Kazakhstan: Unsanctioned Pro-Government Rally Not Broken Up by Police
A group of activists in Kazakhtan’s business capital, Almaty, held an unsanctioned rally on May 31 in front of the US consulate in a gesture of support for the government.
A similarly unauthorized demonstration 10 days previously in the same city — albeit one against the government — resulted in firm action by riot police and multiple detentions, including of journalists covering the event.
The contrast has neatly illustrated the government’s arbitrary approach to enforcing public assembly laws that have come under much international criticism.
The US consulate rally was intended as a protest against marches that were held in two US cities, New York and San Francisco, in a show of solidarity for those detained on May 21. Curiously, the anti-US event was mounted by activists that have themselves repeatedly organized public events aimed at pressuring authorities into relieving them of what they feel to be onerous mortgages repayments.
“We understand everything perfectly well. If the United States begins to interfere in the affairs of one or other government, then soon enough this country will descend into chaos and disorder,” Zhanna Sadykova, a member of the Leave the Houses to the People coalition, told RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Azattyq.
Sadykova’s remarks appeared to very closely echo positions expressed in recent weeks by media either owned by or loyal to the state.
Estimates of the number of people attending the US consulate rally ranged between 20 and 40.
People attending the solidarity marches in New York and San Francisco carried flags of Kazakhstan and carried signs calling for the ouster of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. It is presumed they were citizens of Kazakhstan, although it has not been possible to independently verify that fact. Sadykova was in little doubt, however.
“We believe that those who came out (to march) are not citizens of our country. They do not have the right to interfere in our internal politics,” she said.
Another organizer of the demonstration at the consulate, Sulubike Zhaksylykova, confirmed to EurasiaNet.org that her group had not sought permission for their gathering.
“According to the law … civil society groups do not need to ask for permission. There was no need for that,” she said.
This sudden show of public support for the government has drawn a mixture of suspicion and mockery. Political commentator Talgat Kaliyev described the rally as “unusual.”
“They’re not a political force. They act purely in their own interests. Why all of a sudden are they so worried about the actions of Kazakhstanis in America? What has all that got to do with mortgages? Will this solve their problems? I fear that they have become victims of somebody’s manipulation,” Kaliyev told website Matritca.kz.
Media analyst Artur Nigmetov described himself as similarly perplexed by the rally.
“It is probable somebody offered them favorable conditions for restructuring their debts. The poor people — the bondage of mortgages has turned them into pathetic buffoons. They are being disgustingly exploited and manipulated,” Nigmetov wrote on his Facebook page.
Whether by accident or design, rallies like this present a double bonus for the authorities. They take some of the sting out of a mortgage movement that has long been a thorn in the side of local government officials, while also creating the impression of a grassroots movement opposed to antigovernment protests.
Dilnar Insenova, another leader within the mortgage movement, was explicit in her repudiation of Zhaksylykova and her allies.
“We condemn for her undermining the mortgage movement. She has betrayed all our work,” Insenova told EurasiaNet.org.
Aigerim Toleukhanova is a journalist and researcher from Kazakhstan.