Testimony of opposition paper editor
Received via e-mail, 27 July 2001
Testimony of Bigeldin Gabdullin
Editor-in-Chief of 21st Century Newspaper in Kazakhstan
Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives
July 18, 2001
Members of Congress!
My name is Bigeldin Gabdullin. I am a journalist, the editor of the newspaper "XXI Century", which has been closed down by the Kazakh authorities and which was earlier fire-bombed. Criminal proceedings have been started against me in Kazakhstan on charges of insulting the honor and dignity of President Nazarbayev.
I am very grateful for this opportunity to appear before members of the United States Congress. The fact that you have repeatedly shown interest in the human rights situation and the state of democracy in our country is deeply appreciated. The representatives of the opposition parties of Kazakhstan realize that everything that is said by us in Washington will become known to the whole world.
The regime of Mr. Nazarbayev fears this forum. It attempts, therefore, to prevent our representatives from coming here. I must tell you that Amirzhan Kosanov and Ermurat Bapi, who were invited to attend these hearings, were detained at the airport and their passports were seized by security officers, although these officers knew perfectly well where Kosanov and Bapi were going.
The minister of foreign affairs,Mr. Idrisov, said in a newspaper interview that these hearings are nothing but an insignificant behind-the-scenes gathering arranged by a small group of congressmen who had invited their friends and I quote his words "I would like you to understand that these hearings are not official. These are backstage hearings". Well, accordingly, it seems that all of us testifying and present here are unofficial persons behind the curtains. But those who have come here from Kazakhstan represent not Nazarbayev, Idrisov and the likes of them. We represent our people.
With me in this room are the leaders of the opposition. Every one of them has been a victim of persecution. The family of Gulzhan Ergaliev was attacked, she was beaten, her husband was crippled for life. Dzhumbai Dospanov, the leader of the opposition in Western Kazakhstan has facing constant pressure and was tried in court for his activities.
The journalist Sergei Duvanov has been deprived of the right to practice his profession because he was unwilling to tell lies and conceal the truth. Tatiana Deltsova lost her job because she reported in her news program on television about the provocations staged by the special services against Professor Masanov and Amirzhan Kosanov, who together with their families were physically sealed in their apartments with all telephone lines cut and were threatened in order to stop them from attending an opposition meeting. Tatiana was forced to leave Kazakhstan, and she is here today.
Veteran human rights advocate Karashal Asan Ata, a prominent dissident during the Soviet period, was recently tried for criticizing the President. He was charged with insulting the honor and dignity of the President. The newspaper "SolDat", which published his article, was also closed down. Ermurat Bapi, chief editor of that paper, was sentenced to a year in prison and remained free only thanks to a timely amnesty.
However, our comrade - Satzhan Ibraev - is in prison charged with preparing an armed attack. We fear for his life and ask you to help this prisoner of conscience.
The leader of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, Akezhan Kazhegeldin, has also been charged with preparing an armed insurrection. Another ten or so criminal indictments have been prepared against him ranging from non-payment of taxes to arms possession. He has been forced to live abroad for the last three years in spite of the fact that developments in his country demand his presence, since he is the most likely candidate to win any honestly conducted election.
Nazarbayev will never voluntarily agree to true and honest elections. His main goal is unlimited and permanent power. For the sake of this goal he has violated the Constitution, suppressed democracy and destroyed civil liberties. Yet for him power is not a goal in itself but a means to an end - self-enrichment. President Nazarbayev, his family and his entourage have created an un-precendented system of corruption, have helped themselves to fabulous riches, and have perverted officialdom.
I am attaching a note to this statement which explains how, when and how many millions of dollars were received in bribes and how much money was stolen from the national treasury, where and in what accounts these funds are kept, and who among the American businessmen acted as an intermediary in paying and receiving bribes and helped with the embezzlement. This is the result of the journalistic investigation conducted with the help of the true friends of Kazakhstan in different countries.
The Department of Justice of the United States is currently conducting an investigation prompted by suspicions that American companies have been paying bribes to President Nazarbayev. He was demanding bribes not only in the form of money but in planes, tennis courts and other luxuries.
It is known how sensitively Nazarbayev's regime reacted to the passage of Congressional Resolution 397 and the State Department report on human rights violations in Kazakhstan. According to information received from our allies in Kazakhstan's government circles, President Nazarbayev asked the Administration to exert influence on your committee in order to cancel these hearings. This is as hard to believe as it was hard to believe the reports that the President had asked Madeleine Albright to stop a US criminal investigation involving him as the recipient of multi-million dollar bribes. And yet, that turned out to be the truth.
We realize that only the people of Kazakhstan can secure democracy and freedom in Kazakhstan. We do not ask the United States to intervene in the political process and to bring about the replacement of the president. But we know how effective US support of democratic forces can be when they are helped to overcome an information blockade. There are no newspapers left which are not controlled by the regime. This is so because all printing facilities are under its control. Please, help create an independent printing facility in Almaty! This would allow the opposition to carry truth to the people.
The same applies to the Internet. The regime controls all providers and engages openly in censorship. The latest example: an article by Seymour Hersh, which appeared in the "New Yorker" was blocked out from the opposition site "Eurasia", because this article tells of how Nazarbayev helped sell Iranian oil and what commissions he received for this. I am, therefore, asking the United States Administration in the name of all democratic parties to create an independent Internet provider which would not violate freedom of information.
With these tools we will be able to return our country to the road to democracy. An important prerequisite for the peaceful political development of Kazakhstan is the opportunity for us all to live and engage in political activity in our own homeland. If the leader of the democratic forces Akezhan Kazhegeldin, other political figures and journalists continue to be kept out of the country, public outrage will be used by proponents of violent action. This has already happened in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It may happen in Kazakhstan as well.
The longer Nazarbayev remains in power, the greater the likelihood of violence, extremism and religious fanaticism. To those who place their hopes on Nazarbayev, who wish him well, I would give the following advice: help him depart the political arena with dignity. Nudge him toward a peaceful dialogue with the opposition and toward a democratic transfer of power. Counsel him to think of how his name will appear in history books. His children are mired in corruption, but his grandchildren are still young and innocent. He must think of them. According to news reports, the son of Slobodan Milosevic is hiding out in Kazakhstan. Where will Nazarbayev's grandchildren flee to if popular unrest breaks out? Only to Cuba, to Afghanistan, to Iran. But only as long as these remain rogue states.
I thank you for your interest and for your help in giving all of us hope that the United States of America does care about the repression and corruption that exists in our country.