Kazakhstan: Opposition Leaders Jailed After Almaty Rally
More leaders of Kazakhstan’s beleaguered opposition were imprisoned after holding an unsanctioned protest rally in Almaty today.OSDP party co-leader Bolat Abilov received an 18-day sentence, and 15-day terms were handed to deputy leader Amirzhan Kosanov and the party’s Almaty boss Amirbek Togusov.“We have just left court and are on our way to prison,” Kosanov told EurasiaNet.org by telephone late on January 28.OSDP had organized the morning rally to protest against the results of the January 15 parliamentary election, won with a landslide by President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s party. OSDP won 1.7 percent of the vote, leaving them outside parliament after they failed to clear the electoral threshold. Opposition leaders and international observers said the vote was rigged. Astana denies electoral fraud.At the rally, leaders protested over the election results and demanded a fair investigation into the shooting of protestors in Zhanaozen on December 16. Authorities have announced that five police officers will be prosecuted over the deaths.Kosanov linked the leaders’ imprisonment to their public discussion of Zhanaozen at the protest, for which they did not have the legal permission required under Kazakh law. “Today we brought up what is the most painful subject for the authorities—Zhanaozen,” Kosanov said, accusing Astana of seeking “to create an atmosphere of fear” to intimidate the public.The crowd of around 500 people prayed for those who died in Zhanaozen at the end of the calm, two-hour protest. Police did not break it up, but arrested the leaders later. Activists including performance artist Kanat Ibragimov, whipped up the crowd with yells of “Democracy!”Kosanov said he believed Astana was spooked that the rally attracted young people—a rarity for opposition protests, which often attract a mostly older crowd. “The authorities want to show the young people of Kazakhstan through this punishment that they can’t take part in political life,’ he said.The jailing of the opposition party bosses comes less than a week after another vocal critic of Astana, leader of the unregistered Alga! party Vladimir Kozlov, was arrested on suspicion of inciting unrest in Zhanaozen. He faces a 12-year prison sentence. Newspaper editor Igor Vinyavskiy is also under arrest, suspected of advocating the forcible overthrow of the constitutional order.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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