The Interior Ministry of the Czech Republic this week offered so-called "international protection"
to Tatiana Paraskevich, a former colleague of Kazakh oligarch and opposition supporter Mukhtar Ablyazov.
This is good news for Paraskevich, a 49-year-old former accountant who has spent nearly two years in a Plzen prison
facing possible extradition to Ukraine or Russia, and a likely handover to the vagaries of the Kazakh justice system from there.
Although international protection does not offer the full security afforded Czech asylum-holders, it should keep Paraskevich safe for a year from extradition to Ukraine. A court decision on Russia's individual request has not yet been conducted, but if passed, would have to abide by the one-year stipulation as well. Rights activists have repeatedly argued that Paraskevich and other Ablyazov associates would face impartial trial and possible torture if returned to Kazakhstan.
The same activists have expressed frustration with Czech authorities for dragging their heels on what, for some, appears a clear-cut case of politically motivated prosecution by three colluding post-Soviet allies. Some have gone so far to suggest that Czech authorities, seeking closer economic ties with Moscow and Astana, may have been prepared to hand over Paraskevich despite the strong political overtones of the case.
Even now, with the Interior Ministry's decision in place, Plzen-based prosecutor Vera Chekhova, has refused to honor a judge's order to release Paraskevich from custody, saying she plans to appeal the decision on international protection. Although the ministry decision cannot be overturned, the process of hearing Chekhova's complaint can take up to two weeks -- meaning Paraskevich may remain in custody another 14 days. Supporters say it is not the first time Chekhova has sought to delay progress on Paraskevich's case.
A fellow Ablyazov associate, Muratbek Ketebaev, has cautiously welcomed the news on Paraskevich, saying on his Facebook page, "Although Czech prosecutors are doing everything to prevent this.... there's hope" she may be released.
Ketebaev, who faced his own extradition request to Kazakhstan, was granted refugee status by the Polish government in December 2013. Ketebaev has praised the Poles and their "tradition of fighting totalitarianism." Polish activists and lawmakers have repeatedly traveled to Prague in attempt to convince their fellow EU member and communist survivor to follow suit with regards to Paraskevich.
A third Ablyazov associate, former security chief Aleksandr Pavlov, may be faring less well. According to the Warsaw-based Open Dialog Foundation
, the Spanish government -- which has held Pavlov for over a year in a Madrid prison -- had secretly issued a February 14 decree allowing his extradition to Kazakhstan. Pavlov's lawyer says the move is meant to skirt her client's pending asylum request, as well as a case she is bringing before the European Court of Human Rights on Pavlov's behalf.
The ODF says there are worrying similarities between the secret Pavlov deal and last summer's illegal deportation of Ablyazov's wife, Alma Shalabaeva, from Italy. Shalabaeva spent several months under house arrest in Kazakhstan before being returned to Rome amid mounting public outrage in Italy.
Meanwhile, Ablyazov -- the man at the center of the controversy -- is in custody in France pending his appeal of last month's decision approving his extradition to Kazakhstan. Kazakh authorities have accused him of embezzling large sums of money while serving as the head of the country's BTA Bank. Ablyazov, a one-time ally of President Nursultan Nazarbaev who has since poured millions into funding the Kazakh opposition, says the charges are politically motivated.
-- Daisy Sindelar