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

Kazakstan: Fears for Jailed Leaders' Safety

Supporters allege authority plot to intimidate and possibly kill two imprisoned opposition politicians.
By Alexey Gorodetskiy

Opposition activists have voiced fears over the lives of jailed Democratic Choice of Kazakstan leaders Mukhtar Abliazov and Galymzhan Zhakianov.


Leaflets claiming that the men's lives are at risk began to be circulated in Almaty on November 20. The flyers declared that the opposition had "no choice but adopt extreme measures and methods of struggle in its resistance to open terror".


The government has denied all the allegations, and has reiterated its determination to stop the opposition from resorting to "illegal" methods.


Abliazov, founder of the Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK, and a former government minister for industry and trade, and Zhakianov, ex-governor of the northern Pavlodar province, fell foul of the authorities after a series of demands for democratic reform.


Following trials for abuse of office this summer - which their supporters claim were politically motivated - Abliazov was jailed for six years and Zhakianov for seven.


Analysts believe Abliazov, who is being held in Granitnity prison, is in danger because of the recent publication of his biography, Book of Recollections, which has been serialised in some opposition newspapers.


Rozlana Taykina, president of the Association of Independent Mass Media, said that the government had been enraged by certain revelations in the book, which accuses many high-ranking officials of corrupt practices.


The opposition now believes that the security services are planning an attempt on Abliazov's life. The DCK press agency reported that prison staff recently burst into the Granitnity medical unit where the jailed leader was receiving treatment, searched the premises and beat up the inmates.


DCK member Tolen Tokhtasynov told IWPR that inmates who had witnessed the search compiled reports on the incident and, through their lawyers, appealed to parliamentary deputies for help. "The aim of the raid was to turn the inmates against Abliazov," he claimed.


Tokhtasynov said he feared the prison administration might put pressure on inmates to retract the letters they had sent to him and other deputies, "The prisoners openly admitted that they feared the consequences of their actions."


The Assandi Times, a local opposition newspaper, has also suggested that the prison staff were trying to drive a wedge between Abliazov and his fellow inmates. Its report claimed that the governor had told the convicts, "Why do you support him? He is washing dirty linen in public. All of us will suffer for this."


The opposition says Zhakianov is under equally intense pressure in the Kusmurun penal colony. The Assandi Times published an interview with one former inmate who reported that Zhakianov's movements were monitored obsessively.


"At night when he is asleep they come and point flashlights into his face. Two prisoners keep constant watch on him. He is under constant surveillance," he claimed.


Zhakianov's wife, who recently visited her husband in jail, told IWPR that the prison administration's sole aim "was to make his life in the colony miserable".


According to Taukina, a number of well-known civil rights campaigners have voiced concern over the inmates. She said a delegation of Moscow activities planned to visit Kazakstan to inspect conditions for jailed political prisoners.


But some analysts feel the situation is being blown out of proportion. "It makes no sense. The authorities do not want to dispose of Abliazov, as they fear the repercussions this would have in the republic and the international community," said Andrey Chebotarev of the anti-corruption organisation Transparency Kazakstan.


He told IWPR that the opposition was merely trying to whip up pressure to have the two leaders released.


But Amirjan Kosanov, leader of the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakstan, insisted that the harassment was real, saying it was consistent with the authorities' recent targeting of certain politicians and journalists - citing the recent arrest of the well-known journalist Sergei Duvanov on rape charges.


Alexey Gorodetskiy is an independent journalist in Kazakstan