Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Recent Reports 
 Support HRW 
About HRW
Site Map

Human Rights Watch - Home Page


Throughout 1998, both before and during the registration period for candidates and during the presidential campaign, government authorities took pains to limit citizens' ability to gather freely, to demonstrate to express their political grievances publicly, to form organizations to advance their political interests, and to participate directly in public life.

Two major procedural and legal obstacles effectively block freedom of association and assembly in Kazakhstan. First, the state can manipulate the procedures for registering nongovernmental organizations through the Ministry of Justice. No truly independent procedure exists to appeal denials for registration or for permission to stage a demonstration, since the courts, where all decisions on registration must be appealed, are subject to political pressure.100 The second obstacle is the Catch-22 posed by article 188 of the administrative code, which, beginning in March 1995, outlawed participation in unregistered organizations: the Law on Public Associations allows nascent groups to meet an unspecified number of times within one month in order to form their governing board and draw up bylaws, while the administrative code at the time forbade activity by groups not yet registered. Potential participants could not afford to ignore this provision if the ministry decided not to register their groups or if it stalled in registering them, as they faced administrative sanction if they did so. Even if the penalties, including administrative arrest for up to fifteen days, or fines of from five to ten times the minimum monthly wage were not high, many potential participants (e.g., pensioners, fixed-income workers) are in such penury that even such a fine was severe punishment.101

During the presidential election campaign, state officials prevented would-be officeholders and private citizens alike from exercising their right to take part in the government of their country, directly or through freely chosen representatives, in two ways. In the first, authorities set out to limit contestation in the election by blocking access to the ballot for opposition candidates, by harassing activists, and by preventing the formation of various political groups and coalitions. The second involved furthering the candidacy of the incumbent by coercing support from ordinary citizens using the authority of the state-with the implied or explicit threat of the loss of jobs, stipends, or other benefits.

Human Rights Standards

Kazakhstani authorities have unreasonably restricted freedom of assembly, blocking citizens' attempts to form nongovernmental associations, and punishing them with administrative offenses when they have tried to do so. It has also blocked the peaceful expression of political views and grievances. International human rights standards and most notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its article 20 recognize the right to peaceful assembly and association.102 The patterns described above involved cases that clearly posed no threat either to public order or to the rights of others. The OSCE Copenhagen document underlines the requirement to protect the right to association, calling on states to "ensure that individuals are permitted to exercise the right to association, including the right to form, join and participate effectively in nongovernmental organizations which seek the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms." Both the Movement for Honest Elections and the Pensioner's Movement Pokoleniie (Generation) sought to promote basic human rights.103
Demands that citizens pledge support for candidates during the registration phase precluded their support for other potential candidates. This calls into question the free and fair nature of the election, as the slate of available candidates was engineered through this official pressure on citizens. The government directly excluded several candidates on grounds that in themselves constitute violations of freedom of speech and assembly, such as the restriction on participation in an unregistered public association. This exclusion also violated the right to participation of those individual candidates and the right to genuine participation enjoyed by those citizens who might have voted for them. The rights to political participation enshrined in the UDHR and the Copenhagen Document constitute necessary elements of a fair and free political campaign process, a further obligation of OSCE signatories.104

The Registration of Nongovernmental Organizations

Kazakhstani authorities can revoke or obstruct the registration of any type of nongovernmental organization, including political parties, at will.105 The actions against newly-formed nongovernmental organizations in 1998, both in the center and the provinces, have a clear precedent in the earlier treatment of Azamat:

About a year after we created the movement [1996] and began to organize branches in the provinces, we had started quite a few of them when the authorities took quite energetic steps to prevent us from becoming a national organization...They stopped registering us, and began to come up with ridiculous pretexts for denying registration...There were some pretty absurd situations, such as in Kustanai-the provincial Ministry of Justice called up the chairman our branch there and said "we made a mistake on your registration certificate, could you give it back to us so we can correct it?" They gave it back-and that was it.106

Authorities used a similarly transparent pretext to de-register the Civic Forum movement (Dvizhenie grazhdanskii forum) in Karaganda province. Registered on December 22, 1997, Civic Forum united members of the Worker's Opposition, Pokoleniie (see below), and the Communist Party in this northern industrial city. One month later, on January 23, 1998, a municipal district court revoked the registration, on the grounds of a complaint made by an official involved in the privatization of the firm where the Civic Forum had rented an office, and the address of which was listed as the group's headquarters. The head of the Civic Forum, Lidia Blizniuchenko, maintains that she was not present during the January hearing because she had received no notification that it would take place. Blizniuchenko appealed this decision on February 11, well within the month provided for such appeals; the judge took the appeal from her personally. On February 24 the judge ruled not to consider the appeal. Rulings not to consider cases must be appealed within ten days. However, a copy of the ruling was not made available to Blizniuchenko in time for her to file an appeal. Blizniuchenko went regularly to the court in an attempt to learn the outcome of the case until April 18, when she received the decision not to hear her appeal by mail (postmarked on April 16). She maintains that according to the court's own registry, no such document appears until April 15.107 "After that," Blizniuchenko explained, "everyone in the group was afraid of article 188, so we couldn't meet."108

In September 1998, as rumors of early presidential elections reached a peak, a group of opposition political and public leaders agreed to form a coalition to promote fair election procedures, called the Movement for Honest Elections (Dvizhenie za chestnye vybory). They held their first meeting in Almaty on September 8, and submitted documents for registration to the Ministry of Justice on September 30. On October 2 and 3, one week before parliament issued its call for early elections, they held another gathering, which was addressed by former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin; though monitored by the police, the meeting proceeded without interruption.109 On October 14, however, a district court in Almaty notified several participants in the meeting that they were charged with violating article 188(2) of the administrative code, or participating in the meeting of an unregistered public organization. On October 15, the Medeu district court in Almaty sentenced Petr Svoik, leader of Azamat, and Mels Eleusizov, leader of the Tabighat (Ecological) organization to three days of administrative detention; former prime minister Kazhegeldin, Irina Savostina, leader of Pokoleniie, the pensioners' movement, and Dos Koshim, a political activist and writer, were fined.110

In compliance with the Law on Public Associations, which allows groups intending to form associations to meet within the two months before applying for registration, the movement's members submitted a complete application on September 30. According to the organization's counsel, Vitalii Voronov, president of the Almaty Legal Association, as of February 1999 the Ministry of Justice had not responded to the organization's application for registration, even though the law mandates that applications must be reviewed and ruled upon within fifteen days of their submission.111

Authorities in Pavlodar, Ural, and Atyrau provinces allowed provincial branches of the organization known as Elections-2000, to register, according to Vitalii Voronov.112 In Kazakhstan's other eleven provinces, local departments of the Ministry of Justice blocked, delayed, or denied registration under various pretexts. In Kostanai, local Ministry officials claimed that the organization's goals did not correspond to that of a nongovernmental organization, but were those of a political party. Kazakhstan's Law on Political Parties defines a political party as "a voluntary association of citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan, acting to express their political will through participation via their representatives in the exercise of state power."113 Elections-2000 was not fielding candidates, however, and had no other attribute of a political party, as defined under the Law on Political Parties. The local department refused to register Elections-2000 because, according to Kazakh law, only the central Ministry of Justice can register political parties.114

Suspiciously, on November 4, 1998 the Ministry of Justice registered as a nongovernmental organization the "Public Committee for Control of the Elections for President of the Republic of Kazakhstan" (PCCEPRK), two days after its founding meeting in Astana. According to its chairman, Academician Bakytzhan Zhumagulov, chairman of the Republican Labor Party, and president of the Engineering Academy, the idea arose to form PCCEPRK among leaders of several organizations, including the Youth Union (formerly the Komsomol, or Communist Youth League), the People's Unity Party, the People's Cooperative Party, and his own Labor Party, all of which openly supported thepolicies of the incumbent president.115 The organization stated its goals in a front-page appeal to citizens, as "Carrying out public monitoring of the correct implementation of electoral procedures within the framework of elections for President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, as well as studying and expressing public opinion regarding he conduct of the election campaign."116

Zhumagulov explained the rapid registration of the group, with the unspoken comparison to the unregistered Movement for Honest Elections, by citing his long experience registering several other public associations, and resulting familiarity with the necessary procedures, such as "how to bind the leaflets, where to put the stamps..."117

Impeding Public Demonstrations

Under the presidential decree issued in the wake of the disbanding of parliament in March 1995, local government executives must grant permission for any form of public protest, march, picket, or open-air meeting of any size. Organizers must submit a written request ten days in advance of the planned date, and must indicate the form, place, and time, the estimated number of participants, and the purpose of the gathering. Authorities must rule on the applications at least five days before the planned event; they can instruct organizers to hold the event in another location or take another route for a march. There are no provisions for appeal in cases where permission to hold such meetings is denied, nor are authorities required to justify their refusals on public order grounds.118 The routine denial of permits for demonstrations places an unreasonable restriction on the freedom of assembly and expression of the population.

In the months before the presidential election, the pensioners' movement became a particular target of official harassment. Authorities broke up demonstrations and arrested pensioners' leaders, to some extent keeping this manifestation of the dire situation of the nation's retired people out of public view during the campaign period. Kazakhstan's pensioners are among its most politically active citizens; they are also among its poorest. Particularly after utilities charges were raised by the state in 1997, state pensions are insufficient to meet basic needs.119

The nongovernmental pensioners' organization Pokoleniie was registered by the Ministry of Justice in 1992. Pokoleniie has urged its membership to vote, and to act as volunteer vote-count monitors in past elections and referenda. Since May 1998, Pokoleniie has called pensioners to gather peacefully in central squares on the 30th of every month to call attention to their plight. Pokoleniie's national chairwoman, Irina Alekseevna Savostina, was convicted on October 15, 1998 of participation in an unregistered public association in connection with the boardmeeting of the Movement For Honest Elections, and fined (see above). On October 30, police in Almaty physically assaulted several women pensioners as they detained them during a demonstration. In addition to the alleged use of unreasonable force in arresting the women, police were alleged to have used the threat of detention in a cell with tuberculosis-infected prisoners to induce the women to sign statements promising not to participate in future public meetings. According to Savostina, the women were released on this condition after several hours.120

In early October, the local Pokoleniie leader in Karaganda, Klavdia Ivanovna Svintsova, was subjected to persistent police harassment for a week before she was arrested. Karaganda's mayor (akim) had repeatedly tried to persuade the pensioners' group not to hold their monthly demonstration during the month of August. In September, he proposed to Svintsova that instead of holding the regularly scheduled meeting on September 30 (the day that President Nazarbaev would make a major address to the nation on democratization), a few pensioners could meet indoors with representatives from the municipal administration, and the meeting would be broadcast on television. On September 28, Svintsova was called in to the mayor's office three times and warned that during the session, scheduled for September 29, officials would respond only to written questions. Svintsova agreed, but only on the condition that the meeting be broadcast in full. On September 29, the pensioners found that mayoralty officials used the two-hour meeting to make speeches, and did not respond to the questions they had submitted. The television broadcast, according to witnesses, did not include pensioners' demands or information they shared about the dire conditions of some of their number.121

As a result of this broken agreement, Karaganda's Pokoleniie organization called out their members at 10:00 a.m. on September 30. Approximately eighty pensioners gathered, but were met by sixty police blocking the government buildings on the central square. The demonstrators lingered for almost one and a half hours, and then dispersed without incident. When Svintsova returned home, she found that the electricity in her apartment had been turned off. At 9:00 p.m., three police officers came to her apartment and ordered her to open the door. When she did not answer they left, but returned twice during the evening. On the morning of October 1, Svintsova, with the help of her neighbors, summoned eight Pokoleniie members to stand guard outside her apartment. The police reappeared several times during that day, and also approached neighbors' apartments to search for Svintsova. Several Pokoleniie members were dispatched to the mayor's office, where they received assurances on October 2 that Svintsova would not be arrested.
Police, however, continued to come several times daily and beat on Svintsova's door; from the evening of October 2, she noticed an unmarked car with several men parked outside her building during the night. On October 8 the visits and surveillance stopped; she received a telephone call ordering her to come to the procuracy at 10:00 a.m. the following day. Svintsova remained in her home until 8:15 a.m. on October 9. When she emerged to walk her dog, two police officers grabbed her and brought her by car to the district police station, where she was held for three hours; no warrant for her arrest was presented, nor was she allowed to make a telephone call to contact a lawyer. Police then brought her before a judge, who convicted her of participation in an unsanctioned demonstration and fined her 6,600 tenge, twice her monthly pension (approximately U.S. $80), to be deducted from her pension over several months.122
On November 30, approximately forty police officers blocked access to Karaganda's central square in anticipation of the pensioners' demonstration. The pensioners, who had been warned they would be arrested, did not appear.

Other protest movements were also intimidated through organizers' arrests. Though a court convicted Workers' Movement leader Madel Ismailov of violating the honor and dignity of the president based on an epithet he allegedly addressed to the president during a 1997 demonstration, the timing of his arrest suggests a different motivation. Arrested on February 27, 1998, Ismailov had planned to lead a demonstration the next day to protest raises in utility fees. The previous year, Ismailov served three and a half months in pre-trial detention after organizing a similar public rally.123 On the day of his arrest, Ismailov had been elected the deputy chairman of an opposition coalition.

The Right to Participate in Political Life
Exclusion of Opposition Candidates from the Ballot

In order to appear on the ballot, the Law on Elections requires presidential candidates to pay a nonrefundable fee equaling one thousand times the minimum monthly wage (in October 1998 roughly U.S.$30,000), that they pass an exam in the state language, and that they gather signatures of 2 percent of the adult population of the republic endorsing their nomination; or 170,000 persons, in at least two-thirds of the Republic's provinces.124 In addition, the May 1998 amendments to the election law barred candidates convicted in the previous year of any administrative offense from standing for office.125

Three potential candidates-Akezhan Kazhegeldin, Mels Eleusizov, and Asylbek Amantai- were prevented from running for president in the January elections on the latter ground.126 The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) ruled in early November that Asylbek Amantai could not stand for election, as he had been convicted in February 1998 of violating administrative statutes governing the convening of public meetings and demonstrations;127 the CEC applied the amendment to the Law on Elections retroactively to him.

Kazhegeldin and Eleusizov were both convicted of participation in an "unregistered public organization," in connection with the October 2 board meeting of the Movement for Honest Elections. Both appealed these convictions, without success. The CEC formally rejected Eleusizov's application for candidacy on November 19, citing his October 15 administrative conviction. At a press conference, Eleusizov condemned the elections as undemocratic, and called for a popular referendum on the need for early elections.128

Attorneys for Akezhan Kazhegeldin filed a further appeal of his conviction with the Almaty municipal court, which on October 27 not only upheld the district court's ruling but found him in contempt for failure to appear. Kazhegeldin, who was abroad at that time, claimed that he requested several times that the court postpone this hearing date. On November 2, the CEC ruled him ineligible to stand for election. Kazhegeldin contested his disqualification in a November 7 Supreme Court appeal, in which he also challenged the legality of the May 1998 amendments to the Law on Elections, on the grounds that they infringed constitutional rights to freedom of assembly. President Nazarbaev, under intense international scrutiny, stated that he would welcome Kazhegeldin's participation in theelection, and requested the Supreme Court to review the case.129 The court, however, rejected the suit on November 24, effectively barring Kazhegeldin's candidacy.130

Harassment of Opposition Candidates and their Associates

Authorities used physical force and harassment, as well as legal pretexts, to hinder opposition attempts to participate in the elections. On October 10, as Kazhegeldin was about to appear at a press conference to announce his candidacy in the presidential elections, KNB and police officers detained him for several hours-and served him with the summons to appear in court in connection with the meeting of the Movement for Honest Elections. Kazhegeldin reported that two shots were fired at him on October 13, in what he claims was an assassination attempt.131 Shortly after being fired at, Kazegeldin left the country. He returned on October 21 and traveled to Astana to submit documents to the CEC; he alleged that security forces held him under constant surveillance. As he departed the country a few days later, border control officers attempted to confiscate his passport.132 His subsequent return to Kazakhstan on November 17 was also met with overt surveillance by state security officials, who continued to monitor his movements during his stay in the country.133 Fifty thousand copies of the Russian-language edition of his book, Kazakhstan: Meeting the Challenges Ahead were confiscated and burned in September, while publication of the Kazakh-language edition was halted.134

Kazhegeldin's associates did not escape similar harassment. His press secretary, Amirzhan Kosanov, was approached near his home in Astana by four masked men on the evening of August 29. They reportedly asked him whether he was Kosanov, and upon hearing confirmation, reportedly beat him to the pavement.135 In mid-October, university officials reportedly fired Elena Nikitenko, the manager of a public relations agency contracted by Kazhegeldin, from her job as a lecturer at a state university, after having proposed that she cease her political activities in order to retain her post. According to her account, early on the evening of October 24, an unidentified man approached Nikitenko, as she walked toward her home in Almaty. After asking her if she was indeed Elena Nikitenko (as with Amirzhan Kosanov), and hearing her affirmative reply, he struck her in the face, and continued to beat and kick her as she fell to the pavement. Nikitenko suffered a broken nose and other injuries, for which she was hospitalized.136

Another of Kazhegeldin's aides, Mikhail Vasilenko, was reportedly harassed and detained as he attempted to deliver copies of Kazhegeldin's proposed draft amendments to Kazakhstan's election laws to legislators in Astana on September 17. At the offices of the upper house of parliament, by his account, guards denied him permission to leave copies of the documents in the senators' boxes, and requested his identification documents, from which they copied down information. He left the building without incident, but police later stopped him in his hired car, which was parked outside another government building. Claiming that the car had been stolen, police ordered the driver, along with Vasilenko, to follow them to police headquarters. After detaining him for approximately seven hours, police reportedly informed Mikhailov that they were charging him with an unspecified administrative offense; he was prevented from notifying his family or counsel. The following day a judge found him guilty of "hooliganism" in aclosed proceeding, and sentenced him to three days of administrative detention. He was released on September 21; police reportedly did not return the documents Vasilenko had been charged with delivering.137

Authorities in various provinces of Kazakhstan also harassed activists supporting the candidacy of Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin. In Karaganda in early December, a member of Abdildin's campaign staff addressing Sunday shoppers at a local market was arbitrarily detained for several hours by police. Police chased others attempting to gather signatures in support of Abdildin's candidacy from public buildings and threatened them with administrative arrest for unspecified offenses.138

Candidate Registration and Campaigning

Under apparent government supervision, state employees functioned in essence as the incumbent president's extended campaign staff. The Law on Elections specifically forbids the conduct of any pre-election agitation by any "government agencies, local government bodies as well as their employees in the course of carrying out their official duties" and specifically "members of electoral commissions."139 However, citizens allege that local government officials and heads of publicly funded institutions routinely worked to drum up support for the incumbent.

The CEC, which is empowered by Kazakh law to set and to regulate procedures for the registration of candidates for office and for the conduct of campaigns, declined to enforce these provisions or to pursue allegations of violations.140 The president controls the composition of the CEC by nominating members who are then confirmed by parliament; members of the local electoral commissions are appointed by regional governors, who are themselves appointed by the president.141 In direct contradiction to the law they were entrusted to enforce, electoral commission officials publicly announced their intention to campaign on behalf of President Nazarbaev.142

Pro-Nazarbaev Rallies

In mid-October, students at one Almaty private university reported that professors informed them that the last class of the day was canceled, and that they were all instructed to assemble on Almaty's central square for a rally in support of President Nazarbaev's candidacy. Students claimed that officials from the dean's office came to the classrooms of professors who refused to interrupt their classes.143 The city education department likewise reportedly instructed high schools and elementary schools to send from twenty to fifty teachers out to central locations in October to participate in pro-Nazarbaev rallies. "They appointed people to speak out in support of President Nazarbaev... .Theyeven took teachers out of class, which is a violation of labor discipline, so that they could go out to the rally."144 According to the same source, school directors canceled classes in order to carry out these instructions, and made clear to their teachers that their attendance was not optional.145

Signature Gathering

Under the Law on Elections, within five days after potential candidates submit statements to the CEC declaring their intention to stand for office, the CEC must determine whether they meet all of the general criteria established in the constitution (lack of criminal or administrative violations in the previous year, physician's mental health attestation, state language competency). At that time, the CEC issues certified, numbered sheets, on which members of the candidates' campaign organization should gather the 170,000 voter's signatures supporting the candidacy. All signatories must provide their full name, the number of their identification document (internal passport), which they must present to the campaign worker, their date of birth, address, and signature. Persons gathering signatures must be empowered to do so by one of the candidate's twenty-five authorized deputies, who must sign each numbered sheet.

After the announcement of early presidential elections, candidates hurried to compile the necessary signatures in order to meet the November 30 deadline for registration.146 Human Rights Watch established that heads of publicly funded enterprises and institutions, reportedly following orders transmitted by provincial and local governments, routinely pressed their employees to give their signatures in support of President Nazarbaev's candidacy. As citizens could support only one candidate, such compulsion in effect blocked the signatories' ability to freely express their political preference.147

The impression that all public workers were required to support the incumbent also deterred some opposition supporters from campaigning in public institutions: one Communist Party canvasser in a provincial city related how her initiative group members decided that "there was no sense in going [to sign up supporters in] local government-run factories, after being told that the workers had already been threatened into signing for Nazarbaev."148 Communist Party head Serikbolsyn Abdildin also asserted that the government strictly controlled access to public institutions to produce a desired political outcome. Abdildin stated that government officials approached him in late November, fearing that he would not collect the required number of signatures to gain a spot on the ballot, to offer him assistance in gathering signatures in government institutions.149 Abdildin posited that as the only opposition candidate in the race, his continued pursuit of the presidency was important to provide legitimacy to the elections, since the other two contenders, Senator Engels Gabbasov and General Gani Kasymov, were politically unknown state functionaries.

At universities, schools, marketplaces, hospitals, laboratories, and factories, students and employees told similar stories: their professors or supervisors would bring the lists into the workplace and tell them that they should sign. Most indicated that, strictly speaking, this was a voluntary act. But subordinates understood, without needing to betold, that if they were to refuse, or even more unthinkable, to point out that such actions by public employees, rather than members of registered campaign groups violated the law, their positions would be in jeopardy.

Some interviewees reported that their immediate superiors proffered the sheets; others were told to sign by the heads of their institutions. A doctor told of being instructed to sign by her department supervisor: "It was lunchtime...[The department supervisor] came to us, gathered us and she said, `The signature gathering is now under way and you have to give your signature right away. I'm warning you, this is voluntary!'" The head of the entire hospital came to the department shortly afterwards to reiterate that they should sign the petitions.150

Most of the respondents related that they did not resent their superiors for pressuring them into signing, as they understood that their superiors were, in turn, only following orders from higher authorities. A nursery school teacher said that her director told her she had received a quota for the number of signatures she had to gather from the city government's education department; another teacher reported that the heads of municipal district administrations were present during the education department meetings where the signature quotas were assigned.151 Traders in an Almaty bazaar also reported that the managers of the bazaar related that they were responsible for a "plan" of 1,000 signatures.152 A human rights activist reported a conversation with one provincial governor who grumbled at an order from the central government to gather signatures in support of one of the alternative candidates whose own efforts had been unsuccessful.153

Signature gatherers used a mix of coercion, deception, and inducements to carry out their instructions. A student in one of Kazakhstan's state-run universities reported that students were threatened with the loss of their stipends if they refused to sign petitions in favor of Nazarbaev's candidacy.154 According to this source, administrators stopped them in the halls and told them to write down their student identification card numbers and then give their signatures. Some students demurred, saying that they forgot their identification cards. However, administrators approached them repeatedly during the course of a week. In other university departments, students were reportedly paid two to three times the average monthly stipend in return for their signatures, and for agreeing to agitate with other students.155 An Almaty pensioner reported that canvassers promised her groceries and money in exchange for her signature.156

At other times, signature gatherers did not bother to ask permission, but simply wrote down passport information and instructed employees to sign, as in one Almaty hospital laboratory.157 This practice was repeated in Karaganda, where local government workers warned those not interested in signing to "think about their future job security."158 Some persons used subterfuge: one Almaty pensioner related how a young man and woman came to her apartment in early November, claiming to be from the local housing department. They asked her to write down her passport information and to sign a blank sheet of paper for use in "housing surveys," which she did, hoping to obtain repairs for her dilapidated living space.159 After speaking with neighboring pensioners, she realized that her signature would be added to the candidate petitions. Others were simply given no choice but to sign. A doctor interviewed by Human Rights Watch noted that workers from the personnel department of her hospital simply wrote down the passport information from those of her colleagues who did not sign the sheets initially, then came to them and told them to sign.160

Threats against those who hesitated to sign were made indirectly, or implied. A director of an Almaty bazaar, according to a trader there in her early thirties, instructed the market traders to bring their passports the following day to present when signing the sheets. When several of them asked why they should, he reminded them that they enjoyed very good spots for their stalls. They explained their decision to sign the sheets, fearing the loss of their livelihood. "People get nervous," one explained.161 Another bazaar trader in her mid-thirties noted that as the manager went around the market presenting the sheets for people to sign, he noted down the number of the stall they rented. "They didn't force us [to sign], but it wasn't voluntary."162 In other cases, authorities issued more explicit threats:

They brought the sheets to the school and said, "You have to sign for the presidential candidate." Only a few people signed. Then the director called a staff meeting and said, "What are you doing?! You are undermining me! We need X-number of signatures from the school!"...When we tried to object, saying, "it's not 1937 after all!" the director told us about the meeting at the akimat [mayor's office]. The mayor put it bluntly: "If you don't carry this out, then we'll have to do a review, and see if you are really qualified for the positions you occupy."163

Some of those interviewed remarked that they signed not only out of fear but from sympathy for those who took their signatures; others related that fear of losing a sympathetic boss (who might face dismissal for failing to obtain the required number of signatures) prompted them to sign. "Usually the directors say something like, `let's all pitch in, otherwise it's our school that will suffer,' etc."164 If a school could not compile the number of signatures required from its own personnel, teachers were instructed to call in parents of their pupils to give their signatures. Those teachers interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that they understood which parents were most cooperative, and only in rare cases did these parents, anxious not to prejudice their child's standing in the class, not come in to add their signatures to the lists.165

Citizens rarely protested forced signature gathering. In the town of Stepnogorsk, Karaganda province, however, public officials registered many instances of public displeasure with the practice. A group of deputies of the elected city council or maslikhat submitted a complaint to the provincial branch of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law against the actions of the local executive (akimat).166 They reported that workers from local factories, government offices, and the police department came to these deputies dissatisfied with being made to sign for Nazarbaev. The deputies also reported that workers from the local construction materials plant told them that the plant had been given a signature quota to fulfill, and that they had been threatened with the loss of their jobsif they did not sign.167 The group of deputies had complained first to the local electoral commission, which stated that without statements from concrete witnesses they could not investigate the claimed violations.168

100 The U.S. Department of State Kazakhstan Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998 states that "government interference and pressure compromised the court system's independence throughout the year-a situation codified in the Constitution's establishment of a judiciary fully under the control of the President and executive branch." 101 Decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan with the Force of Law on Changes and Amendments to Several Laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan, March 17, 1995. Article 188 was later repealed. See below.

102 Even though Kazakhstan is not a party to the ICCPR, it is widely understood that international law permits restrictions on this right only in narrow circumstances, on the grounds of protecting public order, safety, health, or the rights and freedoms of others.

103 OSCE Copenhagen Document, article 10.3.

104 OSCE Copenhagen document, articles 7.5, 7.6 and 7.7.

105 Within two months of its formation, a public association must submit the following documents to the appropriate branch of the Ministry of Justice for registration: an official request for registration, the organization's bylaws, the minutes of the founding meeting that confirmed the bylaws, the founders' official personal data and that of the board members, documents confirming the status and the legal address of the organization, as well as the registration fee. Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Public Associations, adopted May 31, 1996, Section 1, article 13 (hereinafter, the Law on Public Associations). The Ministry must then review the application and give an answer within fifteen days, including a written explanation of the reason for denial of registration. Decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan with the Force of Law on the Registration of Juridical Persons, April 17, 1995, article 6.

106 Human Rights Watch interview with Petr Svoik, Almaty, December 3, 1998.

107 Undated statement of L. Blizniuchenko to the Karaganda Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (May 1998); Decision of the Lenin court district in the Soviet district of Karaganda, presiding judge E.I. Suslina, in case no. 2-240 of January 23, 1998.

108 Human Rights Watch interview with Lidia Mikhailovna Blizniuchenko, Karaganda, December 12, 1998. The group had intended to mobilize its members to monitor the April 1998 local council (maslikhat) elections.

109 Activists report that police and representatives of the KNB are empowered to be present during any gathering of any nongovernmental organization, and that this function is usually carried out by members of the police department on sviaz' s obshchestvennostiu, or public relations. Human Rights Watch interview with Irina Savostina, chairperson of Pokoleniie (Generation), Almaty, December 3, 1998.

110 RFE/RL Newsline, October 16, 1998. Both Eleusizov and Kazhegeldin appealed the convictions, on the grounds that the courts misinterpreted the Law on Public Associations, which allows the governing board of the organization being founded to conduct whatever meetings are necessary during the pre-registration period. Eleusizov also bases his appeal on the fact that he did not have a chance to obtain counsel. Complaint addressed to the Almaty Municipal Court from Mels Kh. Eleusizov, October 23, 1998.

111 Moscow Interfax in English, February 8, 1999.

112 Moscow Interfax in English, February 8, 1999.

113 Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Political Parties, entered into force July 2, 1996. Emphasis added.

114 Department of Justice of Kostanai Province, Order no. 2422, "On the denial of government registration to the Kostanai provincial public association `Vybory-2000,' October 14, 1998.

115 In mid-October, the fourth congress of the Republican Labor Party adopted a statement announcing its support for the president's decision to stand for re-election, calling him "a far-sighted reformer, made wise through vast experience, and with unquestioned authority in our own country and in the international arena." 451 po Farengeitu, November, 1998.

116 "Obrashchenie `Obshchestvennyi komitet po kontroliu za vyborami Prezidenta Respubliki Kazakhstan' k grazhdanam strany, politicheskim i obshchestvennym organizatsiiam," Kazakhstanskaia pravda, December 2, 1998.

117 Human Rights Watch interview with Academician Bakytzhan Zhumagulov, Almaty, December 5, 1998;"Obrashchenie `Obshchestvennyi komitet po kontroliu za vyborami Prezidenta Respubliki Kazakhstan' k grazhdanam strany." Zhumagulov, when asked to speculate on the reasons for the denial of registration to the Movement for Honest Elections, first cast aspersions on the organizers, saying "people are talking about this commission `For Honest Elections.' What do they mean, that we're for dishonest elections? If they don't get registered, it's not because they're the most honest. I don't think that organization has the most honest people!" He then advanced the theory that "they didn't present one of the necessary documents...Maybe they just don't get it about what documents are required, but then are going around crying and yelling in order to earn some kind of image."

118 Decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan with the Force of Law on Procedures for Organizing and Conducting Peaceful Gatherings, Outdoor Meetings, Marches, Pickets and Demonstrations in the Republic of Kazakhstan, No. 2126, Almaty, March 17, 1995.

119 Human Rights Watch interview with Irina Savostina, chairwoman, Pokoleniie, Almaty, December 3, 1998. Savostina served seven days in administrative detention in May 1997, for organizing a demonstration in Almaty in which thousands of pensioners protested these increases. On August 31, President Nazarbaev raised the minimum pension of 2,440 tenge (approximately U.S. $30 in the last quarter of 1998) by 56 tenge (U.S. $0.67). The government of Kazakhstan defines the poverty line as incomes less than U.S. $50 per person per month. U.S. Department of State Kazakhstan Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998.

120 Interview with Irina Savostina, Argumenty i Fakty Kazakhstan [Arguments and Facts Kazakhstan] (Almaty), no. 45, November 1998.

121 Human Rights Watch interview with Klavdia Svintsova, chairwoman, Karaganda provincial branch of Pokoleniie, Karaganda, December 10, 1998.

122 Human Rights Watch interview with Klavdia Svintsova, Karaganda, December 10, 1998; Human Rights Watch interview with Iurii Gusakov, Karaganda representative, Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, Karaganda, December 10, 1998. Mrs. Svintsova receives a monthly pension of 3,300 tenge.

123 Human Rights Watch interview with Madel Ismailov, Moscow, April 16, 1999. Ismailov was tried and sentenced to one year of corrective labor, which he was allowed to serve at his own place of work. Human Rights Watch, World Report 1998, p. 263.

124 Information from the Central Electoral Commission of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the Nomination and Registration of Candidates for President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kazakhstanskaia pravda, October 16, 1998.

125 The law also excludes those persons who have been charged (but not yet convicted) with a criminal offense, or those who have not yet served out sentences conferred as a result of criminal convictions.

126 A fourth opposition candidate, writer Karishal Asanov, formally withdrew his candidacy the day before the close of registration, criticizing the election as a "farce." RFE/RL Newsline, December 1, 1998.

127 RFE/RL Newsline, November 16, 1998.

128 Human Rights Watch interview with Mels Eleusizov, Almaty, December 2 1998; RFE/RL Newsline, November 17, 1998.

129 Both the US. Department of State and the OSCE issued several statements in November criticizing the government's conduct of the registration campaign. RFE/RL Newsline, November 18, 1998.

130 RFE/RL Newsline, November 24, 1998.

131 AFP, October 14, 1998.

132 Press release, November 4, 1998.

133 Preliminary Report on Contempt Charges Against Presidential Candidate Akezhan M. Kazhegeldin, Baker and Hostetler LLP, Yablonsky, Both and Edelman, counsel to Mr. Kazhegeldin.

134 Human Rights Watch interview with Akezhan Kazhegeldin, New York, October 30, 1998. Nezavisimaia gazeta [Independent Newspaper] (Moscow), September 11, 1998.

135 U.S. Department of State Kazakhstan Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998.

136 451 po Farengeitu, fall 1998, no. 5(37), p. 1, p. 3.

137 When Vasilenko's son called police headquarters to report his father missing, he was reportedly told nothing of his father's detention. All information on Mr. Vasilenko's case emanates from the Report on the Matter of Vasilenko Mikhail Ivanovich, Baker and Hostetler LLP, counsel to Akezhan Kazhegeldin, September 25, 1998.

138 Human Rights Watch interview with Lidia Mikhailovna Blizniuchenko, Karaganda, December 10, 1998. Abdildin himself claimed that the harassment of his supporters only intensified after he was registered as a candidate. He also stated that officials routinely denied him permission to hold meetings with voters or to address them at their places of work or study, citing a secret order requiring the approval of the head of the local (district, municipal) administration to hold such gatherings. Human Rights Watch interview with Serikbolsin Abdildin, Almaty, December 7, 1998. On November 12, Valerii Zemlianov, one of two communist deputies in the parliament, tried to criticize the conduct of the registration campaign before the parliament. The speaker, Marat Ospanov, cut him off, and then turned off his microphone, as other deputies jeered. Human Rights Watch interview with Deputy Valerii Ia. Zemlianov, Astana, December 9, 1998.

139 Law on Elections, chapter five, article 27, point 3(1) and 3(3).

140 See Law on Elections, chapter 2, article 12.

141 Decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan with the Force of Constitutional Law on Elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan," chapter two, articles 10-20, September 28, 1995. The U.S. Department of State Kazakhstan Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998 notes that "the legislature cannot exercise oversight over the executive branch."

142 As reported in the official local government newspaper, Kostanaiskie novosti, October 14, 1998, p. 2. Thanks to Evgenii Zhovtis for this citation.

143 Human Rights Watch interview, student, name withheld, Almaty, December 13, 1998. This student said he had heard of this practice from other students. His report is highly credible, however, because it resembles reports Human Rights Watch received from witnesses in similar circumstances.

144 Human Rights Watch interview, teacher, name withheld, Almaty, December 6, 1998. This interview is without attribution to protect the interviewee's security.

145 Ibid.

146 Information of the Central Electoral Commission of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the nomination and registration of candidates for President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kazakhstanskaia pravda, October 16, 1998.

147 These reports concern coercion to sign petitions in support of candidacy for the office of president. Some respondents interviewed by Human Rights Watch indicated that employers at the same time pressured their subordinates to cast their votes for the incumbent president as well. The Chimkent branch of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law reported several complaints from parents whose children had been instructed by their teachers to bring in signed statements, complete with passport information, guaranteeing that the parents would vote for President Nazarbaev. Southern Kazakhstan Provincial Branch report, December 12, 1998.

148 Human Rights Watch interview with Klavdia Ivanovna Svintsova, Karaganda, December 10, 1998.

149 Open letter of Serikbolsyn Abdildin, "On the illegal activities of the current regime in the signature-gathering process," November 26, 1998.

150 Human Rights Watch interview, doctor, December 6, 1998 (name withheld).

151 Human Rights Watch interview, teacher, December 6, 1998 (name withheld). To protect the interviewee's security, we have suppressed her name and the city where she works.

152 Human Rights Watch interview with bazaar trader, December 6, 1998 (name withheld).

153 Human Rights Watch interview, Evgenii Zhovtis, Director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, December 4, 1998. The candidate, General Gany Kasymov, served as head of the State Customs Administration when he announced his intention to run for president on the last possible day to submit documents. The CEC registered his candidacy on November 10. His campaign featured gruff and colorful antics, such as throwing a vase of flowers at a television interviewer, reminiscent of Russian Duma Deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Many observers assumed from his failure to criticize the incumbent (he repeatedly stated his full support of President Nazarbaev's Kazakhstan-2030 program) that he was encouraged to run to foster the appearance of a contested election. He garnered 4.61 percent of the vote. See "Vosmoi pretendent," 451 po Farengeitu, no 41, 1998.

154 Human Rights Watch interview, student, Almaty, December 13, 1998 (name withheld). This student was not threatened, but related incidents recounted by other students. Similar incidents were reported in the Almaty newspaper Panorama, December 5, 1998.

155 Human Rights Watch interview, student, Almaty, December 13, 1998 (name withheld).

156 Human Rights Watch interview with pensioner, December 3, 1998 (name withheld).

157 Human Rights Watch interview with doctor, December 6, 1998 (name withheld).

158 Written statement of Viktor Borisovich Bondarenko, member of organization of Russians, Karaganda, November 3, 1998.

159 Human Rights Watch interview with pensioner, December 3, 1998 (name withheld).

160 Human Rights Watch interview with doctor, December 6, 1998 (name withheld).

161 Human Rights Watch interview, anonymous #3, December 4, 1998 (name withheld).

162 Human Rights Watch interview, anonymous #4, December 4, 1998 (name withheld).

163 Human Rights Watch interview, teacher, December 6, 1998 (name withheld).

164 Ibid.

165 Human Rights Watch interview, teacher, December 11, 1998 (name withheld).

166 The maslikhat, according to the Kazakhstan constitution, is a popularly elected body on the town or provincial level which carries a mainly consultative function. The akimat is the office of the local executive or akim, the governor of a province or district or mayor of a town.

167 Written statement of B. Gnirtsev, Stepnogorsk town councilman and chairman of the council's committee on law and order, November 12, 1998.

168 Telephone interview with B. Gnirtsev, Astana, December 11,1998.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page