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Qishloq Ovozi

While there are multiple blocs campaigning for the elections, none can be called an opposition party.

On January 10, Kazakhstan will hold its first parliamentary elections since the country's longtime president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, stepped down in March 2019.

Nazarbaev remains the head of the Nur-Otan party, which is expected to do well in these elections to the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, as it always has since its founding in 1999.

Conspicuously absent from these elections are any political parties that could remotely be called a genuine opposition, despite a pledge from the new president, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, about the need for opposition parties to participate in politics.

Political activists are reporting increased harassment in the weeks leading up to elections.

And a new report from RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, known locally as Azattyq, casts new light on the vast wealth former President Nazarbaev and members of his family have acquired outside Kazakhstan.

On this week's Majlis Podcast, RFE/RL's media-relations manager for South and Central Asia, Muhammad Tahir, moderates a discussion on Kazakhstan's approaching parliamentary elections and what has changed and what looks the same under a different president.

This week’s guests are: from Kazakhstan, Darkhan Umirbekov, Azattyq's digital editor, who also participated in preparing the report on the Nazarbaev family wealth; Sofya du Boulay, who is researching the study of legitimation, authoritarian durability, and politics in Central Asia and the South Caucasus at Oxford Brookes University; Luca Anceschi, professor of Central Asian studies at Glasgow University and author of the recently published book Analysing Kazakhstan's Foreign Policy: Regime Neo-Eurasianism In The Nazarbaev era; and Bruce Pannier, the author of the Qishloq Ovozi blog.

Majlis Podcast: What's At Stake In Kazakh Elections?
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Listen to the podcast above or subscribe to the Majlis on iTunes or on Google Podcasts.

Kadyr Yusupov

Last week, Kadyr Yusupov marked his third straight birthday in jail.

A 69-year-old career diplomat for Uzbekistan, Yusupov was detained shortly after a reported suicide attempt in December 2018, interrogated by security officials while hospitalized, and convicted of treason and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison in January on the basis of a confession he purportedly made from his hospital bed.

Yusupov is said to suffer from schizophrenia, and there were questions from the start over his fitness for questioning and whether anything he said while recovering should be used as evidence.

The case has been shrouded in secrecy.

A lawyer hired by Yusupov’s family was forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement and was rarely allowed to meet with him.

Yusupov’s family has been unable to see him since he was taken into custody shortly after jumping in front of a subway train in Tashkent two years ago.

So Yusupov’s family sought help outside Uzbekistan.

Geoffrey Robertson, a founding head of the U.K.-based Doughty Street Chambers, a private legal defense firm that focuses on human rights and civil liberties, has been brought in as legal counsel for the Yusupov family. He has said he is preparing applications on Yusupov's behalf to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions.

At a December 10 press conference, Robertson alleged a long list of procedural violations under Uzbek and international law in Yusupov’s case.

Yusupov is one of several people who worked many years for the Uzbek government before reports suddenly emerged saying they had been accused of spying and charged with treason.

A recent Majlis podcast explored Yusupov’s case along with those of former Defense Ministry reporter Vladimir Kaloshin and a former director of the presidential Institute for Strategic and Interregional Research, Rafik Saifulin.

Spying cases by nature involve matters of state security that many governments try to keep away from the public record.

But in Yusupov's and other cases, public information has mostly been limited to the facts that they were arrested, confessed, and were tried and convicted.

Even details like on whose behalf they might have been spying has been unavailable.

Yusupov’s family and rights groups have repeatedly called for him to be freed on compassionate grounds, since the coronavirus is reportedly spreading within Uzbekistan’s prison system.

Robertson said at his press conference that he and Yusupov’s family had been hoping the former diplomat would be released under a recent amnesty to mark Uzbek Constitution Day on December 8, but he was not among those released.

The family has released a video on Yusupov’s case, in the hope of getting broader support for his release.

Family, friends, and rights defenders now hope the United Nations might pressure the Uzbek government to act, since Uzbek courts and prosecutors seemingly appear to have no intention of freeing Yusupov.

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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