17 мая 2024
Paolo Sorbello, photo from Akorda.kz

The Week in Kazakhstan: Roadblocks and Reshuffle

Ex-minister Bishimbayev sentenced to 24 years in prison, flood victims protest in Kulsary

The Week in Kazakhstan: Roadblocks and Reshuffle

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev held on May 16 in Astana a meeting with the five heads of the security services of Central Asian countries. Public meetings among heads of security services are rare. Last year the five Central Asian security service chiefs met with their Russian colleague in Almaty. At the meeting in Astana, Tokayev underscored the need to “expand cooperation and strengthen the international subjectivity of Central Asia.”

Former minister of economy Kuandyk Bishimbayev was sentenced to 24 years in prison on May 13 for the murder of his wife Saltanat Nukenova in November last year. Bishimbayev’s trial was streamed online and the public watched for weeks the proceedings, an unprecedented occasion to bring to the fore the topic of domestic violence in Kazakhstan. For weeks, during the trial, other high-profile cases of domestic violence became public, one concerning the wife of a diplomat and one regarding the wife of a regional governor. A number of feminist activists held an impromptu rally in Almaty on the final court date calling for Bishimbayev to spend the rest of his life in prison and were later fined for failing to give notice to the local administration.

People in Kulsary, a town in the western Atyrau region, took to the streets on May 15 to protest against the management of the flood emergency. Around half of the town’s 60,000 residents had to be evacuated in early April due to massive flooding. Around 400 people gathered for two days, asking to meet with President Tokayev directly. On the second day of protest, the government shut down internet coverage in the area, a practice often used to curb rallies.

A 56-km section of the Atyrau-Uralsk highway was shut down on May 15 due to the flooding of the Zhaiyk river (‘Ural’ in Russian) and its tributaries. A 27-km section of the Atyrau-Inder highway was closed on May 17 due to the damages it incurred after the flooding of the Zhaiyk.

A court in Almaty fined journalist Jamilya Maricheva on May 13 the equivalent of $166 for spreading false information. Maricheva, the chief editor of the popular media ProTenge, had published posts in support of the Kazakh service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalists in their quest to obtain accreditation. Police accused Maricheva of misrepresenting the ministry of foreign affairs’ reasons for not granting accreditation to RFE/RL journalists in Kazakhstan.

The Russian city of Novorossiysk and its port on the Black Sea were attacked by drones on May 17. The local government said the attack was carried out by Ukraine, which Russia militarily invaded in February 2022. The Mash Telegram channel said that the drones hit an oil depot. Around 80% of Kazakhstan’s oil exports transit through the Novorossiysk marine terminal. Kazakhstan’s ministry of energy said loading operations were not affected by the latest attack.

A court in Astana sentenced on May 13 Ablai Myrzakhmetov, the former head of the national chamber of entrepreneurs, to five years in prison for large-scale fraud. Myrzakhmetov had allegedly proposed to assist the family of entrepreneur Kairat Boranbayev in their quest for his release from prison for a kickback of $30 million. Myrzakhmetov was arrested in May last year. Boranbayev was released from prison in November 2023 after having served about one and a half years of his six-year sentence for embezzlement.

Several officials went through a reshuffle in the government roster. On May 16, former presidential aide Asset Irgaliyev was appointed as permanent representative to the WTO. On May 6, former general manager at Binance Kazakhstan, Zhaslan Madiyev, was appointed to the ministry of digital development. Bagdat Mussin, his predecessor, had left the post on April 30.

On May 15, Magzum Mirzagaliyev left the top job at Kazmunaigas, the state-owned oil and gas company. He had served as CEO for two years after having served as minister of energy. Now, former deputy minister of energy Askhat Khassenov will replace Mirzagaliyev at Kazmunaigas. On May 16, Nurlan Nogayev was fired from his post of governor of the Mangistau region, which he had held since 2021. Nogayev was replaced the following day by Nurdaulet Kilybai, the former head of Ozenmunaigas, a subsidiary of Kazmunaigas.

The Armenian government announced that it stopped financing the activities of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), of which it retains membership. The announcement came, symbolically, on May 9, which is celebrated as “Victory Day” in some of the former Soviet countries. Armenia has for months signaled its dissatisfaction with the CSTO.

Note: This edition covers the two weeks between May 4 – 17.