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

Kazak Opposition Figure Goes to Court

Unprecedented lawsuits by an opposition member against his political rivals are unlikely to succeed.
By Alim Bekenov

An opposition activist in Kazakstan is taking two pro-government parties to court, accusing them of extremism and asking they be shut down.

Hearings into the civil action by Asylbek Kojakhmetov, a leading figure in the For a Fair Kazakstan movement, against the Agrarian Party and the Civil Party will resume in early July.

In an unprecedented move by a private citizen, Kojakhmetov has cited legislation on opposing extremist activity passed in 2004 as the basis for his case. An Astana court has already used the law to ban the Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir and disband the Democratic Choice of Kazakstan party, DCK, to which Kojakhmetov belonged.

The grounds for his lawsuit are statements made by the two parties after the March revolution in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, when they announced they had created a “people’s democratic front” to stop a “second Bishkek” taking place in Kazakstan.

The deputy head of the Agrarian Party, Vladimir Chalyshev, said at a press conference in March that he was ready to defend the sovereignty of the country with “gun in hand”. Romin Madinov, head of the Agrarian Party, said “the opposition should be crushed at birth” and “any opposition to the authorities should be punished”.

Kojakhmetov believes these public statements amount to “political extremism”.

“By threatening to carry guns and calling on their supporters to crush the opposition, the leaders of these two parties essentially carried out actions characteristic of political extremism, by inciting social hostility between different groups which hold different political views,” Kojakhmetov told the court.

Not surprisingly, the Agrarian and Civil parties see things differently. Party leaders deny they are extremists and describe Kojakhmetov’s lawsuit as unfounded.

“I don’t consider Kojakhmetov’s claims justified,” Civil Party leader Azat Peruashev told IWPR. “At least with regard to the Civil Party, they are simply laughable.

“What is the logic here? Mr Chalyshev said that he was prepared to carry a gun to defend sovereignty, and Mr Madinov said the opposition should be crushed. And as Peruashev was sitting next to them, he should be prosecuted. But then shouldn’t all the journalists present at the press conference be prosecuted as well?”

Peruashev went on to accuse Kojakhmetov of using the trial to raise his political profile, “He found an excuse to get in the limelight, to shout and beat his breast. By all means - he is a politician, after all and is trying to get some publicity for himself out of this. But this publicity doesn’t work on us any more.”

In an interview with IWPR, Kojakhmetov denied he is hungry for publicity and said his lawsuit has several aims, in particular to force party leaders to explain publicly what they meant by their statements.

He also believes it is necessary “for society to start discussing the issue of whether the Kazakstan opposition should be crushed at birth”.

Both the Agrarian and Civil parties traditionally support the government and President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

The Civil Party is known for its connections with the business world and was created with the support of the aluminium magnate Alexander Mashkevich.

Its close political ally, the Agrarian Party is best remembered for defending the passing of the Land Code by parliament in 2003, which introduced private ownership of agricultural production, despite opposition from the rural population.

The court hearings are taking place in different cities with the lawsuit against the Civil Party being heard in Almaty and the case against the Agrarian Party in Astana. According to Kazak law, trials are held where the defendant is registered.

The first day of the case against the Civil Party took place on June 20, but the June 22 start of the Agrarian hearing was postponed because Madinov did not appear. He told journalists he was unable to come to the trial because as a parliamentary deputy he had to be present at a session of the legislature, though he insisted he does want to take part.

Kojakhmetov believes the Astana court intentionally postponed the hearing, “This is an artificial delay of the trial. They [the judges] want to wait for the results of the trial in Almaty and announce a verdict based on that precedent.”

Altynshash Jaganova, leader of the Rukhaniyat party, said that although some of Kojakhmetov’s claims may be valid, lawsuit is not the best course of action.

“The opposition is a strong political partner, and the opposition’s opinion always needs to be considered, ” she said. “But revenge is not the method for our Kazakstan, and it is not the policy of our head of state. That’s not the way to protect the country…. This may just damage the democratisation of our society.”

Observers doubt the lawsuit will be successful, and even Kojakhmetov seems unconvinced.

“Generally, I am certain that the non-objective and manipulated legal system cannot liquidate a party according to a lawsuit filed by a citizen of Kazakstan,” he said. “Although the trial is equivalent to the case against the DCK, only the prosecutor initiated it, and here it is citizen Asylbek Kojakhmetov who is the one filing the lawsuit.”

Alim Bekenov is the pseudonym of an IWPR correspondent in Astana.