State tightens grip on protest rights in Kazakhstan


As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, violations of the right to peaceful assembly is a central threat to civic freedoms in Kazakhstan. Most recently, the judicial harassment and prolonged detention of two prominent Kazakh human rights defenders has drawn international attention as their trial began on the 12th October. 

Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayan were arrested on 17th May because of their involvement in organising country-wide protests against proposed changes to Kazakhstan's land code. As punishment for the widespread civic activism which resulted, authorities executed a campaign of repression aimed at activists who were behind the resistance. Police pre-emptively arrested 9 activists and denied applications for protests. Reports also suggest that activists were subjected to ill-treatment by authorities during their lengthy detention. In a recent statement, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders expressed

'its concern regarding the ongoing repression, intimidation, and judicial harassment of human rights defenders in Kazakhstan, which seems to be aimed at hindering their legitimate human rights activities and condemns the ongoing attempts by the Kazakh authorities to curtail the rights to freedom of association, assembly, and expression.'

Both activists had been openly critical of the authorities on social media and many worry that their prosecution sets a worrying precedent for independent activists and dissidents in Kazakhstan. Both activists face jail terms of up to ten years. 

Concerns have also arisen around the integrity of the trial. On 24th October, Rinat Iskaliev, a key witness and blogger who has spoken out against the ongoing harassment of civic activists in Kazakhstan was brutally beaten outside his apartment by unidentified assailants. Many fear this attack was related to his participation in the trial and an attempt to intimidate him into not giving evidence.  

The civil society response to the prosecutions has also been met with swift retribution by the state apparatus. On 25th October, two human rights activists picketed outside the court where Bokayev and Ayan's hearing was taking place. The two, prominent human rights defender Elena Semenova and civic activist Shattik Tazhkenova, were prevented from protesting and were quickly detained by security forces. Kazakhstani authorities prosecuted both activists for holding an authorised assembly and fined them 180 Euros. Their prosecution is indicative of the tightly controlled environment for protest in Kazakhstan, but also illustrates the resilience and solidarity within Kazakh civil society.