say driving death conviction was unsound.  By Anton Dosybiev and Sanat Urnaliev 
in Almaty

militants were killed in Tashkent firefight but eyewitnesses believe there were 
more casualties.  By IWPR staff in Central Asia 

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION FACES MERGER  Union between two strongest parties would 
improve chances of taking on Kyrgyzstan’s current rulers.  By Dilbar Alimova in 

legislature, though critics say the authorities will seek to handpick 
parliamentary “opponents”.  By Yulia Milenkaya and Daulet Kanagatuly in Almaty

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Supporters of leading activist say driving death conviction was unsound.

By Anton Dosybiev and Sanat Urnaliev in Almaty

International organisations and rights groups in Kazakstan say leading human 
rights defender Yevgeny Zhovtis did not receive a fair trial in a case which 
ended in his conviction for causing a death in a traffic accident.

Some believe that state prosecutors have deliberately sought a harsh penalty in 
a case in which Zhovtis was tried for running over and killing a pedestrian, 
and that they have done so for political ends, to discredit and isolate the 
activist. The authorities reject claims of interference in the judicial 

Zhovtis, who heads the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, went 
on trial on September 2 following an accident on July 26 in which Kanat 
Moldabaev died.

By the end of the second day, Zhovtis had been tried, convicted of dangerous 
driving leaving to a fatality, and sentenced to four years. He will serve the 
term in a low-security prison.

The conviction rested strongly on the prosecution’s argument that the defendant 
could have avoided the accident. 

Prosecutor Altay Janibekov said during the trial that there were no extenuating 
circumstances, and that there was “not the slightest” doubt that the facts 
presented to the court were correct. 

Lawyers representing Zhovtis have alleged a number of procedural violations 
which they believe render the conviction unsafe.

For a two-week period early on in the case, they say, investigators failed to 
inform Zhovtis that his initial status as a witness had been changed, and he 
was now the suspect.

Ninel Fokina, who chairs the Almaty Helsinki Committee, said the significance 
of this was that Zhovtis was deprived of the right of an accused person to see 
the case file and request forensic testing.

Defence lawyers also contested prosecution evidence derived from tests done on 
their client’s car, which concluded that it would have been technically 
possible to avoid hitting the pedestrian. Judge Kulan Tolkunov rejected their 
arguments, and also their request for an independent test.

Supporters of Zhovtis are also concerned that investigators and the trial judge 
failed to consider a letter written by the late Moldabaev’s mother asking for 
charges not to be brought against Zhovtis as he had paid damages. 

Omurzak Tusumov, a former chief of Kazakstan’s traffic police, told the Vremya 
weekly that the letter was important given that the country’s criminal 
legislation allows a case to be dropped if perpetrator and victim opt for 

“This is widely practiced here,” he said. 

Sergei Duvanov, a journalist who is leading a new committee set up to defend 
Zhovtis’s rights, says, “The investigator left this letter out of the case file 
even though it was handed over to him in the knowledge that it would be to 
Zhovtis’s advantage.”

Local media reported that the judge did not review the matter because other 
relatives of the deceased had filed objections to the original letter. 

The verdict and sentencing produced an outcry from rights groups, which argued 
that the Kazak authorities had exploited the trial for political ends. 

“The prosecution has used the tragedy caused by a traffic accident to punish 
him [Zhovtis] for 20 years of human rights activity,” supporters said the 
following day.

“I regard the verdict as unjust and an as an attempt to take revenge on Zhovtis 
for his human rights work,” said Duvanov. “It was a very shabby trial, and 
brought shame on Kazakstan justice.”

Zhovtis refused to make a final statement to the court, but earlier he told 
journalists, “This is a demonstration of power and lawlessness, in which all 
decisions are taken in [the capital] Astana, and the forensic teams work for 
the prosecution.”

International watchdog groups swiftly added their voices to raise concerns 
about a case that New York-based Human Rights Watch said “did not meet basic 
fair trial standards”.

“The judge's unwillingness to consider important evidence from Zhovtis's lawyer 
made it clear that this was really a choreographed political trial," said 
Andrea Berg, the group’s Central Asia researcher.

The Human Rights Watch statement noted that the verdict came at a time when 
Kazakstan’s human rights record is under particular scrutiny given that the 
country is due to chair the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in 
Europe, OSCE, next year. 

"Kazakstan clearly is not ready to take on a role as important as the OSCE 
chairmanship," said Berg.

Another United States-based group, Freedom House, called on judges to look into 
procedural violations when the case goes to appeal, and ensure that “the case 
is not used to punish Zhovtis for his work”. 

"A miscarriage of justice in this case would be particularly troubling given 
that next year Kazakstan will assume the chairmanship of the… the continent’s 
premier regional organisation covering human rights," said Jeff Goldstein, 
Freedom House’s senior programme manager for Central Asia. 

Yermuhamet Yertysbaev, President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s adviser on political 
affairs, said that as part of the executive, he was unable to comment on 
decisions made by the judiciary. 

He expressed a note of personal regret over the case, saying, “I know Yevgeny 
Zhovtis well and I respect him.” 

However, he accused Zhovtis’s supporters of making unfair claims, saying that 
if there had been any attempts to exert undue influence on proceedings, it was 
done by them. 

“There was very strong, concerted pressure on the court and this is 
inadmissible,” he said. 

“This situation can be resolved only via the judicial process. If you think the 
problem can be solved by demonstrations, by opposition media, or by constantly 
raising the issue with international organisations, that’s absolutely wrong.” 

Asked about the OSCE chairmanship, Yertysbaev said, “I don’t think this case is 
going to affect Kazakstan’s image in Europe.” 

The political opposition has taken up Zhovtis’s cause, with the Communist Party 
promising to stage events and collect signatures to press for a review of the 

“Yevgeny Zhovtis has done a great deal for Kazakstan’s citizens in terms of 
protecting their rights,” said party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin.

“In this instance, it would have been appropriate to issue an amnesty and 
pardon him.”

Anton Dosybiev is an IWPR-trained journalist and Sanat Urnaliev a freelance 
reporter in Kazakstan.


Officials say three militants were killed in Tashkent firefight but 
eyewitnesses believe there were more casualties.

By IWPR staff in Central Asia 

In their first official response to last week’s outbreak of violence in the 
capital Tashkent, the Uzbek authorities have provided more details of the clash 
between security forces and a group of as yet unidentified armed men.

A September 3 statement from the prosecutor general’s office said three members 
of a “terrorist group”, which it did not name, were killed and an unspecified 
number arrested in the course of a police raid in the old town of Tashkent on 
August 29.

Eyewitness accounts, however, suggest there may have been at least one other 

The official statement said security forces raided an apartment used by an 
armed group suspected of being behind a number of murders and other crimes. 

The three who died had trained in terror camps abroad, and included the group’s 
leader Shavkat Mahmudov, the prosecution service said, adding that other active 
members of the group were now under arrest and were in the process of giving 

A police source in Tashkent, who did not want to be identified, suggested that 
the official version of events – that the entire group had been eliminated or 
arrested – was not entirely accurate.

“I can say for certain that not all of them were detained on August 29,” he 
said. “Several of them managed to escape. And the ones who were detained or 
killed were not the major figures in the group, just small fry.”

At the scene of the incident, bullet-holes still scar the doorway and interior 
of the two storey apartment block, and the smell of gunpowder lingers in the 

Many local residents remain fearful of talking about what they saw, but 
descriptions given by those who were willing to speak tallied with the chain of 
events set out earlier by local journalists. The latter say that police 
encountered armed resistance when they entered the suspect apartment. 
Reinforcements including armoured vehicles were then rushed to the scene, the 
area around the block was sealed off, and there was an eruption of gunfire.

“First the shooting started, at around half past six. Then the special forces 
arrived,” said a local taxi driver. Two explosions were heard. Car alarms went 
off in cars up to half a kilometre away – that was probably grenades.” 

The taxi driver said he was told by a policeman that two members of the 
security forces were killed in the fighting. This allegation has been 
impossible to firm up from other sources. 

He and another local resident said a woman in her late forties living in one of 
the apartments with two children died, apparently after being caught in the 

However, an official from the mahalla council – a neighbourhood body that forms 
the lowest tier of local government in Uzbekistan – insisted there were no 
casualties among residents of the area, although he could not say whether other 
people had been killed or injured.

The mahalla official said the armed men involved in the clash were not 
residents, a claim also made in other eyewitness accounts . 

“They ran into the mahalla…. They tried to hide in one apartment after 
another,” he said. “Then everything was cordoned off, and heavy gunfire broke 
out. They clearly decided to escape and jumped out from the first floor; 
there’s a kind of roof there which they got onto and then climbed down. And 
that’s clearly when they got shot.” 

Afterwards, he said, all the residents of this and neighbouring blocks were 
evacuated and given temporary accommodation overnight so that the security 
forces could check whether any of the militants were still hiding out. 

The authorities have not yet made clear whether they believe the dead and 
arrested men belonged to a known militant group.

When the BBC’s Uzbek Service sought clarification from the prosecution service 
on what previous crimes the men were suspected of, it was told they were wanted 
for two attacks – the murder on July 16 of the deputy head of the Kukaldosh 
Madrassah, an Islamic college in Tashkent, and the attempted murder of the 
city’s top Muslim cleric Anvar Qori Tursunov on July 31.

The police source said that based on what he had heard from colleagues involved 
in the interior ministry’s specialist counter-terrorism division, “It is most 
likely to be the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.”

Guerrillas from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, launched raids into 
Uzbek and Kyrgyz territory in 1999 and 2000, with the declared aim of 
overthrowing President Islam Karimov’s administration and replacing it with 
Islamic rule. 

Tashkent has since accused the group of involvement in subsequent acts of 
violence in Uzbekistan. 

Driven south with its Taleban allies after western forces entered Afghanistan 
in late 2001, the main body of the IMU seems to have concentrated in lawless 
parts of north-western Pakistan in recent years.

The last serious violence ascribed to Islamic groups in Uzbekistan took place 
in May, when a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Khanabad, near the city of 
Andijan, came under attack. A policeman and one of the attackers were wounded 
in an exchange of fire overnight, according to the Uzbek prosecutor’s office. 
Later the same day, a suicide bomber killed himself and a policeman in Andijan 

(Names of interviewees withheld out of concern for their security.)


Union between two strongest parties would improve chances of taking on 
Kyrgyzstan’s current rulers.

By Dilbar Alimova in Bishkek

Defeat in July’s presidential election in Kyrgyzstan has prompted Ata Meken and 
the Social Democrats, the biggest of the opposition parties, to seriously 
consider joining forces.

Talk of a merger is given greater urgency by rumours that the administration of 
President Kurmanbek Bakiev is to bring the date of the next parliamentary 
election forward from 2012.

News that discussions were under way was revealed at an August 17 meeting of 
the United People’s Movement, UPM, the main opposition grouping which includes 
Ata Meken, the Social Democratic Party and a number of others. 

Forged last year, the UPM bloc fielded a single candidate, Social Democrat 
leader Almazbek Atambaev, against the incumbent Bakiev in the July 23 
presidential election. 

Atambaev scored eight per cent of the vote while Bakiev swept to victory with 
76 per cent, but the opposition said the poll was fatally flawed with numerous 
cases of election fraud. 

In an IWPR interview, Atambaev said the initiative to join forces had come from 
the ground up, with rank-and-file members calling for a united front against 
the current governing administration.

Atambaev’s counterpart in Ata Meken, Omurbek Tekebaev, was similarly upbeat, 
describing unification as “the natural way to go”.

“Kyrgyzstan needs a few strong parties,” he said. “That’s the only way of 
providing balance and stability in the political system.” 

Ata Meken and the Social Democrats share similar left-of-centre liberal 
ideologies, and both were set up in the early Nineties, giving them a longer 
track-record than most Kyrgyz parties. By contrast, the current governing 
party, Ak Jol, was only created two months before winning a landslide victory 
in December 2007 parliamentary polls. 

In that election, the Social Democrats won 11 seats against Ak Jol’s 71, and 
the only other party to gain parliamentary representation was the Communists 
with eight seats. Despite what seemed to be a respectable performance, Ata 
Meken did not enter parliament, apparently excluded on the basis of a 
controversial system of national and regional thresholds introduced shortly 
before the polls. 

Topchubek Turgunaliev a leading figure in the UPM, believes the two parties are 
wise to consolidate since in his view, Kyrgyzstan has far too many small, 
low-profile political parties.

He is encouraged by their cooperative mood. “During the presidential election, 
I could see members of the two parties working together hand in hand,” he said.

Political analyst Mars Sariev agrees that unification makes sense. “They have 
to unite ahead of the [next] parliamentary election. It’s a short-term 
strategy, but perhaps they really do want to form a strong party,” he told 
IWPR. “If they don’t unite, they will disappear over time.”

Sariev says this could be just the beginning, if other smaller parties decide 
to join the new opposition force.

Like a number of other analysts, Sariev sees it as particularly urgent for 
opposition parties to reform because of the possibility that President Bakiev 
will call an election earlier than the scheduled date of 2012.

“Everything is pointing towards a mid-autumn announcement that parliament is to 
be dissolved, so a new election could take place in December,” he said. 
“Bakiev’s political advisers have calculated that there won’t be much political 
turbulence over the cold winter period.”

President Bakiev has dismissed talk of an early election. 

“Rumours are circulating that parliament is to be dissolved, but no one is 
considering this, nor is there any need for it,” he said in a September 1 
speech at the opening of parliament, quoted by local media. 

However, this is not enough to assuage fears of a surprise announcement. 

“The president’s reassurances that he has no intention of dissolving the 
Jogorku Kenesh [parliament] should be treated as a warning signal,” Tekebaev 
told the Bishkek Press Club on September 3. “On occasion, the president does 
exactly the opposite of what he has said.” 

Tekebaev believes President Bakiev wants to strike while the iron is hot, 
shaping the legislature while he is in a strong position to do so, rather than 
waiting until 2012 when his own term in office is nearing its end. 

Others, including pro-government politicians and independence analysts, are 
dismissive of the Ata Meken-Social Democrat merger, saying that even as one 
party they will stand little chance of electoral success. 

Analyst Orozbek Moldaliev says the opposition, and Atambaev as its joint 
candidate, performed poorly in the summer presidential election. 

“Atambaev fell short of many people’s expectations during the election,” he 
said. “The opposition may now find it difficult to get people to follow it. It 
will need to make an immense effort to revive itself after this defeat.” 

Miroslav Niazov, formerly secretary of Kyrgyzstan’s national security council, 
also doubts that the merger will prove effective. 

He believes the deal is to the Social Democrats’ advantage, since their 
reputation suffered more in the presidential election, while Ata Meken retains 
greater public support.

The terms of the merger have still to be hammered out, although Tekebaev 
insisted it was merely a question of legal technicalities. 

Atambaev has suggested calling the new entity the Social Democratic Party Ata 
Meken, preserving the legacy of both groups.

In a hint of recognition that he might be a liability, Atambaev also indicated 
to IWPR that he might step aside when the new leadership is being elected. 

“I can step back if that’s what’s needed,” he said. 

Dilbar Alimova is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan.


New bill envisages multiparty legislature, though critics say the authorities 
will seek to handpick parliamentary “opponents”.

By Yulia Milenkaya and Daulet Kanagatuly in Almaty

Draft legislation setting out a framework for parliamentary democracy in 
Kazakstan amounts to little more than window-dressing, say critics of the 

The think-tank behind the bill, meanwhile, insists it is part of a reform 
programme that has been in the works for some time. 

Work on the law has been led by the Institute for Parliamentarianism, a 
think-tank attached to the ruling Nur Otan party. This suggests a high level of 
official interest in directing the process to define the terms under which 
other parties are allowed into the political mainstream. 

Nur Otan is currently the only party with seats in parliament, as the other six 
which stood in the 1997 ballot failed to pass the threshold seven per cent of 
the vote that would make them eligible. 

Analysts see the move as part of Kazakstan’s desire to produce a better set of 
democratic credentials when its turn comes to chair of the Organisation for 
Cooperation and Security in Europe, OSCE, next year. 

Other changes to legislation on elections, political parties and media proposed 
by government last November were viewed at the time as a direct response to 
criticism from some OSCE members which had opposed the Kazak bid for the 

The latest bill is being seen as the next logical step in this process. 

“Everything that’s being done in the political arena in Kazakstan, including 
the drafting of new legislation, amounts to specific steps towards Kazakstan’s 
OSCE chairmanship,” said Almaty-based political analyst Oleg Sidorov, 

An anonymous source close to the Kazak government told IWPR that the changes 
were bound up with the OSCE chairmanship. 

“The leadership realises we need to spruce ourselves up a little so as not to 
look like out-and-out barbarians,” said the source. 

Officially, however, the position is that these changes have been planned over 
several years as part of wider political reforms 

“Discussions about the need for it have been going on since as long ago as 
2007, when Nur Otan assumed power,” Janargul Kusmangalieva, deputy director of 
the Institute for Parliamentarianism, told IWPR. “If we’re talking about our 
country going down the path of democracy, then of course a future parliament is 
going to be a multiparty one.” 

Dosym Satpaev, director of the Risk Assessment Group, a think-tank in 
Kazakstan, notes that the bill follows neatly on from another change earlier 
this year designed to ensure that at least two parties will always be 
represented in the legislature. 

Under amendments approved by Kazak president Nursultan Nazarbaev in February, 
even if only one party gathers the required seven per cent of the vote, the 
runner-up will also be awarded seats under a complicated formula based on 
proportional representation. (For a report on this, see Early Polls Looking 
Likely in Kazakstan, RCA No. 567, 24-Feb-09.) 

“I think that this is simply a gradual step towards the two-party parliament 
the president was speaking about,” said Satpaev. 

Motives aside, analysts are now wondering how the authorities will achieve a 
parliament that at least looks more pluralist. 

Sidorov believes the change, possibly in the form of an early election, could 
come sooner rather than later, although he admits that “it is extremely 
difficult to make any kind of predictions about this. Astana will dictate the 
rules and present us with a fait accompli.” 

Satpaev thinks that since an election would merely result in the election of 
government-selected candidates, the authorities might cut corners. 

Holding a formal election, he said, would require a lot of funding, at a time 
when the government is short of money because of the ongoing financial crisis. 
Instead of changing the lower house or Majilis, the authorities could co-opt 
representatives of other parties into the Senate, the upper house, seven of 
whose 47 members are appointed by the president. 

Satpaev discounts the inclusion of opposition groups, saying the question is 
whether any pro-government parties that are assigned seats will be existing 
ones or created especially for the purpose. 

In any case, he said, “The second party in parliament will play only a formal 
role and will have absolutely no influence over the inner workings of 
parliament, let alone on increasing its ability to oversee the executive.” 

Although Nur Otan is notionally the ruling party with a massive membership, and 
has been involved in a number of initiatives such as the present bill and an 
anti-corruption campaign, analysts say it wields little real power since all 
decisions of substance are taken by President Nazarbaev and his immediate 

According to political analyst Andrei Chebotarev, “If you look at the political 
groups in Kazakstan, Nur Otan party from its lofty position deals with 
day-to-day issues that do not have much bearing on serious political 
decision-making.” (For more on Nur Otan, see Party Goes On and On in Kazakstan, 
RCA No. 578, 22-May-09.) 

At the same time, he said, the opposition was in poor shape. The Fair Kazakstan 
coalition set up this year united the National Social Democratic Party, the 
Communist Party of Kazakstan and the Alga People’s Party, but other players 
like the Azat Democratic Party, Ak Jol and the Auyl Social Democrats have 
remained outside it. 

Yulia Milenkaya and Daulet Kanagatuly are IWPR-trained journalists in 

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