Report on human rights monitoring mission to #Kazakhstan presented in Brussels

| May 19, 2018

At a recent press conference in Brussels, Member of the Polish Sejm (lower house of Parliament) Marcin Swiecicki and President of the Italian Federation for Human Rights (FIDU) Antonio Stango presented a joint report on their human rights monitoring mission to Kazakhstan that took place in April. The mission sought to assess human rights observance in the country and visit a number of detainees.

“The meaning of our mission was to stress that this kind of initiatives can contribute to making a difference in the situation with human rights in some specific countries, and Kazakhstan is possibly one of these countries,” said Stango at the May 15 press conference.

Stango stated that following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the country’s newly gained independence, efforts were made in human rights protection and in implementing human rights conventions, adding “there was an interest from the state of Kazakhstan to show this kind of progressive improvement step by step”. Although saying the situation has deteriorated over the recent years, he acknowledged that Kazakh authorities are demonstrating openness and willingness to cooperate.

“The government of Kazakhstan actually shows readiness for dialogue, especially when we come from the European Union,” he said, highlighting that keeping good relations with the EU is especially important for Kazakhstan in light of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement signed in 2015 between Kazakhstan and the EU.

The monitors said during their trip they met with Kazakh and international human rights organisations, other civil society representatives, as well as relatives and lawyers of prisoners they were particularly interested in.

“The mission was also in contact with the authorities of Kazakhstan because our intention was also to have a constructive dialogue with the government,” Stango noted.

“We appreciate the cooperation with the authorities, who really made this visit possible and prepared special presentations for us and let us go to the prison and meet with detainees. This is very important,” said Swiecicki.

The mission met with Kazakh businessperson Iskander Yerimbetov, who is currently under investigation on suspicion of money laundering, Almat Zhumagulov and Kenzhebek Abishev, who are accused of propaganda of terrorism and are waiting for their trials.

The monitors said they had a chance to speak with the detainees face to face in a confidential atmosphere and gather the necessary information.

Yerimbetov was arrested in 2017 and is charged with involvement in assisting with money laundering for Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive Kazakh oligarch, who is convicted in absentia of embezzling more than $7 billion from Kazakhstan’s formerly largest BTA Bank and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In the United Kingdom, he was also sentenced to 22 months in prison for contempt of court in 2012 but fled to France where he is currently believed to reside.

Yerimbetov is also suspected of being involved in the disappearance of about $647,000 of funds relating to his company SKY Service LLP.

His parents and sister Botagoz Jardemalie have been claiming that the businessman has been subjected to torture in a Kazakh detention facility.

Jardemalie lives in Belgium and, according to the Kazakh authorities, has been involved in the illegal issuance of dubious loans by BTA Bank worth about $500 million to some of Ablyazov’s shell companies.

After complaints by Yerimbetov’s parents, he was visited by Ardak Zhanabilova, Chair of the Public Monitoring Commission of Almaty, on January 31. ZhemisTurgambetova, Executive Director of the Charter for Human Rights Public Foundation, and Yevgeniy Zhovtis, Director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, also visited Yerimbetov. According to media reports following those visits, none of the visitors noted any evidence of torture or beating, commenting only on “Yerimbetov’s unhealthy appearance – he had a fever, a dry cough, and red eyes”.

Earlier this year, Yerimbetov was also visited by a delegation of European and American diplomats.

The report on the results of the recent mission by Stango and Swiecicki includes recommendations on changing the measure of restraint for the three detainees to the one not requiring detention, like home arrest, ban on leaving the country or other measures. The authors said the report would be made available for Kazakh authorities, the European Commission and European parliamentarians.

Their April 14-17 visit was facilitated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan. According to media reports, the group of visitors also included members of other European national parliaments, civil society representatives and the media from the Czech Republic, Romania and Spain.

According to Kazakh media reports from that time, top Kazakh officials presented the country’s efforts in the area of human rights protection and stressed that the government has zero tolerance towards torture and does everything possible to prevent it. The visit also included briefings on the specific cases of the detainees and meetings with them.

Earlier in May, Kazakhstan has also been visited by another group, this time made up of members of the European Parliament. They participated in the 15th annual session of the Kazakhstan-EU Parliamentary Cooperation Committee and met with the country’s Foreign Minister, Prosecutor General and representatives of the civil society.

The visit resulted in the adoption of a joint declaration by Kazakh and EU parliamentarians, which confirmed the sides’ commitment to strengthening ties.

According to the press service of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the European delegation praised Kazakhstan’s efforts in humanizing the criminal prosecution and enhance the re-socialization of convicts.

“During the discussions, both sides criticized Ablyazov’s criminal actions and attempts to destabilize the situation in the country,” the press service said then.

The recent press conference in Brussels also heard questions about whether Stango and Swiecicki’s trip was funded by the FIDU or the Open Dialog Foundation (ODF), which is allegedly backed by Ablyazov. The ODF President Lyudmyla Kozlovska, who moderated the event, was quick to answer that the ODF did not pay for the trip. Stango, in turn, insisted that “the Federation paid for it, otherwise it would not have been mentioned in the report.”

According to an April 24 article in EU Today, email correspondence between Stango and Kozlovska seen by that media outlet seems to indicate, however, that she had indeed paid for his trip to Kazakhstan.V

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