12 мая 2023
Paolo Sorbello, photo from Akorda.kz

The Week in Kazakhstan: Leaders on Parade

Tokayev attends the Victory Day parade in Moscow, corruption cases proliferate

The Week in Kazakhstan: Leaders on Parade

Kazakhstan’s authorities have arrested a range of civic and political activists since the beginning of May. Journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim was arrested for 25 days on May 1 for having “covertly called for a rally” during one of his livestreams, the prosecutor said. A number of other activists of the banned organization Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) were arrested in Almaty and fined for having taken part in an unsanctioned rally on May Day. In Astana, the police unlawfully detained for about one hour Vlast reporter Beiimbet Moldagali, who had gone to the site where DVK’s leader and fugitive opposition figure Mukhtar Ablyazov had called for a rally, which went deserted.

On May 6, police arrested Vlada Yermolcheva and Darkhan Sharipov, two activists of the Oyan, Qazaqstan! movement. The prosecutor said their administrative 15-day detention is linked to two protests ahead of the presidential election last November.

In relation to a protest that took place in Almaty on April 1, organized by politicians and civic activists who claimed the parliamentary elections in March were rife with violations, ex-candidate to the Majilis Inga Imanbay and activist Aruzhan Duisebayeva were fined 172,000 tenge (around $380) each.

Police in the western Mangistau region detained around 20 laid-off oil workers who stood outside the government building in Zhanaozen on May 10, asking for stable jobs in the oil sector. They were soon released. The government promised it would order further checks into the tender system connected to the city’s main employer, state-owned Ozenmunaigas.

Ahead of the April 30 referendum in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan’s authorities in Mangistau arrested two Karakalpak activists, who had voiced their dissent against Uzbekistan’s leadership. Protests broke out last summer in Karakalpakstan ahead of a constitutional referendum. At least 21 were killed during clashes with the police.

The former head of Atameken, one of the country’s most powerful business associations, Ablay Myrzakhmetov was arrested on suspicion of bribery on May 10, according to the anti-corruption agency. Myrzakhmetov was allegedly linked to a $30 million bribery scheme.

On May 3, a court in Astana sentenced in absentia former vice-mayor Kanat Sultanbekov and former head of the company Astana LRT Talgat Ardan to seven years for embezzlement. They are accused of having withdrawn state funds from the construction of the light rail transit system in the capital city. Both say the charges are politically motivated.

The Financial Monitoring Agency said the charges of embezzlement against top managers of a large carmaker in Kazakhstan amount to 230 billion ($510 million). On May 3, the agency said that Anatoly Balushkin, chairman at Asia-Bipek Auto, and Yerik Sagymbaev, general director of Asia-Auto, stole funds in an effort to dodge creditors and avoid taxes. In December, Balushkin was detained in Prague.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attended the Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9, alongside Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and other Central Asian presidents, in what some said is a controversial diplomatic choice, given the ongoing war in Ukraine.

While discussing proposed new sanctions against Russia over its war of aggression in Ukraine, European Union member states mulled adding to the list companies operating in third countries that have not effectively restricted trade, among which Kazakhstan. A Reuters dispatch from May 10 quoted diplomatic sources as saying that “tens” of new companies could be included in an updated blacklist, including firms from China, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

On May 2, minister of energy Almasadam Satkaliyev met with France’s minister of foreign trade Oliver Becht in Astana and discussed the potential participation of French companies in the construction of a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan. Minister Becht traveled to Kazakhstan on an official visit.

Four workers were injured after a fire broke out on May 1 at a gas processing plant operated by the joint venture CNPC-Aktobemunaigaz near the Zhanazhol field in the north of the country. It took firefighters around 10 hours to extinguish the fire.

Around 50 filmmakers gathered outside the headquarters of the “State Center for Support of National Cinema” (colloquially called KazakhCinema) in Almaty to protest the selection process for movies that would receive state funding. According to the protesters, more than half of the applications for state funds were arbitrarily thrown out.

Note: This edition covers the two weeks between April 29 and May 12.