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10 февраля 2023
Paolo Sorbello, photo from Planet Labs, Inc. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Week in Kazakhstan: Offshore Crimes

Caspian Sea pollution kills seals, Kazakhstan authorities arrest Russian activist

The Week in Kazakhstan: Offshore Crimes

A draft law poised to put a chokehold on mass media was published in an official online platform earlier this month, sparking criticism from representatives of the press. The proposed law would severely limit the activity of journalists, critics lamented at a press conference on February 8.

After the latest attacks on journalists, which included a threat at gunpoint against the son of journalist Dinara Yegeubayeva and the delivery of a package of raw meat to the editorial office of Ulys Media, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev instructed the ministry of internal affairs to intensify investigations and find the perpetrators. Freedom of the press in Kazakhstan has worsened in recent years.

Independent Kazakhstan’s first prime minister, Sergey Tereshchenko, died on February 10. He had served as prime minister in the two months preceding independence and then kept the second-highest government job for three years until 1994. He was 71 years old.

An investigation by a range of governmental and non-governmental organizations about the mass death of Caspian seals highlighted that most of the hundreds of seal corpses that appeared on the Kazakh shore in recent months had died of pneumonia. The researchers also said that pollution had weakened the seals’ immune system and that this made them more susceptible to previously non-lethal illnesses.

Lukoil, one of Russia’s largest private oil and gas companies, will buy a 50% stake in Kalamkas-Khazar Operating, a company focusing on offshore explorations in the Caspian Sea. Kazakhstan’s flagship oil and gas company Kazmunaigas said it will sell the stake during the signing of a number of agreements with Lukoil on February 9. In 2019, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars, Shell and other companies part of the North Caspian Operating Consortium, which exploits the giant Kashagan offshore project, had abandoned the Kalamkas-Khazar project and sold their stake to Kazmunaigas.

Kazakhstan’s authorities detained anarchist activist from Russia Denis Kozak in Almaty on February 9. He was a wanted person in Russia for his social media comments “justifying terrorism.” Radio Azattyq said the arrest occurred at the request of Russian authorities. Kozak could now face extradition to Russia and up to seven years in prison, if found guilty.

A Kazakhstani citizen wanted for having participated in the “Kordai riots” in the southern Zhambyl region in February 2020 was extradited from Belarus to Kazakhstan, the Prosecutor’s Office said on February 9. The man was in the wanted list since he was sentenced during trials that spanned between September 2020 and April 2021, alongside dozens of other defendants, for the violence that resulted in 11 killed and more than 100 injured.

Duman Mukhametkarim, a journalist and member of the political movement Altynshy Qantar (Kazakh for “Sixth of January”), won a court case that would allow him to run in the elections for the lower chamber of parliament on March 19. According to a decision by the district election commission from January 30, Mukhametkarim was ineligible to participate because he had not consecutively resided in Kazakhstan for the past 10 years (a requirement for candidates). Mukhametkarim demonstrated that this claim was false and will now complete his application to be registered as a candidate in a single-mandate district in Almaty.

Around 150 people gathered at a rally organized by a range of feminist activists in Almaty on February 5. They demanded the right to hold a rally on March 8, International Women’s Day. In December, the Almaty city administration refused to grant permission for a rally to the activists claiming it had already given the green light to the little-known League of Volunteers. Activists say these obstacles to the right to peaceful assembly must be lifted.

The ministry of foreign affairs said on February 10 that 124 citizens of Kazakhstan were evacuated from the areas affected by the catastrophic earthquake that shook Turkey and Syria on February 6, causing more than 20,000 deaths. Two citizens of Kazakhstan were found dead during the rescue operations, while another one is still missing.

The US Treasury said on February 7 that it would lift sanctions against Bereke Bank, the former Kazakhstani subsidiary of Russia’s Sberbank, starting on March 6. The Russian bank had sold its stake in its Kazakhstani subsidiary in 2022 to the state holding Baiterek. In September, the new ownership adopted the name Bereke in an effort to further distance its reputation from the former ownership.

An appeals court in Astana upheld on January 10 a sentence against former minister of health Yelzhan Birtanov and his deputy Olzhas Abishev for abuse of power. They were sentenced in October last year to five and four years in prison respectively. Birtanov was arrested in October 2020 and denies the charges.