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Kazakstan: Dariga TV station Under Fire

Opposition enraged by police crackdown on protest over “unfair” election coverage.
By Inna Lyudva

Special police trying to remove a placard from opposition activists.
Special police forces taking away a confiscated placard.
Guljan Ergalieva of the oppositon block comprising the Communist Party and Democratic Choice of Kazakstan.
Polcie trying to disperse the opposition meeting.

The Kazak opposition is preparing to bring a legal action against the police for breaking up a rally against the president’s powerful daughter and arresting several participants.

The opposition coalition comprising the Communist Party and the Democratic Movement of Kazakstan, DCK, claim the police intervention and detentions during the unsanctioned September 8 protest in Almaty was illegal.

Activists claim that they were under no obligation to ask the authorities for permission to stage the demo over Dariga Nazarbaeva’s exploitation of a public broadcaster - in which she has a substantial stake - as the law says it’s not required in the run-up to elections.

Nine members of the opposition coalition were arrested during the rally and released five hours later. They claim they received injuries at the hands of the police but could not have them verified by doctors because officers confiscated their identity documents, which are needed for such medical inspections.

The opposition coalition protest, staged outside the offices of the state-controlled Khabar television channel, was primarily intended to draw attention to its exclusion of opposition parties from coverage of campaigning for the September 19 parliamentary ballot.

They’re also angry with Khabar for beginning its election coverage two months before the scheduled date for the start of campaigning.

Activists complain that political programming has been devoted to the two presidential parties, Otan and Asar, the latter headed by Dariga. They claim the president’s daughter has exploited her stake in the channel to dictate output.

“During the election campaign, voters do not see or hear representatives of other parties, even though Khabar is mainly funded by the state budget, “ said rally participant Guljan Ergalieva, who’s running for parliament

Dariga used to be the head of Khabar but stepped down before the election campaign because of her party’s involvement. Activists believe that the move was disingenuous as she continues to pull the strings at the channel.

Opposition activists at the rally chanted “Khabar for the People” and accused Dariga of abusing her family connections for political gain. The demonstrators were confronted by counter protest by pro-government students, who loudly proclaimed their support for Nazarbaeva’s party.

Police quickly intervened, tearing down opposition activists’ placards, twisting their arms behind their backs and forcing them onto buses – but not before they managed to deliver a note outlining their grievances to officials at the station.

Khabar later issued a statement denying the claims of slanted election coverage. It said the supreme court had deemed its output to be fair and impartial, and dismissed the opposition protest as a PR stunt.

The demonstration was an embarrassment for the authorities, as important people were in town. Around 500 metres away, at the Hotel Ankara, President Nursultan Nazarbaev was meeting his Czech counterpart Vaclav Klaus. The Ukranian national football team, due to play Kazakstan in a World Cup qualifying game that night, was staying there too.

The law enforcement authorities say they dispersed the rally and detained the activists because the gathering had not been officially sanctioned.

The opposition coalition is now preparing a legal action against the police because they claim their actions violated the constitution.

“According to election law, during the pre-election period public gatherings are allowed without the permission of local power bodies, “ said Ergalieva.

Vladimir Kozlov, press secretary for the DCK, said, “All four pro-government parties hold marches, stop traffic so that everyone can see them. We are seeing a demonstration of discrimination against opposition parties.”

Maria Pulman, a lawyer for the International Bureau for Human Rights and Observance of the Law, said, “ If this protest had been held by any party other than the DCK, it would not have been dispersed. This incident can be called a wrongful act by the authorities.”

Inna Lyudva is project assistant with IWPR office in Kazakstan.

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