A civic activist in Kazakhstan jailed for his involvement in land protests in 2016 is entering the third week of a hunger strike declared in protest at the authorities’ refusal to relocate him to a prison in his home region.
RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyk, on June 22 cited Max Bokayev’s sister as saying that the Almaty district court in Astana rejected a formal application for the activist to be relocated from his current prison in the Northern Kazakhstan Region to Atyrau Region.
“They didn’t show us the documents that served as the basis for refusal to carry out the transfer, citing secrecy,” Zhanargul Bokayeva told Azattyk.
Prison authorities have not confirmed that Bokayev is on the hunger strike and have declined to comment on his state of health.
Bokayeva said her brother, who is 44 years old, stopped taking food on June 9 and is only drinking water, and that as a result he has shed nine kilograms.
Bokayev and his colleague, Talgat Ayan, were in November found guilty of inciting social unrest, spreading false information and disrupting public order and accordingly sentenced to five years in jail. The severity of the verdict appeared intended in part to put a definitive end to the season of political unrest that began when thousands of citizens hit the streets in the spring of 2016 in protest at legislation to privatize swathes of public land. In the absence of adequate information campaigns, speculation circulated that much of the land would be bought by foreign investors, primarily from China — a taboo suggestion in a country where land is popularly deemed a natural birthright and where suspicions toward China run high.
Bokayeva has said their family received written assurances that her brother would be incarcerated in his native Atyrau Region, which would make easier for friends and acquaintances to visit and remain in contact. To their surprise, however, Bokayev and Ayan were instead eventually transferred, after multiple stops, to a prison in the city of Petropavl, around 1,700 kilometers further east.
During a period of detention in the southern city of Almaty, Bokayev met with a well-known local lawyer Aiman Umarova, with whom he shared details about what he claimed was the mistreatment of prisoners. The activist told Umarova that prisoners are transported in overpacked train carriages and were allowed to visit the toilet only three times daily.