Kazakstan: No Deal for Jailed Politician

Kazak officials unlikely to authorise early release for opposition leader Galymzhan Zhakiyanov for fear it would upset their election plans.

Kazakstan: No Deal for Jailed Politician

Kazak officials unlikely to authorise early release for opposition leader Galymzhan Zhakiyanov for fear it would upset their election plans.

Hopes that jailed Kazak opposition figure Galymzhan Zhakiyanov could be released to a form of house arrest appear to have been dashed by a decision to charge him with further offences. Supporters of Zhakiyanov believe the authorities do not want such an influential political figure back on the scene before this September’s parliamentary election.

On August 2, Zhakiyanov – chairman of the Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK - automatically became eligible for transfer to a more lenient punishment regime. But the date came and went without any indication that the authorities would consider the step, and the opposition leader remains confined in a prison camp in the northern province of Kostanay.

Zhakiyanov was given a seven-year prison term in 2002 after being found guilty of corruption charges. His allies and civil rights groups believe the real reason for his conviction was official anger at his role in founding the DCK in 2001, after leaving his post as governor of Pavlodar region.

He was one of two chairmen of the opposition movement, and his counterpart Mukhtar Ablyazov was jailed on similar charges the same year. Ablyazov was released in May 2003 after apparently agreeing to steer clear of politics.

Zhakiyanov has not reached such a deal, and appeals for his release from his wife and opposition groups as well as an appeal for amnesty he submitted to President Nursultan Nazarbaev have had no effect. In July, the opposition submitted a petition containing one million signatures calling on Nazarbaev to release Zhakiyanov.

But like any convict who has served one third of his sentence, Zhakiyanov should in any case be eligible for release from prison to a “settlement camp”. Nowadays, with the demise of the controlled “settlements” of Soviet times, this means he would be ordered to live either in housing assigned to him near the prison, or if he was lucky he would get to live at home. In both cases he would report at a police station regularly and be subject to certain restrictions on travel and work.

Asylbek Kojakhmetov, who has acted as DCK head in Zhakiyanov’s absence, believes the authorities are reluctant to see the country’s highest-profile prisoner back in circulation just weeks before the general election on September 19.

"We have to say openly that there has been political pressure here, primarily linked with the September election,” he told IWPR after visiting Zhakiyanov at the prison camp on August 3. “The authorities don’t want to give us even the slightest opportunity to make use of Galymjan Zhakiyanov's release.”

Journalist Sergei Duvanov explained that by law, the procedure for reviewing such cases should last a month, which would mean Zhakiyanov could be freed to Kazakstan’s version of house arrest in the early days of September.

“But the authorities are interested in seeing that Galymjan is not released before the elections," he added. "Releasing him before that would make the DCK more energetic, and could influence the results. And the authorities realise that.”

Since the beginning of this year, Duvanov himself has lived at home under a house-arrest arrangement, going to work while still technically serving a three-and-a-half year sentence for rape – a charge many independent observers believe was fabricated because of his critical reporting of the authorities.

Even if they have decided not to release Zhakiyanov at a time of heightened political sensitivities, the Kazak authorities are still faced with the problem of what to do with him in the longer term.

On July 28, it emerged that they were considering pressing more charges against him. Serikbolsyn Abdildin, head of the opposition Communist Party and a member of parliament, told a press conference that two new criminal charges had appeared, based on witness statements accusing him of extortion during his time as Pavlodar governor.

"This is laughable," Abdildin told IWPR. "The authorities couldn't think up anything better than accusing Zhakiyanov of attempts at extortion. It borders on stupidity."

Kojakhmetov said the charges had been brought because “the authorities need to keep him on a tight rein, and not give him the chance to be allowed out.”

At the same time, Kojakhmetov doubts the new charges present much danger, as they contain procedural flaws and have been pulled out of the hat for purely political reasons.

Zhakiyanov’s wife Karlygash pointed out that regardless of the progress of any new investigations, her husband should still be released to house arrest, since the two issues are unconnected from a legal point of view.

Andrei Chebotaryov, an analyst and coordinator of the Institute for National Research, said the “new” cases actually date from last year, when officials were reviewing Zhakiyanov’s appeal for amnesty – a request they turned down.

At the time there were four possible charges under investigation, but nothing came of them. According to Chebotaryov, “the authorities kept two of them for [future] investigation, so that Zhakiyanov would not have a chance to receive more lenient terms of imprisonment."

Chebotaryov believes nevertheless that Zhakiyanov may yet be allowed to leave prison – after the election.

For the moment, the government will continue to face a barrage of criticism from the opposition –including the more moderate Ak Jol as well as the DCK and the Communists.

Ak Jol co-chairman Altynbek Sarsenbaev denounced the imprisonment of political opponents at a July 31 party congress. His remarks carried all the more weight because President Nazarbaev had appointed him to his cabinet only three weeks earlier, as minister of information.

"We must understand that criminal prosecution of political opponents is a road to nowhere!” said Sarsenbaev. “In convicting and imprisoning people for their political views, we are establishing a very bad tradition.”

Eduard Poletaev is IWPR country director in Kazakstan. Inna Lyudva is IWPR project assistant.

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