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Central Asia Report: January 2, 2003


2 January 2003, Volume 3, Number 1

DISSIDENT'S WIFE DEFEATED IN KAZAKH BY-ELECTION... Three special by-elections were held on 28 December for seats in the Mazhilis (lower chamber of Kazakhstan's bicameral parliament) that were left vacant after the incumbents were appointed to government posts. The three seats were in the country's northern Pavlodar Oblast, central Karaganda Oblast, and western Atyrau Oblast. The first of the three attracted the most national and international attention since it was contended by Karlygash Zhaqiyanova, the wife of imprisoned opposition leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, who used to be governor of Pavlodar Oblast and co-founded the Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK) opposition movement. As such, her candidacy was widely interpreted as a challenge to the government, while the election itself threatened to become a de facto referendum on President Nursultan Nazarbaev's regime and the DVK. Taking no chances, the authorities seemingly sabotaged her campaign to ensure she lost. The opposition was also undermined in Karaganda Oblast, where its candidate was disqualified from running at the last moment. The opposition did not field a candidate in the Atyrau election.

Zhaqiyanova was running for the Toraygyrov constituency in Pavlodar Oblast. She was already crying foul on 19 December in an interview with the Kazakh newspaper "Vremya," in which she accused the regional government in Pavlodar of staging dirty tricks against her. She complained that several local newspapers had published identical articles under different names defaming her, while permits for rally venues were denied to her. She also noted that government officials had threatened members of her campaign, with the result that 17 of them stopped working for her (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). Meanwhile, eyewitnesses said that local printing shops refused to make posters or handbills with her name or picture on them. In one incident related to RFE/RL, a print shop owner discovered that his employees had accepted an order from Zhaqiyanova without his knowledge and flew into a panicked rage, saying the government would put him out of business if it found out. Despite the cost to his shop, he took all the finished products with Zhaqiyanova's picture and tore them up. The unfortunate clerk who took the order was required to write a statement testifying that he had done so without the owner's consent.

At the same time, state-controlled Khabar Television gave Zhaqiyanova some bad publicity, reporting on 26 December, for example, that she had grossly violated citizens' rights when she barred reporters from attending an election rally in a theater. According to the local electoral commission, any citizen has the constitutional right to attend the public meeting of any candidate, Khabar TV reported.

Zhaqiyanova lost to Vasilii Maksimonko, an official at the local aluminum factory, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 29 December. She garnered 33 percent of the vote against his 53 percent, with the remaining votes distributed among an additional five candidates. Soon after the results were announced, Russian election observers noted there had been serious shortcomings in the election and "favorable conditions" for fraud, although they had not witnessed instances of fraud themselves, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 30 December. They said election observers had not been allowed to approach the tables where ballots were being counted, and the electoral commission had declined to perform experimental recounts later in their presence. Moreover, observers charged that voting lists had been compiled in such an arbitrary way that whole apartment blocks were omitted, leading to the disenfranchisement of perhaps as many as one-fifth of the voters in the Toraygyrov constituency.

...WHILE LAST-MINUTE DISQUALIFICATION KNOCKS OUT SECOND OPPOSITION CANDIDATE. Another prominent opposition figure, Bulat Abilov, was controversially disqualified from running for the Mayquduq constituency in Karaganda Oblast. Originally a deputy from the pro-presidential Otan (Fatherland) party, he was stripped of his seat in parliament when he quit Otan after co-founding the DVK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2001). He also attracted the ire of the regime when he became co-chair of the reformist Aq Zhol (Bright Road) party in early 2002.

On 14 December, Abilov's candidacy was annulled by the local electoral commission in Mayquduq, alleging that he had violated Kazakhstan's election laws on a technicality. He appealed. The decision was overturned on 24 October by a district court in the town of Karaganda, and the ban against him was lifted. The local election committee immediately appealed against the reinstatement of his candidacy. It lost the appeal, when the district court reiterated on 27 December that the ban was "illegal and groundless." Nevertheless, on the same day, the regional prosecutor demanded that the Karaganda Regional Court review the matter. It obliged, convening on the evening of 27 December. It heard arguments for an hour, then retired for six hours, and only reappeared after 1 a.m. on 28 December, the day of the elections, to announce that it was upholding the original ban on Abilov's candidacy. The sequence of events was related on 28 December on the Aq Zhol website (http://www.dpkakzhol.kz).

Abilov accused the regional court of deliberately postponing its announcement to the morning of 28 December to ensure that he had no chance to file a further appeal in time for the election. "I can't imagine what they could have discussed for six hours when there were only two points submitted by the prosecutor's office to be considered," he said, as quoted by Interfax-Kazakhstan on 29 December. He vowed nonetheless not to let the matter drop, and to contest the ruling in Kazakhstan's Supreme Court.

In Abilov's absence, the Mayquduq seat was won by Mukhtar Tinikeev, an official at the Senate (the parliament's upper chamber), with 51 percent of the vote, according to a press release from Kazakhstan's Central Electoral Commission. In the third of the day's elections, the seat for the Kurmangazy constituency in Atyrau Oblast was won by Uzakkali Yeleubaev, a district governor, with a reported 84 percent of the vote.

TURKMENBASHI'S ARCH-FOE SENTENCED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT IN TURKMENISTAN. Former Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov was sentenced to life in prison on 30 December for allegedly plotting to kill President Saparmurat Niyazov, whose motorcade came under fire in the capital Ashgabat in November (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 5 December 2002). The verdict followed a sensational televised confession by Shikhmuradov, who was arrested in Ashgabat on 25 December in the apartment of a local physician. Although the prisoner said he was making his confession voluntarily, human rights groups accused the Turkmen authorities of using torture as part of their investigations, with some critics comparing Shikhmuradov's self-incrimination and the circus around it to the Stalinist show trials of the 1930s.

Excerpts of Shikhmuradov's prerecorded confession were aired on Turkmen Television as part of the evening news on 29 December. The full version was shown the following day at a session of the National Assembly, a convocation of Niyazov loyalists consisting of the State Congress of Elders, the People's Council, and the National Revival Movement. Shikhmuradov was filmed sitting in front of a blank wall. He kept his eyes down and his delivery was halting -- "robotic," according to some observers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December.) Speaking in Russian, he began by calling himself and his allies -- Nurmuhammet Hanamov, Turkmenistan's former ambassador to Turkey, and Hudayberdi Orazov, former Central Bank chief -- traitors to the fatherland and members of a criminal gang who would do anything for money. "When we lived in Russia, we took drugs and, while in a state of intoxication, prepared people and recruited mercenaries to carry out a terrorist attack. Being part of a criminal conspiracy, we were making promises to those who agreed to carry out our order, which was to destabilize the situation in Turkmenistan, to undermine the constitutional order, and to carry out an assassination attempt against the president of Turkmenistan," Shikhmuradov said. "I am not a man able to rule a state; on the contrary, I am a criminal able only to destroy the state. I am guilty," he added. He also admitted, "I take drugs, and I am unable to exist without heroin."

He said the plotters had arranged a charter flight to Turkmenistan in order to seize power after Niyazov's death. He further alleged that Arkadii Dubnov, a Moscow-based journalist with the newspaper "Vremya novostei," had been paid $30,000 to promote the new Turkmen leadership in the Russian mass media. (Dubnov denied receiving any money, AP reported on 30 December.) Meanwhile, Shikhmuradov said he went ahead of the others to prepare the ground in Turkmenistan, where he was aided by Uzbek Ambassador Abdurashid Qodyrov. Following the failure of the assassination attempt the ambassador hid him at his residence for over two weeks. Thereafter, Shikhmuradov said, he moved to a friend's apartment, which is where he was arrested.

Shikhmuradov confessed that he financed the planned coup attempt from the 1994 theft and subsequent sale of five Su-17 military aircraft and other state property. He said he "colluded with the Russian Rosvooruzheniye state company to sell military property abroad." Turkmen authorities accused him of this theft shortly after he declared his opposition to Niyazov in November 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2001). Since then he has repeatedly denied the charge.

Finally, the prisoner expressed deep contrition at organizing a crime against Niyazov, whom he described as "a gift given to the people from on high." He said the president's "absolutely correct" policies guaranteed the well-being of Turkmenistan's citizens and had raised the national economy to a high international level. Devastated that he had "betrayed this great person," Shikhmuradov invited the president to punish him however he chose.

According to the newspaper "Izvestia" on 31 December, Shikhmuradov's associates concluded from the "insane statements" contained in his confession that he must have spoken under threat of death or pumped with drugs. Former Deputy Minister of Agriculture Sapar Iklymov, who was named as one of the plotters and lives in exile in Sweden, told the newspaper, "You could see that these monsters had injected Shikhmuradov with heroin." Iklymov added, "This was all a political show well prepared by the Turkmenistan special services and reminiscent of 1937," referring to the show trials under Stalin. The New York-based organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) similarly compared the proceedings to Stalinist trials of the 1930s and said they were designed to eliminate opposition to Niyazov's regime, RFE/RL reported on 31 December. Elizabeth Andersen, HRW's executive director for Europe and Central Asia, said there was "little doubt" that Shikhmuradov's confession had been dictated to him. Meanwhile, Interfax reported on 28 December that Turkmen police sources denied Shikhmuradov had been subjected to violence, and averred the prisoner was being treated "correctly."

Following Shikhmuradov's statement on the evening news on 29 December, Turkmen Television broadcast further confessions and declarations of regret by businessmen Iklym Iklymov and Guvanch Djumaev, both of whom were among the first people the government accused of involvement in the conspiracy (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 5 December 2002). The National Assembly was also treated on 30 December to a filmed confession, shown on a giant screen, by U.S. citizen Leonid Komarovsky, who has been accused of complicity in the assassination attempt. He said he had known Shikhmuradov since 1996, and admitted he sold him a telephone that was used as part of the plot. He appealed to Niyazov for forgiveness. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department called for due legal process and consular access for people arrested in connection with the plot, RFE/RL reported on 31 December. A written statement by State Department spokesman Philip Reeker protested that Ashgabat had denied U.S. requests for consular access to Komarovsky.

On the giant screen the assembly proceeded to watch a video hook-up with the Supreme Court, where a prosecutor read out the charges against Shikhmuradov and sentenced him to 25 years in prison, Reuters reported on 30 December. The maximum punishment under the Turkmen Criminal Code is 25 years and the death penalty was abolished in 1999. Nevertheless, some deputies at the assembly began to chant "Death! Death!" according to Turkmen Television. Their bloodthirstiness allegedly mirrored that of ordinary citizens, some 7,000 of whom reportedly sent letters and telegrams to government offices demanding capital punishment for the would-be assassins, the newspaper "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan" said on 30 December. Niyazov restrained their ardor. He announced that only Allah had the right to condemn someone to death, and that in any case death would be too light a punishment for Shikhmuradov and his cohorts. "They won't have death, but they won't get forgiveness either. Let them experience all the harshness of prison," the president said in the televised proceedings. The Halk Maslahaty (People's Council), Turkmenistan's main representative and legislative body, promptly adopted a special amendment to the Criminal Code stipulating life imprisonment for traitors to the fatherland. On the basis of the new amendment, it overrode the Supreme Court's decision and changed Shikhmuradov's sentence to life in jail. Simultaneously, Hanamov, Orazov, and Sapar Iklymov were sentenced in absentia to 25 years' imprisonment. The first two remain at large in Russia, Niyazov noted, adding that he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin to request help in locating and extraditing them, Interfax reported.

The confession and sentencing of Shikhmuradov surely seems to be a travesty of impartial legal procedure. Human rights groups and other critics are properly protesting the gross violations of his human rights. However, do the comparisons with Stalinist show trials mean they believe Shikhmuradov is actually innocent of plotting to kill the president? Assuming that government reports of a genuine attack on the presidential motorcade are true, Shikhmuradov's secret presence in Turkmenistan at the time remains an extraordinary coincidence that the opposition has yet to adequately explain.

AKSY SHOOTING TRIAL ENDS, DRAWS OPPOSITION CRITICISM. After a five-day hearing in the southern Kyrgyz town of Maily-Suu, the Osh Military Court handed down guilty verdicts on 28 December against four of the seven men charged in connection with last March's bloodshed when police opened fire on a protest march in Aksy Raion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). Opinions of the trial's outcome depended on whether one was inclined to see the glass as four-sevenths full or three-sevenths empty. While the government maintained that justice had been served by sentencing four of the defendants, opposition leaders were irate that three had got off scot-free. They also criticized the sentences against the four as too lenient.

Former Djalalabad Oblast Prosecutor Zootbek Kudaibergenov and former Djalalabad Police Chief Kubanychbek Tokobaev were both found guilty of exceeding their authority (under clause 305 of the Kyrgyz Criminal Code) and sentenced to three years' imprisonment each.

Former Aksy Raion Prosecutor-General Abdykalyk Kaldarov and former Djalalabad Deputy Police Chief Abdimital Kalbaev were both found guilty of interfering with a public protest (under clause 148 of the Kyrgyz Criminal Code) and sentenced to two years' imprisonment each.

The other defendants were acquitted for lack of evidence: the former head of Aksy Raion's department of the interior, Daniyar Kuluev, former district administration chief Shermamat Osmonov, and Djalalabad's former chief of criminal investigations, Alik Rakishev.

All the defendants protested their innocence at the trial. Kudaibergenov even counterattacked, saying the case against him was politically motivated since he had once opened a criminal case against opposition politician Azimbek Beknazarov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 24 December. On the following day, Kalbaev told the court that no one had ordered the police to shoot into the crowds of demonstrators last March. Still, he said the police had acted within the law and in self-defense in doing so. On 26 December, two policemen appeared as defense witnesses and backed up Kalbaev. They admitted the protestors had not been carrying weapons, but said the crowd had been very aggressive nonetheless, the bureau reported.

Opposition leaders expressed bitter disappointment with the verdicts as soon as they were announced. The head of the Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Movement, Tursunbek Akun, alleged violations in court procedure, saying the trial had been artificially rushed, many relevant witnesses were not invited to testify, and the verdict had been passed in a hurry under government pressure, RFE/RL reported on 29 December. But the lenient prison terms drew the most criticism. Because they are so short, and the four guilty men are first-time criminal offenders, they should fall under a parliamentary amnesty that was announced in the autumn. Consequently, the opposition was predicting that all four would soon be on the streets again. The leader of the Asaba (Flag) National Revival Party, parliament Deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, told RFE/RL on 29 December that the verdicts had been specially designed by the authorities to qualify for the amnesty and represented "a cheating of the [Aksy] community." He noted that President Askar Akaev had been promising for nine months to bring those responsible for the killings to justice, but said, "Akaev did not keep his promise." The leader of the opposition Erkindik (Freedom) party, Tolchubek Turgunaliev, who also heads the independent public commission investigating the Aksy tragedy, said that relatives of the dead demonstrators intended to appeal the verdicts, AP reported on 30 December.

The Maily-Suu trial is not going to close the book on the Aksy shootings. As Pyramid TV reported on 31 December, Akaev's opponents continue to claim that top government officials in Bishkek, and not a handful of local officials, bear the real responsibility for the March shootings. Not to be fobbed off with small fry, the opposition is promising that the hunt for the big fish will go on.

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