QR Briefing: Week of 1/23/23
Author: Richard Spooner
Jan 26, 2023
CPC's new feature, QR Briefing, is a summary and analysis of events and trends in the Republic of Kazakhstan (RK). With the decision to switch Kazakh language to a Latinized alphabet, which will be implemented in stages from 2023-2031, the country's name is now being rendered as Qazakstan, and Qazak Republic (QR) is gaining momentum, especially among young people, as a new acronym for the country, replacing RK, to resonate with President Tokayev's rebranding of the country as Jana (new) Qazakstan.
Participants in January Disturbances Released Directly from Courtroom in Atyrau
In Kazakhstan’s western city of Atyrau, which is center of the country’s oil industry located and in close proximity to the town of Zhana Ozen, and was epicenter of last year’s protests and disturbances, 27 defendants detained during the so-called ‘January Events’ were charged on 10 counts that included rioting, causing bodily harm to police officers, and theft of weapons. According to the case materials, some were involved in burning and looting municipal buildings, while others used social media to call other citizens to the streets. At sentencing, Judge Zarema Khamidullina stated, “The defendants all recognized their guilt, did not challenge any of the evidence, and cooperated with the investigation.” Khamidullina added that after examining all the evidence presented, certain charges against some of the defendants were dropped. In the end, two defendants were amnestied, 17 were released for time served and eight more received suspended sentences.
As a result, all were free to leave straight from the courtroom. This has been a common occurrence as trials for the January Events come to court in cities across the country.
On November 2 of last year President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a law on amnesty and reduced sentences for participants in the January Events, impacting about 1,500 Kazakhstanis. The legislation was first announced in October by Deputy Prosecutor General Asset Chindaliyev and adopted by the Mazhilis on October 19. Cases against numerous participants charged with certain crimes of less-than-severe gravity were dropped, while those who had already been convicted of such infractions were released from detention with their records expunged. Some Kazakhstanis convicted of more serious crimes had their court sentences reduced by three-quarters or half. In addition, convicted citizens who had less than one year remaining on their sentences were released for time served.
Persons charged with or convicted for organizing riots, extremism, treason, torture, or sexual abuse are not subject to amnesty. Thus, the amnesty provisions will not apply to the principal defendants involved in organizing riots or to those accused of treason and attempted violent seizure of power.
Investigators Recognize 29 Law Enforcement Officers as Suspects in Torture Cases
Tragic consequences of the January Events, or simply Kantar, as they are now called inside the country (kantar is Kazakh for January), included 230 deaths. The toll in Almaty, where the most serious violence occurred, was 139 civilians plus 19 police officers and soldiers of the National Guard. Another disturbing aspect of the troubles involved charges of abuse and torture of detainees by law enforcement officers. On November 7, Yeldos Kilymzhanov of the Prosecutor General’s office announced that cases for “use of unlawful methods of investigation” have been brought against police officers or Ministry of Internal Affairs investigators in Taldykorgan, Almaty, and other cities of Kazakhstan. In his remarks, Kilymzhanov did not use the word ‘torture.’ The total number of victims has not been reported, although hundreds of citizens detained after the January Events have declared that they were subject to violence while in detention. Authorities initially denied that torture had occurred, until evidence caused them to recognize that ill-treatment of people in custody had in fact taken place. Victims and their families complain about a lack of progress with their cases, with attorneys citing slow preparation of cases by prosecutors. Kazakhstan's human rights ombudsman, Elvira Azimova, estimated in November that 80 percent of such cases had already been dismissed.
Former President, Nursultan Nazarbayev Underwent Successful Heart Surgery on January 20
January 20, Astana, Kazinform: The first President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, underwent successful heart surgery today at the National Scientific Cardiac Surgery Center in Astana. This was announced on Twitter by his press secretary, Aidos Ukibai. “There is no threat to the life of the First President. He is now under observation.”
On January 23, Nazarbayev was discharged from the National Scientific Cardiological Center in Astana, a source among medical circles in the capital told RIA Novosti. Later, Kazakhstan cardiac surgeon Yuri Pya issued a clarification that the former president, 82, had undergone a planned medical and diagnostic procedure which, by international medical standards, is considered minor.
Water Usage Tariffs to Change in Kazakhstan
Agriculture is recognized as a crucial engine for Kazakhstan’s future economic development. Modern technologies for crop production, including precise mechanized irrigation, will be key to increased harvest yields and efficient water-resources management. One important issue that must be tackled is the country’s wasteful system of water distribution. The introduction of a comprehensive system of tariffs will be essential to that effort.
Agriculture is responsible for approximately 65% of water consumption in Kazakhstan, while water supply depends on agreements with neighboring countries like China and Uzbekistan. The government has adopted a plan to significantly increase the volume of irrigated land. All the above factors point to the importance of introducing modern water saving technologies, and a key part of that is making Kazakhstan’s farmers recognize the value of water.
A proposal addressing these issues has been developed by the Ministry of Ecology and was announced January 23. “Currently there are 3,440 water supply systems in the Republic. Water is delivered to farms through these systems. At one time, water-supply systems were in communal ownership, so many of them were not included in the current water tariff system, and current tariffs do not provide funding for their maintenance. In this regard, we are sending our proposals to the relevant government agencies. We think that a fair water tariff will be approved next year,” Ministry official Yerbol Salikhbayev told reporters during a briefing.
According to him, reservoir maintenance is an essential issue. The speaker also noted that salaries for water management specialists are low. “Water industry workers are among the lowest paid in the country. Therefore, if we do not solve these problems through tariffs, there is no other way to succeed in our plans,” said Mr. Salikhbayev.
Many farmers in Kazakhstan are not accustomed to paying for water, which contributes to wasteful practices. In addition, the irrigation-canal system desperately needs to be modernized and water pumping stations need renovation. Realizing Kazakhstan’s ambition to increase harvest yields while reducing water expenditures will depend on active intervention by the government to finance needed infrastructure and incentivize investment by the private sector.