Elections in Kazakhstan not free: the German government must attach conditions to cooperation

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“The German government must attach clear conditions to its planned economic cooperation with Kazakhstan,” Andrej Hunko, Member of the Bundestag, said with regard to the parliamentary elections in the Asian country. “The elections cannot be described as free, even if their technical administration was largely acceptable. Already in the run-up to the elections, opposition candidates and parties were excluded on spurious grounds. Pluralism was not ensured and the human-rights situation is also catastrophic.” Andrej Hunko served as an election observer for the Council of Europe in Kazakhstan last weekend, including in Zhanaozen.

The elections took place against a backdrop of massive repression of trade union protests in Zhanaozen in the south-west of the country. According to official figures, 17 people were shot dead by the military during unrest there in December 2011. Trade unions say that 70 people died and several hundred are still missing. One of the leaders of the protests is Natalia Sokolova, a trade union lawyer, whom Andrej Hunko visited in prison. She has been sentenced to six years in prison for “inciting social discord”.

“In view of this situation, it is a scandal that the German government is planning to pay court to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 8 February in the hope of gaining access to the country’s rare earths. The elections on Sunday have shown once again that the Kazakh government intends to continue its authoritarian course. The minimum condition for any form of cooperation must be an investigation by an independent commission into the events in Zhanaozen and the immediate release of activists like Natalia Sokolova. Their protest calling for better working conditions is legitimate and is in line with basic trade union demands. In addition, the German government must raise the subject of human rights. Torture remains widespread. Kazakhstan’s much vaunted stability can only be maintained via real democratisation and respect for human rights and social justice.”

In his capacity as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Andrej Hunko was part of an eleven-strong delegation observing the elections in Kazakhstan at the weekend. Andrej Hunko held talks with various candidates, the head of the election commission and human-rights organisations. He talked to the prosecutor general about the investigations into the repression in Zhanaozen. He also travelled to the Caspian Sea region, where in recent months there have been massive strikes and demonstrations by oil workers seeking higher wages and trade union rights.