Tony Blair’s Kazakhstan role has failed to improve human rights, activists say

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Situation has deteriorated since former prime minister began advising on good governance, according to Kazakh opposition leader

Tony Blair’s multimillion-pound deal to advise Kazakhstan’s leadership on good governance has produced no change for the better or advance of democratic rights in the authoritarian nation, freedom campaigners say.

At the end of Blair’s two-year contract, which lapsed at the end of October and may yet be renewed, activists said the country had actually experienced heavy reversals in civil liberties and freedom of the press during the time the former prime minister was advising the Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

“Unfortunately, over the two years that Tony Blair’s been a consultant for Astana, we haven’t seen any changes for the better, or signals of movement towards democratisation,” said embattled opposition leader Amirzhan Kosanov, pointing instead to “a deterioration in the human rights and political freedoms situation, a further tightening of the screws”.

Oksana Makushina, a former deputy editor of one closed-down newspaper, said wryly: “If Mr Blair was advising Nazarbayev on something, it definitely wasn’t freedom of speech. Over the last two years the screws have only been tightened on the media.”

Blair’s office maintains his work is a force for good in a country moving in the right direction. Tony Blair Associates said his work “focuses on social and economic reform and is entirely in line with that of the international community”.

A spokesperson said: “Of course the country faces challenges but that is precisely why we should engage and support its efforts to reform. It remains strategically and globally important and it was right that David Cameron chose to visit there earlier this year.”

Blair’s team has also raised human rights, his spokesperson said, adding that speaking publicly last year Blair “was explicit that the status quo was not an option”. Yet his office rejects the notion of a crackdown in Kazakhstan. “We simply do not agree that the situation in this regard has deteriorated.”

Since Tony Blair Associates set up in the glitzy capital, Astana, in October 2011, Kazakhstan has launched a massive crackdown on civil liberties. It began after unrest in the energy-rich west of this sprawling country in December 2011, which left 15 civilians dead when police fired on protesters.

The government blamed the opposition, jailing alleged ringleader Vladimir Kozlov amid an international outcry, closing down his party and shutting dozens of independent media outlets.

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