Kazakhstan: Activist Released Pending Appeal Hearing
A political activist recently jailed on charges of inciting ethnic strife has been released pending appeal after issuing a grovelling public recantation for his purported offense.
Serikzhan Mambetalin was freed on January 31 after serving just over a week of his two-year sentence.
“I am at home… How happy I am!” he wrote on his Facebook page on February 1.
Mambetalin’s Facebook page was regularly updated, presumably by his supporters, throughout his trial and incarceration, which began in October.
A court ordered Mambetalin’s release until the appeal is heard, but the activist has been made to sign a written undertaking not to leave his hometown, Almaty.
Mambetalin’s release came after he posted a contrite statement of repentance on his Facebook page on January 29 — a week after he was jailed along with another political activist, Yermek Narymbayev, who remains behind bars.
“The investigation gathered exhaustive evidence of my guilt,” the statement said. “Therefore I fully admit my guilt over the proof presented to me and actively repent.”
Mambetalin has changed his tune since his trial, when he strenuously denied any guilt and denounced the trial — which was condemned by international human rights watchdogs — as a “political order” motivated by his activism and his opposition to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Mambetalin and Narymbayev were found guilty on the charge of incitement to ethnic strife over Facebook postings about an unpublished book written some two decades ago by another anti-government activist, Murat Telibekov, who is under investigation on the same charge.
“I admit that I reposted this unfortunate book on my page in social networks, insulting the Kazakhs as a nation,” Mambetalin said in his recantation.
Telibekov has strenuously denied that the passage in question even came from his book.
The flimsiness of the case against the pair hints at the authorities’ deepening anxiety about the potential for growing anti-government sentiments as a faltering economy worsens the population’s living standards.
Mambetalin’s lawyer, Yermurat Mukanov, told the Today.kz news agency that he expected the appeal to be heard by mid-February.
Narymbayev, who complained throughout the trial of ill-health from a heart condition and high blood pressure, remains behind bars serving his three-year sentence.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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