Prison hasn’t prompted a Kazakh journalist to drophis reformist politics, RFE-RL reports.
Released from jail yesterday, Igor Vinyavsky (right), editor of the independent “Vzglyad” (Viewpoint) newspaper, was jailed in January after visiting the southwestern town of Zhanaozen, where at least 16 people were shot dead by police in December, during an oil workers’ strike.
European parliamentarians yesterday condemned the crackdown on workers demanding unpaid wages, called for an independent investigation into the events and demanded that Kazakh authorities give assurances for the safety of arrested activists’ families.
The EU’s diplomatic corps, the External Action Service, should monitor the forthcoming trial of accused activists, said the European Parliament resolution, which also stipulated that negotiations on a new agreement updating EU-Kazakh economic links “must depend on progress of political reform.”
A former lawyer for the oil workers, Natalya Sokolova, was unexpectedly released on parole last week. But the authorities have banned her from “civic” activity and holding office in a public association for three years. Sokolova was found guilty of “inciting social discord” and “participating in illegal gatherings,” but her six year prison sentence was commuted to a three year suspended sentence.
The dispute may indicate that the social compact underpinning Kazakhstan’s authoritarian is starting to fray, some observers suggest.
As in the Arab Spring, the oil workers’ grievances were “no longer about money,” said one observer. “It was about dignity.”
The socio-economic grievances that emerged in the Zhanoazen dispute could yet generate political unrest and force the regime into a political dilemma.
“We can expect future unrest in the oil-rich western provinces, and in some big factories, if economic difficulties lead to a reduction in state budgets for workers in these industries,” says Andrei Grozin Moscow-based central Asia director at the official Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
“Kazakh authorities have permitted a dissident theater director to stage a play that indirectly addresses the problems in the police in mid-December,” RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reports:
Theater director Bolat Atabaev said all money raised by “Avalanche,” which was staged on March 14 in Almaty, would be sent to families of victims of the Zhanaozen shootings. The play was allowed to be performed, even as Kazakh authorities continue to prosecute activists who are calling for investigations into the Zhanaozen bloodshed.
Atabaev has himself recently been charged with “inciting social hatred” in connection with the Zhanaozen events. “Avalanche” is about a remote village in the mountains, where locals live in constant fear of an avalanche. Life in the village is portrayed as an unending effort to avoid any action that could provoke a deadly avalanche.
Atabaev last month was awarded the Goethe Medal from Germany’s Goethe Institute. The prize, an official German decoration honoring non-Germans, was given for Atabaev’s contribution to cooperation between the German and Kazakh theaters.