Kazakhstan: Activists Appeal Runs Into Roadblocks
A court in the western Kazakhstan city of Atyrau is currently hearing an appeal in the case of two activists jailed last year for organizing rallies against land privatization plans.
In a string of suspicious episodes that echoes previous such high-profile court cases in Kazakhstan, supporters of the pair trying to travel to Atyrau have been prevented in various ways from attending. Meanwhile, Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayan, who were found guilty in November of inciting social unrest, spreading false information and disrupting public order and sentenced to five and half years in jail, failed to attend their own appeal.
Rights activist Amangeldy Shormanbayev said that on the day that appeal hearings began, on January 16, as he was heading to the airport in Almaty, where he lives, he was detained by police for having fake license plates on his car. Shormanbayev said on his Facebook account that somebody appeared to have switched his plates overnight and that the police refused to investigate the matter any further.
“I was at the auto impound lot for five hours while I sorted this out. Naturally, I was late for my flight, and it turns out that I was not alone,” Shormanbayev wrote.
Rysbek Sarsenbaiuly, chief editor of Zhas Alash newspaper, said he also missed his Atyrau flight from Almaty after he received a phone call from somebody posing as a representative with the airline informing him of a delay. Bek Air, the carrier in question, denied it had made any calls, RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service reported.
“When we got to the airport … it turned out that check-in was already over and that the airplane was preparing to leave. That is to say, the flight was not delayed at all. Bek Air told us that they sent no message and that the number from which we received the call was not registered to their company,” Marzhan Aspandiyarova, Sarsenbaiuly's wife, told Radio Azattyq.
Another Almaty-based activist, Ramazan Yesergepov, claimed he was duped in the same way and also missed his flight.
Again on January 18, Isatay Utepov and Baurzhan Alipkaliyev, two supporters of the activists, planned to take a taxi to Atyrau from the city of Oral. Independent newspaper Uralsk Week reported that the pair said they were stopped by police while they were on their way and were released only after the hearing had begun.
Bokayev and Ayan did not turn up for the appeal hearing and had to be questioned by videoconference from their cells instead.
Around 50 people did turn out in the Atyrau court in a gesture of solidarity. As the activists appeared on-screen, people in the gallery reportedly cheered and broke into renditions of the Kazakhstani national anthem. Although the hearing was open, all audio and video recordings of the proceedings were forbidden.
There was another hearing on January 18, but Bokayev and Ayan said they refused to take any further part in the trial as they believed the entire process to be unfair. This decision was confirmed by their lawyer, Tolepkali Ayanov.
“It it clear to us now that the hearing is proceedings unjustly,” he told RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service.