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Grigory Pasko: A Week in Almaty, Part 4

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Yevgeny Zhovtis – the political prisoner of Kazakhstan

Grigory Pasko, journalist

During the time of my brief sojourn in Almaty, I met with many people – journalists, jurists, human rights advocates – and asked of them: what do they think of the Yevgeny Zhovtis case? One thing became clear and distinct from all our talks: this human rights activist is now widely considered as a new political prisoner of modern-day Kazakhstan – a state which although masquerades its commitment to democratic principles, regularly violates the rights of her people and flouts its own laws through its deeds.

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Read parts one, two and three of Pasko’s travelogue through Kazakhstan.

After the cut I share some of these interviews and conversations which led to this conclusion.


Comments from Adil Dzhalilov. Independent journalist, director of MediaNet, International center for journalist:

“Ramazan Yesergepov – editor of the independent oppositionnewspaper «Alma-Ata-Info» was sentenced to three years of deprivationof liberty. He had published the correspondence of employees of the KNB[Kazakhstan’s successor to the KGB, the Committee for NationalSecurity–Trans.]. The case there is convoluted, but the fact is that bylaw you can not try a journalist for promulgating information thatanother source had transferred to him. Against the background of theimpending chairmanship of the OSCE, facts of persecution of journalistsand human rights advocates have become more frequent.

Apparently,changes in the power are грядут. Either the transfer of power for lifeto Nazarbayev is being prepared, or new people will come. They lockedup the journalist Tokhniyaz Kuchukov not long before they locked upYevgeny Zhovtis – an analogous charge (a runover of a person as theresult of a DTP [motor vehicle accident–Trans.]), the identical articleand the identical sentence – so as to show that supposedly all areequal before the law. Nazarbayev’s political technologists apparentlyconsidered that in order for people to learn to value today’s rightsand liberties, you’ve got to turn the screws very tightly. So they’dfeel that it could be worse.”

“There is an opinion like this as well: they had asked us, what isyour attitude towards the fact that Kazakhstan is going to chair in theOSCE. Some said, yes , we should, it will be beneficial. I consideredthat Kazakhstan has not deserved this post. A precedent will be created- then you can call Turkmenia, Uzbekistan and North Korea there.Especially German politicians were on the side of the firstargumentation. Of course, this is strange, because the Germans don’thave big investment interests in Kazakhstan.

Having entrusted the post to Kazakhstan – they have untied the handsfor the Nazarbayev regime. Permanently influencing Nazarbayev is thecase about «Kazakhgate», which is lying in a court of New York and hasbeen going on for several years already. The financial crisis – in andof itself is a good instrument for exerting influence on such regimes.Prices for energy inputs are so high, and you can introduce sanctions.But the USA are hardly likely to start putting pressure on Kazakhstan -they need a lever of counterforce in the position with Russia. Plus adiversification of oil flows is needed – as an instrument of influenceon OPEC. And so regimes like Nazarbayev and Putin keep being supported.”

“Yes, they don’t kill journalists in our country, like they do inRussia. BUT everything, perhaps, is ahead of us. Nazarbayev’s retinue -this is bootlickers. If before he gathered young turks onto the team -young businessmen with a western education, then now returning to highpositions are old party cadres. Being a faithful and loyal subject isnow valued higher than professionalism. A king is being made by theretinue: they are inclining Nazarbayev to rule-for-life. And this couldhappen. By the way, the death of Turkmenbashi moved Nazarbayev toallocate money to scientists for a search for means of prolonging life.”

“There is an opposition in Kazakhstan. Its activity manifests itselfin a wave-like manner. There are people in London. Repressions rallyand unify the expellees. I think that they have enough means to acttogether. They understand that to replace Nazarbayev could comenationalists. Aliyev? No, in Kazakhstan nobody regards him, as avictim: they hate him scarcely less than Nazarbayev. But towards thosewho are in London, the attitude is more serious. Of course, they don’tpull up to the level of Sarsenbayev [ former ambassador of Kazakhstanin Russia Altynbek Sarsenbayev was shot–G.P.] whom they killed, butnevertheless. Seriously, in my view, perceived is Mukhtar Ablyazov. Heis more of a businessman than a politician, but his opposition viewsare well known. He is a large-scale figure. Nazarbayev ought to behaving people like this on his side. But apparently there aren’tadvisors who would suggest this to Nazarbayev.

Comments from Roza Akylbekova (photo above), employee of the Kazakhstan international bureau for human rights:

“We hope the state will hearken to what they are saying both insidethe country and beyond its confines. This is very important on thethreshold of the chairmanship of Kazakhstan in the OSCE. After all, itwas specifically Zhovtis who was convincing both the opposition andmany representatives of the non-governmental sector that Kazakhstanmust be the chair in the year 2010. For the duration of several years,debates took place, where they were accusing Zhovtis of having soldout. And he would explain very precisely that in the event of chairing,an opportunity would arise for Kazakhstan to change the situation withhuman rights in a better direction. He was counting on this.”

“Headquarters [of the International committee in defence of YevgenyZhovtis–G.P.] is attracting the attention of the public, so as to getinformation across to it about the unlawfulness of the verdict and itspolitical component. We all took part in this case from start tofinish. And from the moment of the pronouncement of the verdict, thecivic defenders [The Soviet justice system allowed for defenders whoare not lawyers–Trans.] were convinced that Zhovtis needs to beconsidered a political prisoner. The prosecution simply made use of thetragedy that had occurred. Headquarters has publicized all thefalsifications of the prosecution.”

“We are going to demand a repeal of the verdict and a reconsideration ofthe case, meetings are now going on with the international public.Headquarters is going to be initiating appearances both in Athens andin the Europarliament, in order to get across the truth about his case.”(Source)

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Vitaly Voronov, lawyer

“Let us recall the shameful persecution of Akezhan Kazhegeldin inthe year 1998, which ended with his in absentia conviction in thesummer of the year 2001. Despite the fact that they tried him inabsentia, the court nevertheless partially issued a not-guilty verdict- and procedure was observed. At the process charging the human rightsadvocate Sergey Duvanov in the year 2003, foreign observers wereadmitted to the trial. The trial took two months, all the witnesseswere questioned. The verdict nevertheless was unjust, however ourmotions were satisfied, independent experts were admitted. And now -the Zhovtis case, an ordinary DTP [motor vehicle accident], in general,a simple case… But – a whole slew of violations.”

“Even the verdict waswritten obviously not in chambers, but in advance. It is notunderstandable why all of this. …The verdict we have received, and itstext strongly differs from the one that was sounded in the courtroom.This is already one of the grounds for the repeal of the verdict.”

“There is a hypothesis that the court of the second instance is goingto leave the verdict of the district court in force, they will sendYevgeny off to a colony, and already then will apply an amnesty. It isnot ruled out likewise that the court of the second instance will takeinto account our petitions and the position of the victim party, whichhad asked the court to cease the prosecution of Zhovtis. By the way,the fact of a declaration on the reconceliation of the parties wasrecorded in the trial record.”

“There is a hypothesis that the powers did not want to allow theappearance of Yevgeny in Warsaw at a session on human rights. Someoneis connecting this case with the fact that Zhovtis had indirectlystarted to participate in defending the rights of Mukhtar Jakishev,ex-head of the national company “Kazatomprom”, who now is found incustody. [Some call the reason for the arrest of Mukhtar Jakishevfriendship with Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is currently in hiding from theKazakh powers abroad–G.P.].”

Photos by Grigory Pasko