Kazakhstan jails Nazarbayev critics in crackdown

Kazakhstan jails Nazarbayev critics in crackdown

ALMATY - Agence France-Presse
Kazakhstan jails Nazarbayev critics in crackdown

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev gives his annual address to the people at a joint session of parliament in the capital Astana, on January 27, 2012. AFP photo

Kazakhstan jailed three critics of strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev for two months in an opposition crackdown after it was rocked by an upsurge of political turbulence, the opposition said Friday.

A court in Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty ordered that newspaper editor Igor Vinyavsky, leader of the unregistered Alga opposition party Vladimir Kozlov and activist Serik Sapargali be remanded in custody for two months, Alga's deputy leader Mikhail Sizov said.

"All the accused have had their detention extended" for two months after the initial 72-hour arrest period allowed by the law, he told.

Vinyavsky, the editor of the Vzglyad newspaper, is charged with promoting the violent overthrow of the constitutional order while Kozlov and Sapargali are charged with seeking to incite social strife.

Sizov said the defence would seek to appeal the decision to keep Kozlov in detention but warned that "we have no illusions that we will be able to get anywhere here".

"We will try to show that he is innocent. I expect we face ahead of us a long and major trial," he told. Vinyavsky's jailing had been confirmed late on Thursday.

Their pre-trial detention comes as Nazarbayav's administration grapples with one of the most difficult periods in the post-Soviet history of Kazakhstan, long seen as the most stable state in Central Asia and a magnet for investors.

Over a dozen people were killed in clashes between striking oil workers and security forces in the Caspian Sea town of Zhanaozen on December 16, in its worst bloodshed since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Kazakhstan has also been hit by a rare spate of attacks blamed on Islamist militants who the authorities say are bent on upsetting the delicate ethnic balance in the majority Muslim but secular state.

Meanwhile the opposition has vowed major protests against January 15 parliamentary elections where Nazarbayev's party won a crushing victory but which international observers said failed to meet democratic standards.

The opposition is planning a new street protest in Almaty against the elections on Saturday which it expects to be larger than a rally that gathered several hundred people in the aftermath of the vote.

"If the political landscape is going to be cleansed of the opposition and legitimate political forces, this will force the opposition to act outside of the law," warned Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, a former top official who has become one of the leaders of the anti-Nazarbayev opposition movement.

Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan since even before the Soviet Union's collapse, last year appointed former British prime minister Tony Blair to advise the country on attracting more foreign investment.

While hailed by some as a shining example of modern leadership in the Islamic world, critics have long criticised his regime for seeking economic properity and stability at the expense of human rights.

Leading analyst Dosym Satpayev of the Risk Assessment Group said that the authorities were seeking to show the opposition they remained in control despite the political turbulence.

"The authorities want to demonstrate that they will not allow anyone, here in Kazakhstan, to make sharp comments and all the more to take part in social disorders," he told AFP.