Kazakhstan Prevents Protest as UN Rapporteur Visits
Kazakhstan’s authorities have taken a hard line against would-be protesters, rounding them up and throwing them in police cells to prevent them attending a public meeting in defense of a hard-hitting current affairs magazine that has been closed down.
The arrests came in the middle of a visit to Kazakhstan by a UN rapporteur to monitor how Astana upholds the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
Police arrested Guljan Yergaliyeva, the editor-in-chief of the Adam Bol outlet (who is on hunger strike in protest at the closure of her magazine), editors Ayan Sharipbayev and Miras Nurmukhanbetov, and prominent freedom of speech activist Rozlana Taukina as soon as they set off to attend the event on Almaty’s main Republic Square January 23.
“I understood [the police] were waiting for me, but I still intended to go and I went out to go and meet our readers, but our car was forcibly stopped and I was forcibly dragged out [by police officers],” Yergaliyeva said in a video address posted on Facebook after her release.
“They break the law themselves, they repress us,” added Yergaliyeva, who is on the sixth day of a hunger strike in protest at the closure of her magazine last November on the grounds that its reporting on Ukraine contained calls for war or violence.
The action, billed as a meeting between Yergaliyeva and her readers rather than a protest, took place in her absence, with around a dozen activists gathering at Almaty’s Monument of Independence. A prosecutor soon appeared in full uniform to warn them they were breaking Kazakhstan’s stringent public assembly laws, which require protesters to seek permission for gatherings 10 days in advance.
The participants responded with chants of “Adam Bol,” which means “be a person” in Kazakh.
“It’s lawlessness! It’s illegal – that’s obvious,” activist Marzhan Aspandiyarova told EurasiaNet.org, referring to the prosecutor’s warning. “There are peaceful people gathered here. […] There are no violations of public order. People aren’t chanting anti-government slogans. People aren’t engaged in any anti-constitutional actions.”
The meeting dispersed peacefully, and the four detainees were released without charge after making statements.
The arrests came as UN special rapporteur Maina Kiai visited Kazakhstan “to assess the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the country.”
“I will look into both the legal requirements for holding peaceful assemblies, and how peaceful assemblies are facilitated in practice,” Kiai said ahead of the visit. He is also monitoring “the existence of an enabling environment for the free and effective functioning of civil society.”
“That gentleman should know that our authorities always say fine words about there being no violations of citizens’ rights in our country,” Ryspek Sarsenbay, a journalist participating in the action (who is the brother of murdered opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev), told EurasiaNet.org. “But there is no freedom of assembly in Kazakhstan. In Kazakhstan the authorities fear the people, their own citizens. They fear their expressions of protest, of discontent. […] They don’t want a Kyrgyzstan or Ukraine [revolution] here.”
Yergaliyeva is fighting in court against the closure of Adam Bol. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic condemned the Almaty court’s decision to close Adam Bol as a “drastic and disproportionate” measure that will “endanger pluralism in Kazakhstan and contribute to an atmosphere of fear for members of the media.”
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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