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Kazakhstan: Election Campaign Heats Up With Foreigners’ Expulsion, Electoral Official’s Killing

  • Gulnoza Saidazimova --> Kazakh police questioning the Ukrainian journalists on 1 December (RFE/RL) Two Ukrainian journalists who arrived in Almaty last month to cover the 4 December presidential election are in police detention. They are likely to be deported from Kazakhstan just like their fellow journalists were forced to leave the country last month. Human rights activists and independent political observers say the current wave of expulsions of foreigners is the government’s attempt to prevent any attempt to "export" a "colored" revolution to Kazakhstan like those in Georgia, Ukraine or Kyrgyzstan.

Prague, 1 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Yevgenii Zhovtis is the head of Kazakhstan’s International Bureau for Human Rights, which is monitoring the case of the two Ukrainian journalists detained in Almaty late yesterday.

Zhovtis said the two men came to Kazakhstan at the invitation of the opposition-leaning independent youth organization Youth Information Service of Kazakhstan.

The journalists are awaiting an official decision on their case. Zhovtis said they are likely to be expelled from Kazakhstan, just like other Ukrainian correspondents who were refused stay in the country last month.

Speaking to RFE/RL from Almaty, Zhovtis said both cases are politically motivated to ensure no foreign funded "spin doctors" bring revolutionary ideas to Kazakhstan.

"Gently speaking, it looks bizarre; roughly speaking, it looks very political," he said. "If the country wants to hold a transparent and fair election, it should let all observers in. It shouldn’t regard citizens of some countries, like Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, which [Kazakhstan’s authorities] have become allergic to, with a presumption of guilt."

Zhovtis said expulsions of foreign nationals began earlier in November, when authorities canceled accreditation of the Commonwealth of Independent States Election Monitoring Organization. It is independent of the official CIS election monitoring group headed by Vladimir Rushailo.

The head of the Kazakh mission of CIS Election Monitoring Organization, Marina Bogdanovich, said the decision "defies common sense," adding that Kazakh authorities didn't challenge the group’s legal status during the country's previous election.

The decision came as the organization was set to release a report about alleged campaign irregularities ahead of the presidential election.

This week, Kazakh authorities have continued to forcibly expell foreign nationals from the country. Hundreds of Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, and Tajiks as well as smaller numbers of Chinese and Turks were forced to leave Kazakhstan.

Authorities announced the beginning of a campaign against illegal migrants on 26 November and said it was to continue till 2 December. Some 550 people were detained in recent days in the country’s commercial city of Almaty, which is also known as a hotbed of the opposition. Over 200 of them were deported to their home countries.

Authorities said the deportees were mainly illegal workers at construction sites. Rights activists denied that, saying those deported had been working in Kazakhstan legally for months or even years, often as businesspeople in Almaty’s central bazaar.

Dosym Satpaev, the director of the Almaty-based Political Risks Assessment Group, said that the expulsion of migrant workers is also politically motivated. He said the government is afraid of the possibility that the opposition forces would hire some migrants for an insignificant amount of money to hold antigovernment protests after the 4 December election.

"They [authorities] are afraid that migrants may turn into a political force if any political body in Kazakhstan would want to use them to achieve their goals," Satpaev said.

Zhovtis agrees and says among the expelled people were some Kyrgyz citizens who were also invited by the Youth Information Service of Kazakhstan and were to monitor elections.

The cases of foreigners’ expulsion come amid Kazakh authorities’ pledges that the election will be the freest and most transparent in the country’s post-Soviet history.

In another development today, a member of a provincial election commission, Rakhmetulla Baigereev, was found dead in the Ural River in western Kazakhstan. He had been missing since 19 November. The body reportedly had numerous wounds.

Authorities said there were no political reasons behind the killing.

Murat Orazgaliev, the head of a local election commission in Western Kazakhstan Oblast, said: "On that issue, we have an official release. The person, a member of an election commission for the 216th constituency, was killed but for no political reason whatsoever. It is just a crime based on domestic arguments. No politics is involved in this at all. Under current legislation, the local election commission has adopted a resolution on the temporary replacement of that person by a new member. The resolution has been made public in the local regional newspaper."

Kazakh opposition members say political motives could be behind the electoral official’s killing.

(RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service Director Merhat Sharipzhan contributed to this report.)

Kazakhstan's Presidential Election

RFE/RL's complete coverage and background of Kazakhstan's presidential election on December 4, 2005.