Armenia's Parliamentary Election and Constitutional ReferendumWednesday, July 05, 1995
This report is based on a Helsinki Commission staff delegation trip to Armenia from June 29 to July 6, 1995. Commission staff spoke with Armenian government officials--including President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, Speaker of Parliament Babgen Araktsyan, Foreign Minister Vahan Papazyan, and Senior Advisor to the President, Jirair Libaridian--and interviewed representatives of Armenian political parties, journalists, and candidates, as well as spokespersons of American non-governmental organizations in Yerevan. The Helsinki Commission would like to thank Ambassador Harry Gilmore and the staff of U.S. Embassy Yerevan, and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly observer delegation, led by Danish Parliamentarian Annette Just. Armenia had, in the most difficult economic circumtances, impressively managed to combine stability, political pluralism and economic reform. But apprehensions grew about realizing the high hopes this success had engendered. Apart from providing humanitarian and technical assistance, the United States was in a good position, through continued close interest, involvement and suasion, to help consolidate the development of democracy in Armenia.
Human Rights in TurkeyTuesday, June 06, 1995
Sam Wise, director for international policy at the Commission, led a discussion on the human rights situation in Turkey in 1995, specifically regarding Turkey’s Kurdish minority and the human rights implications of terrorism. Wise highlighted the human costs of both terrorism itself and efforts to combat it, which has mainly affected civilians. Panelists Akin Birdal and Yavuz Onen spoke of the assassinations and disappearances of prominent human rights activists, journalists and others that unfortunately became routine by 1995. Those who publicize human rights violations in Turkey faced official harassment or jail for their efforts.
Genocide in BosniaTuesday, April 04, 1995
This hearing focused on determinig if the recent ethnic cleansing, the destruction of cultural sites, and war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia constituted genocide. In particular, the witnesses and Commissioners discussed how many of the war crimes were committed on orders from the military and the political leadership.
U.S. Assistance to Central and Eastern Europe and the NIS: An AssessmentFriday, February 17, 1995
This briefing discussed the successes achieved and the difficulties encountered on the road to democratic reform and stabilization are reflected throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and evaluated the impact of these factors in the scope and tenor of U.S. assistance programs. Such programs involve assistance to countries throughout the region in democratic institution building, market reform and restructuring, health care improvement, energy efficiency, environmental policy, and housing sector reform. Witnesses testifying at this briefing addressed the relevance of the crisis in Chechnya, continued conflict in the Balkans, and tensions in various parts of East-Central Europe to United States Interests in the region. They focused on the goals of U.S. assistance to the NIS and East-Central Europe and the effectiveness of current programs in furthering those goals.
Electoral Reforms in RussiaFriday, December 09, 1994
John Finerty from the Commission was joined by Richard Soudrette, representative of the International Federation for Electoral Systems, in leading a discussion on the possibility of reforming Russia’s electoral system. Soudrette focused on the changes that were seen since the previous year’s parliamentary elections and future prospects for change. Panelists - Catherine Barnes, Robert Dahl, Terry Holcomb, Connie McCormack, and Richard Soudrette – spoke of their individual experiences with the Russian electoral system. The highlighted the successes of the International Federation of Electoral Systems programs in Russia, which focused on legal and institutional reform.
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION DELEGATION TO BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINAWednesday, October 26, 1994
The Commission delegation travelled to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo to assess the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina as the third winter of the conflict in that country approached. Specifically, the delegation was interested in local observations of the prospects for peace, international policies to enhance those prospects quickly and effectively, and the continuing humanitarian crisis that continues in the meantime. These objectives were part of a larger Commission effort to document the tragic events which had transpired in Bosnia-Herzegovina and other parts of the former Yugoslavia since that federation began its violent disintegration, and to raise public awareness of the severe violations of CSCE principles and provisions that resulted. Following its visit to Sarajevo, the Commission delegation travelled to Albania at the invitation of President Sali Berisha. The visit offered the opportunity for the Commission to observe firsthand the vast changes which had taken place in Albania since the elections of 1992, which ousted the communists from power after nearly 50 years of ruthless repression and isolation. It also was intended to show support for Albania during a time of crisis and conflict in the Balkans and, at the same time, to encourage Albania to make continued progress and avoid making mistakes which could damage Albania's image abroad. During the last stop on the trip, the delegation visited Turkey to examine issues of mutual concern to the United States and Turkey, including human rights issues, the Kurdish situation, conflict in the Balkans and the Middle East peace process.
Status of Media Freedom in DemocraciesThursday, September 01, 1994
This briefing detailed the progress of media freedom in newly democratic states, especially within Eastern Europe. The role of the media in the democratization process and methods for promoting freedom of the media were examined as well. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including David Webster, Chairman of the Trans-Atlantic Dialogue on European Broadcasting and Sandra Pralong, President of Democracy Works – detailed several major values that a free media promotes in the democratic process, including peaceful social change, education of the democratic electorate, dissenting opinions about the government and society in general, and transparency of political corruption.
Report: Human Rights and Democratization in RomaniaFriday, July 01, 1994
Romania's ongoing journey toward democracy is generally viewed, even by the government of Romania, as slower and more circuitous than that of its neighbors. Romania has certainly had farther to go; Nicolae Ceausescu's regime was the most repressive and demoralizing of the Warsaw Pact countries. Yet Romania's gloomy distinctiveness carried into the post-Ceausescu era. The Romanian revolution of December 1989 was the bloodiest of the region. The early months of 1990 were marked by confusion and tension, including violent inter-ethnic clashes. The first free elections of May 1990 were tainted by serious irregularities in the campaign period; one month later, thousands of pro-government miners rampaged through Bucharest, bludgeoning anti-communist demonstrators and ransacking opposition party headquarters. This inauspicious outset led many observers to question the prospects for reform. Many doubted the democratic credentials of the new Romanian leadership, alleging that the revolution had been "hijacked" or "stolen" Reports of harassment and intimidation persisted, extreme nationalists secured positions of influence, and popular faith in democratic institutions was shaken by discrimination and corruption. Meanwhile, the economic situation deteriorated rapidly, and in September 1991 the miners returned to Bucharest, this time to. overthrow the government they once claimed to defend. Yet Romania today has made real and significant progress in the area ·of human rights and democratization. Local and general elections held in 1992 met international standards. A new constitution was adopted, as was legislation aimed at establishing a state based on the rule of law. Efforts were made to secure parliamentary oversight for internal security forces, steps were taken to improve inter-ethnic relations, and licenses were distributed for independent local television and radio stations. The aura of fear and intimidation has dissipated significantly, and a number of domestic human rights and civic organizations are actively working, sometimes with the cooperation of state authorities, to improve Romania's human rights performance.
Crime and Corruption in RussiaFriday, June 10, 1994
The rationale of this briefing, which Commission Staff Director Sam Wise presided over, was that of a marked increase of crime in Russia. At the time of this briefing, crime had become the dominant subject in Russian politics. Unsurprisingly, the extent of crime in Russia had significant implications for its society, specifically for hte viability of the state. In fact, President Yeltsin had called crime the Russian state’s gravest threat. A question that Wise brought up in the briefing was the possibility of criminals taking over the Russian Federation’s government. Another possibility that Wise mentioned was election of authoritarian, repressive leaders who would make Russia safe. Witnesses in the briefing included Dr. Louise Shelly of American University’s Department of Justice, Law and Society, and Stephen Handelman, Associate Fellow at the Harriman Center of Columbia University.
Human Rights and Democratization in RomaniaWednesday, June 01, 1994
Romania's ongoing journey toward democracy is generally viewed, even by the government of Romania, as slower and more circuitous than that of its neighbors. Romania has certainly had farther to go; Nicolae Ceausescu's regime was the most repressive and demoralizing of the Warsaw Pact countries. Yet Romania's gloomy distinctiveness carried into the post-Ceausescu era. The Romanian revolution of December 1989 was the bloodiest of the region. The early months of 1990 were marked by confusion and tension, including violent inter-ethnic clashes. The first free elections of May 1990 were tainted by serious irregularities in the campaign period; one month later, thousands of pro-government miners rampaged through Bucharest, bludgeoning anti-communist demonstrators and ransacking opposition party headquarters. This report examines the developments in the areas of human rights and democracy in post-Ceausescu Romania.
Russia and its NeighborsTuesday, May 24, 1994
Dennis Deconcini (D-AZ) and other legislators discussed Russia’s relations with its neighboring countries. More specifically, concerning democratic reform, the hearing contrasted the economic criteria of privatization, the rate of inflation, currency emission, and subsidies to enterprises with Moscow’s policies vis-à-vis its neighbors. Of course, Russia’s neighbors are referred to as the New Independent States, and, as Deconcini argues, it is problematic when Russia militarily or economically coerces its neighbors to enter into unwanted, yet inevitable, political, security, or economic relationships.
Russia's Parliamentary Election and Constitutional ReferendumWednesday, December 01, 1993
This report is based on a Helsinki Commission staff delegation to Russia to observe the December 12, 1993 parliamentary election and constitutional referendum. Because of the importance of the event, and because charges had been leveled of improprieties and unfair access to the media, the Commission sent five staff members to Russia to observe the process for a period of more than two weeks. Michael Ochs and Orest Deychak went to Russia two weeks before the voting to monitor the pre-election campaign. The Commission's Senior Advisor, David Evans, and staff members John Finerty and Heather Hurlburt, arrived subsequently and remained through December 12, when they monitored balloting in various cities and regions. Despite a number of problems and irregularities, both during the campaign and the voting, the Helsinki Commission believes that the Russian voters were able to express their political will freely and fairly. The Russians have made genuine progress in bringing their electoral procedures into conformity with international standards, and the election itself represents a significant step in the ongoing process of democratization in Russia.
The Current State and Future Prospects of Democracy in RussiaWednesday, November 03, 1993
As its name suggests, this hearing, which Steny H. Hoyer presided over, dealt with the prospect for the implementation of democratic institutions in the former Soviet Union. In addition, though, part of the hearing focused on the Russian legislature’s dissolution after the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev (i.e. post-Communism), as well as, of course, Russia and its formerly incorporated countries’ courses for the future. Witnesses who attended this hearing were: Michael Dobbs, Resident Scholar at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute; Dr. Leon Aron, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; and Dr. Robert Krieble, Chairman of the Krieble Institute of the Free Congress Foundation.
Human Rights and Democratization in BulgariaWednesday, September 01, 1993
The Helsinki Commission's last comprehensive report on Bulgarian CSCE implementation was published in 1988. (The Commission also published a report in 1991 on the ethnic Turkish minority in Bulgaria). At that time, Bulgaria was in violation of many of its CSCE commitments. Its human rights record was among the worst of the Helsinki signatory states. Clearly, much has changed since then. Since the fall of communism in November 1989, Bulgaria has made impressive strides towards becoming a democratic state based on the rule of law. Bulgaria is experiencing a rare historical opportunity in which it can genuinely forge its own fate. Unshackled from the external Soviet empire of communist rule with which it had especially close links, Bulgaria is developing a democratic, rule of law state where the rights of all of its citizens are being met with greater respect. While Bulgaria faces considerable problems in its post-communist transition, and will continue to in the foreseeable future, it is doing much better than most of its Balkan neighbors. Moreover, it is exceeding the expectations of those who until recently viewed Bulgaria through the prism of being the Soviet Union's “16th republic” and the home of papal assassination plots and forcible assimilation campaigns. Despite its very real problems, Bulgaria is indicating that it is more tolerant, pluralistic, democratic and stable than many would have supposed.
Situations of Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and TurkeyMonday, May 17, 1993
This briefing focused on the Kurdish minority, the fourth largest nationality in the Middle East primarily concentrated in the States of Iran, Iraq, and Turkey, a CSCE signatory state. The lack of institutional protection of human rights and individual freedoms that the Kurdish minority suffers from in each of these states was addressed. Additionally, the principles of territorial integrity, self-determination, and respect of human rights were explored in the context of the Middle East. Witnesses at the briefing – including Ahmet Turk, Chairman of the People’s Labor Party and Barham Salih, a Representative of the Iraqi Kurds – offered descriptions of the historical context and the political framework in which the issue of violations of the human rights of the Kurdish minority has arisen. Mr. Salih presented his personal experience as the evidence of the process of forced assimilation that Kurds were enduring in Turkey at the time.
Situation of Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and TurkeyMonday, May 17, 1993
The briefing, introduced by Mary Sue Hafner, was another chapter in the Commission’s ongoing examination of minority issues within the CSCE and focused on the issue of the Kurdish minority, who constitute the fourth largest nationality in the Middle East, of approximately 20 to 25 million, primarily concentrated in the states of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and, to a lesser extent, in Syria. What is common to the Kurdish minority in all of the countries in which they live is the lack of institutional protection of human rights and individual freedoms. The witnesses - Dr. Mark Epstein, Ahmet Turk from the People’s Labor Party, and Barham Salih, the Iraqi Kurdish Representative - spoke of the need for recognition of human rights and self-determination for Kurdish people in the region. They provided the audience with a historical context and political framework in which the situation existed in 1993 and discussed the possibility for progress in recognizing Kurdish rights.
The Countries of Central Asia: Problems in the Transition to Independence and the ImplicationsThursday, March 25, 1993
This was the first Helsinki Commission hearing held on the Central Asian republics. The Commissioners and witnesses discussed five countries' transitions to independence, which were complicated by the presence of repressive regimes that maintained the old Soviet-style order and economic turmoil. Chairman DeConcini opened the hearing by noting that the presidents of four out of the five new Central Asian countries were former first secretaries of the Communist Party. Dr. Martha Olcott, professor of political science at Colgate University, expressed concern over the rise of extremist ideologies of nationalism and Islam in the region, which were fuelled by economic stagnation. Firuz Kazemzadeh, professor emeritus as Yale University, argued instead that the dominant threat in the region came from the projection of Russian influence. This was corroborated by Micah Naftalin, director of the Union Council for Soviet Jews, who detailed the KGB's role in silencing the press and repressing opposition in Turkmenistan, and the growth and diffusion of anti-semitism from Russia into Central Asia. A final testimony was offered by Adbumannob Pulatov, chairman of the Uzbekistan Society for Human Rights. Pulatov decried the lack of press freedom in Uzbekistan and urged Congress to continue its monetary support of Radio Liberty. In the end, all four witnesses cautioned that human rights concerns often take a back seat to other issues, and that doing so could jeopardize progress in the field.
Report: The CSCE Human Dimension Seminar on ToleranceSunday, November 01, 1992
The structure of the seminar was designed to maximize contact and dialogue among participants during the brief week in Warsaw. Modeled after a U.S. proposal, three discussion groups were designed to focus on: the role of educational and cultural institutions, as well as the media, in promoting tolerance; the role of local authorities; and legal issues and law enforcement. Two groups ran simultaneously at any given time, enabling even the smallest delegations to rotate reasonably efficiently among the different discussions. Moderators from Switzerland, the United States (Colonel Ronald Joe, Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, U.S. Army), and the United Kingdom were selected by the ODIHR to manage the three discussions respectively.
Report: Northern Ireland: Codel DeConcini Trip ReportFriday, September 18, 1992
The Helsinki Commission was urged by several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to make a contribution to the public debate on Northern Ireland. Human rights reports by well-respected NGOs such as Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch have documented persistent human rights abuses by security and paramilitary forces. Serious questions have been raised about the administration of justice as well. And to this day, issues of social and economic justice dominate the political dialogue between the two communities of Northern Ireland. Prior to its visit, the Commission was warned that, given its complex realities and historic passions, Northern Ireland often defies understanding. Nevertheless, the delegation, which in. addition to Senator DeConcini, included Commission Deputy Staff Directors Jane Fisher and Mary Sue Hafner, as well as, Mary Hawkins of Senator DeConcini's personal staff, came away with a better perception of what drives this conflict. The delegation began its fact-finding trip on the premise that any evaluation of the situation in Northern Ireland must consider not only traditional human rights violations, bu he erosion of a democratic system by terrorist activity. Indeed, the delegation viewed errorist acts by paramilitary forces from both communities as one of the worst recurring auses of human rights violations. At the same time, the delegation agreed the root causes of that terrorism should also be examined. As local religious leaders admonished, "an valuation of Northern Ireland based upon CSCE standards and principles must addres he dangers it confronts.'' This view reflected the competing interests that challening Northern Ireland today: on the one hand, efforts by one of the world's oldest democracies to promote and protect human rights and the rule of law; on the other, the need to combat a vicious terrorist movement that has taken thousands of lives.
Report: Russians in Estonia: Problems and ProspectsTuesday, September 01, 1992
In summer 1991, the Helsinki Commission examined the situation of Russians in Estonia, in the form of a chapter of a larger report on national minorities in the CSCE context. The present report is essentially an update, and was occasioned by the most significant event affecting the status of Russians in Estonia since the country regained its independence in_ September 1991. In February 1992, Estonia passed a law that restored citizenship only to citizens of the interwar Estonian Republic and their descendants. Consequently, the great majority of Estonia's Russians, most of whom came to Estonia after its forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940, did not automatically becom citizens of Estonia and could not vote in the country's first: national election after the restoration of its independent, statehood, held on September 20, 1992. Estonia's citizenship law and the resultant exclusion of about 40 percent of the resident population from voting elicited from Russians, both inside and outside Estonia, charges of discrimination and human rights violations. Russian government officials and parliamentarians protested Estonia's treatment of Russians in international forums, in the media, and in Washington and other Western capitals. Considering their allegations of human rights violations, the Helsinki . Commission sent two staffers to Estonia to talk to Russians and Estonians and Study the situation on the ground before the election and on election day. Their primary mission was not to observe the election per se and this is not an election report; in fact, the Commission believed that the Estonian election authorities were quite capable of organizing free and fair elections. Rather, the Commission hoped to examine the reasons for, and possible consequences of, Estonia's deliberate decision not to giye citizenship and the vote to. some 40 percent of the population. The following is a report of the Commission staffs investigation. Their research and conclusions are based on interviews and discussions conducted in Tallinn, Kohtla-Jarve, Sillamae and Narva. The last three cities are in northeast Estonia and are mostly populated by Russians.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to introduce a resolution that expresses deep concern about ongoing violations of human rights in Kazakhstan. President Nursultan Nazarbaev, the authoritarian leader of this energy-rich country, has been flagrantly flouting his OSCE commitments on democratization, human rights, and the rule of law, and thumbing his nose at Washington as well.
In the 106th Congress, there was a near unanimous vote in the House for a resolution I introduced voicing dismay about general trends in Central Asia. We sent a strong signal to leaders and opposition groups alike in the region about where we stand.
Since then, the overall situation has not gotten better--throughout the region, super presidents continue to dominate their political systems. But their drive to monopolize wealth and power while most people languish in poverty is finally producing a backlash. Today in Central Asia, things are stirring for the first time in a decade.
Even in quasi-Stalinist Turkmenistan, an opposition movement-in-exile led by former high ranking government officials has emerged which openly proclaims its intention of getting rid of dictator Saparmurat Niyazov. In Kyrgyzstan, disturbances in March, when police killed six protesters calling for the release of a jailed parliamentarian, were followed by larger demonstrations that forced President Akaev in May to dismiss his government. The iron-fisted Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, under considerable pressure from Washington, has made some limited concessions to domestic and international public opinion, sentencing policemen to prison terms for torturing detainees and formally lifting censorship.
In Kazakhstan, however, President Nursultan Nazarbaev has reacted differently to domestic pressure and to Washington's calls for reforms to keep repression from breeding terrorism. Since last fall, Nazarbaev has cracked down hard, when his position became a little shakier. First we saw squabbles within the ruling--or should I say, "royal''?--family burst out into the open when Nazarbaev demoted his powerful son-in-law. Then a new opposition movement emerged, headed by former officials who called for urgent reforms. Two of the leaders of that movement are now in prison. Subsequently, Kazakhstan's prime minister had to acknowledge the existence of $1 billion stashed in a Swiss bank account under Nazarbaev's name. Some of the few opposition legislators allowed into parliament have demanded more information about the money and about any other possible hoards in foreign banks.
This would be a scandal in any country. But with a consistency worthy of a nobler goal, Nazarbaev's regime has for years stifled the opposition and independent media. And as detailed in a recent Washington Post story, which I ask to be inserted for the Record, Kazakh authorities have recently intensified their assault on those few remaining outlets, employing methods that can only be described as grotesque and revolting. In one case, the editor of an opposition newspaper found a decapitated dog hanging outside her office. Attached to a screwdriver stuck into its body was a message that read "there won't be a next time.'' On May 23, the State Department issued a statement expressing "deep concern'' that these assaults "suggest an effort to intimidate political opposition leaders in Kazakhstan and the independent media and raise serious questions about the safety of the independent media in Kazakhstan.'' That statement did not have the desired effect--last week, someone left a human skull on a staircase in the building where the editorial office of another newspaper is located.
Mr. Speaker, after September 11, the U.S. Government moved to consolidate relationships with Central Asian states, seeking cooperation in the battle with terrorism. But Washington also made plain that we expected to see some reform in these entrenched dictatorships, or we would all have to deal with consequences in the future. Nursultan Nazarbaev has ignored this call. Increasingly nervous about revelations of high-level corruption, he is obviously determined to do anything necessary to remain in power and to squelch efforts to inform Kazakhstan's public of his misdeeds. But even worse, he seems convinced that he can continue with impunity as his goons brutally threaten and assault the brave men and women who risk being journalists in a country so hostile to free speech.
Mr. Speaker, against this backdrop, I am introducing this resolution, which expresses concern about these trends, calls on Kazakhstan's leadership to observe its OSCE commitments and urges the U.S. Government to press Kazakhstan more seriously. I hope my colleagues will support this resolution and I look forward to their response.
[Washington Post Foreign Service, Mon., June 10, 2002] NEW REPRESSION IN KAZAKHSTAN
JOURNALISTS TARGETED AFTER PRESIDENT IMPLICATED IN SCANDAL (By Peter Baker) ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN.
"There won't be a next time.''
The dog's missing head was left along with a similar note at Petrushova's house. Three nights later, someone threw three molotov cocktails into her office and burned it to the ground.
The political climate in this oil-rich former Soviet republic has taken a decidedly ominous turn in recent weeks, ever since the revelation that the country's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, secretly stashed $1 billion of state money in a Swiss bank account 6 years ago. As the scandal blossomed, opposition leaders were suddenly arrested, newspapers and television stations shut down, and critical journalists beaten in what foes of the government consider a new wave of repression.
What inspectors and regulators have not accomplished, mysterious vandals have. One of the country's leading television stations was knocked off the air when its cable was sliced in the middle of the night. Shortly after it was repaired, the cable was rendered useless again when someone shot through it.
"Everything that's been achieved over the last 10 years, it's been wiped out,'' Petrushova lamented.
"This political system we have is still Soviet,'' said Yevgeny Zhovits, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law. "By its spirit, by its nature, by its attitude toward personal freedom, it's still Soviet.''
The tale of intrigue emerging in Kazakhstan, while familiar across the former Soviet Union, takes on special significance in Central Asia, a region that has become far more important to the United States as it fights a war in nearby Afghanistan. The case also sheds some light on the tangled world of oil, money and politics in a country with massive energy reserves.
The U.S. Embassy and the State Department have issued statements condemning the pattern of events and fretting about the state of democracy in a country still run by its last Communist boss. But many reformers in Kazakhstan worry that the West has effectively turned its eyes away from human rights abuses to maintain the international coalition against terrorism.
"All this is happening with the silent consent of the West,'' said Assylbeck Kozhakhmetov, a leading figure in Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, an opposition party founded last year. Until Sept. 11, Nazarbayev's government worried about offending the West, he noted, but not anymore. "The ostrich party of Western democracies actually unties the hands of dictators.''
Nazarbayev, a burly, 61-year-old former steel mill blast-furnace operator, has run this giant, dusty country of 17 million people with an authoritarian style. Nazarbayev was a former member of the Soviet Politburo who took over as head of the republic in 1990, became president after independence in 1991, and continued to dominate Kazakhstan through uncompetitive elections and a referendum extending his term.
His relationship with oil companies has prompted investigations in Switzerland and the United States as prosecutors in both countries probe whether an American lobbyist helped steer millions of dollars in oil commissions to him and other Kazakh leaders.
The long-brewing questions about such transfers and rumors of foreign bank accounts erupted into a full-blown scandal in April when Nazarbayev's prime minister admitted to parliament that the president diverted $1 billion to a secret Swiss bank account in 1996. The money came from the sale that year of a 20 percent stake in the valuable Tengiz offshore oil fields to Chevron.
The prime minister, Imangali Tasmagambetov, said that Nazarbayev had sent the money abroad because he worried that such a large infusion of cash into Kazakhstan would throw the currency into a tailspin. Although he never disclosed the secret fund to parliament, Nazarbayev used it twice to help stabilize the country during subsequent financial crises, Tasmagambetov said.
In an inter-view last week, a top government official dismissed the significance of the revelation and the resulting furor.
"The so-called Kazakh-gate, the government officially explained this,'' said Ardak Doszham, the deputy minister of information. "There was a special reserve account set up by the government. It's a normal account that can be managed by officials appointed by the government. It's not managed by individuals. The money that goes into it is state money, and it's supposed to be used to meet the needs of the state.''
Asked who knew about it, Doszham could identify only three men, Nazarbayev, the prime minister and the chairman of the national bank. Asked why lawmakers were never informed, he said, "It was impossible to raise this issue before parliament because it would have elicited many questions.''
But opposition leaders and journalists said Nazarbayev finally revealed the account this spring only after they pushed Swiss prosecutors for information. The opposition and journalists said they believe the president announced the $1 billion fund only as a smoke screen to obscure other matters still under investigation by the Swiss and U.S. prosecutors.
"All around there is bribe-taking and stealing and mafia,'' said Serikbolsyn Abdildin, the head of the Communist Party and one of two parliament deputies whose information request to prosecutors preceded the announcement. "There's corruption in the top echelon of power.'' The disclosure of the $1 billion Swiss fund was designed to "fool public opinion,'' he said.
The disclosures have coincided with an escalating series of troublesome incidents for those who do not defer to the government.
Just days before Tasmagambetov's speech to parliament, Kazakh authorities arrested opposition politician Mukhtar Abilyazov, while his colleague, Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, avoided a similar fate only by fleeing into the French Embassy here in Almaty, the former capital, two days later.
After assurances from Kazakh authorities, he left the embassy, and promptly was also taken into custody. The government insisted it was pursuing embezzlement charges against the two, both founding members of Democratic Choice. The opposition called it blatant harassment.
Other opposition figures began to feel the heat as well. While independent media in Kazakhstan have often experienced difficulty in the decade since independence, a string of frightening episodes convinced many journalists that they were being targeted.
The government began enforcing a five-year-old law requiring television stations to ensure that 50 percent of their broadcasts were aired in the native Kazakh tongue, a language that in practice remains secondary to Russian here. Most television stations cannot afford to develop such programming and prefer to buy off-the-shelf material from Russia, including dubbed Western television shows and movies. As government agents swarmed in and began monitoring channels this spring, they began seizing licenses of those stations that did not comply.
Similarly, inspectors showed up at newspaper offices demanding to see registration papers and suspending those publications that did not have everything in order. Some that did not list their addresses properly were abruptly shut down. Printing houses began refusing to publish other papers, and one printing house was burned down in unclear circumstances.
Tamara Kaleyeva, president of the International Foundation for Protection of Speech here, said about 20 newspapers have been forced to stop publishing and about 20 television stations have been shut down or face closure.
"It appears the Swiss accounts are the reason for a terrible persecution against free speech,'' she said. Added Rozlana Taukina, president of the Central Asia Independent Mass Media Association, "The country is turning into an authoritarian regime.''
Doszham, the deputy minister, denied any political motivations behind the recent actions. Television stations had been flouting the language law, he said, and the government has suspended about seven or eight, and gone to court to recall the licenses of another six or seven. Similarly, he said, newspapers had been violating requirements. "The law is harsh,'' he said, "but the law is the law.''
Even more harsh, however, has been an unofficial but often violent crackdown. It is not known who is orchestrating it. Bakbytzhan Ketebayev, president of Tan Broadcasting Co., whose Tan TV station was among the best known in Kazakhstan, has been off the air for two months following repeated attacks on his cable. Even after it was repaired following the gunshots, it was damaged yet again when someone drove three nails in it. "Once it's an accident, twice it may be an accident,'' he said. "But three times is a trend.''
At the newspaper Soldat, which means soldier in Russian but is also a play on words in Kazakh meaning "that one demands to speak,'' the assault was more personal. One day in late May, four young men burst into the newspaper office and beat two workers there, bashing one woman's head so hard she remains in the hospital. They also took the computer equipment.
Ermuram Bali, the editor, said the attack came the day before the weekly was to run the second of two installments reprinting a Seymour Hersh piece from the New Yorker about oil and corruption in Kazakhstan. "This is the last warning against you,'' he said the assailants told his staff. Other journalists have been physically attacked as well.
And then there was Petrushova and the headless dog. Like Soldat, her newspaper, the Republic Business Review, had written about the scandal. Then the mutilated animal was found May 19, and finally the newspaper office was set aflame on May 22.
Petrushova suspects state security agencies were behind the incidents but cannot prove it. "The throne started to waver, and in order to hold it in place, all sorts of measures are being used,'' she said. Now she works out of borrowed offices at Tan TV headquarters, putting out the newspaper on her own typographical machine and stapling each issue. "It's just like it was in the time of the Soviet Union.''