Kazakstan: Abliazov Facing 'Trumped Up' Charges

Prosecution of leading opposition politician has been condemned as a political show trial.

Kazakstan: Abliazov Facing 'Trumped Up' Charges

Prosecution of leading opposition politician has been condemned as a political show trial.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

The trial now under way of opposition leader Mukhtar Abliazov has been widely condemned as a trumped up case designed to smother political opponents and tighten the government's grip on power.

Abliazov, former trade and industry minister and now a wealthy businessman, has been accused of abusing his professional powers, of illegal business activity and also of using a mobile telephone belonging to the state energy company for personal use.

The opposition leader told the supreme court in Astana that all the charges were unsubstantiated and based on rumours and conjecture. "They want to put me on trial because I am the organiser of the movement Democratic Choice of Kazakstan," he said.

Members of the Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DVK, an opposition movement that made swift headway after its formation at the end of last year, condemned the charges as politically motivated. Other opposition parties have joined in the criticism.

"From the first day of Abliazov's court hearing it became clear the case is part of a scenario plotted by the government," said Serikbolsyn Abdildin, leader of the Communist Party.

Pyotr Svoik, leader of the Azamat party, scoffed at the authorities' claim that it has established its democratic credentials by opening the trial to the public. "In fact they proved the opposite," Svoik said. "The judge banned audio and video recording and the taking photographs. This means that the government is scared of repercussions among the wider public."

On top of this there have been severe restrictions on who can attend the trial. Jibek Kashkeeva, correspondent of the financial supplement of Republic Business Review newspaper, said she was barred from court. Her paper has been under official attack for supporting Abliazov.

Kashkeeva said representatives of the television channel Tan, the newspaper Karavan, and many other media were also kept out.

Svoik also complained that the judge would allow only one character witness into court instead of the six requested by Abliazov. Evgeny Zhovtis, head of the committee for human rights and rule of law, called this a gross transgression of the norms of both international and Kazak legislation.

According to Tolen Tokhtasynov, a parliamentary deputy and the only character witness for Abliazov at the trial, these incidents show the prosecutor's office considers its case is already as good as won.

Another character witness, Serikbolsyn Abdildin, said he was left standing outside the court. "There is obviously an agreement between the prosecutor and the judge," he said. "The main demands of the prosecutor, to reduce the number of character witnesses and restrict media coverage, were immediately supported by the judge."

A highly placed official, who wished to remain anonymous, said Abliazov had irked authorities with his campaign for democratic reforms. "He had good prospects for a government career, but his views clashed with those of influential figures," he said.

The opposition leader, along with other members of DVK, supported the introduction of elections for akims (governors); and the provision of more parliamentary freedom, including the right of the assembly, instead of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, to choose a government.

Bulat Abilov, well-known businessman and DVK member, said the case against Abliazov was intended to pressure him into leaving the party and give up his sizeable media interests. The prosecution of Abliazov has already caused a drastic fall in his financial holdings, from 400 to around 150 million US dollars, according to independent expert Tulegen Askarov.

But Askarov is convinced that this trial would not affect Abliazov's reputation as a businessman. "Things like this often happen when large amounts of capital are involved," he said. "The government's efforts at suppression may rebound against it."

The trial will continue until approximately July 2 and Abilov thinks it will end with the opposition leader being sentenced to between seven and to 10 years. "However, after half a year the government might start holding talks with him, and he may be amnestied in exchange for some political concessions," he said.

Svoik believes the government has decided to imprison Abliazov and another senior DVK official, Galymzhan Zhakianov, so it could hold a presidential election without them interfering. Political scientist Kaltai Tursynov commented, "Both DVK leaders are quickly gaining support around the country. It seems unlikely the government will be able to reduce their popularity by putting them on trial."

A columnist from a pro-government newspaper, who preferred to remain anonymous, commented, "Abliazov will maintain his beliefs to the bitter end, because if he admits his guilt, which is what the government wants him to, he will lose his political martyr image and in the eyes of the public will become just another corrupt businessman."

Many politicians in Kazakstan view these trials as a dangerous precedent that could lead to more political repression.

Asan Kuanov, Timur Jagiparov are independent journalists in Kazakstan

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