Education: higher, graduate of the Kazakh State Kirov University, department of journalism. Anchored a political program called “NEP” (New Economic Policy), headed the News section.
At the beginning of 2020, A. Asan worked as a staffer with “Zhas Alash” newspaper for about a month, but prior to that he had been a regular freelance author for this popular publication, doing weekly reviews and writing articles. Zhas Alash, a newspaper with a countrywide distribution, is an independent Kazakh-language newspaper with a focus on political and societal issues, boasting a long history. The newspaper is known for its independent coverage of the actions of the government authorities.
On 5 March 2020, Mr. Asan was questioned as a witness at the Almaty Medeu district police department. The reason for the questioning was Mr. Asan’s article, published by Zhas Alash on 20 February 2020, titled “If the day comes when the ex-President is put on the Interpol’s “Wanted” list,” in which the author described an “authoritarian regime” that has been built by the ex-President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Following the questioning, a pre-trial investigation has been initiated into Mr. Asan under article 174, part 1 of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan, “Inciting social, national, tribal, racial, class or religious discord,” which provides for a penalty in the form of restriction of freedom for a term of two up to seven years, or an imprisonment for the same period of time. The prosecutors made it a point to put the emphasis on the incitement of class discord.
Mr. Asan denies the charges and claims his professional activity as a journalist is the reason for the investigation. He noted that in writing his article he used commonly-knowledge material and well-known facts that had been made public on multiple occasions in the past.
In Mr. Asan’s article, he speaks about how “human rights are being violated” in Kazakhstan, how “there are no institutions that are protecting the public interest,” and notes that “all of this is the result of a kleptocratic authoritarian regime created by the ex-President.” The articles goes on to describe “Kazakhgate” – an investigation in the United States in which the US authorities had accused Mr. Nazarbayev of pressuring a number of oil companies in the 1990s into paying him bribes, while his ex-advisor, an American named James Giffen, faced an accusation of bribing Kazakhstan’s top leadership in exchange for access to rich deposits of hydrocarbons. In 2010 the “Kazakhgate” case was finally buried in the United States, Mr. Giffen had admitted to committing a minor tax violation and a single case of bribe, and walked free. The tens of millions of illegally gained US dollars that had been arrested in the Swiss banks ended up being sent to charity—such as “Bota,” a charity foundation that was created to finance various social projects. “Common folk are in serfdom to the banks over loans and credits, while the “nazarbayevs” of this world are on the Forbes lists, shopping for famous historical objects and expensive real estate in Europe,” the article goes on to say.
Mr. Asan’s article was published in Zhas Alash at the time when it was headed by Ms. Inga Imanbay, the wife of Zhanbolat Mamay, leader of the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan. Ms. Imanbay had been in that position for six weeks. In late February 2020, she was released of her editor-in-chief duties by a decision of the newspaper’s founder. Ms. Imanbay asserts that her dismissal was linked to the pressure from the authorities toward the founder of the publication, Ms. Saltanat Atusheva, the widow of opposition politician Altynbek Sarsenbayev, who was murdered in 2006. After Ms. Imanbay’s dismissal, several correspondents left the publication, Mr. Asan among them.
Legal assistance to A. Asan, by the support of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, is providing by lawyer Asem Tusupova.
According to Mr. Asan’s attorney, a state expert examination was conducted during the pre-trial investigation to see if his article indeed contained the elements of an incitement of class discord. The expert examination concluded that the article contained no such elements. An independent examination was also carried out, and came to the same conclusion. On that basis, Mr. Asan’s attorney filed a motion for the pre-trial investigation to be dropped. The final results of the pre-trial investigation are expected to be released soon.
Despite the possible termination of the pre-trial against Ms. Asan, there is still a risk of him being persecuted, this time under article 373 of the Criminal Code, titled “Publicly insulting or otherwise infringing upon the honour and dignity of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan—Elbasy, desecrating the images of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan—Elbasy, obstructing the lawful activity of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan—Elbasy” – a possibility that both Mr. Asan and his attorney fear could be very real.
Human rights activists do not see how the personality of the ex-President (even if taken together with his family) can be linked to a “class” – a notion in respect of which there could be a possibility of “inciting discord.”
The international human rights organizations have repeatedly called upon the Kazakh authorities to specify more precisely the wording of Article 174 of the Criminal Code, “Inciting social, national, tribal, racial, class or religious discord,” noting that this article has often been used for arbitrary criminal persecution of activists and other citizens, in violation of international human rights standards.
It is also noted that during President Nazarbayev’s nearly 30 years in power, several people, including journalists, have been subjected to criminal prosecution on the grounds of insulting the honour and dignity of the President, after material critical of him was published. Several people have been subjected to prison sentences.
Nowadays, when Mr. Nazarbayev has officially vacated his post, the Criminal Code still has a different “political” article 373, “Publicly insulting or otherwise infringing upon the honour and dignity of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan—Elbasy, desecrating the images of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan—Elbasy, obstructing the lawful activity of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan—Elbasy,” which also provides for imprisonment of the critics of the first President of Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
1 June 2020