WORLD REPORT 1998 - Kazakstan

Human Rights Developments

In general, the government of Kazakstan continued to observe the rule of law and most civil and political rights in 1997. There were still major areas of concern, however, including prison conditions, continuing use of the death penalty, diminishing possibilities for free assembly, resulting in part from the implementation of a new criminal code, and the apparent reduction in media choice through the government's redistribution of broadcasting rights which excluded independent voices.

Parliament adopted a new criminal code on July 16, replacing the Soviet code in use in Kazakstan since 1959. Positive aspects include a reduction in the application of the death penalty to murder and crimes such as terrorism, eliminating its use for crimes such as receipt of bribes and aggravated rape. It will no longer be applied to women (formerly only pregnant women were excluded) or men over sixty-five. Also-and importantly, given the imperfect nature of the country's judicial system-it extends to two years the time between sentencing and execution to allow for final appeals. Previously this period was on average one year, including final appeal and a request for clemency. On the negative side, however, the new code criminalizes the activity of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have not been granted formal registration by the government and the organization of unsanctioned public meetings and demonstrations.

Use of the death penalty continued in 1997, although no figures were available for the number of people executed. Government actors, especially President Nazarbaev's legal affairs advisor, Igor Rogov, displayed an openness to dialogue on the issue when they attended a seminar on the death penalty organized by the nongovernmental Kazakstan-American Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law on January 22-23. They indicated a readiness to reduce application of the death sentence and, according to Mr. Rogov, eventually to abolish it. Yet it was shortly after this, in the last week of April, that the authorities, ignoring repeated pleas from Amnesty International and other groups, executed Oleg Gorozashvili. The execution went ahead despite doubts about his guilt, concerns about a serious miscarriage of justice, and an apparent commitment from state investigators to delay execution pending further examination of the case.

A perverse argument for retaining the death penalty, advanced by government officials at the January seminar, was that prison conditions were so atrocious that few prisoners would survive a long sentence anyway. In July the Interior Minister was quoted as saying 1,122 people had died in prison as of that date, 770 of them from tuberculosis. This was roughly the same level as in 1996, when 2,531 prisoners had died, according to government officials. The Interior Minister also said that Kazakstan had 83,000 prisoners in July, a figure that included 15,000 released on parole. Officials said one in five prisoners had tuberculosis.

A variety of legal sanctions continued to be applied to individuals who were punished for their political activity rather than for any crime. In June the authorities in Almaty held the sixty-year-old leader of a pensioners' action group called Generation (Pokolenie), Nina Savostina, in custody for seven days and held the deputy head of the Workers' Movement, Yury Vinkov, for fifteen days for participating in a May 30 rally of pensioners. Madel Ismailov, chairman of the Workers' Movement, was held in custody until late July on charges of organizing the demonstration. He was tried on September 17 and sentenced to one year of corrective labor; he will be allowed to serve the sentence at his own place of work with a portion of his salary deducted. The authorities' determination to prevent even such basic rights of assembly indicated an extremely alarming intention to stamp out political opposition.

Another source of opposition to government policies, the independent labor movement, was alsosubjected to government harassment this year. The leader of the Independent Trade Union Federation, Leonid Solomin, was charged with financial irregularities on March 13 after a long-running investigation. Although the charges were dropped in September for lack of evidence, the accusations had isolated Mr. Solomin as a political figure and seriously hampered his work. Another prominent opposition figure, Petr Svoik, co-leader of the Azamat opposition movement, faced criminal charges relating to alleged improprieties during his time as head of the State Antimonopoly Commission. The case had not been tried as of this writing. Again, raising these accusations at a time when Azamat was gaining authority, and the subsequent prolonged, inconclusive investigation, point to an attempt to discredit and isolate a powerful political figure.

The year 1997 saw no recorded politically motivated convictions in the context of ethnic relations. The last case, a trial ending December 25, 1996, involved Nina Sidorova, chair of the Russian Center, who was given a two-year suspended prison sentence for contempt of court and resisting police authority. The charges had been brought against her in 1996, months after the alleged crimes and only when she attempted to register the Russian Center as a public association.

A reduction in the public's access to Russian-language media-the most important outside source of information in Kazakstan-came when the authorities cancelled rebroadcasts of the Russian Federation national TV station RTR. The Russian station announced on January 27 that its programs had not been shown in Kazakstan since December 5. Since 1995, rebroadcasts of its programs had been reduced to two and a half hours a day. The Kazakstan authorities said the move was not political but rather the result of the Russian station's nonpayment of rebroadcasting fees, although some observers saw it as yet another step to diminish the presence of Russian-language media and alternative viewpoints generally.

The domestic media underwent great change as existing broadcasting frequencies were put up for tender, first in Almaty and the surrounding region and then in the rest of the country. Opponents of the scheme said it was designed to weed out and close stations seen as hostile to the government. The government claimed it was acting purely out of commercial interest, but even if this was true the inordinately high initial fees of up to the equivalent of U.S.$111,000 effectively barred free expression. At least thirty-one TV and radio stations were forced off the air after failing to win broadcasting rights between January and May. An employee of one of them, TV "M", was reportedly told by a member of the presidential administration that it was being shut down because its output was "too politicized."

The Right to Monitor

Local and international human rights groups operated unhindered. The government showed itself generally receptive to the human rights agenda. However, deputy head of the presidential Human Rights Commission Zhumabek Busurmanov appeared on Kazakstan national television on February 12 to attack local human rights NGOs. He accused them of working with "certain international human rights organizations of a dubious nature" and described some of those whose rights they defended-principally activists in the Russian community-as "odious." His attack revealed an attitude toward human rights and NGOs that was unchanged from Soviet times. It is unclear to what extent his statement reflects official views.

The Role of the

International Community

European Union

On March 13 the European Parliament gave its assent to ratification of a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with Kazakstan. One of the basic conditions that the E.U. sets out in the PCA is that human rights and democratic principles be observed in the partner country. Ratification had been delayed because of E.U. concerns about the suspension of the Kazakstan parliament in 1995.

United States

The United States government conducted a number of high level interventions in which it raised concerns about specific individual cases. In addition, its Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996 presented an unbiased view of human rights problems in Kazakstan.

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