Kazakhstan: Court Upholds Land Activists Jail Term
A court in Kazakhstan has upheld a five-year jail sentence for two activists serving time for their role in organizing protest rallies in opposition to a proposed land privatization scheme.
The Atyrau court on January 20 ruled to leave Maks Bokayev and Talgat Ayan in prison at the end of a week of hearings marred by procedural irregularities. While a handful of supporters of the pair claimed that they were systematically denied the ability to attend the hearings, around 50 people did make it to the courtroom daily.
Bokayev and Ayan refused to attend the hearings in person, calling the proceedings unjust, but initially gave testimony via videoconference. From January 18 onward, they declined to participate altogether.
The appeal reexamined the basic core of the state’s argument against the two activists, which was that they were instrumental in inciting social unrest in mid-April last year by spreading unfounded rumors about the proposal to sell off swathes of land. Prosecutors argued that Bokayev and Ayan were the primary organizers of the protests in Atyrau, although their supporters have argued the rallies snowballed organically and that the pair played a peripheral role.
Independent Atyrau-based newspaper Ak Zhaiyk cited Bokayev’s sister, Zhanargul Bokayeva, who also acted as public defender for the jailed pair, as saying that on the day of the largest rally, April 24, there was already a large crowd on the main square in Atyrau by mid-afternoon, which is when Bokayev arrived. The crowd also included regional and city officials, who attempted to cool moods in the crowd.
The rally proceeded peacefully and without incident — an achievement that Bokayeva argued was partly down to her brother.
“Multiple videos of the meeting show that Maks was with every means possible trying to calm down the crowd to avoid them committing illegal acts. The 59 pieces of video footage of the April 24 meeting shown in court are proof of this,” she was quoted as saying by Ak Zhaiyk.
Ayan’s father, Tolepkali Ayanov, told RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyq, that further appeals are planned and that they were ready to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Bokayev and Ayan have been described as “prisoners of conscience” by Amnesty International, and the diplomatic missions of the United States and Canada have also expressed their concern about their case.