David Cameron under pressure to raise human rights in Kazakhstan

Mr Cameron will be the first serving British Prime Minister to visit the former Soviet republic

David Cameron has been challenged to stand up to Kazakhstan's authoritarian leader over “deteriorating” human rights during his forthcoming visit to the former Soviet republic.

Ahead of his trip to the oil-rich state in the coming days, Human Rights Watch urged the Prime Minister to confront Nursultan Nazarbayev over “credible allegations” of abuses including torture in the past 15 years.

Mr Cameron will be the first serving British Prime Minister to visit Kazakhstan, as he continues to make boosting trade a key plank of  his Government’s foreign policy.  The trip is intended to cement commercial and political links with the Central Asian republic, which has huge reserves of gas and oil. A series of  deals covering energy and transport are expected to be signed. Downing Street also hopes to rubber-stamp agreements to transport tonnes of military equipment through Kazakhstan as part of the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan next year.

But the summit has been overshadowed by a political row before Mr Cameron sets foot in Kazakhstan, as human rights groups demand that he takes the opportunity to stand up for the rights of ordinary Kazakhs who, they claim, are being oppressed by Mr Nazarbayev, a former Communist Party chief. Tony Blair has already faced criticism over his links to the regime. His foundation has a multi-million pound contract advising its government on political and economic reform.

Human Rights Watch called on Mr Cameron to ensure that his visit is not dominated by trade and politics alone. The group has presented him with a catalogue of alleged abuses perpetrated under Mr Nazarbayev. In a letter to the Prime Minister, David Mepham, the group's UK director, and Hugh Williamson, its  executive director, urged him to “take the opportunity to press strongly on a range of human rights concerns”.

“(We) have been documenting human rights abuses in Kazakhstan for 15 years,” the letter added. “We are very concerned about the serious and deteriorating human rights situation, including credible allegations of torture, imprisonment of government critics, controls over the media and freedom of expression.”  The group has demanded an inquiry into the allegations.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “When the Prime Minister goes abroad, he has full and frank discussions with foreign leaders. Where the UK has concerns about human rights or other issues, he doesn't hesitate to raise them.”

Mr Nazarbayev invited Mr Cameron when they met at the Olympics in London last summer.

Kazakhstan’s human rights record is seen as better than that in some neighbouring countries, such as Uzbekistan. But opposition political leaders have been jailed and independent media outlets shut down. In 2011, clashes in the city of Zhanaozen between striking oil workers and police resulted in police shooting dead at least 15 people.

Pressure groups claim  western leaders have been reluctant to criticise Mr Nazarbayev over human rights because of  his country’s huge reserves of natural resources. It is also the world's largest producer of uranium.

In the 1990s, after independence from the Soviet Union, a small minority of Kazakhs became rich through privatisation and other business deals which opposition politicians claimed were corrupt. Many Kazakhs suffered from the initial impact of economic reform. But after growth since 2010, inequality is now less pronounced than in other countries in the region, and unemployment is relatively low.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

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 General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk