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Kazakhstan: Opposition Complains About Crackdowns On Meetings

By Merhat Sharipzhan and Ron Synovitz

Prague, 11 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Members of Kazakhstan's political opposition are complaining about what they say is an increasing pattern of harassment by police and state officials.

An RFE/RL correspondent in Almaty reports that a meeting of leading opposition figures was canceled by its organizers last week after 15 police entered the session hall and demanded information about their agenda.

The meeting was organized by Respublika, a Communist-led group that represents about 20 opposition political parties, public associations and movements. RFE/RL�s correspondent says Kazakh Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin asked the police to leave, telling them that the Kazakh constitution gives opposition groups a right to meet.

Respublika's Coordinating Council stopped the session to avoid provocation after the sub-colonel of Almaty's Internal Affairs Department, Alihan Bektasov, continued to demand details about their agenda. Bektasov said that he was trying to prevent illegal activities, such as the preparation of explosive devices.

A recent report by the U.S. State Department on human rights in Kazakhstan says Almaty has not interfered in the development of Respublika or an intellectual opposition movement called "Azamat." But ther report does say that freedom of assembly has been restricted in Kazakhstan, and that complicated registration requirements have hindered some political organizations.

The State Department report notes the arrests of Azamat and independent trade union leaders who helped organized rallies late last year to protest the non-payment of wages to workers. It says local Communist Party chapters also were fined, and the national organization had difficulty renewing its registration, after the party sponsored unsanctioned rallies.

The U.S. report also notes allegations by Azamat leaders that they have been harassed by local officials while traveling across the country.

On Saturday, Azamat had planned a conference about Kazakhstan's socio-economic situation and the goals of the opposition. Administrators at the Kazakh State Scientific and Technological Information Institute reportedly had agreed to let Azamat use a conference hall for the event.

But RFE/RL�s correspondent in Almaty says the doors to the Institute remained locked on Saturday and about 200 Azamat members arrived to find they had no place to meet. Among them were opposition figures like Gaziz Aldamjarov, Communist Party leader Abdildin and Azamat leaders Murat Auezov and Peter Svoik.

The U.S. report says human rights organizations like Helsinki Watch, the Kazakhstan-American Human Rights Association, and Legal Development of Kazakhstan have operated largely without government interference. But the report warns that the groups have been subjected to restrictions on assembly, and that limited financial means has hampered their ability to monitor and report human rights violations. Some human rights observers complained that the government monitors their movements and telephone calls.