In December the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe decided to postpone the decision on Kazakstan's bid for the 2009 chairmanship of the organization until December 2007. In October the Commission of the European Union had said that Kazakstan needed to do more to improve respect for human rights.
Freedom of assembly
In February police reportedly broke up an unauthorized demonstration in Almaty organized by opposition parties following the murder of Altinbek Sarsenbaev , leader of the opposition True Bright Path (Naghiz Ak Zhol) party. The organizers of the demonstration were subsequently brought before a court and sentenced to fines and 15 days' administrative detention.
Despite better co-operation between the government and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, Kazakstan continued to disregard its obligations under international law. Refugees were not effectively protected and continued to be at risk of forcible return to China and Uzbekistan where they were subjected to serious human rights violations.
In November UNHCR expressed serious concern for the safety of a Uighur asylum-seeker, whose fate and whereabouts were unknown since his release from detention in October. A court in Almaty had quashed the criminal charges on which he had been detained in June. UNHCR feared that he might have been forcibly deported.
Two Uighur men originally from China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) - 35-year-old Yusuf Kadir Tohti (also known as Erdagan) and 30-year-old Abdukadir Sidik - were held in incommunicado detention in China after they were forcibly returned from Kazakstan in May. The Chinese authorities reportedly accused Yusuf Kadir Tohti of "separatism" and asked for his extradition. Abdukadir Sidik had fled the XUAR in 1999 after publicly protesting against the Chinese authorities' policy on minorities. According to a letter written by Abdukadir Sidik from prison before he was forcibly returned, he was interrogated and threatened by Chinese police officers while in detention in Kazakstan.
In January the authorities denied that they had detained nine Uzbekistani nationals , including four registered asylum-seekers, in 2005. Instead they claimed that the men had been detained by Uzbekistani law enforcement officers on Uzbekistani territory. However, according to reliable sources, the nine were detained in the city of Shymkent, in the south of Kazakstan, on 24 and 27 November, and held incommunicado until their forcible return to Uzbekistan on 29 November 2005. According to reports, only two of the returned men were initially given access to lawyers in Uzbekistan; the others were held incommunicado. Two were subsequently sentenced to six years in prison following a closed trial in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in April 2006. Rukhiddin Fakhruddinov, a former independent imam (religious leader) of a mosque in Tashkent, was sentenced to 17 years in prison in September by a court in Tashkent after a closed trial.
In August the authorities released Uzbekistani national Gabdurafikh Temirbaev into the care of the UNHCR, and allowed him and his family to be permanently resettled to a third country. Gabdurafikh Temirbaev had reportedly been in Kazakstan since 1999, when he fled persecution for his religious beliefs in Uzbekistan. He was detained by officers from the security services in June 2006, reportedly following an extradition request from Uzbekistan. Gabdurafikh Temirbaev had been recognized as a refugee by the UNHCR in June after a thorough status determination procedure.
Fair trial concerns
In January Galimzhan Zhakianov, one of the leaders of the former opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakstan party, was released on parole following an appeal hearing. He had been sentenced to seven years' imprisonment in 2002 for "abuse of office" and financial crimes, but the real reason for his imprisonment appeared to be his peaceful opposition activities.
In February the bodies of Altinbek Sarsenbaev, a former information minister and ambassador to Russia, his bodyguard and driver were discovered on the outskirts of Almaty. They had been shot in the back with their hands tied behind them. Altinbek Sarsenbaev had resigned his position to join the opposition Naghiz Ak Jol party in 2003. Opposition leaders alleged that the murder was politically motivated because Altinbek Sarsenbaev had been very outspoken, particularly on official corruption.
In June, Yerzhan Utembaev, the main defendant in the trial for the murder of Altinbek Sarsenbaev, retracted his confession in court. Yerzhan Utembaev, the former head of the Senate's secretariat, claimed that he had been put under severe psychological pressure in pre-trial detention to admit to ordering and organizing the murder. Another defendant, Rustam Ibrahimov, a former member of an elite special unit of the security services, who was accused of carrying out the murder, stated in court that the charges against him had been fabricated and that he had been coerced into signing a confession. There was concern that the defendants had been presumed guilty from the moment of their detention on 22 February. On 1 March President Nursultan Nazarbaev told a joint session of parliament that Yerzhan Utembaev had already confessed to law enforcement officers and that he had received a personal letter from Yerzhan Utembaev in which the latter admitted his guilt. Opposition groups and relatives of Altinbek Sarsenbaev claimed that the defendants were "scapegoats" and that the trial was a "farce".
In August Rustam Ibrahimov was sentenced to death. Yerzhan Utembaev was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In December the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court began a review of these verdicts and of those of eight other defendants also sentenced in August.
AI country reports/visits
Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty International's concerns in the region, January-June 2006 (AI Index: EUR 01/017/2006)
Commonwealth of Independent States: Positive trend on the abolition of the death penalty but more needs to be done (AI Index: EUR 04/003/2006)
AI delegates visited Kazakstan in October.