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Land protests in Kazakhstan


The first wave of protests

From 20 April until 1 May a number of protests were held in Kazakhstan, ranging from a single-man pickets to meetings, which gathered hundreds of people. In various cities the authorities reacted differently to this: in some places they went without incidents, others ended with break-up of a peaceful meeting and detention of some of the participants.

For participation in these actions more than thirty people were brought to administrative responsibility – mainly in Aktobe, where the courts awarded judgments to pay fines of 20 times the MCI (approximately 100 euros), and the largest fine was imposed on a human rights activist in Aktobe Alima Abdirova – 40 times the MCI. Two persons were sentenced to pay fine of 20 times the MCI in Uralsk. In Almaty N. Kemelbaev was sentenced to 15 days of arrest. Also in Atyrau, investigation was launched in response to the conduct of the meeting under Article 174 of the Criminal Code of the RoK (excitation of social discord).

By doing this, official Astana also voiced some constructive steps: the President of Kazakhstan Nazarbayev announced the annual moratorium on amendments, the Land Commission which included, among others, some unsympathetic public persons, was created. However, many people felt that the moratorium and the Commission would not solve the problem, and they should require complete prohibition on the introduction of amendments.

Preventive measures on the eve of meeting of 21 May

For this purpose, a national peaceful meeting was set to be held in different cities of the country on 21 May, what is more, this initiative had no evident leaders. Applications to hold meetings were submitted to city administrations in various cities of the country (it is required by Kazakhstani legislation), but no permissions were received.

Therefore, calls to go, nevertheless, to squares and parks and hold meetings on the specified date appeared in social networks. In response, the authorities began to use repressions against those who, in their opinion, could become the organiser of such meetings or serve as moderators or speakers.

According to our information, in Kazakhstan within the period from 17 May through 20 May, a total 22 public figures and civil activists were sentenced to terms ranging from 3 to 15 days. These  include two human rights defenders – Makhambet Abzhan (NGO “Shanyrak”, 10 days for alleged “resistance to police”) and Bakhytzhan Toregozhina (“Ar.Rukh.Khak” fund, 15 days). There was also a search in the house of a public figure Ualikhan Kaysar and in the office of organization “Abyroi” from Uralsk. A number of other activists were warned of the inadmissibility of their appearance at the meeting on 21 May.

In addition, several civil activists were prosecuted:

Ermek Narymbaev (Almaty) – he has already been sentenced to three years of imprisonment, replaced by three years of limitation with prohibition to be engaged in social activities – pre-trial investigation on a charge of calling for violent overthrow or change of the constitutional system is being carried out.

Zhanat Esentaev (Uralsk) – he is under arrest for a period of 2 months – he has been prosecuted on a charge of excitation of social discord.

Max Bokaev and Talgat Ayan (Atyrau, they are under arrest for 15 days), ), Gatau-Ghali Bokhan, Sagynkali Kapizov and Kubaydolla Sholack (Atyrau, arrested on May 24) – pre-trial investigation has been initiated under Art. 179 (“Propaganda and public calls for violent seizure of power”) and Art. 272 (“Organisation of mass disorders”) of the Criminal Code of the RoK.

Makhambet Abzhan (NGO “Shanyrak”) (he is serving 10 days of arrest) – he has been prosecuted under Art. 378, section 2 (Insulting a representative of authorities 1. Insulting a representative of authorities in discharge of his duties or in connection with their performance, committed in public or using mass media or informational communication networks), Art. 379, section 1 (Insubordination to a representative of authorities), Art. 380 (Using violence against a representative of authorities) – M. Abzhan’s detention was accompanied with police violence against him.

Attempt to hold meetings on 21 May and response of the authorities

Despite the threats and prohibitions by the authorities, on 21 May, attempts were made to hold meetings in Astana, Almaty, Uralsk, Kostanai, Pavlodar. The largest number of people – more than one thousand people – gathered in Almaty. In Uralsk there were  about one hundred people, in other cities – from 20 to 50. Everywhere the police blocked access to public places where meetings had been planned. The police forcibly detained more than 500 people gathered in Almaty, and almost everyone in Uralsk. In addition, more than 50 journalists (including foreign) were detained in a number of cities for their covering the protests, or just for their appearance in the area of ​​ possible holding of meetings – some of the detentions were accompanied with the  use of force and damage of equipment, some journalists were demanded to remove photos and video. In total more than a dozen of well-known public figures and human rights activists were detained on 21 May, even preventively – as they left their homes. Finally, on 23 May Uralsk police detained the activist of movement “Abyroi” Askar Shaygumarov.

In addition, the Department of Internal Affairs of the West Kazakhstan Oblast issued a statement that mass disorders were prevented in Uralsk.

Periscope, Facebook, Google, Youtube were blocked in Almaty on 21 May. Websites of Kazakhstani Service “Liberty / Free Europe» – azattyq.org and of the newspaper “Uralskaya Nedelya” were also blocked.

Over the entire period of protests a number of applications with a demand to stop persecution of peaceful actions were sent to the Kazakhstan’s authorities:

– UN human rights experts (three Special Rapporteurs and the First Deputy Chairman of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention


– Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights, the International Partnership for Human Rights, the Netherlands Helsinki Committee

 (http://bureau.kz/novosti/sobstvennaya_informaciya/dialog_vmesto_repressiienie, http://bureau.kz/en/news/kibhr_information/choose_dialogue_instead_of_repression)

– The Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech “Adil Soz”, International Law Initiative, the Association of Human Rights in Central Asia


– Freedom House (https://freedomhouse.org/article/kazakhstan-tightens-crackdown-ahead-protests)

– OSCE (http://www.osce.org/fom/241816)

– Open Dialogue Foundation (Poland) (http://en.odfoundation.eu/a/7528,mass-arrests-and-threats-on-the-eve-of-rallies-of-21th-may-we-urge-to-prevent-recurrence-of-zhanaozen-tragedy)

– Human Rights Watch (https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/05/23/kazakhstan-crackdown-peaceful-protest)

Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan


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