Human Rights Developments

Harassment of opposition political activists continued in 2000, after 1999 elections that were far from free and fair secured another term in office for President Nursultan Nazarbaev and a compliant Parliament. Suppression of independent and opposition-affiliated media remained routine in 2000, a year when massive corruption allegations against President Nazarbaev and other high government officials came to light.

Despite President Nazarbaev's pledge at the November 1999 Operation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Summit in Istanbul to implement the organization's post-election recommendations, the government has yet to publish full election results of the October 1999 primary vote or to account for the many complaints of violations submitted to electoral commissions. The parliament in June granted Nazarbaev lifetime privileges after his second term in office ends in 2006 (though he has indicated that he may run again), including the right to address parliament and state institutions and the public at will.

The government continued to use legal action to harass opposition figures. Madel Ismailov, a leader of the Worker's Opposition Party who served a year in prison on charges of "offending the honor and dignity of the President," was sentenced in April to fifteen days of administrative detention for his participation in a nonviolent demonstration in January.

In February, the government charged former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin – Nazarbaev's one-time rival and leader of the Republican National People's Party (RNPK) after his dismissal in 1997 – with illegal weapons possession, and in April, the tax police filed new charges against him. In May, Kazhegeldin's press secretary Igor Poberezhskii was stabbed by an unknown assailant outside of his Moscow apartment. In July, just after details of the international investigation into payments allegedly made to both President Nazarbaev and his former prime minister by foreign oil companies emerged, Italian police acting on a request filed by Kazakhstan with Interpol briefly detained Kazhegeldin at a Rome airport. Kazhegeldin's former bodyguards, Satzhan Ibraev and Petr Afanasenko, were each sentenced to three and one-half years in prison on weapons charges, a move widely seen as political retribution for their connection to Kazhegeldin.

Other members of the opposition were also affected, including political scientist and RNPK member Nurbulat Masanov, who in March awoke to find that he had been sealed into his apartment in advance of a March 30 demonstration. The apartments of RNPK leader Amirzhan Kosanov and Seidakhmet Kuttykadam, leader of the Orleu movement, were also sealed. On September 14, police detained Karishal Asanov, a writer, long-time dissident, and recipient of the Human Rights Watch Hellman-Hammett prize, in his home and held him for three hours. Asanov, who had recently published an article criticizing Kazakhstan's president, was ordered to appear for questioning on September 20.

In July, the Supreme Court upheld the administrative regulations mandating, on grounds of public security, that police had the right to attend any and all meetings of nongovernmental organizations, without providing for any judicial or other review of these police actions. This ruling was sure to have a chilling effect on freedom of assembly, already restricted by Kazakh authorities, who continued to fine members of the pensioners' movement Pokolenie (Generation) for their monthly public demonstrations. The Almaty city government granted permission for opposition forces to hold a demonstration on March 30, although attacks on the homes of the rally's leaders suggested state-sponsored interference.

The independent print and broadcast media continued to face intense government repression. The government continued to use libel suits, confiscation of print runs and equipment, and pressure against printing houses and distribution agencies to harass media it found too critical. President Nazarbaev threatened several times over the course of the year to investigate unspecified media outlets for supposed antistate crimes. Opposition-affiliated journalists also ran the risk of physical assault: Lira Baisetova, editor of the opposition newspaper Respublika-2000, was beaten by an unidentified man outside her apartment on September 15 who warned her against continuing her activities. The government blocked broadcast of Russian television programs for several days in November 1999, after one program broadcast news that Swiss bank accounts linked to President Nazarbaev had been frozen. After reporting on the sealing of opposition leaders' doors in late March, editor-in-chief Tatiana Deltsova of the news program on Almaty's private T.V. Channel 31 was dismissed from her job. In May, court executors enforcing a libel judgment seized the property of the newspaper Nachnem s Ponedel'nika (Let's Begin on Monday), forcing it to fold; the papers' editors began a new venture, Do I Posle Ponedel'nika (Before and After Monday). In June, unidentified men seized the entire print run of that paper and forced one of its employees to set it on fire. Two newspapers, the Azamat-Times (Citizen Times) and Karagandinskii Vestnik (Karaganda Gazette), were also the subject of libel suits. After its printing press refused under government pressure to print the fiftieth issue of the Kazakh-language opposition paper SolDat (the name is a play on that of the banned Dat, in Kazakh, "let me speak", which was closed last year) in July, the issue was produced across the border in Russia, but then detained at the border for several days. The State Security Committee (KNB, formerly the KGB) had reportedly begun investigating the paper on charges of "impugning the honor and dignity of the President" on grounds that it published a translation of an article on the investigation of illegal payments by oil companies to high government officials, including the president, from U.S.-based Fortune magazine. Vremia P.O.'s printing house refused to publish the paper after it ran an article critical of the prime minister in August. Kazakhstan continued to censor the Internet, blocking access to the newsite from within the country in September and October.

Kazakh NGOs and international organizations such as the OSCE have helped focus government attention on Kazakhstan's horrendous prison conditions. Inmates in three separate penal institutions this year carried out mass self-mutilations to protest conditions; the largest incident, in Kostanai Province in June, involved forty-four prisoners. The government made public statements deploring the widespread use of torture in criminal investigations and police brutality, but declined to take action against perpetrators. In a case documented by the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (KIBHRRL), documentary filmmaker Dmitrii Piskunov was left in a coma after a beating by a KNB officer after a traffic dispute in July; while charges have been filed, the investigation has languished.

Government intolerance for non-traditional religious groups was evidenced by the seizure in June of religious literature from a group of Jehovah's Witnesses and the barring of a protestant missionary from the United States from entering the country. Tensions surfaced in Kazakhstan's Islamic community as well, leading to the sudden resignation in June of Kazakhstan's chief mufti, the head of the Spiritual Directorate of Kazakhstan's Muslims. In September, Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry reportedly ordered all young men from Kazakhstan studying at religious institutions in Islamic countries to return.

Defending Human Rights

In November 1999, fire swept through the offices of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law in an as yet unexplained incident. No incidents of harassment of human rights monitors in Kazakhstan were reported this year.

The Role of the International Community

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

In January, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Election Observation Mission issued its final report on parliamentary elections held in October 1999, outlining seventeen recommendations. The OSCE center in Almaty attempted to monitor whether these recommendations, including changes to the election law, have been implemented. To that end, on September 2 the center sponsored the first in a series of round table discussions on the question of elections, which included representatives of the government and pro-government groups as well as opposition political parties and nongovernmental organizations.

European Union

President of the European Commission Romano Prodi and External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten met with President Nazarbaev in June and reportedly stressed the need for further progress towards democracy; a textile agreement was also signed. In July, the E.U./Kazakhstan council met for the second time, one year after the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement came into force. Their public statement indicated that the Cooperation Council discussed political and human rights issues.

Council of Europe

The Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) continued to consider Kazakhstan's application for observer status this year.

United States

The December 1999 meeting of the U.S.-Kazakhstan Joint Commission, chaired by Vice President Al Gore, reportedly obtained President Nazarbaev's commitment to work closely with the OSCE on implementing democratic reform. Visits to Kazakhstan by the head of the CIA, the head of the FBI, NATO commander Wesley Clark, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in the spring came as the U.S. struggled to preserve its influence in the region. The harshest U.S. criticism came not on human rights issues, but in response to the illegal sale of fighter aircraft to North Korea in 1999 involving high Kazakh government officials. The U.S. proffered U.S.$3 million in additional assistance for counterterrorism, as well as a U.S. Trade and Development Agency (TDA) grant of U.S. $600,000 for a survey of natural gas resources.

This report, Human Rights Watch's eleventh annual review of human rights practices around the globe, covers developments in seventy countries. It is released in advance of Human Rights Day, December 10, 2000, and describes events from November 1999 through October 2000.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.