Italy: full accountability needed in Kazakhstan expulsion affair

*‘A woman and her young daughter were whisked out of Italy on a private plane … and sent to a country where they would be at risk of persecution’ - John Dalhuisen

*Kazakhstani politician was refugee in the UK

The Italian government must investigate and make public all the facts behind the recent illegal expulsion of the wife and daughter of the Kazakhstani opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov, said Amnesty International today.

The Italian parliament is preparing to consider an internal inquiry by the Minister of the Interior this Thursday into allegations of collusion between both countries and other violations of Italian law.

Alma Shalabayeva and her six-year-old daughter Alua Ablyazova were apprehended in a house in Rome on 29 May following a police raid reportedly conducted in a search for Mr Ablyazov. There is an outstanding warrant for his arrest on fraud-related charges issued by the UK authorities, and a pending extradition request from Kazakhstan.
Following a suspiciously speedy expulsion process, on 31 May Alma Shalabayeva and her daughter were forced by the Italian police onto a private jet and sent to Kazakhstan. At the time the Italian authorities claimed there were irregularities in Shalabayeva’s documents, justifying her expulsion. However, Shalabeyeva’s lawyers have since provided evidence that her documents were legitimate. Last Friday the Italian government retroactively rescinded the expulsion order, in recognition that the forced return had violated Italian law.

Meanwhile, the Italian media have reported that former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi met the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbaev in Sardinia on 6 July, indicating a close relationship between the Kazakhstani government and influential Italian politicians. An internal inquiry by the Italian police into the expulsions is ongoing, but is being overseen by Italian Minister of the Interior, Angelino Alfano, who is also the political secretary of Berlusconi’s “People of Freedom” party.

Since being forced back to Kazakhstan, Ms Shalabayeva has been charged with having forged a Kazakhstani identification document, a criminal offence under Kazakhstani law that could lead to up to four years’ imprisonment.
Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director John Dalhuisen said:

“The repeal of Alma Shalabayeva’s expulsion order is one small step in a case that requires transparency and accountability up to the highest levels of law enforcement and government.

It is a travesty that a woman and her young daughter were whisked out of Italy on a private plane without due process and sent to a country where they would be at risk of persecution.
“This inquiry must be - and be perceived to be - truly independent. It is of great concern that the Ministry of the Interior is essentially investigating itself.
“Shalabayeva is now in the hands of the Kazakhstani government, notorious for trumped up charges against political opponents and anyone associated with them. It also has a long record of torture, ill-treatment, and flagrantly unfair trials. Any Italian official or politician involved in sending Shalabayeva and her daughter on to the risk of such rights violations must be called to task.”
Mukhtar Ablyazov was granted asylum in the UK in 2011 on the grounds that he was deemed to be at risk of persecution should he be returned to Kazakhstan.

In the past, Mr Ablyazov held various senior posts in the Kazakhstani government. In 2001 he was among several prominent politicians and businessmen who founded the political movement “Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan”. In 2002 he was convicted of abuse of office and misappropriation of state funds - charges that Amnesty considered politically-motivated - and was sentenced to six years in prison. While detained, he reported that he was beaten and otherwise ill-treated in an effort to force him to abandon his political activities.

In 2003 he was released from prison on condition that he renounce politics. He left Kazakhstan in 2009 and eventually took up residence in the UK. His current whereabouts are unknown.

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