Kazakhstan: Culture Minister Faces Sexual Harassment Accusations

Kazakhstan: Culture Minister Faces Sexual Harassment Accusations

Kazakhstan’s Culture Minister caused a diplomatic row with Kyrgyzstan earlier this year after unwittingly insulting Kyrgyz citizens working in Russia.

Now, Arystanbek Mukhamediyuly is facing accusations of sexual harassment and corruption.

The charge was advanced by a former student of the Kazakhstan National Academy of Arts (KazNAI), Enlik Sydykova, in a YouTube video posted on October 9. The young woman said that in 2011 she had been hoping to sit an entrance exam for the college but did not make it in time. Mukhamediyuly, who was rector of the institute at the time, offered to assist in resolving the problem against a $3,000 bribe, Sydykova claimed. But when she said she did not have that kind of cash at her disposal, Mukhamediyuly proposed an alternative arrangement, Sydykova accused.

“Mukhamediyuly said to me: ‘You can come over to my place, we can drink wine, dance, chat and have fun.’ I was shocked. I did not expect to hear such things from such an upstanding figure,” Sydykova said in her video account.

Despite refusing the then-rector’s alleged advances, Sydykova made it into KazNAI all the same. At a later juncture, according to Sydykova, Mukhamediyuly entered a lecture hall in an inebriated stated and forced female students to sing before him. Sydykova said she was not the only student to face harassment from Mukhamediyuly.

The accusations have been given some traction by support from KTK, a television station that, while being privately owned, tracks a typically pro-government line. Another three female KazNAI students came forward to KTK to tell their own stories. One secretly recorded a conversation with Mukhamediyuly in which he proposed they go to spend three days together in the capital, Astana. When the woman’s parents learned about the suggestion, Mukhamediyuly reportedly apologized and stopped making propositions.

The alleged harassment victims have secured the services of a lawyer, Gulnara Zhuaspayeva, who will represent their interests in a planned court action.

Some have come out in support for Mukhamediyuly, however. Some KazNAI graduates posted online video testimonies hailing their former rector and saying that he always undertook every effort to assist hard-working, talented students.

Mukhamediyuly denies the accusations and has replied with claims that he is on the receiving end of a smear campaign engineered by movie director Talgat Zhanybekov.

Zhanybekov apparently has an ax to grind.

In July, the director announced that a working project called “Phoenix” was cancelled after funding was suspended by the government. Zhanybekov claims Mukhamediyuly demanded a kickback to ensure funding was resumed.

Those accusations sparked a criminal investigation that was later suspended after no evidence was found. Earlier this month, Mukhamediyuly reportedly filed a libel suit against Zhanybekov.

Zhanybekov has rejected suggestions he is behind any smear campaign.

“There is no smoke without fire. I have [heard] about these [harassment accusations] thousands and thousands of times. There was talk of the minister’s harassment,” Zhanybekov told KTK.

The general opinion on social media in Kazakhstan is that Mukhamediyuly is being set up. Bahyt Syzdykova, a member of the lower house of parliament, said that although she thinks the minister is being targeted by an engineered information campaign, the general public will not be fooled.

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