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Wednesday, 26 February 2003

KAZAKH DEMOCRACY FACES A NEW THREAT

Published in Field Reports
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By Karim Sayid (2/26/2003 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Probably the most scandalous story in the chronicle of long chain of human rights abuses and disrespect for civic liberties in recent months was the trial of the prominent independent journalist Sergey Duvanov, charged of allegedly raping a teenage girl in October last year. Although people who knew the journalist and campaigned for his defense said that he was not the man to stoop to such a conduct, Duvanov was sentenced to 3,5 years of prison in January. The speedy trial was described by human rights campaigners and close friends as “a brazen judicial farce”.
Probably the most scandalous story in the chronicle of long chain of human rights abuses and disrespect for civic liberties in recent months was the trial of the prominent independent journalist Sergey Duvanov, charged of allegedly raping a teenage girl in October last year. Although people who knew the journalist and campaigned for his defense said that he was not the man to stoop to such a conduct, Duvanov was sentenced to 3,5 years of prison in January. The speedy trial was described by human rights campaigners and close friends as “a brazen judicial farce”. Many circumstances which led to the trial still remain in the dark. Most of the outside observers are inclined to think that the journalist was actually sent to jail for writing revealing articles about the secret bank accounts of President Nazarbayev in Swiss banks. Prior to his arrest, Duvanov had been severely beaten by unidentified men and hospitalized. Earlier, another opposition figure, Lira Bayseyitova, the one-time editor of the independent Respublika newspaper, had been persecuted by authorities. When threats failed to silence the journalist, her 16-year old daughter disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Later she received a phone call saying that her daughter had been detained by police for possessing drugs. She went to the police station and was told that her daughter had committed suicide by hanging herself in the detention cell. But a thorough investigation of the case had never been conducted. Last December, Nuri Muftah, an acid-tongued journalist from the Kazakh-language paper Azat was run over by a bus in the Southern city of Shimkent when on an assignment there. His fellow journalists refuse to believe that it was a mere accident. The journalist had uncompromisingly lambasted corrupt top officials and docile parliament members for many years. It is asserted, therefore, that it was a premeditated murder. Government-controlled media did not utter a word about any of these cases, which is, to say the least, abnormal in any democratic society. But the attempt of the authorities to hush up the opposition papers comes to nothing. The persecution of journalists and imprisonment of opposition figures in Kazakhstan have taken such a scale that international human rights organizations can evidently no longer close their eyes to these cases. A few weeks ago the European Parliament adopted a resolution demanding to free Sergey Duvanov and to conduct an independent investigation of the cases relating to Galymzhan Jakiyanov and Mukhtar Ablyazov, leaders of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan Party, imprisoned last year amid nationwide public protests. The resolution, mildly worded, calls the government of Kazakhstan to clear the way for an open dialogue with the opposition and to abandon harsh methods of intimidation. Never have the European countries used such words to express their concern over the uncertain future of Kazakh democracy. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not slow to answer the message from European countries. On February 18 the Ministry officially dismissed the assessment of the human rights situation contained in the European resolution as “not corresponding to reality”. Not only do European nations mistrust the frequent verbally expressed commitment of Kazakh authorities to democracy and political reform. Public resentment at the methods used by authorities to muffle the voices of the opposition is also growing. Many believe that the string-puller behind the scene is the closest entourage of the President Nazarbayev, who, even his fiercest opponents admit, is a charismatic speaker able to mesmerize the audience creating an impression of being exceptionally frank and honest. Besides the ability of speaking convincingly in public, he can demonstrate a rare ingenuity in dealing with the opposition. Not long ago, he initiated the so-called Permanently Functioning Council, a sort of the substitute for the open dialogue persistently demanded by the opposition. The work of the Council is orchestrated by parties loyal to the President. Another unfailing tactic favored by government is playing off opposition forces against each other. A tireless critic of the regime Oraz Jandosov, the leader of the ‘Ak Jol’ party, has been lured into the presidential team to take up the post of an economic advisor. A talented journalist Eric Nurshin was used by officials to flog the opposition. Now he is being sued by those whom he once criticized. ‘Democracy is, above all, a culture, and it takes time to learn a culture’ Nazarbayev was quoted saying while in Switzerland. But has the opposition in Kazakhstan enough patience to learn endlessly?
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