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17 January 2023

Senior British Parliamentarians visiting Kazakhstan blocked by Kazakh government from meeting officials and Zhanbolat Mamay

6 mins

We will be holding a press conference on Friday 20 January 2023, which can be attended in person in Almaty Kazakhstan, or online. For more details and to register to attend click here.

On Sunday 15 January, senior British parliamentarians travelled to Kazakhstan to meet with government officials and civilian witnesses as part of a non-governmental human rights investigation into the detention and treatment of Zhanbolat Mamay a popular politician, journalist and leader of the ‘unregistered’ opposition Democratic Party in Kazakhstan.

Mr Mamay has been detained since February 2022 after being accused by Kazakh authorities of involvement in orchestrating the January 2022 liquid petroleum prices protests. It was reported that the government response to the protests led to the death of over 227 people in a lethal crackdown that has become known as Bloody January.

The Commission travelled to Kazakhstan after reaching an agreement with the Kazakhstan government that they would meet with government officials and law enforcement officers.

Meetings were arranged in Astana for 17 January with the Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister, Roman Vassilenko, and the Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security of Parliament, Aigul Kuspan, as well as members of law enforcement.

On the evening of 16 January, the Commission received notice that all official meetings had been cancelled. No reasons were given to the Commission.

Following a successful petition to the court, the Commission had been granted permission to meet with Mr Mamay, who remains under house arrest. On 17 January, in an apparent move in concert with the political decision made by the Foreign Office, the Court reneged on its earlier decision and revoked the Commission’s permission to meet with Mr Mamay.

The Commission had already met with Kazakhstan’s Ambassador in London prior to the trip.

Chair to the Commission, Lord Macdonald Kt KC said:

Earlier we had received personal assurances from the Kazakhstan Ambassador in London that the Commission was welcome to travel to Kazakhstan and would receive a high level of cooperation from Kazakh authorities. It is disappointing that now we are in Kazakhstan, our pre-arranged meetings with government and law enforcement figures have been cancelled at short notice and without explanation. It is even more concerning that an earlier court ruling that we should be permitted to meet with Mr Mamay has apparently been rescinded, presumably at the behest of the Kazakh government. We regard these developments as discourteous and unhelpful.

Nevertheless, we continue to meet with representatives of Kazakh civil society and individual witnesses to the January 2022 events, and to events surrounding Mr Mamay’s arrest and detention, and we are being provided with helpful evidence from these quarters. Despite the attitude of the Kazakh government, we are determined to complete our work and to produce a robustly evidenced and independent report into the treatment of Mr Mamay in due course.

I should like to thank all those who have made us so welcome in Kazakhstan for their high level of cooperation with our enquiries, which stands in sharp contrast to the behaviour of the authorities.

The non-governmental Inquiry Commission, launched in October 2022, is chaired by former Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales and Cross Bench member of the House of Lords, Lord Ken Macdonald of River Glaven Kt KC, alongside co-commissioners former Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice and Conservative Member of Parliament, Sir Robert Buckland KC MP, and Labour’s former shadow Minister of International Development, Rushanara Ali MP.

Serious concerns have been expressed by human rights advocates about President Tokayev’s announcement on live TV that he had designated the January 2022 protestors as ‘terrorists’ and ‘militants’ and had authorised law enforcement to use a ‘shoot to kill’ policy, promising to ‘eliminate’ all those that did not surrender.

During the Commission’s week in Kazakhstan, its members will meet with eyewitnesses and members of Kazakhstan’s civil society to gather evidence about the arrest and detention of Mr Mamay, and the surrounding events of January 2022. It is noteworthy that international human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty have called for Mr Mamay’s immediate release and for charges against him to be dropped.

Shortly after the Commission’s press conference in November 2022, some charges against Mr Mamay were dropped and he was released under house arrest. However, last week prosecutors suggested they would increase the seriousness of the charges faced by Mr Mamay.

Tayab Ali, Partner at Bindmans LLP who is acting in this matter, comments:

The Commission have met with many witnesses in Kazakhstan who have provided detailed testimony about the government’s response to the January 2022 events and Mr Mamay’s prosecution.

It is unfortunate that the Kazakh government reneged on its earlier agreement to allow access to official testimony and blocked the Commission’s meetings with the Deputy Foreign Minister and with the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is also deeply concerning that this morning the Court decided to revisit its earlier positive decision to allow a meeting with Zhanbolat Mamay and rescind it without good reason, blocking the Commission’s access to Mr Mamay.

There can be no good reason for the government taking this position, and it is contrary to President Tokayev’s stated ambition for Kazakhstan to meet the human rights requirements enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

Press conference

We will be holding a press conference on Friday 20 January 2023, which can be attended in person in Almaty Kazakhstan, or online.

  • 3:30pm ALMT – Almaty, Kazakhstan
  • 9.30am GMT – London, UK

For more details and to register to attend click here.


The Commission was convened by Bindmans LLP on behalf of citizens of Kazakhstan concerned about the use of the criminal process to suppress political opposition and free speech. The Commission is a non-governmental private commission.

The key areas of the Commission’s review are:

  • Investigating the use of criminal legal processes by the Republic of Kazakhstan against Mr Mamay and, where relevant, other political opponents and opposition politicians.
  • Considering material collected and provided to the Commission by NGOs, official investigators and others, which provides evidence or information on alleged violations and abuses of domestic and international law (insofar as relevant to the use of the criminal legal processes by the Republic of Kazakhstan against political opponents and opposition politicians in the course of the January 2022 demonstrations), including:
    • The events that led to the death of hundreds of individuals during the January 2022 demonstrations.
    • Allegations of torture and ill treatment of people detained in relation to the January 2022 demonstrations.
    • Allegations of suppression of political opponents and opposition groups in Kazakhstan.

The Commission will work to establish the facts and circumstances of any potential violations and abuses of domestic and international law, and of any potential crimes perpetrated (whether against domestic or international law) and will present its findings in a written report.

Bindmans LLP will support the Commission, acting as Secretariat comprising the necessary expertise to implement the mandate, including professional investigators and legal analysts.

For more information on the Commission and its mandate, visit To get in touch with the Bindmans Press Office, click here.

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