2 февраля 2024
Paolo Sorbello, photo by Daniyar Mussirov.

The Week in Kazakhstan: Worst of the Worst

Qazaqgaz lawsuit dismissed, Nazarbayev statue “archived”, Azattyk under pressure

The Week in Kazakhstan: Worst of the Worst

After a long-standing rejection for the accreditation of 36 of its journalists, Radio Azattyk, the local branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty filed a lawsuit against the ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) on January 30. As a foreign media organization, Azattyk’s work in Kazakhstan is dependent on an invitation from the MFA. Senate speaker Maulen Ashimbayev said on February 1 that the accreditation was not renewed because the journalists had “violated the law”, although he did not specify what law and when.

New amendments to the law on mass media, presented to the parliament on January 26, could stifle the work of independent media and make it easier to arbitrarily shut down online publications. We wrote an editorial statement about the pressure on Azattyk.

A statue of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev was removed from the National Museum in Astana for “conservation in the archives,” the museum staff told the press on February 1. The statue portrayed Nazarbayev in a sitting position, popularly likened to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. The Museum also removed the “Mangilik Yel” inscription behind the statue that read: “My dream is for Kazakhstan to be an eternal country. Time will pass, people will leave. But independence will remain."

After a one-day strike, workers at the Kezbi oil service company in the western town of Zhanaozen went back to work on January 31. Around 800 workers participated in the labor action and obtained a salary increase and a performance review. Workers at West Oil Software, in the nearby oil town of Zhetybai have been on strike for more than 50 days with similar demands.

A worker for oil service company MunaiSpetsSnab died in an accident at an oil field on January 27. MunaiSpetsSnab is a private company contracted by state-owned OzenMunaiServis and Ozenmunaigas.

A lawsuit filed by Qazaqgaz in the International Court of Arbitration in Paris was dismissed on January 30. Qazaqgaz sought compensation for costs and unrealized profits against the government of Kyrgyzstan, which was the former owner of the company participating in a joint venture with Qazaqgaz (then KazTransGas) established for the modernization of a cross-border pipeline. According to the Kyrgyz ministry of justice, the judge ruled that the company no longer has ties with the Kyrgyz government and that Qazaqgaz will have to pay 60% of the defendant’s legal fees.

National holding and wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna was unable to sell between 49% and 100% of its shares in Qazaq Air by the deadline of January 29. This is the second consecutive auction to go deserted for the airline, which is burdened by long-term debt and faces fierce domestic competition. The deadline for the first auction was postponed twice for lack of eligible applications.

State-owned Kazakhtelecom is planning to sell Mobile Telecom Service (MTS), which controls mobile operators Altel and Tele2 in the country. The decree proposing the targeted sale was published on a government website for public discussion on February 1. Kazakhtelecom plans to privatize its MTS segment by the end of 2024.

The ministry of transport said on January 31 that the Astana airport will limit its working hours starting on May 1. In an effort to complete the overhaul of the runway, the airport will close for landing and takeoff every day from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The airport plans to complete the remodeling by December 24.

Feminist activists from a number of organizations said on February 1 that they would apply to hold a rally on March 8, International Women’s Day, in Almaty. The organizers already faced rejection for their 2024 plans. In 2023, the mayor’s office rejected the organizers’ application for a rally last March and instead allowed a gathering in a square in the city center.

Kamchybek Tashiev, the head of Kyrgyzstan’s National Security Committee, said on January 28 that the authorities had confiscated property worth around $80 million from Raimbek Matraimov, the former head of customs. Matraimov is in Kyrgyzstan’s wanted list for abuse of office.