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28 октября 2022
Paolo Sorbello, photo from Akorda.kz

The Week in Kazakhstan: Big Culture and High Interest Rates

Trials related to Qandy Qantar continue, despite amnesty

The Week in Kazakhstan: Big Culture and High Interest Rates

Former health minister Yelzhan Birtanov and his ex-deputy Olzhas Abishev were found guilty on October 28 of abuse of power in a high-profile case involving the implementation of a healthcare digitalization system. A court in Astana sentenced them to five and four years respectively and ordered them to return the equivalent of $3.2 million in damages. The defendants told the press after the court session that they will appeal the sentence.

Ramil Mukhoryapov, the founder of Chocofamily, an online services company, infuriated Kazakhstanis when, during a public event last week, he argued that answering in Kazakh to a question asked in Russian is a sign of “not so big culture.” Essentially, Mukhoryapov was accused of “ranking” cultures by placing Kazakh below Russian. The backlash against Mukhoryapov and Chocofamily was loud across social media, as his words were interpreted as the latest sign of cultural imperialism from Moscow.

Almaty-born Mukhoryapov said his words were taken out of context. In an editorial for Vlast, Aisulu Toishibekova argued that he “failed to read the room” - the room in this instance being the social and historical context of a country that is transforming and breaking away from its Soviet past.

Around four dozen detainees are set to be released after the Senate approved on October 27 a draft law on an amnesty for those sentenced of non-violent crimes connected to Qandy Qantar (the urban clashes connected to popular protests known as “Bloody January”). Around 1,500 people, most of whom are out on parole, will fall under the amnesty.

In the framework of the Qandy Qantar investigation, the General Prosecutor’s office said that it believes that 20 people were involved in the organization of the unrest. On October 22, activist Aigerim Tleuzhan was accused to be among the organizers of the seizing of the Almaty international airport. She could now face up to four years in prison. On October 27, the Committee for National Security said it would prolong pre-trial detention for its former head, Karim Massimov, who was dismissed and later arrested as a result of Qandy Qantar, under suspicion of high treason. Massimov and two of his deputies are also charged with attempting to overthrow the government.

Activist and founder of the unregistered Democratic Party, Zhanbolat Mamai, saw his charges reduced from “organizing a mass riot” to “organizing an illegal rally” and other minor charges, a small victory for the defendant. After organizing a rally to commemorate the victims of Qandy Qantar in February, Mamai was arrested and has remained in pre-trial detention since.

On October 26, the Central Bank raised its interest rate by 150 basis points to 16%, the highest level in more than five years, in an effort to combat the galloping inflation, now above 17%. Economists expect prices to continue to grow and the government said it is looking for measures to alleviate pressure on society.