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From the history of the Bureau: 1999 – Office Arson Fire





The fire at the office of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law


The fire at the Almaty offices of the human rights bureau began at 6:30 PM on November 4, 1999, lasted for not more than 15-20 minutes and was extinguished by the timely arriving firefighters. (The building, on the 4th floor of which the KIBHR leases several rooms, is located between two five-story buildings of the Almaty Main Directorate of Internal Affairs.)


Despite the short duration of the fire, the office of Bureau Director Evgeny ZHOVTIS, also chairman of the board of the Soros-Kazakhstan Foundation and on the whole a well-known known public figure in the republic, burned down completely.  A large portion of the working documents of the bureau director and his deputy Zhemis TURMAGAMBETOVA perished in the fire, as did the bulk of KIBHR documentation and the entire data base on human rights violations in the Republic of Kazakhstan, for the bureau’s foreign and interregional contacts, and for monitoring and the human rights network in the Republic of Kazakhstan.


The pillar of fire raging in the KIBHR office also rose to the floor above, as a result of which the law offices of Kadyrov and Co. also located there were burned badly, and the internal decorations of both corridors of the building were also burned. The rest of the organizations located on the 3-5 floors, including the headquarters of Azamat, the opposition Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, as well as the Kazakhstan branch of the Russian Alfa-Bank, occupying the first and second floors, suffered not so much from the fire as from the consequences of extinguishing it. In the words of witnesses – neighbors on the floor (the Bureau staff themselves were not in the building at this time, since the director and two female co-workers had departed for home that day prior to 6:00 PM), the fire was preceded by a loud noise, sounding like a small explosion. The investigation has to determine what that was.


Of course, as yet it is too early to talk with any degree of certainty namely about the explosion or arson of the human rights organization’s office ­– the fire could have occurred for natural technical reasons (for example, ignition of the wiring, on which the firefighters while in motion). However, one also should not completely dismiss the arson version. First of all, one can only be surprised by how purposefully in a huge building made of reinforced concrete, a material not too prone to burning, nothing but the office of the two leaders of KIBHR with the main office computer and the most important working papers caught fire. Secondly, what is even more important, there exists a general context of Kazakhstani political affairs in which the local authority deals with the opposition without the least consideration of democratic norms or even generally accepted proprieties.


Thus, exactly 13 months ago, in late September 2001, the office of the editor of the opposition newspaper XXI Vek [21st Century] similarly burned down. Unlike today’s incident, the cause of the fire then was obvious: a bottle with an incendiary mixture was thrown into the window of the editorial office; fragments of the bottle were visible, as they say, to the naked eye. However, the criminal case for this act was dismissed “for absence of a criminal (?!) act”. The investigations of the attacks of unknown “street hooligans” on activists of the opposition Republican People’s Party of Kazakhstan (RNPK) Amirzhan Kosanov and Yelena Nikitenko, the co-chairman of the Democratic Party (at that time still the Civil Movement) Azamat, Petr Svoik, leaders of the Public Slavic Movement Lad, Valeriy Mikhaylov and Aleksandr Kokuchayev, if they were even conducted, yielded no results at all. The dates of these acts vary from 1993 to 1998.


And already quite recently, during the parliamentary elections of 1999 that just concluded, in Atyaru, unknown “drunken teenagers” wrecked the polling place in such a way that they destroyed the entire printing of ballots filed fro the candidate from the RNPK Gaziz Aldamzharov; this enabled the authorities to declare the elections for this district invalid. All the situations were and are reflected in the public statements and appeals of the KIBHR, and in their reports and surveys. Can the Kazakhstani authorities, wallowing in corruption and intolerance of dissent, like this?..


The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights is neither an election bloc, nor a political party fighting for power. The Bureau’s sphere of activities is much broader than protecting the political opposition’s rights being abridged by the authorities – it includes protecting the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, victims of police and judicial arbitrariness, as well as citizens in custody and imprisoned, it also includes active educational activities. It is namely the staff of the KIBHR who first translated into the Kazakh language and published in Kazakh the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it was precisely on the eve of the fire that they had completed work on the Kazakh translation of the Asian Human Rights Charter, in the drafting of which they themselves had participated directly.


This work is not left without due assessment by the ruling regime, expressed by the mouths of its ideologues from the scientific literature medium. Quite recently, the national patriotic essayist Shuga NURPEISOVA, daughter of the “living classical writer” and president of the Kazakh Pen Club Abdizhamil Nurpeisov, exposed in print the human rights protectors and the very phenomenon of human rights advocacy as allegedly criminally alien to the national spirit of Kazakhs. Somewhat earlier, in later 1996, then Secretary of the Commission on Human Rights under the presidential administration, Zhumabek BUSURMANOV, on the airwaves of the television channel Khabar, owned by the president’s daughter, directly accused KIBHR and the related in spirit Almaty Helsinki Human Rights Committee and the association Rule of Law Development of Kazakhstan of accomplishing subversive activities against the foreign prestige of a sovereign Kazakhstan.


Incidentally, the last demarche seem excessive even for Kazakhstan realities, and its author was quickly removed from his “human rights” post – to be more precise, transferred as a member of the RK Constitutional Council. The present leadership of the presidential Commission on Human Rights adheres to a milder tactic – not so much political denunciations and organizational conclusions as organizational and apparatus games on the principle of “not to prohibit, but to organize and head”. Thus, on November 15-16, 1999, this Commission was scheduled to hold a conference to create “from above” the Association of Human Rights Organizations, which they had very persistently invited KIBHR to join. Now the Bureau’s participation in this measure will be, as they say, painted in fire colors.


Andrei SVIRIDOV (Newspaper XXI Vek for November 11, 1999,

Web-site Eurasia, November 10, 1999)

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