As allegations of corruption against top Kazakh officials persisted in the international press, the government continued to tighten control over political life and the media in 2001. Journalists, editors, and opposition party activists critical of the government, especially of corruption, faced attacks, criminal charges, and other forms of persecution. At the same time, a government tax amnesty came into effect for those who transferred money from abroad back to Kazakhstan. Opposition parties said the measure legalized money laundering. In a progressive move, authorities lifted the longstanding requirement that citizens request an exit visa to leave the country.
The government resisted calls for electoral reform and hounded the political opposition. Former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, Nazarbaev's one-time rival and leader of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan (RNPK), was tried in absentia on charges of corruption and tax evasion and sentenced to ten years' imprisonment in September. On July 15, Kazakh officials prevented Amirzhan Qosanov, the acting chair of the RNPK's executive committee, together with opposition journalist Yermurat Bapi, from boarding a flight to the United States. They were due to testify at a U.S. congressional hearing on human rights in Central Asia. At the hearing itself, a Kazakh embassy official attempted to subpoena Kazhegeldin for a criminal trial in Kazakhstan.
The deputy chairman of the Azamat (Citizen) Party, Platon Pak, was hospitalized on January 30, after three unidentified people broke into his apartment and stabbed him. In February, unidentified assailants beat Alexander Shushannikov, of the Lad Slavic Movement, in the town of Ust-Kamenogorsk.
The government did not fulfill President Nazarbaev's pledge to implement recommendations made in 1999 by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on electoral reform. The lack of progress on electoral reforms prompted four opposition parties in February to withdraw from a joint working group with the government, organized with the support of the OSCE, on electoral reform. One party also withdrew from a roundtable discussion on electoral reform in May, citing the government's failure to adopt a new elections law.
In February, Temirtas Tleulesov, an author of two books on corruption in Shymkent, was tried in absentia and sentenced to two years of imprisonment for "hooliganism." The charges arose out of a 1999 incident in which bank security guards seriously beat Tleulesov in Shymkent. Following Tleulesov's conviction, the municipal authorities reportedly banned demonstrations planned for February 22 in support of the author.
The independent print and broadcast media suffered constant harassment and repression. Marina Soloveva, the former director of Ust-Kamenogorsk independent television, was attacked on March 6 by several men, resulting in a broken arm. Police investigators decided that no crime had taken place and charged Soloveva with making false accusations. Gulzhan Ergalieva, a journalist affiliated with the political opposition, and her husband and son were severely beaten and robbed in their Almaty home on March 1. Shortly before this incident, Ergalieva had strongly criticized the government's participation in an electoral reform working group.
Yermurat Bapi, the editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper SolDat (whose name is a variant of Dat, Let Me Speak, a paper closed last year) was found guilty on April 3 of insulting the honor and dignity of President Nazarbaev. He was sentenced to a one-year prison term, but was released under a general amnesty. The charges related to an article published alleging that President Nazarbaev and other Kazakh officials had been funneling millions of U.S. dollars from Kazakhstan into Swiss bank accounts. The authorities confiscated the edition of the newspaper before distribution. No publishing house would print SolDat for eight months prior to the trial.
Bigeldy Gabdullin, editor of the opposition newspaper XXI Vek (21st Century), faced criminal defamation charges following the publication in October 2000 of two articles alleging corruption by President Nazarbaev. However, on April 6 the prosecutor's office issued a press release stating that it had dropped the case. Reportedly, XXI Vek has not been able to resume publication. On January 18, the staff of Respublika-2000 again received violent threats after the publication of an article about corruption; in September 2000, its editor-in-chief, Lira Baisetova, was beaten after the newspaper had published a similar article.
On April 17, the Parliament passed restrictive amendments to the Law on Mass Media, which had been severely criticized by local and international organizations, including the OSCE. The law brought Internet sites under its regulation and limited the transmission of foreign television and radio programs, requiring foreign material to be reduced to 20 percent of all available airtime by January 2003. The legislation sparked protests by private television stations that relied heavily on the retransmission of Russian television and could force the closure of smaller stations.
Intolerance of nontraditional religious groups continued throughout the country. In March, two Baptists from Atyrau faced fabricated criminal charges, which church members claimed were aimed at stopping their missionary activity. In Kulsary, a small Baptist church received a prosecutor's order, dated May 2, declaring the church illegal due to lack of registration. Three U.S. students found guilty of illegal missionary activity were fined and ordered to leave the country. The Taraz procuracy sought, unsuccessfully, to ban Jehovah's Witnesses' activity.
Following the general crackdown in the region against independent Islam, four alleged members of Hizb ut-Tahrir were arrested while distributing leaflets calling for the reestablishment of an Islamic Caliphate in Central Asia. On May 10, two of the defendants were sentenced to twenty-two and seventeen months' imprisonment, respectively, and the two others were released under a general amnesty.
Prison conditions remained horrific in Kazakhstan, which had one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the world. Even after an amnesty early in the year reportedly led to the release of 26,729 prisoners, the prison population in 2001 grew to 84,000 by the end of April.
On April 13, prosecutors in Kyrgyzstan reportedly announced that they had arrested a man on charges of selling Kyrgyz citizens as "slaves" to work on plantations in Kazakhstan. A former plantation laborer claimed in the press that thousands of Kyrgyz citizens were being used as slaves in Kazakhstan.
The body of a leading Uigur activist, Dilbrim Samsakova, was found in June, following her "disappearance" several weeks earlier. Her injuries indicated that she died from a blow to the head. Samsakova had been working to prevent the extradition to China of the widow and children of a Uighur suspected of violent political activism who was killed during a police operation in Almaty last year. She observed the trial of four Uighurs charged with "terrorism" in Kyrgyzstan earlier this year.
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