Kazakhstan: Police Crack Down on Pickets for Jailed Editor
Police in Kazakhstan have acted quickly to prevent any public gestures of solidarity with the jailed editor of an independent newspaper, whose supporters fear is being subjected to ill-treatment in prison.
On February 23, political activist Yerlan Kaliyev announced his intent to hold a one-man picket in support of Zhanbolat Mamay, who is facing accusations of laundering the proceeds of corruption through his Tribuna newspaper. But before Kaliyev could reach the headquarters of the Security Services Committee, or KNB, in the city of Almaty, he was detained by police.
Other activists, Galym Ageleuov and Askhat Bersalimov, later made it to the same building to report on Kaliyev’s fate, only to also find themselves being detained, according to RFE/RL’s Kazakh service, Radio Azattyq. Kaliyev and Ageleuov were later released, but Bersalimov has been ordered to served a 15-day jail term for summoning an unsanctioned protest.
Concern has been mounting about Mamay’s wellbeing over reports he has been physically maltreated since being taken into custody on February 10.
A independent committee known as the national mechanism for the prevention of torture stated on February 23 that it had visited the detention facility where Mamay is being held and found that there was indeed apparent evidence of abuse in the prison.
“It has been established that the safety of the detainee was indeed not observed as required,” the committee said in a statement after meeting with Mamay and his lawyer. “In part, he faced psychological and physical intimidation by those with him in the same cell, who were people with multiple convictions.”
Rights activists argue that investigators habitually place suspects in cells with other dangerous prisoners as a form of intimidation.
“We found that Mamay was attacked in the cell where he was kept. The use of physical violence against him only ceased after the issue had reached the attention of the general public,” Mamay’s lawyer, Zhanara Balgabayeva, told reporters.
Members of the anti-torture committee argued at a press conference revealing their findings that Mamay should be transferred to another cell for his safety.
Investigators have flatly denied any assault took place. Information Minister Dauren Abayev said on February 24 said that according to briefings from the Almaty city prosecutor’s office, there were no confirmed instance of any beatings and that no wounds had been found on Mamay’s person.
One of Mamay’s most vocal defenders, journalist and long-time government critic Guljan Yergaliyeva, dismissed the substance of the charges being leveled at the editor, which center around claims he used his paper to launder money allegedly embezzled by another seasoned opposition figure, the self-exiled businessman Mukhtar Ablyazov.
“The newspaper was in a terrible financial state. I personally lent [Mamay] funds when, in the days before publication in 2014, he was going around looking for money. He only returned these loans in installments. Would he really have to do that if he was taking money from Ablyazov?” Yergaliyeva was quoted as saying by Radio Azattyq.