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

Jailed Oppositionist Falls Sick

Human rights group appeal for release of Galymzhan Zhakiyanov after he contracts tuberculosis.
By Ebrol Jumagulov

Reports that jailed Kazak opposition leader Galymzhan Zhakiyanov has contracted tuberculosis in prison have given added urgency to efforts by his family and supporters to gain his release.


In response, international human rights organisations have written to President Nursultan Nazarbaev, appealing to him to free Zhakiyanov on compassionate grounds.


"Keeping a well-known political figure in prison is despicable for a country that adheres to democratic principles," the letter said.


The news that Zhakiyanov had contracted tuberculosis was announced by his lawyer Elena Rebenchuk on July 2. The next day, his wife Karlygash Zhakiyanova wrote her own letter to President Nazarbaev.


Friends and relatives who have visited Zhakiyanov at a labour camp in the northern Kostanai region say he looks thin and drawn, and shows all the signs of tuberculosis, TB.


The disease is rife in Kazakstan's penal system because of the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Thousands of prisoners have died from TB, which has developed a strain that is resistant to many drugs.


"Every prisoner has a high risk of contracting tuberculosis, and one in three contracts the disease," hospital doctor Maira Almambetova told IWPR.


Zhakiyanov, a former governor of Pavlodar region, was one of the founders of a leading opposition movement, Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK. Set up in 2001, the movement united members of the new business elite and a number of high-ranking officials in calling for democratic reforms.


In 2002 he was accused of corruption by the Kazak authorities and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. International organisations campaigning on his behalf believe he was jailed for political reasons - especially since as fellow DCK leader Mukhtar Ablyazov was convicted on similar charges the same year.


Ablyazov was released in May this year after appealing for amnesty. Some people in the opposition believed he did so only under pressure from the authorities, especially since he distanced himself from opposition politics once he was released.


Zhakiyanov has resolutely refused to appeal for clemency, with his lawyer saying he would continue to fight to get the conviction quashed. Now some of his friends are urging him to rethink his position in view of his failing health.


"We are trying to convince him to weigh everything up and to write a plea in order to save his own life," said leading DCK member Rozlana Taukina.


Meanwhile, the authorities are making it even harder for people to visit the jailed opposition leader. Last week a group of Russian human rights activists arrived at the labour camp colony only to find they were barred from seeing Zhakiyanov or even meeting the prison governor.


The Kazak government has yet to respond to the latest appeals from human right groups and Zhakiyanov's wife.


Ebrol Jumagulov is an independent journalist. Alexander Zakharov is the pseudonym for a journalist in Almaty.