With the snow covered Kok Tobe Mountains sheering into the sky as a backdrop and temperatures souring to a summery +25, a crowd gathered outside the courthouse in Almaty, Kazakhstan, to protest the latest attempt to silence Ainur Kurmanov, leader of Socialist Resistance Kazakhstan (CWI).
Ainur was pulled before the court on a trumped up charge of organizing an unsanctioned picket in front of the ATF Bank in the city. In actual fact, the picket was organized by the trade union of the First of May Mechanical Factory from Ust Kamenogorsk, who were protesting at the attempts of the company’s shareholders to shut the factory and asset strip it. But the police, obviously acting on the orders of the country’s security service, the KNB, attempted to use Ainur’s presence to try and remove him from political activity for two weeks ahead of two important workers’ conferences and during the strike of oil workers in western Kazakhstan.
But the attempt failed. Having summoned Ainur to attend the court, first on the 24 March, a national holiday, he was then told to turn up at 11 am on 25 March. The trial eventually started at 3 pm.
Peter Taaffe, General Secretary of the Socialist Party (England and Wales), and Rob Jones from the CWI Russian section, were in court. The trial judge seemed suitably impressed when Peter showed his press card, to indicate that any decisions the judge made would be published internationally.
But the trial was a farce from start to end.
The prosecutor and police were unable to show the promised video, which allegedly demonstrated that Ainur had organized the picket. This is because when shown the video before the trial, the judge would have clearly seen that Ainur’s claim - that he was participating as a journalist and taking photographs - was actually correct.
The three witnesses put on the witness stand by the police were amazing. The first was the bank’s security chief. He was unable to confirm that he had seen anymore than Ainur talking to two women and that soon after a woman was seen encouraging the picketers to take out and hold up their placards. Under cross questioning, the first witness admitted that he had not heard what Ainur said to the women and, moreover, that the woman he saw handing out placards was someone else.
The second witness was a nearby car park attendant who admitted that he had seen two men between 30 and 40 years old wearing caps and dark clothes and that one of them had been discussing something. He could not confirm that this was actually Ainur!
The third witness was barely old enough to testify and turns out to have been a law student who had applied to join the police. He barely understood Russian, the language in which the trail was conducted, and spoke Kazak throughout. However the supposed statement the police claimed the student had signed had been written in Russian! Despite telling the court that he had seen Ainur organizing the protest, under cross examination the student admitted that this may have not been Ainur at all. When he was asked how he had managed to witness the event, he said he just happened to be standing on the corner and as he saw the crowd moving, he decided to move along with it. When Ainur’s lawyer pointed out that by joining the crowd he had participated in an unsanctioned picket and was therefore liable to arrest and up to 15 days in jail, this poor lad broke out into a sweat. As he left the court, he was asked his age. The first of April, he said, before correcting himself to say it was the first of March, then showing his passport to reveal that he was born on the 4th of January!
Police dictatorship with pretence of a parliament
The trial became so farcical - the police witnesses obviously stooges – even the judge started to join in the merriment. The prosecutor, when summing up, asked for a fine of 50,000 tenge. Just a minute later he apologized to the judge and said he meant 70,000!
At the end, the judge dryly announced Ainur not guilty. This was the first occasion for some time that Ainur has not received a 2 week sentence from such a court, a result undoubtedly due to the wide support given to Ainur locally and also the presence in the court of representatives of the CWI. Ainur was, however, fined 25000 tenge (125 euros) for being in a place from which he had been banned by a previous court decision. By making this decision, the judge, in effect, punished Ainur from carrying out his job as a journalist. This will be appealed.
Around the court building, dozens of people turned out in support of Ainur. Workers who had not been paid or whose employers had disappeared with their money, market traders who had been conned by the government, women who could no longer pay their mortgages after having pay cuts, in short, representatives of all the different groups Ainur has assisted since he has lived in Almaty. One young lad travelled over 1,000 kilometers, having been released just 3 months ago from prison. He had served a 3 year sentence for writing an article about how the local ruling elite had robbed agricultural workers during the privatization process. During his jail term, this young man suffered the most brutal humiliations.
These cases just demonstrate how important it is to maintain pressure on the Kazakhstan regime, which claims to be a democratic state but, in reality, is no more than a police dictatorship with the pretence of a parliament. This is particularly the case because Kazakhstan is currently Chair of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the very body that is supposed to safeguard human and democratic rights!
[More material on the political situation in Kazakhstan will follow]