A court in the northern Kazakhstan city of Petropavlovsk, which lies just across the border from Russia, has sentenced four people to lengthy prison terms over a purported separatist plot.
Petropavlovsk News website reported that the court ruled on November 28 that the leader of the self-styled Petropavlovsk People’s Soviet, who was named as , Vyacheslav Zuderman, should serve nine years in prison. The remaning three defendants – Yelena Boldyreva, Madina Kaparova and Olga Berezhnova – were given seven-year sentences.
All were convicted on charges of propagating content that could undermine the state and separatism.
The accused were taken into custody in April, one month after they held a low-key meeting to discuss what they perceived as the questionable legitimacy of Kazakhstan’s government and the sovereignty of the nation, which they derisively termed the "Republic of Kazakhstan Corporation." The event would likely have gone unnoticed had the participants not filmed the proceedings and posted it on their little-followed Vkontakte page.
In one passage, one person at the gathering is heard to read the statement: “We men and women, laborers, able and free, hereby declaring our self-rule, our independence and sovereignty from the national corporation that is ‘the Republic of Kazakhstan’ … are reviving the People’s Soviet of Workers of Petropavlovsk in the North Kazakhstan province.”
In its ruling, the court opined that the accused had thereby “undermined the security of the state” and “violated the integrity and unity” of Kazakhstan.
Investigators also said they had discovered that Zuderman, the leading defendant, had at other occasions disseminated literature calling for the separation of Petropavlovsk from Kazakhstan and the reconstitution of the defunct Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.
Zuderman and his fellow defendants plan to appeal the verdict.
The severity of the sentence highlights the sensitivity with which Kazakhstan’s authorities regard any apparent expression of separatist intent, immaterial of its broader appeal among the public. Those anxieties have become especially pronounced since Russia embarked on its invasion of Ukraine, which the Kremlin justifies with claims that it is protecting the rights of ethnic Russians for self-determination.
In August 2022, a married couple in northern Kazakhstan was sentenced to five years in prison after calling for Russia to absorb their region.
The Vkontakte page of the Petropavlovsk People’s Soviet is still active and contains posts described by the court as separatist. The last post on the page was uploaded on March 23.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.