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Relatives Press for Action on Kazaks Held in Uzbekistan



Three months on, Kazak consular authorities still finding it hard to see 27 men who inadvertently stumbled across Uzbek border.


When 27 Kazakstan nationals were imprisoned after straying into Uzbekistan, it took six weeks of sustained campaigning by relatives for the authorities in their own country to sit up and take notice.

In late February, the 27 were travelling in a column of cars and trucks from Aktobe to the neighbouring Mangistau region in search of work.

Snow and poor road markings led them to take a wrong turning and they found themselves inside Uzbekistan. Suddenly they were surrounded by armed border guards who fired warning shots. Seven people were able to get away in their vehicle, but the rest were detained.

For six weeks, they were held in the pre-trial detention unit in Nukus, the main town of Karakalpakstan, in the north of Uzbekistan.

They are accused of illegally entering Uzbekistan, evading customs, and theft.

There are frequent incidents on the Kazak-Uzbek border, but this is the first time such a large group of people has been seized.

At the beginning of April, several relatives tried to visit the detainees, but Uzbek prosecutors and the National Security Service refused to allow them access and would not even pass on food packages.

One of the relatives, Jibek Jayanova, said they were only able to find out where 15 of the 27 were for certain; the location of the others was unknown.

At this point, the insistent relatives began prodding the Kazak authorities into action. After they met their consul in Uzbekistan, Baurjan Keukenov, he visited the detainees in Nukus on April 10. Afterwards, he told relatives that they were well.

“I’d like to believe it was true,” said Shynar Kulegenova, whose husband is among the detainees. “But we don’t know anything for sure. It’s been two months now, and we need to see our nearest and dearest with our own eyes. We don’t know what state they are in.”

Back in Kazakstan, the families kept up the pressure on the authorities. When the Aktobe regional departments of the prosecution service, immigration police, interior ministry and National Security Committee, KNB, did not respond, they mounted a demonstration outside the KNB office on April 17.

When KNB officers told them the agency had no mandate to deal with individuals under foreign jurisdiction, they shifted their protest to the Aktobe regional governor’s office, according to an Atyrau-News agency report.

In addition, they sought help from the Kazakstan International Bureau for Human Rights, KIBHR, which informed national-level ministries and the media of their plight.

“We submitted questions to the prosecutor general and the foreign ministry, noting that article 11 of the constitution says that Kazakstan guarantees to act as protector and guardian of its citizens abroad,” said Anara Ibraeva of KIBHR’s Astana office.

The relatives subsequently managed to meet members of parliament, the prosecutor’s office and the foreign ministry, and state TV reported on the case.

Foreign ministry officials say they are convinced the group did not cross over into Uzbek territory deliberately. But they are facing a degree of non-cooperation from their Uzbek counterparts.

“We have not yet received confirmation of this incident from the relevant state institutions in Uzbekistan,” said ministry spokesman Ilyas Omarov. “We are waiting for our embassy in Uzbekistan to respond, and then we will hold a briefing. For the moment, we have no fresh information.”

Babur Daurenbek, who recently replaced Keukenov as Kazak consul in Tashkent, travelled to Nukus and spent a week trying to get in to see the detainees, without success. He made a formal protest and asked the Uzbek authorities for an explanation of why he was refused.

Janara, whose two brothers are being held in Nukus, was depressed at this news.

“We’ve already lost all hope. If they won’t allow officials in, there’s nothing for us to do there,” she said. Our lawyer isn’t being given access, either. They’re insisting we hire an Uzbek lawyer.”

Janara, who declined to give her surname, said the relatives had met Aktobe governor Yeleusin Sagyndykov and asked him to appeal to President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Kazakstan is an immense state with a long frontier with Russia as well as China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. It is generally the Uzbek section that throws up problems. Uzbek border guards take a tough line on smugglers and others who cross illegally, even in areas where there are no clear markers, and are quick to resort to firearms.

On May 17, the Uzbek prosecution service finally broke its silence. Not only is it going to put all the men on trial, it is planning to ask the Kazak authorities to take action against the six who ran away.

Andrei Grishin is a freelance reporter in Almaty

This article was produced under IWPR’s Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media programme, funded by the European Commission. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.





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