Thursday

23rd Mar 2017

Opinion

Kazakhstan using Interpol to chase dissidents in EU

  • Nazarbayev (l) with European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Kazakhstan is using Interpol, the joint police body based in Lyon, France, to wage a political vendetta in the heart of the EU.

In a country ruled for the past 20 years by the same man, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, dissent is not tolerated.

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When police clashed with protesters in a remote oil town on 16 December 2011, killing at least 17 people and injuring dozens of others in what came to be called the Zhanaozen Massacre, it prompted an international outcry.

But inside Kazakhstan it prompted a new crackdown on civil liberties which continues until today.

Almost all independent media have been silenced.

An unregistered opposition party, Alga!, has been declared an extremist group, closed down, and its leader, Vladimir Kozlov, is serving a seven and a half year prison sentence.

Several rights groups, including Amnesty International, said his trial made a mockery of justice.

But the crackdown is not limited to Nazarbayev's borders.

In recent months, his administration has also used Interpol to pursue dissidents in European Union countries.

To some extent, the Interpol requests are a form of PR: they try to give credibility to Kazakhstan's claims that opposition activists are criminals.

But the effects can also be more dangerous.

On 12 June this year, Polish police detained Muratbek Ketebayev, an opposition member, on an Interpol alert.

Kazakhstan accused him, among other things, of inciting "social hatred."

But Polish police let him go one day later and Interpol deleted his files from its database saying the case is politically motivated.

On 25 July, a Spanish court agreed to extradite Alexandr Pavlov, a former bodyguard of Mukhtar Ablyazov, a leading opposition figure in hiding in France.

Pavlov's lawyers are appealing the sentence on grounds the case is political and that he risks torture if he is sent home.

He was also arrested on the basis of an Interpol "red notice" after Kazakhstan accused him of fraud. It later added that he is guilty of an attempted terrorist attack in Kazakhstan, but did not publish any evidence.

Sometimes, Astana teams up with its former Soviet friends, Moscow and Kiev, to get its way.

Tatiana Paraskevich, a former co-worker of Ablyazov at the BTA Bank, is currently fighting extradition from the Czech republic to Ukraine.

She was detained in May last year on the basis of an Interpol alert issued jointly by Russia and Ukraine.

Her lawyers have told Czech courts she risks an unfair trial and being handed over to Kazakhstan if Ukraine gets her. They plan to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Meanwhile, Ablyazov himself was detained by French police near Cannes on 31 July and remains in custody.

The French police grabbed him on the basis of an Interpol notice filed by Ukraine.

Kazakhstan and Russia also filed Interpol alerts against him and are also urging France to send him to Kiev.

The notice, published on Interpol's website, describes him as being "wanted" on charges of "fraud in a large scale, infliction of damage on property by deceit or breach of trust, money laundering, abuse of authority, document forgery."

Once close to Nazarbayev, he became his nemesis after launching an opposition party and for supporting opposition movements.

Meanwhile, on 29 May, in an incident which caused a storm in Italian politics, Italian police detained Ablyazov's wife, Alma Shalabayeva, and their six year old daughter, Alua, on charges they were carrying forged documents.

Their lawyers deny this.

But before they could challenge the deportation order, Alma and Alua, just 72 hours after their arrest, were put on a chartered plane, in the company of the Kazakh consul, back to Kazakhstan.

The case bears all the signs of Italian collusion with Kazakhstan for, as yet, unknown reasons.

The developments add up to Nazarbayev carrying out a vendetta against Ablyazov using European law enforcement bodies.

Before giving its stamp of approval to Kazakh, Russian or Ukrainian alerts, Interpol should exercise extreme caution.

Before extraditing anyone to these countries, European courts and interior ministries should think twice about the potential consequences.

Kazakhstan has been repeatedly accused of using torture during interrogations and in prisons.

In July this year, Amnesty International wrote: "Torture remains commonplace in Kazakhstan and the torturers are allowed to go free … Victims of government abuses and their families are still waiting for justice."

International organisations have also documented its show trials and its political control of the judiciary.

A recent study prepared by the Polish Bar Council, after visiting Kazakhstan in April, said: "Assuming the accuracy of the information provided to us by our interlocutors, we can report serious breaches of human rights … including on freedom of speech, freedom of media and political views.”

It added: "Courts are heavily influenced by government authorities. The judiciary and public administration are heavily corrupt."

The writer is the EU representative of the Open Dialog Foundation (ODF), a Warsaw-based NGO. ODF told EUobserver it has not received funds from Ablyazov

EU missing the boat on Kazakhstan reform

The EU is preparing to upgrade relations with Kazakhstan, despite its promises to push for reform and Astana's backsliding on human rights.

EU defends Kazakh leader on human rights

The European Commission has said reforms in Kazakhstan are “promising” despite reports by NGOs that Astana has “stepped-up” its crackdown on opposition activists.

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