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Kazakstan: Party Fears For Detained Leader's Life

Opposition party alleges their frail chief's health is deteriorating under government interrogation.
By Medet Ibragimov

Fears are growing that detained opposition leader Galymzhan Zhakianov may not survive what his supporters have called "overzealous" questioning by the authorities.

Zhakianov is under house arrest in a Pavlodar hospital and his party, the Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK, claim he has twice been admitted to intensive care after interrogation by investigator Gusman Kusainov.

But DCK press secretary Vladimir Kozlov told IWPR, "Zhakianov has been feeling very weak. He may not live to see his case go to court."

The DCK believes the "abuse of power" charges against Zhakianov, who suffers from a heart condition, are politically motivated and has also accused the government of restricting access to his medical records.

His fellow party leader was arrested at the end of March after a series of demonstrations and press conferences highlighting alleged government abuses.

Opposition figure Nurbolat Masanov told IWPR, "President Nazarbaev is hoping to resolve the country's problems through intimidation. The heavy-handed tactics employed against Zhakianov and Abliazov represent his last attempt to bring the situation under control. But the crisis is getting worse."

Guljan Ergalieva, a member of DCK's policy-making council, claims that riot police have sealed off the hospital where Zhakiyanov is being treated, and that only his wife, lawyer and medical professionals are allowed to see him. "This is not house arrest. Zhakianov is being treated like a political prisoner," she said.

A group of opposition deputies have taken their protest to the Kazak parliament, reading out a strongly-worded letter demanding better medical treatment for the detained man.

The statement said that, under the circumstances, Zhakianov's doctor has said that he cannot be held responsible for his patient's health.

Earlier this year, Zhakianov had fled to the French embassy in Almaty where sought refuge, claiming that he was trying to escape persecution. He remained there until diplomats, who were unwilling to turn him over to a government that may order his arrest, reached an agreement with the authorities at the beginning of April.

He was handed over on the condition that he be placed under house arrest if there were grounds for his detention.

The authorities accuse Zhakianov of "misuse of office" while he was governor of the northern Pavlodar region, until his dismissal at the end of last year.

His colleague Abliazov is now being held in a remand prison in the capital Astana. He is charged with using a government-sponsored cellphone for his personal use, and unlawful business activity during his tenure as the republic's power minister. His trial is also set for this week.

In Zhakianov's case, former aide Viktor Kotunovsky said the investigator would not let the accused's attorney read the case files. "He claims it contains classified material, but that is highly doubtful," he said.

The continued detention of this high profile pair is becoming a rallying point for the government's critics. Around 200 Zhakianov supporters have been demonstrating outside the interior ministry building in Pavlodar since June 7.

They have been demanding the services of an independent lawyer, family access to medical records, substitution of house arrest with a restraining order and an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the party leader's visits to intensive care.

Twenty people were arrested in the centre of Almaty on June 13 after a demonstration demanding the release of Zhakianov and an end to what they claim are politically-motivated trials. A DCK spokesman told IWPR that the detainees are now facing charges of holding an unauthorised protest rally.

Masanov claims the treatment of the party leaders has been driven by government anger at their activities. A meeting between Zhakianov and prominent Kazak dissident Akejan Kajegeldin, to discuss a joint strategy to handle the regime, is believed to have been the last straw.

Independent political analyst Andrei Shcherbakov compares the current events with the events of 1937, when Stalin cracked down on his critics in the Soviet Union. "The president and his minions are out to bring dissidents to heel. Unfortunately, this is very bad for Kazakstan's international image," he said.

Zhakianov's aide Nurjan Sadykov told IWPR that the leader's wife Karlygash had also suffered at the hands of the police. "Karlygash tried to videotape Kusainov as he came into Zhakianov's ward, but the investigator hit her and broke the video camera," he claimed.

Kusainov then held a press conference of his own, in which he accused the detainee's wife of attacking him. However, he was unable to show any injuries, whereas Zhakianov's supporters claim Karlygash was left with large bruises after the incident.

Amid such turbulence, political analyst Erlan Karin believes the authorities still have a chance to negotiate with the opposition. "It is not too late for the government to start a dialogue with the opposition or initiate democratic reform. But they must start right now," he said.

If the republic misses this opportunity, Karin warns that Kazakstan risks alienating the international community and prompting many more serious internal clashes.

Medet Ibragimov is the pseudonym of a journalist in Kazakstan

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