Kazakhstan: Nazarbayev’s state visit to Brussels spoilt

Ainur Kurmanov slams regime’s record in Human Rights Committee of Euro-Parliament

“Nazarbayev and Kurmanov in Brussels speak about two different Kazakhstans”. This was the headline in the Kazakhstan service of Radio Liberty on the 26 October. This follows the unprecedented situation for Kazakhstan. While its President was wining and dining with European leaders in Brussels, one of the best known oppositionists in Kazakhstan was in the same city, openly defying the regime and speaking publicly about its horrendous record – on workers’ rights, human rights and democratic rights – before the Committee for Human Rights in the European Parliament.

According to the press release issued after the meeting with Nazarbayev by the president of the European Commission, Jose Barroso, he welcomed the “partnership between the European Union and Kazakhstan, which is growing daily”. They spent the day discussing “strategic issues” such as “the critical field of energy”, the need for “an open investment climate”, Kazakhstan’s “accession to the WTO” and “open trade”. Apparently, but only “finally” in “the spirit of partnership and openness” issues “related to political reforms and human rights” were addressed. This gives the clear impression that these issues were reduced to a “by-the-way” comment as the dictatorial Nazarbayev was leaving his office.

This cynical approach will only confirm the feeling that many people have in Kazakhstan that the rights of ordinary people have been betrayed in order that Nazarbayev and the western powers can exploit the country’s natural resources for themselves.

Barroso has no excuse for not knowing the situation. Only the day before his meeting with Nazarbayev, a hearing of the Human Rights Committee of the European Parliament on the situation in Kazakhstan took place. This was organised thanks to the intervention of Euro-MP, Joe Higgins, who has recently been to Kazakhstan and seen at first hand the situation. At this committee, Ainur Kurmanov gave a full report on the situation in the country.

In his allocated thirteen minutes, he gave many examples of the way the regime is stepping up the repression against the opposition. The threats to close down opposition papers, the attacks on trade unionists, the situation in the prisons and the problems faced by Uzbeki refugees were all raised. He condemned the banning of the alternative OSCE summit organised by various NGOs and explained that this demonstrates once again that the OSCE is “an organisation which is only interested in cooperation for the exploitation of oil and other valuable resources” and of course, the use of Central Asia to further its military interests.

He criticised the way in which many NGOs and human rights reporters come to the country but only deal with their own narrow interests. He said that no-one has bothered to do a systematic review of how the situation concerning human rights has worsened in the past period. Of the 50 rights listed in the European Charter of Human Rights, the situation concerning 44 of them has worsened in Kazakhstan. This year a new law was passed to create the life-time position of “Leader of the Nation” for Nazarbayev, which in fact gives him unlimited rights to veto decisions made by his successor in the president’s position.

We see, he said, “The establishment of a dictatorial regime, which is being supported by the official political institutions and business circles of the so-called democratic countries of the west”.

Ainur’s complete speech can be seen on You Tube here

The official response

Light relief, or at least it would have been light relief if the situation had not been so serious, was provided by the next speaker after Ainur – the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Maret Beketaev. When asked by the chairperson to answer the allegations made by Ainur and others, he launched into a rambling story. He claimed to be a simple Kazakh from an army family who, because Kazakhstan had become such a good country, had been able to study and get a grant from the British Government to go to London School of Economics and then did a number of different jobs in the government.

He explained that while there may be some individual problems, the government is dealing with them and that the ‘Alternative (opposition) OSCE Summit’ was only cancelled because Astana is a small town and there are not enough hotel rooms to accommodate everyone! This was so ridiculous that the Syrian Ambassador who was sitting behind him (and who had been participating in the previous hearing on Turkey) burst out laughing.

Stupidity aside, the brazen effrontery of these Kazakh officials is demonstrated by this individual. Investigative journalists have discovered that in 2009 this same Maret Beketaev was caught by police allegedly driving his car under the influence of alcohol. He was acquitted of this offence by a court later that year – one of the rare occasions when a court actually acquits some-one in Kazakhstan, the country with the fourth highest rate of prisoners per head in the world. Just a few months later, as Deputy Justice Minister, he proposed a new law in which journalists receive a five year prison sentence for revealing details of someone’s private life. This is just one more example of how the country’s legal system is designed to protect the ruling elite.

Following the hearing, the president of the Human Rights Committee, Heidi Hautala, made quite clear that she was determined to push the issue further. She promised to keep a close eye on the situation and is looking for more information to take the matter further.

International protests

The visit of Nazarbayev to Belgium did not go unnoticed in other ways. The LSP/ MAS, Belgian section of the CWI organised a very successful picket with participants wearing red jackets carrying slogans such as, “No to the persecution of the opposition!”, “Free Aidos Sadykova!”, “No to the OSCE summit in Kazakhstan!”, “Democratic rights should not be sacrificed for oil and gas!” and “Kazakhstan 2012 (the mass opposition movement in Kazakhstan) will win!” This was reported with pictures on the front page of the Respublika paper in Kazakhstan, along with the full speech of Ainur at the Committee.

In other cities too protests took place. In Vienna, the Austrian comrades leafleted the OSCE preparation meeting taking place in the city calling for the summit to be called off in protest at the lack of democracy in Kazakhstan. In Moscow, a picket was held outside the Kazakhstan embassy demanding “Down with the NAN dynasty, Kazakhstan 2012 to power”! A protest about the OSCE summit was also made in Stockholm, Sweden at the time when the Kazakh president and Ainur Kurmanov were in Brussels. (See report and photos below.) Further protests will take place in the coming weeks.

In the words of the Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the European Parliament, Heidi Hautala MEP, “Nazarbayev’s party was spoilt” this week. But that is not the end of it; here is no backing off now. This campaign will continue until the brutal dictatorship is ended and a genuine democratic and socialist Kazakhstan replaces it.

For Ainur’s full speech see video posted on this site.


Protest in Sweden

“We demand an end to all cooperation with the regime in Kazakhstan and for the OSCE summit in December to be cancelled”. That was the message delivered by protesters outside the Foreign Offiice of the Swedish government on Tuesday, 26 October.

Placards in Swedish and Russian said ‘No to the OSCE summit in Kazakhstan!’ and ‘Stop all torture in Kazakh prisons!’. Protesters included Lina Thörnblom, city councillor of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) in Haninge, south Stockholm.

Protesters also gave in copies of an article from last week’s Offensiv – paper of the CWI in Sweden, with the headline "Kazakhstan: Wave of terror against oppositionists". The article featured the violence against Igor Kolov, Rinat Kibraev, Vadim Kuramshin and other workers’ and human rights activists.

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