A civic rights activist in Kazakhstan who once led the charge for political change has been sentenced to two years of limited freedom, marking the culmination of her downfall.
A court in Almaty’s Almaly district this week ruled to find 39-year old Olesya Khalabuzar guilty of “inciting ethnic hatred” and has placed the activist’s movements until strict control for the period of her sentence.
Khalabuzar had made a name for herself as one of Kazakhstan’s more principled activists until she was detained by police in February on suspicion of involvement in a protest movement against planned constitutional amendments regarding ownership of land.
But the more shocking development came some months later as Khalabuzar suddenly publicly recanted all her prior civic engagements and described the work of her Spravedlivost rights movement as “short-sighted” and “counterproductive,” and admitted to unspecified attempts to “blackmail government bodies.”
“Looking back [on my life], I have decided to take a very important step and declare: I AM RENOUNCING PUBLIC ACTIVISM,” Khalabuzar wrote on her Facebook account on May 17.
Fellow activists argued she had been pressured by the authorities into performing the embarrassing public mea culpa.
Only two years ago, civic rights activist Khalabuzar was proclaiming ambitiously that her grand ambition for Kazakhstan was to promote a change in the population’s mindset. The country’s citizens, she told EurasiaNet.org, had to change from “slaves into masters” and “demand our rights.”
The verdict against Khalabuzar can be appealed within 15 days before it comes into force. But she has told RFE/RL’s Radio Azattyk that she does not intend to appeal since she has little hope of changing the decision.
The case of the prosecution rested on psychological and textual analysis of anti-land reform leaflets that spoke about the “threat of the seizure of Kazakh lands by the Chinese” in case of adoption of amendments to the constitution. The language was assessed by court witnesses as clear evidence of incitement to inter-ethnic enmity.
In court, Khalabuzar formally acknowledged the charge and declared her repentance.
The prosecutor agreed to ask for a minimum penalty, considering Khalabuzar had no criminal record and is a mother to three underage children.
As is characteristic for such transparently political trials, however, the proceedings were marred by basic shortcomings. Hearings were perfunctory and Khalabuzar’s court-appointed lawyer was given only a few minutes before the start of the trial to familiarize herself with the case materials. Asked by Radio Azattyk why she did not hired a private layer, Khalabuzar answered simply: “Because it’s pointless — everything has been decided.”
Astana has methodically and ruthlessly pursued almost all activists, politicians, journalists, business people and labor rights representatives that have in any way expressed dissatisfaction with the status quo. Khalabuzar’s fate is all too familiar.