Kazak Police Blitz

Law enforcers hunt down "undesirables" on eve of conference.

Kazak Police Blitz

Law enforcers hunt down "undesirables" on eve of conference.

Foreign workers, drunks and the homeless have been targeted by Kazak police in a Soviet-style clean up operation in advance of a major congress on religion this week.

The operation, dubbed Law and Order, has included increased security measures and house- to-house visits by police in search of those deemed suspicious or undesirable.

Deputy head of internal affairs Alexander Chaus said those with a criminal record, drug addicts, drunks, or anyone who has attended a drying out centre, could be investigated in the run-up to the Congress of World Traditional and National Religions in Astana on September 23.

Foreign visitors have also found themselves caught up in the operation. "I arrived in Astana for the wedding of a Kazak friend," said Abdulla, a student from Pakistan. "During my three-day stay, my documents were checked eight times by the police, who also called me a Wahhabi (member of the Islamic Wahhabi movement) and advised me to shave off my beard. One kind policeman simply advised me to leave as soon as possible."

Observers say the congress is not particularly important and the authorities' crude preparation is typical of the way Soviet governments would have handled the build-up to such an event.

During the ten-day blitz, which was launched on September 3, police said they found about 250 people in violation of immigration rules. Thirteen of those came from China and Turkey, the remainder were migrant labourers from other CIS countries, mainly Uzbekistan.

Kazaks who have moved to the capital from the provinces are also being checked for residence papers. "I've been renting my apartment for six months," said Olga, who comes from Almaty. "During this operation, the police have visited three times and taken down all my personal details each visit."

Like many of his workmates, construction worker Serik Bazarbaev, from southern Kazakstan, sidestepped the official employment authorities in order to find work. Now he must register as a resident immediately, or leave the city.

Arman Ualikhanov, a house painter from the Kyzylorda region, was given no time to get his papers in order. "I was told that if I don't leave the city today, I will be jailed as a terrorist sympathiser. I am scared, so I'm leaving now," he said.

However, like many in Astana, Arman expects the Law and Order campaign to fade away as soon as the congress is finished. Then he will be back. "The police are scaring people and enforcing the rules now, but when the congress ends, they will go back to ignoring registration irregularities in exchange for pay-offs," he said.

Local residents are similarly sceptical about the campaign. If the police really followed their own rules, half of the city would be in jail, said Aydin Kayupov, who works for a private company. "In Kazakstan, every other man has visited a [drying out] station at least once. And a lot of people have been fined at one time or another," he said.

Even a policeman, who wished to remain anonymous, conceded to IWPR that homeless people held in detention centres, while their identities are checked, will soon be free. "When the congress delegates leave, the homeless will be released," he said.

Pensioner Andrey Vasilevich pointed out that campaigns like this one are nothing new. They happened right the way through the Soviet era. "We had the homeless and the drunks then, too," he said."And whenever some important party boss was due to visit, any undesirables would be deported from the city, or locked up in police stations. Just like today."

Yuliana Zhikhor is an independent journalist in Kazakstan.

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