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Kazakhstan: Western ‘Meddling’ in Controversial Trial Condemned

Categories: Central Asia & Caucasus, Kazakhstan, Citizen Media, Human Rights, Law, Politics

In December 2011, at the end of a 7-month strike by disgruntled oil workers, deadly riots in the town of Zhanaozen [1] near the Caspian Sea shocked the formerly peaceful nation of Kazakhstan. The violent government response to the riots and the subsequent trials [2] of protesters and police involved drew considerable criticism [3] from international observers [4], who felt the government was out to quash all opposition and clear itself of the blame.

Now a final trial [5] is underway to judge the involvement of Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the unregistered opposition party Alga, who is accused of inciting the riots together with two other strike leaders.

(Global Voices Online already reported [6] about the trial that some Kazakhstani netizens had described as “a Pussy Riot [7] of our own”.)

Kozlov's connection to Mukhtar Ablyazov [8] is a major part of the accusation. Mukhtar Ablyazov is a former rival of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. He is currently hiding in Europe and is wanted by Kazakh and British authorities [9]. Although narratives differ [10], Kazakhstani authorities allege that Ablyazov pocketed 550 million US dollars when serving as head of the nation's largest bank, an accusation that made the man a universally despised figure in Kazakhstan.


Supporters of political oppositionist Vladimir Kozlov await a verdict in a courtroom in Aktau, western Kazakhstan. (Screen capture from a video uploaded on August 16, 2012 by YouTube user ladakz).

Reactions at home and abroad

While Western NGO's and journalists condemn the trial [12] of opposition leader Kozlov as unfair, Kazakhstan's bloggers have little sympathy for the man. Besides the direct supporters of Kozlov and his party, most other voices appear to back the government-initiated trial and expect Kozlov to be punished.

More importantly, many netizens condemn what they see as attempts by Western governments and organizations to interfere in Kazakhstan's internal affairs by criticizing the trial.

For instance, popular Kazakhstani blogger Yaroslav Krasiyenko (aka MontKristov) writes in an article entitled ‘Dr. Freedom House, who are you to [word omitted] lecture me? [13]‘ [ru], that one of the trial's strongest critics, the NGO Freedom House [14], has discredited itself by its dependence on funding coming from the U.S. government:

“Freedom House — неправительственная организация со штаб-квартирой в Вашингтоне (США). Её бюджет на 66-80 % посредством грантов финансируется правительством США.” По художественной силе этот абзац близок к фразе “Матильда – непродажная девушка, живущая за счёт богатых мужиков”.

“Freedom House is a non-governmental organization with headquarters in Washington, DC (USA). Sixty-six to 88 percent of its budget is made up by grants from the U.S. government.” Written in artful prose, the meaning of this paragraph lies close to the phrase “Matilda, an incorruptible girl living at the expense of the rich men”.

After listing a series of alleged human rights violations committed by the U.S. government, the blogger concludes that Washington's actions diverge significantly from its human rights rhetoric. Therefore, he announces, the U.S. has no right to judge the way Kazakhstan manages its internal affairs.

Blogger Anara [15] (Bazanara), who is attending the controversial trial, writes [16] [ru] critically about the foreign observers:

О тех иностранных, промолчу. Кто пожелает, могу предоставить фото спящего иностранного журналиста и российского блоггера Щелокова, говорящего по мобильному телефону в зале суда. А знаете для чего они это делают? Скандал им нужен, любой.

I will remain silent about those foreigners. If anyone is interested, I can provide photos capturing a sleeping foreign journalist and Russian blogger Schelokov talking on his cell phone in the courtroom. Do you know why they [attend the trial]? They need a scandal, any scandal.

Many Kazakhstanis are frustrated by Westerners who they feel are quick to point out problems in the oil-rich Central Asian nation, while refusing to take note of similar issues in their own countries.

As a response to a Google Plus post entitled ‘Is Kazakhstan the new Uzbekistan? [17]‘, Twitter user Kairat replies [18] with a quote from the Bible:

In another person's eye one can notice a mote, but in one's own – cannot see a log.

Kazakhstanis are proud of the achievements of their young nation, and feel they are capable of handling their domestic problems without the interference of patronizing outsiders. It appears that the generally politically apathetic citizens of Kazakhstan want to return to the peaceful status quo that ruled the country prior to the Zhanaozen riots, while seeing the political opposition's struggle for human rights and an uncorrupted leadership as dangerous and destabilizing.