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19 апреля 2024
Paolo Sorbello, photo by Vlad Ushakov

The Week in Kazakhstan: Sad Song

Public outcry pushed the government to criminalize domestic violence, more floods hit the northern regions

The Week in Kazakhstan: Sad Song

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan established a joint company for the construction of the Kambar-Ata-1 dam and hydroelectric power plant on April 15. Construction work on the Naryn river in Kyrgyzstan will start later this year. The ownership of the dam and the power plant, once completed, will be transferred to the Kyrgyz government.

More villages suffered the consequences of the massive floods that have hit the northern regions of Kazakhstan in the past weeks. At least seven people lost their lives, according to the ministry of internal affairs. The ministry of energy said on April 18 that around 500 oil wells had to suspend operations in the Aktobe and Atyrau regions. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said the government should expect to devote more funds to the consequences of the floods and tighten the belt on other expenses.

The high-profile trial against Kuandyk Bishimbayev, the former minister of economy, continued to keep the public glued to the live-streamed court hearings all week. In one of the latest hearings, Bishimbayev, accused of having beaten and killed his wife, refused to unlock his phone for the court to check his activities. The case has revived the debate about domestic violence and unveiled how well state institutions function in favor of the abusers.

Amendments to the laws concerning “the rights of women and the safety of children” were swiftly adopted against the backdrop of the trial against Bishimbayev. On April 15, Tokayev signed into law provisions that criminalize domestic violence. In 2017, domestic violence was struck off the Criminal Code and punished with an administrative fine or a short detention. In 2023, the ministry of internal affairs received 99,000 complaints regarding violence against women.

The ministry of energy said that there are no feasible oil export alternatives to the Caspian Pipeline Consortium in the near future. In answering a question from Vlast on April 18, the ministry said that 80% of the 70.5 million tons that Kazakhstan exported last year were pumped through the pipeline that connects Atyrau in the west of the country, with the Russian port of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea.

Trade union activists from Mangistau spoke about pressure against their members at a press conference in Almaty on April 17. Their attempts at uniting workers in the oil sector have been repeatedly blocked by state institutions, they argued. Workers at West Oil Software, a service company in Zhetibay, a village in Mangistau, have been on strike for five months.

The Majilis, the lower chamber of parliament, approved amendments to the media law on April 17 and sent the bill to the Senate for further hearings. Press freedom advocates had worried about proposed amendments that would have introduced “anti-LGBT propaganda” provisions in the law. These amendments, however, were excluded just before the latest discussion at the Majilis. Stricter rules for the accreditation of foreign journalists could have a negative effect on the freedom of the press in the country.

Four police officers were detained on April 14 and accused of torturing Kyrgyz jazz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov in January 2022. Bearing clear signs of torture, Ruzakhunov was forced to confess on TV to being a paid participant to the riots in Almaty, during the violent repression of urban protests, known in Kazakh as ‘Qandy Qantar’. Ruzakhunov was recognized on social media and quickly released. Ruzakhunov also filed a civil lawsuit against the ministry of internal affairs and the ‘Kazakhstan’ TV channel.

Development Bank of Kazakhstan issued a three-year $500 million Eurobond, at a 5.5% annual rate on April 16. The bank also issued its first sustainable development Eurobonds denominated in tenge. The coupon, worth 100 billion tenge ($22 million), has a three-year maturity and a rate of 13% per annum.

Halyk Bank, the country’s largest lender, completed on April 18 the sale of its Kyrgyz subsidiary Halyk Bank Kyrgyzstan. Visor International DMCC, the buyer, had announced its intention to buy the bank in November 2023. Aidan Karibzhanov, an influential businessman in Kazakhstan, controls Visor.

After more than three decades since the opening its first office in Bishkek, New York-based Open Society Foundations (OSF) said on April 15 that they would shut down its subsidiary, the Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan. OSF said Kyrgyzstan’s new legislation targeting organizations that receive foreign funding has limited the scope of its operations, exposing their activities to legal risks.