The two faces of Tony Blair

The former PM's Faith Foundation champions religious freedom. So why is he doing deals with a despot who persecutes believers?

In the centre of Kazakhstan's new capital, Astana, jostling for attention amid gleaming skyscrapers built on profits from the country's vast oil and gas fields, a glass pyramid stands on a hill overlooking the Presidential Palace.

Designed by the British architect Norman Foster, the £36m "Palace of Peace and Reconciliation" is the brainchild of Kazakhstan's autocrat president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who commissioned a building where religious leaders from around the world could meet and find common ground.

The irony of the building's construction was not lost on local human rights activists who have documented an increasingly hostile attitude towards religious groups in Kazakhstan – and raised serious questions about the recruitment by Mr Nazarbayev of Tony Blair as an adviser to the nation.

The most serious assault on religion was unveiled this month, just days before it was revealed that the former British prime minister, who runs a faith foundation, had been taken on by the Kazakh government in a role he has not yet fully explained.

A new law, rushed through the country's parliament and announced by Mr Nazarbayev, forbids prayer rooms inside state buildings, orders all religious groups to re-register or face liquidation through the courts, bans foreigners from setting up faith groups, and severely limits where religious literature can be bought.

For Mr Blair – who set up his eponymous foundation after leaving Downing Street to promote religion as "a powerful force for good in the modern world" – the timing of the law is embarrassing and piles on the pressure to explain the exact nature of his business dealings with the regime.

The Kazakh government has admitted that Mr Blair – through his business Tony Blair Associates – has set up an office in Astana. His former spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, and former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, have also been hired for consultancy work inside the Central Asian republic which has been run by Mr Nazarbayev since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

A coalition of human rights groups has now called on Mr Blair to use his friendship with Mr Nazarbayev to encourage the Kazakh leader to make democratic reforms rather than simply polishing the image of an increasingly autocratic state.

In statements sent to The Independent, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have launched critical attacks on Mr Blair's involvement in Kazakhstan and – in particular – his silence on Astana's repression of religious communities.

"There are numerous human rights issues in Kazakhstan that Tony Blair needs to be frank about with his hosts, and one of them is the lack of religious freedom in the country," said Kate Allen, Amnesty's UK head.

David Mepham, the UK director of Human Rights Watch, said: "Blair should press Nazerbaev to lift his latest repressive measures and bring Kazakh policy into line with international human rights standards."

Mr Nazarbayev has insisted that the new religion law is necessary to combat the emergence of a small number of radical Islamists on the western edge of the nation, which is 70 per cent Muslim. But critics say the government has always been hostile to any organised religion other than the Orthodox Christian Church and a handful of approved Muslim organisations.

Born in the chaos of the Soviet Union's collapse, Kazakhstan sits on the northern edge of one of the most autocratic regions in the world. In contrast to its neighbours – in particular Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – it is a business friendly country that has welcomed international investment it its huge oil and gas resources. The country's rich elite has swollen in cities like Astana and the former capital Almaty, where Range Rovers fill the streets. This new Kazakh elite also has an increasing presence in London, not least through Prince Andrew, who counts the glamorous energy tycoon Goga Ashkenazi among his friends.

But many Kazakhs complain that they see little of this elite's newfound wealth in a country that has been condemned for its endemic corruption and lack of democratic progress. An ongoing strike in western Kazakhstan has seen thousands of workers at oil and gas facilities demand better conditions.

The state has responded with arrests and beatings. Natalia Sokolova, a lawyer who represented the striking workers, was recently sent to prison for six years for "inciting social disorder". A number of key activists have been shot with rubber bullets by unknown assailants.

According to one presidential advisor, Mr Blair has been hired to consult on "the question of social-economic modernisation" of Kazakhstan. He and potential investors will no doubt keep a close eye on the strikes if they spread.

There was no response from the former prime minister's spokesman, Matthew Doyle, who was asked to comment on whether Mr Blair was concerned about religious repression inside Kazakhstan and whether he would use his advisory role with the Kazakh government to promote democratic reforms. Mr Blair has previously released statements stating that although he has helped "put together a team of international advisers" in Kazakhstan, neither Tony Blair Associates nor Mr Blair personally are profiting from the deal.

Tony's cronies: the Blair network


The details of Mr Blair's consultancy work in Kazakhstan are shrouded in mystery. In statements released to the media Mr Blair has said he has "put together a team of international advisers" in Kazakhstan but insists neither he nor Tony Blair Associates are making a profit. Mr Nazarbayev's top presidential adviser, Yermukhamet Yertysbayev, said Mr Blair would work on "the question of social-economic modernisation of Kazakhstan". Relations between Britain and Kazakhstan are booming and the country's new wealthy elite, which includes the oil tycoon Goga Ashkenazi,below, are making London their second home.



Tony Blair Associates has a contract to provide advice on governance for "several years". The tiny oil-rich Gulf country was the first client of Mr Blair's consultancy business and the Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah, counts himself a close friend of the former British prime minister. Mr Blair became popular there after he backed the removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the invasion of Iraq.

United Arab Emirates

Mr Blair has fostered a range of business interests in the Gulf kingdoms including acting as an adviser for Mubadala, the sovereign wealth fund which invests Abu Dhabi's oil profits. Mubadala's interests included oil exploration contracts in Libya.



During his time in office Mr Blair – alongside MI6 and Foreign Office staff – was instrumental in bringing Colonel Gaddafi in from the cold. Following his departure from Downing Street he made a number of trips to Tripoli. Critics have accused him of visiting Libya to promote the business interests of JP Morgan, which hired Mr Blair as a consultant. Mr Blair has firmly denied this and said his trips to Libya were part of his ongoing initiative to improve governance in Africa. Documents uncovered in Tripoli after Gaddafi's fall show how Mr Blair flew in the Colonel's private jet twice to Tripoli, in June 2008 and April 2009. At the time Gaddafi was threatening to withdraw his country's business interests in Britain unless the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbasset al-Megrahi was released.

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam