Kazakhstan is an abusive dictatorship – the UK should not court it | Aigerim Dzhakisheva

Rich natural resources and trade opportunities – plus a massive PR campaign – make it easy to turn a blind eye. But I cannot

Five years ago my family was ripped apart when Kazakhstan government agents took my father, Mukhtar Dzhakishev,into custody. He has remained imprisoned ever since. After his recent transfer to a penal colony in the Karaganda region, made infamous by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, my mother, siblings and I fear for his life as much as we have done at any point during these traumatic five years.

My father was the president of Kazakhstan's state nuclear company, Kazatomprom, from 1998, when he took the company from the brink of bankruptcy and transformed it – along with the Kazakh uranium industry – into a world leader in its field. He was working to ensure an independent future for the Kazakh nuclear industry, negotiating deals with Japanese and Canadian companies – seemingly to the annoyance of Russia.

The day he was taken away he was scheduled to meet a Russian nuclear industry delegation led by none other than Russia's then prime minister, Vladimir Putin, to discuss a negotiation with Japan that had been a source of disagreement. That meeting never took place.

Instead, my father began his journey through the detention centres, camps and colonies of the Kazakh prison system. He has endured two trials conducted entirely in secret, been held unlawfully in degrading conditions, and repeatedly been denied medical treatment for potentially life-threatening health problems.

He has been convicted on politically motivated embezzlement charges that have been described as "bizarre" and is not due for release until 2023. My family maintains that on arrival at his latest colony, in February,he was severely beaten – an allegation the authorities have denied.

Raising awareness of his plight and of the continuing assault on human rights in President Nursultan Nazarbayev's Kazakhstan remains a challenge. The government of Kazakhstan is carrying out a massive public relations offensive designed to portray it as a credible, constructive player on the world stage: it emphasises its role in nuclear non-proliferation; it invites the world to the 2017 Expo in Astana; it pays staggering sums to consultants, most famously Tony Blair. But Kazakhstan's PR assault shouldn't blind the outside world to its systematic abuse of the rule of law and the human rights of its own citizens.

My father was a successful, respected and powerful public figure in Kazakhstan. He remains much admired today within the country. If he can be taken away, convicted of fanciful charges and abused indefinitely in a penal colony, then the message is clear: anyone can be. And they often are.

The opposition leader, Vladimir Kozlov is serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence: following the Zhanaozen massacre of 2011, when Kazakh authorities shot and killed striking oil workers, he was convicted on charges of "inciting social hatred." The human rights activist and lawyer Vadim Kuramshin is serving 12 years, and his supporters also report torture and abuse. The dissident poet Aron Atabek is serving 18 years. And this list is far from exhaustive.

Yet the relationship between Britain and Kazakhstan has never been closer or more profitable. Baroness Warsi commented last month, during her fifth visit to the country, "It's great to be back in Kazakhstan. The UK-Kazakhstan relationship continues to grow, with excellent cooperation on a broad range of issues." The prime minister, David Cameron, himself visited in 2013, securing trade contracts worth £700m.

Russia's assault on Ukraine's sovereignty has brought Kazakhstan further into the spotlight, with some speculation that its 29% ethnic Russian population could bring the country into the Kremlin's line of fire. On the other hand, as a member of the "Eurasian Union", Nazarbayev's dictatorship has long been one of Putin's more steadfast allies.

Nazarbayev will be seeking to leverage the west's growing strategic interest around Russia's borders while simultaneously maintaining his ties to Moscow. It is a balancing act he's performed throughout his almost 25 years in power.

As the west cultivates a cosy relationship with Kazakhstan, however, it appears to show little concern over Nazarbayev's increasingly authoritarian rule. A combination of strategic issues, trade, natural resources and a massive Kazakh PR campaign featuring high-profile, highly paid endorsements makes it easier to turn a blind eye.

I am unable to do so. My father's imprisonment opened my eyes, and the eyes of many people in Kazakhstan, to the abuse, corruption and injustice that define the regime. As the UK strengthens its friendship with my country, I hope it keeps its own eyes open to the realities of life under Kazakhstan's dictatorship.

As my father once wrote to me from jail: "There are two different things: the government and our country. I believe in my country and in its people, and I hope that I will be proud to be part of this country. But unfortunately, for the government I feel only shame."


Aigerim Dzhakisheva

The GuardianTramp

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