Alma Shalabayeva and daughter return to Italy after seven-month illegal deportation ordeal
© 02.01.2014

Kazakhstan Agrees to Temporary Departure of Dissident’s Wife and Six-Year-Old Daughter in Bid to Secure Ablyazov Extradition from France on January 9th;

Woman and Girl Allowed Temporary Leave Only After Elderly Mother Forced to Post Her House as Bail to Ensure Shalabayeva’s Return;

Shalabayeva and Daughter Welcomed by Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Official Upon Arrival; Escorted from Fiumicino Airport to Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Meet Foreign Minister Bonino

Rome, December 27th, 2013 – Alma Shalabayeva and her six-year-old daughter Alua returned to Rome today after a seven-month deportation ordeal that rocked the Italian government and revealed the illegal methods of a Central Asian dictator who stooped as low as to take hostage the wife and daughter of his main political opponent.

Shalabayeva and her daughter were greeted upon arrival at Fiumicino airport by a representative of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Shalabayeva’s eldest daughter, Madina Ablyazova, and Shalabayeva’s 12-year old son, were reunited with their mother and little sister at the airport. The family was taken directly from the airport to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino met with Shalabayeva and her children and welcomed them to Italy.

Shalabayeva stated: “I thank the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their vigilance in defense of human rights. I thank them with all of my heart for helping us to leave Kazakhstan. We were kidnapped, my family was torn apart, and thanks to the bravery and human rights principles of Emma Bonino, I am finally reunited with my children, and my daughter with her siblings. I will always be grateful to the Italian people for their interest in my case. I also thank the independent Italian media for shining light on what happened to me. Without the media’s interest I might have become another unknown victim of the Nazarbayev regime.”

She added: “Kazakhstan kidnapped me and my daughter because of my husband. They have let us go for now also because of my husband. They hope that looking civilized will help them get my husband extradited from France. But they would never have made this decision if it was not for independent mass media telling the truth about what happened to me.”

On December 21st, Kazakh authorities agreed to allow Shalabayeva, the wife of dissident Mukhtar Ablyazov, to leave Kazakhstan temporarily, finally lifting travel restrictions that had been imposed during a seven-month legal, political and diplomatic saga. Shalabayeva had been blocked in the Central Asian country since June 1st, following what United Nations human rights experts described as an apparent “extraordinary rendition” from Italy. Shalabayeva’s family links her sudden freedom to a realization by the Kazakh regime that the longer it arbitrarily held the woman and girl, the lower the chances that it would obtain Ablyazov’s extradition from France. Mukhtar Ablyazov is the political arch-rival of Kazakhstan’s dictatorial President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The temporary lifting of Shalabayeva’s travel restrictions was granted only after a catastrophic legal and public relations debacle endured by Kazakhstan in the aftermath of its seizure of the woman and girl. According to documents released in July 2013 by the Italian Interior Ministry, Kazakhstan had unlawfully used Interpol channels to ensure that Italy handed over the woman and girl, for whom there were no arrest warrants or grounds for extradition whatsoever. On September 25th a criminal complaint was launched in Italy by Shalabayeva’s family, targeting three Kazakh diplomats for aggravated kidnapping – a crime that carries amaximum jail term of 15 years.

As part of the arrangement allowing Shalabayeva to leave the country, her elderly mother was forced to post her house as bail. Normally bail for accusations of forgery would be approximately $3,500. Kazakh authorities will seize the home if Shalabayeva does not return to Kazakhstan to face the criminal proceedings that were concocted to justify keeping her in the country – she is accused of forgery of a Kazakhstan passport that she has never used or even seen. If Shalabayeva does not return to Kazakhstan, the regime there will most certainly request her arrest in view of extradition.

On May 31st,in an operation executed by Italian police, under pressures from Kazakhstan’s ambassador in Rome, Ablyazov’s wife and daughter were loaded against their will onto a private jet in Rome and flown to Astana. Two other diplomats from Kazakhstan’s embassy in Italy personally escorted Shalabayeva and her daughter on the overnight flight.

Shalabayeva and her daughter were seized as hostages in order to pressure Ablyazov and compel him to come out of hiding and return to Kazakhstan from self-imposed exile. In 2012, Ablyazov and his family went into hiding in Europe after repeated death threats and invasive private surveillance by agents of the Kazakh government. London’s Metropolitan Police warned Ablyazov in 2011 that they could no longer guarantee his safety, and that there was a plot to kidnap or assassinate him on British soil. The risks of an unlawful kidnapping by the Kazakh regime turned out to be real, as evidenced by the seizure of Ablyazov’s wife and daughter in Italy.

Ablyazov had been in hiding in France and was arrested by French police, at the request of Ukraine, on July 31st. Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia joined forces seeking Ablyazov’s extradition from France. Meanwhile, however, the continued arbitrary detention of Ablyazov’s wife and young daughter unmasked the political motivation behind the concerted extradition requests.

Peter Sahlas, a lawyer representing Shalabayeva’s children, praised Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino for her handling of the deportees crisis and for her role in securing permission for Shalabayeva to leave Kazakhstan. He declared: “Emma Bonino is a champion of human rights, and all Italians should be proud of their foreign minister. Her handling of the Shalabayeva affair was guided by principles and she stuck to her principles even in the face of enormous pressures not to let the issue spoil the bilateral relationship with Kazakhstan, an important commercial partner for Italy.”

Sahlas however explained as follows the timing of the sudden change in Shalabayeva’s situation: “The Kazakhs were holding Ablyazov’s wife and daughter as hostages. The regime finally understood that an on going hostage-taking would harm its chances of having Ablyazov extradited from France. This is a temporary and cynical move by the Kazakh regime to increase its chances of getting Ablyazov while keeping a hook on his wife to drag her back or list her on Interpol. The Kazakhs will not hesitate to seek her arrest if she does not return. Their planis to turn her from a hostage into a fugitive, if need be. Everything depends on what is happening with Ablyazov.”

The speed with which a new passport was suddenly issued to Shalabayeva, and a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity in recent days surrounding her case, demonstrate that a political decision was made in Kazakhstan to create the appearance of a resolution to the deportation crisis, just as a court in Aix-en-Provence deliberates in advance of a decision expected on January 9th regarding Ablyazov’s extradition.


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