Kazakhstan: Political Crackdown Nets More Critics
A crackdown on Kazakhstan’s political opposition, activists and media critical of Astana is continuing: Less than a week after opposition leaders were jailed for rallying in Almaty without permission, more protest participants have been taken to court while other political activists face separate, more serious charges over December’s violence in Zhanaozen.Youth activist Zhanbolat Mamay was charged on February 3 with inciting social discord in Zhanaozen, a charge carrying a jail sentence of up to 12 years. This is the same charge faced by Vladimir Kozlov, the leader of the unregistered Alga! party who has been in detention since January 23, and activists Ayzhangul Amirova and Serik Sapargali. Outspoken theater director Bolat Atabayev is an official suspect on the same charge, though not yet indicted.OSCE Parliamentary Assembly human rights committee chair Matteo Mecacci has described Kozlov and newspaper editor Igor Vinyavskiy, arrested in a separate case on the same day as Kozlov, as “political prisoners” and called for their release.Vinyavskiy is suspected of calling for the forcible overthrow of the constitutional order – back in 2010. Investigators link him to leaflets confiscated that April after the overthrow of neighboring Kyrgyzstan’s president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The leaflets showed a picture of Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, with the words: “Enough of being patient. Take to the scrapheap.” After speaking at a January 30 news conference at which copies of the leaflets were shown, Vinyavskiy’s wife Lana and Oksana Makushina, deputy editor of the Respublika newspaper (long under pressure from the authorities), were questioned by the security services, Makushina told EurasiaNet.org, and agents confiscated computer equipment from the newspaper. Lawyer Sergey Utkin is also wanted for questioning but is abroad.“It turns out that journalists cannot discuss events which have public significance or have their own opinions,” Makushina said. She, Lana Vinyavskaya and Utkin had said at the news conference that the leaflets contained no call for violence.Meanwhile a crackdown on participants in a January 28 unauthorized rally in Almaty that saw three opposition leaders end up behind bars for short terms continues. Performance artist Kanat Ibragimov, poet Mukhtar Shakhanov, and activists Marat Tayzhan and Ryspek Sarsenbayuly were fined this week for participating in the protest.Skeptics point out that the timing of these three supposedly separate cases – incitement charges over Zhanaozen, Vinyavkskiy’s 2010 leaflets, and prosecutions for protesting – is suspiciously coincidental. Astana denies any crackdown.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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