When civic rights are against the law – the story of an unwanted petition

Potash mountains just outside the city of Aktobe
Photo: AktobeTimes.kz

"No one has the right to engage in provocation!" These are the words of Berdibek Saparbayev, the head of the Aktobe region in mid-western Kazakhstan. The statement refers to the petition attempt targeted against the enlargement of the Zhilyanka potash deposit near Aktobe, the region's capital. Saparbayev even proclaimed the organization of the petition as an "illegal activity" and "propaganda," and decided to track down the collectors of signatures.

Berdibek Mashbekovich Saparbayev is a former Minister of Labor and Social Protection of the Population and Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan. Since 2015, he has been governor of the Aktobe Region. I n June 2016, he was outraged by the public petition of Aktobe citizens criticizing the enlargement of the potash mine and enrichment plant addressed to the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

"Nursultan Abishevich, we appeal to you, as the Head of State, to Zhilyanka potash mine in the Aktobe Region."

The people turned to the head of the state with serious concerns regarding the effects of pollution on the environment and the potentials of the health of the locals in the next two generations. “Despite the economic benefits of the deposit, the damage to the environment from its development and extraction within the next 40-50 years can be incomparably higher - especially in the account of the facts that the city of Kargalinskoye is located only six kilometers away from mine and the city of Aktobe is at a distance of 10.5 kilometers. ”

The petition further describes the medical and environmental consequences. A Chinese investor has been strongly interested in the whole project.

"Nursultan Abishevich, you are gifted with the trust of a large number of people in the Aktobe region and across the country. We are sure That our hopes for your support will be heard."

In response to this civic action, Saparbayev ordered his superiors to track down the authors and signatories of the petition. "Will you put an end to this request?" he inquired.

Law-defying citizens

Unsurprisingly, the organizers haven't spoken publicly because hey fear for their own safety. In Kazakhstan, the right to create a petition is not granted by the law. Governor Saparbayev has Taken the liberty of calling this democratic principle illegal: "If, after my expression, this illegal signature collection or propaganda Continues, the law enforcement will start taking administrative Measures.  Nobody has the right to engage in provocation! Understood?"

Not entirely.

A few days later, and the meeting was held. Representatives of the region, together with activists and intrigued citizens, gathered to resolve the situation, which was aggravated by the governor's provocative statement. Aktobe residents made it clear and simple - they are not interested in the economic profit of the facility and will not be easily intimidated.

Don't go to rallies, don't sign petitions. Have things here become like communism in China?

The plans for the enlargement of the Zhilyanka potash were canceled in December 2016 and have not been revised at any time since then.

Further reading:

RUS 27/11/2015 What will be the result of the extraction of potassium salts for the ecology in Aktobe? Homeland Homeland

RUS 04.06.2016 Saparbayev threatened not bring it to justice Those Who Petition signed and against the extraction of potassium salts in Aktobe (Diapazon.kz)

RUS 05.06.2016 Berdibek Saparbayev has been threatened by the authors of the petition Against the plant construction (Infoburo.kz)

ENG 06/06/2016 Kazakhstan: Aktobe Violence Wrongfoots Authorities (EurasiaNet.org)

RUS 10/06/2016 Opponents of development in Zhilyanka: "Do they want to intimidate us?" (Aktobe Times)

RUS 02/12/2016 The enlargement of Zhilyanka has been canceled (Aktobe Times)

ENG 05/09/2017 Dangerous Work: Increasing Pressure on Environmental NGOs and Activists in Countries of the Former Soviet Union and the US (Crude Accountability)

KZH + RUS Petition against the enlargement of the Zhilyanka potassium salt deposit of the Aktyubinsk region (Original document)

ENG Aktyubinsk regional governor's office (Government.kz)

ENG The Kazakhi shadow report of Aarhus Convention on public participation implementation: Justice out of sight (Arnika.org)

RUS The Kazakhi Shadow Report of Aarhus Convention on Public Participation Implementation: ра в не в Ar Gallery