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Kazak Opposition Intimidated

The Kazak authorities are attempting to curb the activities of their political opponents.
By Rozlana Taukina

The Kazak government banned one of the leaders of the opposition Republican People's Party (RPP) last week from travel outside Kazakstan for five years, in the latest crackdown on the activities of its opponents.


The restriction order against RPP deputy chairman Amirjan Kosanov, press secretary in the government of ex-prime minister Akejan Kajegeldin, followed an incident in March in which he and two other opposition figures were walled into their apartments at night by unknown assailants.


Two other supporters of Kajegeldin, President Nursultan Nazarbaev's main political opponent who fled into exile after resigning as prime minister in 1997, were sentenced to three and a half years in prison earlier this year.


Pyotr Afanasenko and Satjan Ibraev had acted as couriers between the organized opposition in Kazakstan and their leader.


Yermurat Bapi, editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper SolDAT, and political analyst Nurbulat Masanov, another victim of the March incident, face trial on charges of insulting the president and the Kazak people.


Opposition newspapers are refused service in printing houses. The security services halt print runs, tax authorities pursue the managements and the authorities bring legal suits.


Telephones are tapped and opposition leaders face routine threats, burglaries and harassment.


RPP Chairman Gaziz Aldamjarov, the most persistent and experienced opposition leader, won 87 per cent of the vote in the oil-rich Atyrau Oblast in the west of Kazakstan in last year's parliamentary elections, only to have the victory nullified by the Central Election Commission because two drunken youngsters had turned a ballot box upside down.


In June this year, all the computers in Aldamjarov's offices were stolen, even though the safes were left untouched. In October, thieves took his most presentable suit, two shirts and a family photograph album from his apartment, ignoring money, valuable equipment and decorations.


Recently, an anonymous caller threatened Aldamjarov with unspecified consequences if he didn't end his political activities.


The bizarre operation against Kosanov, Masanov and Seidakhmet Kuttykadam, leader of the social organization Orleu, in March was perhaps the most blatant gesture of intimidation. Using 50 kilograms of cement and metal bars, the assailants blocked off the doors to their apartments. The entrance ways to the buildings were covered in offensive and threatening graffiti and their telephone lines were cut.


The blockage prevented three activists from attending a protest meeting where they were supposed to call for national dialogue between the Kazak leadership and the opposition.


The police opened a criminal investigation, but no one was brought to trial despite the well-organized and coordinated character of the assault. Several days later, all three received enormous bills for international calls they had not made.


Kuttykadam has also been blackmailed with secret compromising film of his visits to a banya. After announcing his intention to continue his political activities, the blackmailers handed the film to a television channel belonging to the holding company of the president's daughter, where it was shown with an ironic commentary, and placed it on an internet site.


Kosanov's restriction order was based on the state secrets law and referred to his job in the Kajegeldin government. It came after he was prevented from travelling to United Kingdom, despite having all the required documents including the still obligatory exit visa and British entry visa. "I will sue the Security Department for violation of my rights," he said.


Masanov, the third victim of the walling-in, faces charges of insulting the Kazak people following the publication on the internet of an alleged interview with him. The item was republished by the pro-government press.


Bapi, the editor-in-chief of SolDAT, is charged with stirring up international conflicts and insulting the honour and dignity of the president, after he reprinted material from the Western media published on the internet.


Many media figures have fled into exile following pressure and threats of physical retribution - including the director of RIK radio, Serik Medetbekov, the founder of the Vremya Po newspaper, Yulia Firsova, and its editor-in-chief, Nurlan Ablyazov. Office equipment and the personal property of newspaper owners have been illegally seized.


Newspapers which can be published abroad, in Kyrgyzstan or Russia, encounter huge problems from customs and the national security committee when they are brought into the country. Every day, the distribution of newspapers that criticize the authorities becomes more difficult.


Attempts by the director of the Kazak International Bureau for Human Rights, Yevgeny Zhovtis, to sue against systematic distribution of false and offensive statements have been blocked at every legal level.


The leader of the Pokolenie pensioners' movement, Irina Savostina, faces weekly calls to appear in a municipal court charged with insulting the dignity and honor of two men - a retired lawyer and the editor of the Kazakhskaya Gazeta newspaper.


The chairman of the Edinstvo (Unity) movement of representatives of small business, Dametken Alenova, a critic of the state's fiscal policies, was deprived of his title as a professor and her shop was robbed and part of it burnt down.


Former deputy Vladimir Chernyshev and the co-chairman of the Azamat party, Pyotr Svoik, have been repeatedly beaten by people in masks at the entranceways to their buildings.


These actions come as the president and members of his family concentrate more and more power into their own hands. The son-in-law of the president, Rakhat Aliev, has, for example, become one of the chiefs of the Committee for National Security, which calls in opposition figures for 'spiritual' discussions.


They all have the same aim - to force the leaders of the opposition to end their political activities and to put pressure on them by frightening their families.


Rozlana Taukina is director of IWPR's office in Kazakstan


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