Kazakhstan: Union and social movement leader, Esenbek Ukteshbaev, sees in New Year behind prison walls

‘Appeal’ hearing a travesty of justice

In the end-of-year holiday period, the self-styled ‘Leader of the Nation’ in Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, announced a ‘referendum’ to approve the extension of his presidency. He hopes by the end of the holiday to experience no resistance to this measure.

At the same time, in a total travesty of ‘justice’, the workers’ leader, Esenbek Ukteshbaev, appears in court to appeal against a prison sentence that even the judge recognises as unjust!

Dozens of workers’ representatives and socialists, as well as trade union and political organisations from around the world, protested at the sentencing of Esen to 15 days detention for presenting a petition to the Mayor of Almaty (see previous report on socialistworld.net). More protests are needed now that Esen’s appeal has been refused (Please follow the same procedure to complain about Esen’s treatment as recommended before).

In the New Year, a renewed international campaign of solidarity will be conducted, including pickets and protests. Meanwhile we send solidarity to Esen’s family and comrades as the year 2011 begins.

Below is a translation of a report on the Socialist Resistance (CWI Kazakhstan) website, concerning the farcical process of Esen’s appeal, held last Tuesday.

We also carry below a protest letter sent by the CWI International Secretariat to the Kazakhstan authorities and to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, headed by Kazakhstan this year.


Although the judge, Zhangazin Erbol, leading the trial of Esenbek Ukteshbaev, said several times that the law should not be enforced without question, practice has shown otherwise. After the appeal session on 28 December had started (late), and some discussion had taken place, the "court arbitrator" left the courtroom together with the prosecutor. They returned, again together, to announce the decision. As they say, comment here is superfluous.

To support their colleague and comrade, fellow activists from organisations participating in the opposition movement ‘Kazakhstan 2012’, began gathering as early as 10 am at the court house. Despite such an early hour, awaiting them were police and a special bus "for the particularly violent"! An employee of the Department of the Interior, Bakhyt Zhetibaev, warned Esen’s supporters that if there was a single ball or stone in anyone’s hand, "all possible measures" would be applied and that person would be convicted according to the strictest application of the law!

After keeping people more than an hour in the freezing cold, the "guardians of the law" deigned to announce that the court hearing was postponed to 17:00, expecting that, with the delay, the people who had gathered and journalists would not stay around and it would be possible to carry out their business in peace. But the sense of solidarity was higher than hunger, fatigue and cold, and, at the appointed time, even more people were there!

Just as they were bringing Esenbek to the court, his supporters began their solidarity action. They stood in a line and pulled out a balloon with the words "Freedom for Esen" written on it. They began chanting: "Freedom for Esenbek Ukteshbaev!”. As soon as the police pulled the protesters to one side, the activists released the balloon into the sky. “This balloon symbolises our wish that the judge changes his mind and releases from custody Esenbek Ukteshbaev, just as we released the balloon into the sky, so he can spend the New Year at home with his family”, commented Sulubike Dzhaksylykova, the co-chair of the campaign, ‘Leave the people their homes’.

After the ‘flash mobbing’, people formed a column, and went in an organised way to the courthouse, chanting along the way: "Freedom for Esen!”.

The trial itself took place "without a hitch, without any complication". After hearing all the arguments of the "accused", the judge conferred in a "secret room" with the prosecutor and the arbiter and decided to leave the verdict of the first hearing unchanged.

The process can be regarded as setting a precedent. It was demonstrated by the judge that, “The law under which Esenbek Ukteshbaev was convicted is imperfect, and this was officially confirmed by the president’s administration and the bill in question will be reviewed.

“Esen was wrongfully convicted because he was tried for holding an unsanctioned picket and a picket, as such, was not held, he simply handed in a petition to the Mayor of Almaty, after letting reporters know about it.

“A ban on picketing was unlawful because the person concerned had no right to refuse to authorise the action, and the response to an official request for permission to picket was made by the deputy Mayor, Seidumanov, against whom it was planned to picket.

“Esenbek was illegally detained and taken to court.”

The appeal court judge went on to say:

“The judge, who conducted the first trial was emotionally upset and negatively disposed towards the ‘accused’, as she was called to work during an official day off and, hence, doubts can be raised about her impartiality in the trial.”

Just to be even more convincing, Esenbek pleaded guilty "to a crime not committed"! He asked for the period of his detention to be reconsidered – to be for 10 days rather than 15 because the previous illegal detention amounted to 5 days. Therefore, logically he should have been given 10 days and not just the maximum term. But the court, agreeing with all the arguments, did not even trouble themselves to understand what was going on in the trial.

“We defend interests of the common people”

The question arises: if the court does not fulfill its functional responsibilities, then why is it needed? Would it not be correct to dissolve it? While this travesty of justice goes on, across Kazakhstan 15% budget reductions are being carried out.

Esenbek Ukteshbaev spoke to his friends and journalists before being returned to jail: “It was not worth expecting any different sentence; we just wanted to show the public who all these courts are serving. It is not worth the common man hoping for the truth in this system. This system only works for one person and the groups closest to him. But we cannot break these show judgements and arbitrariness. We defend not only our interests but those of the common people, and for that, I think we can suffer and put up with much greater persecution. They cannot break us with this; our comrades will continue the work. When I come out, I will similarly get back into carrying out my responsibilities. I want to say thank you to all who supported me and continue to support me, within Kazakhstan, as well as our comrades around the world”,

Since the appeal hearing, we are led to understand that a ‘nark’ or police informer has been put in the cell with Esenbek, to relay to the management everything he says. It is not excluded that a provocation will be carried out against Esen – some kind of frame-up – as has happened with other leaders in the opposition movement.

Committee for a Workers’ International Letter to Kazakhstan authorities/OSCE

Monday, 20 December

The Committee for a Workers’ International, with organisations in 47 countries, protests most strongly over the arrest of Esenbek Ukteshbayev, leader of the Independent Trade Union of Workers and Staff, on 19 December. We understand he has been summarily imprisoned for 15 days.

We understand that Esenbek was arrested for the “crime” of handing in a petition to the Akim (Mayor) of Almaty on Independence Day, with the demand that the Akim’s deputy, Serik Seiduman, should resign after practically calling for the elimination of all rural residents now living in the city. We understand that Esenbek was taken to court without any official papers, that he was held without charge and was refused the right to defence counsel.

Astonished by such a blatant travesty of justice, a supporter of Esenbek in court declared, “Have you lost your mind?” For this completely understandable reaction, she was immediately charged with “lack of respect for the court” and will be tried today, 20 December.

While Kazakhstan acts as the current head the OSCE – an organisation that claims to promote human and democratic rights – the Kazakh regime practices widespread intimidation and terror against opposition activists. It has even been reported that the police are under orders to start the “physical annihilation” of opposition activists.

We condemn this state terror and attempted intimidation of activists. We demand Esenbek Ukteshbayev’s immediate release and that all state repression against opposition activists ceases forthwith.

Until this action is taken, we will continue to organise protests and pickets against the repression of the Kazakhstan regime. We pledge to do our utmost to highlight Esenbek’s case to as many organisations and people as possible in our country and internationally.

Yours, Tony Saunois, Secretary, Committee for a Workers’ International

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December 2010