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Kazak Capital in Shutdown Mode for OSCE Meeting


Kazakstan’s efforts to present a positive image at the forthcoming summit of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE are more show than substance, critics say.

Human rights activists say that not only has the Kazak government failed to use its time as OSCE chair to promote civil liberties, it has prepared for the event by cracking down on people identified as potential troublemakers.

This year’s OSCE summit takes place in the Kazak capital Astana on December 1-2, and represents the culminating moment of the Central Asian state’s year in the rotating chairmanship of a grouping that promotes security, human rights, democracy and rule of law among its 56 member states.

Ahead of the summit, the OSCE is holding the third phase of its review conference on November 26-28, also in Almaty.

“For President [Nursultan] Nazarbaev, hosting the summit is a matter of prestige and an acknowledgement [of his role] as a regional peacemaker,” Aynur Kurmanov, a civil society activist who addressed the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights in Brussels last month.

Kurmanov, who heads the socialist movements Talmas and Kazakstan-2012, said the country’s leaders were clearly hoping the Astana summit would create a positive image and thus attract foreign investment in its natural resources sectors.

He argues that the prospect of hosting such an event has led the authorities to put more pressure on its critics than usual.

“It’s a policy that has been conducted previously, but the summit seems to have become a kind of catalyst,” he said.

He is not alone in this view. Vyacheslav Abramov, the deputy director of Freedom House Kazakstan, said the authorities seemed intent on “heading off any visible or suspected threats” so that the OSCE meeting would run smoothly.

Trade unionists say they have been singled out, presumably to avoid the embarrassment of industrial action coinciding with the summit.

“Local government and the law-enforcement agencies have received orders from above not to allow any protests to take place on the ground,” Ivan Bulgakov, leader of the Labour Protection trade union association. “They’re operating on the principle that it’s better to be over-vigilant than not vigilant enough.”

In October, a group of coalminers from Karaganda who were retired because of work-related injuries were prevented from staging a protest in Astana to demand better legislation for disabled workers. Earlier the same month, trade union activist Igor Kolov from Kostanay, was held for three days on charges of “hooliganism”.

Tahir Muhamedzyanov, deputy head of the Miner’s Family association, said various members of his group had been pressured because their activities were unpopular with the authorities, and especially because they were located close to Astana. Muhamedyzanov’s car blew un in an unexplained explosion in October, and police later tried to lock him up in a psychiatric ward.

In September, three activists from an independent oil workers’ union at Janaozen in the western Mangyshlak region, were detained by police after attending a meeting of Kurmanov’s Kazakstan 2012 group in Almaty, the second city.

Political analyst Dosym Satpaev said it was common for regime opponents to be charged with non-political offences like disorderly behaviour or tax evasion.

“This is to avoid suspicions that there’s a connection with the political or public activities of those who are detained,” he said.

The spotlight is on the capital, in particular, where the authorities appear keen to tidy away anything politically troublesome or just unsightly.

Participants in the Decent Housing campaign, which brings together people who have lost money in housing investments or are struggling to repay mortgages, say they have been refused permission to stage a demonstration outside the OSCE meeting.

Since mid-October, police in Astana have been gathering up the city’s homeless, conducting ID checks and removing some to other cities like Karaganda and Pavlodar. Recently-released convicts are also being paid visits.

The Astana mayor’s spokesperson Aygul Aspandiarova told IWPR that the homeless were being dealt with in their own bests interests.

“We search for them, clean them up and bring them back to their old families,” she said, “if you regard that as a violation of human rights and liberties.”

Around 7,000 police will be deployed in the capital during the OSCE event, more than half of them drafted in from other regions.

Police are stopping and checking all cars that do not have Astana number plates, and drivers of such vehicles report difficulties in entering the city. The restrictions are already in place although the deputy head of Kazakstan’s traffic police, Kabyljan Maytybaev, said they would only come into force on November 29.

Travellers have also been warned that local flights to Astana airport will be cancelled because of the expected volume of air traffic.

In a posting on his official blog, Astana’s mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov has said residents of areas near the summit venue are being issued with special permits to ensure that outsiders stay away.

Finally, schools in the capital are being given a week off to reduce traffic.

A spokesman for Kazakstan’s foreign ministry, who asked not to be named, told IWPR, “This is a key event for Kazakstan in every respect, but all these preparatory measures are technical issues.”




Published on November 23, 2010

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