06ASTANA651, KAZAKHSTAN: AUTHORITIES EXECUTE SURPRISE DEMOLITION OF HARE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06ASTANA651 2006-11-24 02:38 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO7386
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #0651/01 3280238
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 240238Z NOV 06
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7761
INFO RUEHAST/USOFFICE ALMATY
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0400
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0432
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 1647

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ASTANA 000651 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR SCA/CEN (M. O'MARA), DRL/PHD (C. KUCHTA-HELBLING) 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL KZ
SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTAN: AUTHORITIES EXECUTE SURPRISE DEMOLITION OF HARE 
KRISHNA HOMES 
 
REF: ALMATY 3143 
 
ASTANA 00000651  001.2 OF 003 
 
 
1. (U) Summary:  On the afternoon of November 21, local officials in 
the Karasai district near Almaty blockaded a Hare Krishna commune, 
forcibly evicted residents from their homes, seized their personal 
possessions, beat and arrested several Hare Krishna followers, and 
demolished 13 homes.   Karasai district officials carried out the 
demolitions despite the fact that a special Ministry of Justice 
commission organized to evaluate the situation has yet to issue its 
findings.  End summary. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
AUTHORITIES AGGRESSIVELY EXECUTE SURPRISE DEMOLITION 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
 
2. (U) The Karasai district akim and his officials escalated their 
long-running land dispute with the Hare Krishnas on November 20, 
when an unidentified official served court documents on a security 
guard at the Hare Krishna commune.  The documents were from the 
Karasai District Court, and demanded that the owners of 13 homes in 
the commune destroy their homes, or they would be destroyed by the 
government at the expense of the owners.  The documents did not 
specify a deadline. 
 
3. (SBU) The next afternoon at approximately 1 p.m., several 
bulldozers, trucks, and three buses full of riot police arrived at 
the commune.  The Karasai district akim and several court officials 
were also present.  Govinda Swami, a leader of the Hare Krishna 
community, told Poloff that the police blocked all outside access to 
the area and cut electricity.  The police were instructed by the 
court officials not to speak with the residents. (Note: Govinda 
Swami, an American citizen, leads the Hare Krishnas' effort to 
defend their land.  On November 8, he left Kazakhstan on a short 
trip to India to generate support for their cause and conduct other 
business.  His Kazakhstani visa expired a few days ago, and he 
expects to have difficulty obtaining a new one.  He has maintained 
close telephone contact with his fellow Hare Krishnas at the 
commune. End note.) 
 
4. (U) The police then began aggressively removing people from the 
targeted homes.  According to Govinda Swami, several Hare Krishnas 
were beaten or roughed up by police when they resisted or protested, 
though none was seriously injured.  He reported that two or three 
commune residents were arrested for resisting, and taken away by 
police.  The police removed furniture and large possessions from the 
homes and put them in trucks, informing the residents that the items 
would be destroyed.  Clothing and other smaller possessions were 
tossed into the snow.  Thirteen houses were then demolished. 
 
5. (SBU) Ninel Fokina, head of the Almaty Helsinki Committee, and 
Andrey Grishin, a reporter associated with the Kazakhstani 
International Bureau of Human Rights, evaded the police blockade and 
witnessed some of the demolitions.  Both Fokina and Grishin 
confirmed the account from Govinda Swami.  Grishin said that he 
personally witnessed the police attacking a few Hare Krishnas with 
their fists when the Krishnas resisted the eviction. 
 
--------------------------------------- 
AUTHORITIES BLOCK, THREATEN JOURNALIST 
--------------------------------------- 
 
6. (SBU) Grishin took multiple photos of the incident.  When police 
spotted him taking photos, they chased him and seized his camera and 
journalist credentials.  They returned his camera a half-hour later, 
minus its flash card and batteries.  Nonetheless, most of Grishin's 
photographs survived in the camera's internal memory, and he plans 
to publicly release them.  Grishin reported that after the police 
returned his camera, the Karasai district akim approached him and 
said he would "gouge out your eyes" if he saw Grishin taking 
photographs again.  Grishin reported that the police also seized 
several cameras owned by commune residents. 
 
7. (U) The authorities completed their work around 6 p.m., and 
lifted the blockade at approximately 7 p.m.  The surviving homes 
remain without power and heat as a result of the demolition 
activity. 
 
------------------------ 
ACTION SURPRISES ASTANA 
------------------------ 
 
8. (U) The Hare Krishnas were surprised by the police action in part 
because a special commission appointed by the Ministry of Justice to 
evaluate the situation had not yet published its findings (reftel). 
Amanbek Mukhashev, deputy chairman of the Religious Issues Committee 
 
ASTANA 00000651  002.2 OF 003 
 
 
in the Ministry of Justice, is chairman of the commission, and 
promised that all legal actions against the Krishnas' property would 
be suspended pending publication of the commission's findings. 
 
9. (SBU) The Ministry of Justice created t
he commission after the 
Kazakhstani Supreme Court ruled against the Hare Krishnas on August 
24 (reftel).  At the time, the Hare Krishnas charged that the 
commission was a mere smokescreen to deflect criticism of the 
government on the eve of the highly publicized Congress of World 
Religions, held in Astana on September 12-15.  Nevertheless, the 
Hare Krishnas agreed to participate in the commission process. 
 
10.(SBU) In subsequent conversations with Poloff, Govinda Swami 
characterized the commission as incompetent and subjective, and said 
that he did not expect a positive result.  According to Govinda 
Swami and several media reports, Mukhashev stated publicly during 
some of the commission meetings that he already believed the dispute 
was purely legal in nature, and had nothing to do with the religious 
beliefs of the Hare Krishnas. (Note: Though most observers believe 
the Karasai district government's long campaign against the commune 
is essentially a heavy-handed attempt to confiscate valuable real 
estate, various local officials have criticized and attempted to 
undermine the Hare Krishnas as an illegitimate and threatening 
religious group.  End note.)  Despite their doubts about the 
sincerity of the commission, the Hare Krishnas believed that Karasai 
district officials would not take action pending the outcome of the 
commission process, and even then the Krishnas were planning further 
legal appeals. 
 
11. (SBU) According to Govinda Swami, Mukhashev denied any knowledge 
of the planned demolitions when called by Krishna representatives 
during the incident, acknowledged that the commission had not yet 
publicized its findings, and expressed anger about being bothered 
while on vacation.  Pol FSN contacted Kayrat Tolesov, another deputy 
chairman of the Religious Issues Committee, about the demolitions. 
Tolesov indicated he knew nothing about the issue, but was currently 
studying it.  Swami reported that Krishna supporters made efforts to 
contact other Religious Issue Committee officials, but none of them 
were aware of the planned demolitions, and in fact asked the 
Krishnas to talk to Karasai akimat officials and then report back to 
the Religious Issues Committee. 
 
-------------- 
THE AFTERMATH 
-------------- 
 
12. (SBU) The Hare Krishnas reported that government officials did 
not return to the commune on November 22, and residents were in a 
process of trying to salvage their possessions and clean up the 
mess.  Govinda Swami reports that the Hare Krishnas plan an 
aggressive public relations campaign both within and outside of 
Kazakhstan.  The Hare Krishnas have already contacted the human 
rights ombudsman and other human rights activists in Kazakhstan. 
Supporters outside of the country plan to approach Kazakhstani 
embassies in various capitals, and in some cases planned protest. 
Swami said he expects several hundred protesters to greet President 
Nazarbayev when he opens the London Stock exchange on November 22 in 
London. 
 
13. (SBU) Rumors persist that Bulat Nazarbayev, brother of President 
Nazarbayev, is behind the land-grab.  The Nazarbayev's native 
village of Chemulgan is located nearby. 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
14. (SBU) Comment:  The heavy-handed tactics of the Karasai district 
authorities will likely cause embarrassment to the national 
government in Astana, and were likely conducted without Astana's 
full knowledge.  Karasai authorities clearly acted without regard to 
the special commission,  bolstering allegations that the commission 
was intended only as a smokescreen during the recent Congress of 
World Religions.  The local authorities' willingness to take such 
reckless action, without regard to the impact on Kazakhstan's 
international image, will also fuel speculation that a powerful 
figure is behind the effort to take the Hare Krishnas' land. End 
comment. 
 
------------------- 
SUGGESTED STATEMENT 
------------------- 
 
15. (SBU) Posts suggest the following language for any statement or 
comment issued by the State Department: 
 
 
ASTANA 00000651  003.2 OF 003 
 
 
 
The United States is disappointed by the decision of Karasai 
district authorities to demolish several homes at the Hare Krishna 
commune outside of Almaty on November 21. 
 
Homeowners were left in the cold, and many of their possessions were 
destroyed.  The remaining residents are still without electricity 
and heat. 
 
We have several concerns regarding the legal basis for the actions 
against the Hare Krishna community.  Regardless of the merits of the 
underlying case, however, the sudden and forceful eviction of 
homeowners in freezing temperatures, and the destruction of their 
possessions, is inconsistent with principles of due process and 
fairness.  It is particularly disturbing that the authorities chose 
to take such drastic action before the special commission charged 
with finding an equitable solution to the situation had issued its 
recommendations. 
 
The United States government urges the Karasai district authorities 
to refrain from any further aggressive actions against the Hare 
Krishnas, and to work toward a fair, lawful, and peaceful resolution 
of the ongoing legal dispute. 
 
 
ORDWAY

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