Alma Shalabayeva: I need help
© 10.10.2013

Saying the words ‘Alma Shalabayeva’ aloud on a Kazakh street provokes terror in pedestrians, who briskly cross to the other side of the road. Nothing in the Kazakh reality corresponds with expectations.

Astana and Almaty are the two main cities, which form the facade presented by the Kazakh government to their partners from the West. Reports of international organisations, such as Freedom House and Human Rights Watch, describe Kazakhstan as a country with an authoritarian regime which silences its opposition by use of torture. This is, however, not visible on the streets. Instead, we have marble columns, futuristic skyscrapers, cafes and palaces, which bring to mind the Soviet past. This period is also linked with the present through the president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has been ruling the country for over 20 years, and who held the position of Secretary General of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan before the country gained its independence.

The opposition gradually fades due to permanent persecution of political activists. Reporters of the ‘La Republica’ newspaper listened to the story of Altynbek Sarsenbayuly as told by his brother – chief editor of the newspaper ‘Zhas Alash’. Initially, Altynbek was a “man of Nazarbayev”. He held a government position as the minister of information, and served as the ambassador of Kazakhstan to Russia. In 2003, Sarsenbayuly joined the opposition and became the leader of the party ‘Naghyz Ak Zhol’. In February 2006, he was found dead along with his driver and bodyguard, just after the re-election of President Nazarbayev. Despite the pervasive atmosphere of terror, there are journalists, who are still willing to talk about these events, and who believe in assistance from the international environment.

Alma ShalabayevaThe delegation of the Human Rights Commission of the Italian Senate visited Alma Shalabayeva. “I need help”, she said. After the visit, Senator Ciro Falanga stated: “at first glance, we did not observe any violations of Alma’s or her daughter's rights”. Alma informed reporters that someone was following her. Her pictures, probably from the area of the shipyard, have recently been shown on the national television channel. Alma did not want to talk about her husband, Mukhtar Ablyazov, and did not want to mention Nazarbayev's name, calling him “you know who”. “My husband is innocent, and he needs time to prove it. Fighting the government borders on the impossible (...). I need help, in any form – what happened to me is not normal”.

Journalists of the ‘La Repubblica’ newspaper spoke with Askar Shakirov, the Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Human Rights in Kazakhstan, who said: “the decision to expel Alma was rendered by the Italian government, and that is why they should be answering the questions”. Sharikov commented on Alma’s current situation: “she cannot be completely free due to the international importance of the case. We gave her the opportunity to leave the country”. It is, however, impossible for Alma to leave the country without her passport, which was taken away by Kazakh authorities.
Human rights defender in Kazakhstan, J. Zhovtis said: “our democracy is an imitation (...). We are not similar to North Korea, and we are not on the same level as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, but the regime is indeed authoritarian, despite the guise of democratic institutions, such as parliament, political parties and media. Since the collapse of the USSR, the same elites have remained in power”.

As a result, we lack an independent judicial system – the current one is deeply corrupt. Human rights are not respected. “Over the past two years, particularly following the Arab Spring, Kazakhstan has made a move towards authoritarianism, striking the political dissidents and independent media” – said Zhovtis. His life is the best proof. He started among the political elites, but now he is struggling with the regime. “In 2009, I run over a pedestrian on the highway. The authorities have been using this accident to curtail my activities related to human rights protection, seeking revenge for what I have done in the past 20 years. I was sentenced to four years imprisonment for violation of traffic laws, which I did not commit.” There is evidence that Zhovtis did not consume alcohol, and did not exceed the speed limit.

Crude oil and natural gas are the main enemies of human rights in Kazakhstan. “Democracy and human rights have to face the four enemies: crude oil, gas, war on terrorism and geopolitical strategy. The international community is trying to promote democracy and human rights in this part of the world, but, at the same time, they are interested in our mineral resources, security and geopolitical advantage. This is a despotic country with all the consequences entailed by the system” – says Zhovtis.
The material is based on reports of Italian journalists from the ‘La Repubblica’ newspaper, and their discussions with social activists and Alma Shalabayeva. More information can be found here.



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