Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Ablyazov Denies Amnesty Conditional

“No pressure” to end my opposition career insists Kazak dissident as he walks free from jail.
By Gaukhar Beketova
 
 

A leader of the main opposition group in Kazakstan, Mukhtar Ablyazov, has been released from prison, but it is widely believed he was pressured into leaving political life in exchange for his freedom.


Kazak president Nursultan Nazarbaev signed an order on May 13 freeing a number of prisoners including Ablyazov. “Ablyazov is released from further imprisonment,” announced the president’s press office.


The former energy, trade and industry minister was serving a six-year sentence handed down by the supreme court in July 2002. He was convicted of illegal business dealings and abuse of his ministerial position, which allegedly cost the state more than three million US dollars.


Human rights groups said his conviction was politically motivated. Ablyazov had been critical of the president when he was joint leader of Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK, an opposition movement which he helped set up in 2001 after he was dismissed as minister earlier that year. This view was supported by the fact that the other DCK leader, former Pavlodar region governor Galymjan Jakiyanov, was given a seven-year sentence for corruption at the same time.


Ablyazov’s release followed pressure from the European parliament as well as the DCK and local human rights groups. While welcoming the move, human rights groups in Kazakstan flagged up a number of concerns about the circumstances.


Ablyazov was freed under an amnesty, which means that he did not receive a pardon and is still technically guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted. That means he is vulnerable to re-arrest if he does anything deemed to be an offence.


He was not freed under a general amnesty, but had to write a letter to Nazarbaev appealing for clemency. Opposition leaders and analysts say the authorities were then able to pressure him to renounce his political activity and admit he was guilty. Some say he agreed to do the former but not the latter. The conditions allegedly imposed by the government show that Ablyazov’s conviction was a political act, they say.


“Mukhtar Ablyazov is still not free in his statements,” DCK press secretary Vladimir Kozlov told IWPR. “We think that as the amnesty decision was being made, he was offered a number of conditions in exchange for his release. We have proof of this.”


The Kazakstan International Foundation for the Protection of Political Prisoners issued a statement saying, “The decree’s contents show that it was a political decision, for which the necessary juridical form was found. This proves that the Ablyazov case was politically motivated from the very beginning.”


Roslana Taukina, a member of the DCK’s political council, agrees, “Ablyazov’s release is a political decision, which shows that he was also sentenced for political reasons.”


Ablyazov himself denies there was any pressure or secret deal – yet he distanced himself from opposition politics the moment he was released.


“There was no pressure, psychological or otherwise, put on me. We made an appeal for an amnesty, and it was satisfied. There were no contradictions or conditions here. Without seeking to dispute the court’s decision, we simply appealed for amnesty,” he told a press conference.


“I don’t consider myself a political prisoner, but I do think I was imprisoned on those criteria.”


Ablyazov said he would cease political activity altogether, and would leave the DCK to “concentrate on business” and recover his health. A prominent businessman in the past, he intends to return to his Astana company.


“I am quite critical of the platforms which the DCK has now adopted. I can say right now that there are not many constructive ideas there, and more and more its activity is reduced to criticism and appeals to the West. So I intend to return to business,” he said.


The DCK reacted calmly to Ablyazov’s critical remarks. Press secretary Kozlov said, “We continue to consider him the leader of the movement, even if he is not actually the leader. The DCK fully accepts and respects his decision to return to business and restore his health. I would like to note that this does not run counter to our principles. And the DCK will continue to move in its current direction.”


Taukina told IWPR, “As for the fact that Mukhtar has stopped his DCK activity and decided to return to business, we have accepted this with goodwill. We are happy for him, as human beings.”


Ablyazov’s release leaves two other prominent figures in jail following convictions widely regarded as political – Zhakiyanov and Sergei Duvanov, a journalist and IWPR contributor convicted on rape charges last year.


The government may want to reach an accommodation with Jakiyanov but that will be more difficult since his lawyer Elena Rebenchuk said, on May 12, that he has no plans to request an amnesty, and intends to fight his conviction through the appeal process.


“As far as we know neither Galymzhan Zhakiyanov nor Sergei Duvanov intends to appeal for amnesty, so that is ruled out,” said Burikhan Nurmukhamedov, director of the Institute for National Research.


Duvanov’s case was the subject of an investigation which two Dutch legal experts conducted at the request of the OSCE. They have completed the report, and according to sources in the Kazak opposition, it says that there were inadequate grounds for the conviction. But the report has not yet been made public, and it is unclear what use it will be put to.


Why Nazarbaev decided to let Ablyazov go is not known. Nurmukhamedov is cautiously optimistic that it may signal a change of heart. “I wouldn’t call Ablyazov’s release a victory for anyone,” he said. “At the same time, in the context of the war between the government and opposition, this gesture by President Nazarbaev is a very positive factor.”


But there are those who think that Nazarbaev could afford to let Ablyazov go once he had demolished his career as an opposition politician.


Gaukhar Beketova and Erbol Jumagulov are independent journalists in Almaty