not name a Western state, the position jives closely with his allies’ in Moscow.
“What is needed is evolution not revolution,” Nazarbayev added, repeating one of his favorite mantras.
Nazarbayev believes revolutions bring poverty in their wake, adding that “permanent revolution” in neighboring Kyrgyzstan (which has seen two presidents overthrown since 2005) was not making people’s lives better.
Even before Middle Eastern leaders started toppling like dominoes last year, Nazarbayev had made improving the lives of ordinary people in Kazakhstan a stated cornerstone of policy. In his interview he named poverty and unemployment as the chief causes of the Arab Spring – but added that “external forces” also played a role.
This was the second time in a week that Nazarbayev had condemned the Arab Spring: On April 20 he described the events as an “erosion of international law” that had shown that “society is not ready to accept the value reference points of the Western mass media.”
Prime Minister Karim Masimov has topped a new ranking of Kazakhstan’s movers and shakers published by the Vlast online magazine.
Masimov, Kazakhstan’s longest serving premier (he has headed the cabinet since 2007), managed to come top since the study did not include President Nursultan Nazarbayev. As Vlast put it, “it is obvious that in terms of level of influence not a single participant in the ranking could compare [with the president].”
Nazarbayev is by far Kazakhstan’s most influential figure, but Vlast’s take on who else wields power, formed by polling 90 experts, makes interesting reading.
Timur Kulibayev, a son-in-law of Nazarbayev who has been tipped as a possible successor, was in third place: After Masimov came Aslan Musin, head of Nazarbayev’s administration and a gray cardinal on Kazakhstan’s political scene.
Another presidential relative featured on the list: Dariga Nazarbayeva, the president’s eldest daughter, who has recently staged a political comeback by winning a parliamentary seat.
Kulibayev and Nazarbayeva are joined on Vlast’s ranking by other influential people mooted as possible presidential successors: Nurtay Abykayev, the 64-year-old head of the domestic intelligence service, is at number four; Akhmetzhan Yesimov, the 61-year-old mayor of Almaty, is at number 10.
Yesimov’s influence is outranked by two younger contenders tipped as possible future presidents: 43-year-old Deputy Prime Minister Kayrat Kelimbetov at number six; and, on his heels at number seven, Imangali Tasmagambetov, the 55-year-old mayor of Astana.