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Spanish Court Approves Arrest Of Kazakh Opposition Figure

  • RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

Muratbek Ketebaev

Muratbek Ketebaev

A Spanish court has approved the arrest of a Kazakh opposition figure who now faces possible extradition to Kazakhstan.

Muratbek Ketebaev was arrested in a Madrid hotel on December 27 on an Interpol warrant issued at the request of the Kazakh government.

A Madrid court later rejected bail, ruling that Ketebaev, 57, will remain in custody pending an extradition hearing.

Kazakhstan has up to 40 days to file a formal extradition request.

Ketebaev, a co-founder of the Kazakh opposition party Alga, fled Kazakhstan in 2011 amid rising pressure on government critics.

The Kazakh government later charged Ketebaev in absentia with ties to the 2011 Zhanaozen riots and a planned terror attack in Almaty the following year.

Ketebaev denies the charges.

He was granted refugee status in Poland in 2013, after Polish officials ruled the charges against him were politically motivated.

Mukhtar Ablyazov

Mukhtar Ablyazov

Ketebaev is a former associate of Mukhtar Ablyazov, a Kazakh billionaire-in-exile and opposition supporter who is currently appealing French extradition to Russia to face charges of embezzling some $5 billion from his former bank, BTA.

Ketebaev was in Madrid to visit a fellow opposition figure and Ablyazov ally, Aleksandr Pavlov, who was recently released on 30,000 euro ($36,600) bail after being imprisoned for 14 months pending extradition to Kazakhstan on related charges.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International have warned that opposition figures such as Ablyazov, Ketebaev, and Pavlov face possible torture and unfair trial if returned to Kazakhstan or a neighboring ally like Russia.

Ketebaev's wife, opposition journalist Irina Petrushova, says she has not been able to see her husband or confirm whether he is receiving proper food and medical care. Ketebaev is diabetic.

A translator working with Ketebaev during his court hearing said he had been denied food, water, and warm clothing during his first day of detention. He is reportedly being held in an unheated cell.

Lyudmila Kozlovska, the head of the Warsaw-based Open Dialog Foundation, which provides Ketebaev with legal support, said she was "shocked" by his arrest and reported jail conditions.

"Usually we can expect these kind of reports when people are arrested in Kazakhstan, in Russia, in Ukraine," she said. "But when they're arrested and kept in such conditions in Spain, in Europe, it's of even more concern."

Kozlovska criticized Spain's disregard of Ketebaev's Geneva passport, a document that allows refugees to travel freely outside the country that granted them refugee status.

Ketebaev had traveled to Spain numerous times without incident since receving refugee status in Poland.

Kozlovska says autocratic countries like Kazakhstan and Russia have become adept at utilizing a loophole in the international justice system, which allows Interpol warrants to override Geneva passports and other forms of protection.

"Antidemocratic regimes are developing faster than European and democratic ones," she said. "And they're more effective at creating accusations and abusing international laws to get to their opponents, even in Europe."

Ketebaev is a vocal critic of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has ruled the energy-rich country for 23 years.

A week before his arrest, Ketebaev published a report alleging that the Russian case against Ablyazov was based on documents fabricated by Moscow at Nazarbaev's request.

With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Daisy Sindelar
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