“Kurmanov to be jailed?” is the headline emblazoned on the front page of ‘Vzglyad’ a business newspaper in Kazakhstan.
It is becoming clearer by the day, that the Kazakhstan authorities are preparing to move against the leaders of the Socialist Movement Kazakhstan - Ainur Kurmanov, Esenbek Ukteshbayev and others. It is an obvious attempt to behead the movement being built in opposition to the increasingly dictatorial regime of Nazarbayev.
The movement’s lawyer was phoned by the police on 14 September. He was told that the investigation into Ainur and Esenbek was nearing a close and that their status had changed from “witnesses” to “suspects”. He was told that the two leaders, along with two other activists - mother and daughter, Kulzhan and Nuosulu Sailybaeva - are to be charged by the end of this month with “samoupravstvo”. This translates as “arbitrariness” or “despotism” and is usually used to describe bureaucrats or rulers who take power into their own interests.
The initial charge carries a custodial sentence of up to two years. But it is anticipated that further charges will be added, once the case comes to court. Up to twenty five other people may also be accused of similar offences.
There must be an outcry internationally against this threat. Resolutions of protest must warn the authorities that any attempt to jail these workers’ leaders will receive world-wide condemnation. Trade unions, members of national and international parliaments, human rights organisations and other bodies concerned with establishing and upholding basic democratic rights will join in a world-wide protest.
The charges arise from the tremendous struggle organised by the Leave People’s Homes Alone (LPHA) campaign. This has actively defended people when banks have tried to evict them from their homes following repayment difficulties. The latest case was that of the Sailybaeva family. Kulzhan has several children, and when the bailiffs attempted to evict them, locks on the front door where broken. This, the authorities claim, is “samoupravstvo”!
It is now widely believed that the regime will use these charges to remove key activists from the movement and then close down two organisations - Leave Peoples Homes Alone and Talmas, headed by Ainur Kurmanov and Esenbek Ukteshbayev. Following the fifth refusal of the authorities to legalise a independent trade union federation launched this year, this will mean that all legal avenues of working to organize opposition to the regime will be shut off. Automatically, any protests actions will be against the law.
As the Vzglyad newspaper comments: “A guilty sentence against the leaders of this organisation will be used to liquidate it. Undoubtedly the authorities feel that this organisation, which has united around it all those under threat of eviction already represents a real, sufficiently mass protest force and that the only way of dealing with it, is to break it up. If there is no ‘LPHA’, there will be no-one to defend the rights of the homeowners…. leaving the banks to pick off people one by one. And the ‘LPHA’ has already prevented mass evictions over several years”.
The regime is worried on three fronts. Firstly, it is meeting increasing criticism, even from official and diplomatic circles. At the beginning of September, both the European Union Permanent Council and the US delegation to the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe sent letters to the Kazakhstan government. They complained about the imprisonment of the oil workers’ lawyer Natalia Sokolova, the continuing imprisonment of the human rights activist, Evgeniy Zhovtis, and the blocking of web sites in Kazakhstan. In reply, the Kazakhstan Ambassador to the OSCE stated: “My delegation is not in a position to provide today comprehensive information on the case of Natalya Sokolova. We urge all parties concerned to learn more about the situation with illegal strikes in Western Kazakhstan, namely, in the cities of Aktau and Zhanaozen. By the way, among the concerned parties are distinguished members of the European Parliament namely Mr.Murphy and his predecessor Mr.Higgins. Probably you know these names.” This is a reference to Socialist Party MEP, Paul Murphy and former Socialist Party MEP, Joe Higgins (now a member of the Irish Parliament), who have campaigned in solidarity with the workers’ and social movement opposition to the regime.
Secondly, the regime is concerned that this criticism will continue to grow. At the beginning of October, the OSCE holds its annual ‘Human Rights Dimension’ conference in Warsaw. This gathering, in reality, merely presents an image of concern for democratic rights while the main part of the OSCE continues to concern itself with ensuring “energy security”. Nevertheless, it acts as a certain focus for raising human rights issues. Kazakhstan is particularly sensitive to the criticism it raises, since just a year ago Kazakhstan held the Chairmanship of the OSCE. This year, Ainur Kurmanov and Esenbek Ukteshbayev have been invited to attend the conference in Poland where they will highlight the issue of the Kazakhstan government’s shameful record on worker and prisoner rights, as well as the even further decline in democratic rights, in general. For this reason, the regime is attempting to block two opposition leaders leaving the country.
The stepping up of these attacks on the leaders of the Socialist Movement Kazakhstan is a crude attempt by the regime to prevent them heading the colossal social protests that are beckoning in Kazakhstan. On the same day as the lawyer was told of the threats against the movement’s leaders, a report was issued by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting which has been monitoring the situation in Kazakhstan since 2007. The report concluded: “The economic situation, the worsening corruption and the lack of belief in justice is shaking the stereotype of Kazakh patience… although the protest potential has not reached its peak, when the masses come out onto the streets, it is clear that the patience of the people has its limits.
“The myth about the stability and welfare of the Kazakhstan people is beginning to break up. More and more people are seeing that only action can begin to resolve their problems. Since 2007, prices have consistently increased, the level of poverty has worsened and housing costs grown, in particular affecting the poorest layer of society, which, according to the latest statistics, now includes 80% of the population”. This is the background of the tremendous strike by oil workers in West Kazakhstan, which is entering its fourth month, despite threats, repression, the arrest of its leaders and the murder of two activists.
We call on supporters across the world to step up their campaign in protest at the actions of the Kazakhstan Authorities.
- The immediate dropping of all charges against Ainur Kurmanov, Esenbek Ukteshbayev and the other activists of the Socialist Movement Kazakhstan and the Leave People’s Homes Alone campaign;
- That no attempt is made to restrict the travel rights of Kurmanov and Ukteshbayev to the OSCE Human Rights Conference in Warsaw;
- The immediate registration of the Republican Workers’ Trade Union, ‘Zhanartu’;
- The immediate release of Natalia Sokolova;
- Victory to the oil workers of Zhanaozen and Aktau;
The Socialist Movement Kazakhstan will not lower its banner in the face of this wave of repression. It will continue to build support for the oil workers. It will continue its international campaign against the authoritarian regime of the Nazarbayev clique. It will strive to place itself at the head of the developing protest movement in Kazakhstan, to ensure it is armed with a socialist programme, based on the nationalisation of natural resources and key industries, to make way for the establishment of a democratically controlled, planned economy. It will continue to argue for the convening by the working class of a constituent assembly, representing the working and poor masses, to sweep away the current regime with its bureaucrats, police, courts and prosecutors, political police, torture apparatus and prisons, and replace them with a genuinely democratic society, run through democratically elected committees, at every level.
The Socialist Movement Kazakhstan remains steadfast in its tasks of establishing a mass socialist workers’ party in Kazakhstan, capable of leading the struggle against capitalism in the country, to establish a democratic socialist Kazakhstan, as part of a Central Asian and Euro-Asian Federation of democratic socialist states.
Please organise urgent protests outside Kazakhstan Embassies and send urgent protests to:
1: Head of the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan - Alina Bulatovna Rakhimbekova
or Tel ++7 7172 747570
2: Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Kazakhstan
3: The Head of the President’s Administration
Tel: ++7 (7172) 74 55 24
4: The Embassy of Kazakhstan in your own country.
Model protest letter
Dear representatives of the Kazakhstan State,
I/we………………………… [Name of individual/trade union / human rights organisation/public representatives/ etc] strongly condemn threats by the Kazakhstan authorities to arrest and imprison Ainur Kurmanov, Esenbek Ukteshbayev and other leaders of the Socialist Movement Kazakhstan.
This threat is clearly an attempt to behead the growing opposition to the increasingly dictatorial Nazarbayev regime.
I/we understand that the Movement’s lawyer was phoned by police on 14 September and told that these two and other leaders will be charged with “arbitrariness” or “despotism” – absurd allegations that can carry a custodial sentence of up to two years. It is likely that further ‘crimes’ will be added, once the case comes to court, and that up to twenty five other people may also be accused of similar offences.
These attacks arise due to the tremendous struggle organised by the Leave People’s Homes Alone (LPHA) campaign, which has defended people against evictions. It is now widely suspected that the regime will use these cases to remove key activists and to close down all genuine opposition organisations.
I/We condemn this attempt to jail these opposition movement leaders and support the campaign for basic democratic rights in Kazakhstan.
This threatened crackdown follows the successful visit, last July, by Paul Murphy MEP (Member of the European Parliament, Socialist Party, Ireland) who met with striking oil workers in Kazakhstan and human rights/ democratic rights activists.
Both the European Union Permanent Council and the US delegation to the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were compelled to protest over the imprisonment of oil workers’ lawyer, Natalia Sokolova, the continuing imprisonment of the human rights activist, Evgeniy Zhovtis, and the blocking of web sites in Kazakhstan.
I/We condemn any attempt to stop the two opposition leaders, Ainur Kurmanov and Esenbek Ukteshbayev, travelling to Warsaw in October at the invitation of the OSCE’s to attend its annual ‘Human Rights Dimension’ conference. The two opposition leaders intend to highlight the Kazakhstan regime’s shameful record on worker and prisoners’ rights, as well as the continuing assault on democratic rights.
I/We call for:
-The immediate dropping of all charges against Ainur Kurmanov, Esenbek Ukteshbayev and the other activists of the Socialist Movement Kazakhstan
-No repressive measures against the Leave People’s Homes Alone campaign
-No restrictions on the right of Kurmanov and Ukteshbayev to travel to attend the OSCE Human Rights Conference
-The immediate registration of the Republican Workers’ Trade Union (Zhanartu)
-The immediate release of Natalia Sokolova, the lawyer for the striking oil workers in Zhanaozen and Aktau.
Please reply immediately by e-mail and post to the addresses above.
[Name of individual, trade union branch/ human rights organization/public representatives/ etc]