On April 10, a court docket in Almaty handed down a suspended six-year sentence for Zhanbolat Mamai, the chief of the Democratic Celebration of Kazakhstan, an unregistered political celebration. Mamai was convicted of organizing mass unrest, spreading false info, and insulting a authorities consultant.
Though Mamai’s jail sentence was suspended, that means he is not going to be jailed, the court docket ordered him to not interact in political activism or journalism, and barred him from utilizing social media, for six years. He has additionally been ordered to pay a fantastic of 600,000 tenge ($1,350). In essence, Kazakhstan has silenced Mamai.
In court docket, Mamai rejected the decision towards him. “Dozens of witnesses spoke right here and absolutely confirmed that I didn’t name for riots,” he stated, occurring to name the sentenced politically motivated and stating that he’ll enchantment.
U.S.-based human rights group Freedom Now condemned the conviction. In an announcement, Freedom Now Govt Director Maran Turner stated the decision was “the end result of an extended drawn out case of judicial harassment designed to silence Zhanbolat Mamay for his respectable criticism of the Kazakhstani authorities… his conviction and the prolonged bans on varied actions are punishment for and geared toward stopping him from respectable peaceable political exercise. His engagement in these actions may result in a future arrest.”
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Mamai was arrested in late February 2022 after organizing an illustration to honor the greater than 200 individuals who died throughout Qandy Qantar, or Bloody January. He was sentenced to a 15-day jail time period for orchestrating an unsanctioned public occasion, however as a substitute of being launched in March 2022, he was re-arrested on new prices together with insulting legislation enforcement officers and distributing “false info.” On the time, the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan tweeted its concern, noting, “Respecting free speech and permitting peaceable meeting is prime to a functioning democracy.”
In June, after his two-month pre-trial detention had been prolonged and his enchantment to be launched denied, further prices had been added, particularly “organizing mass riots.” That cost was modified to “organizing an unlawful rally” in October, however in January returned, once more, to the cost of “organizing mass riots.”
Mamai remained in pre-trial detention for practically 9 months till November 2, when he was launched to accommodate arrest.
Upon listening to the decision and the restrictions the prosecutor was searching for on April 6, Mamai quoted a Kazakh saying: “You possibly can reduce off a person’s head, however you possibly can’t reduce off his tongue.”
“I’ve little doubt, pricey court docket, that you’ll award me these absurd restrictions. And you already know, by doing so, you truly reduce off my tongue, which is a direct violation of all of the constitutional rights of a citizen.” He went on to say that those that “robbed the folks for 30 years ought to reply in court docket” as a substitute of him.
Mamai’s political celebration — the Democratic Celebration of Kazakhstan — has lengthy sought official registration, however has been denied repeatedly. In 2020, activists concerned with the Democratic Celebration had been arrested on their manner to participate in what was alleged to be the celebration’s founding congress.
Mamai had beforehand labored as a journalist and served time on a cash laundering conviction. When he was launched in 2017 he was topic to a ban on working as a journalist for 3 years. On the time, even the decide “stated he had discovered no proof of cash laundering,” in accordance with Reporters With out Borders.
Mamai’s spouse, Inga Imanbai, contested the latest parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan, which featured for the primary time unbiased candidates working for single-mandate seats throughout the nation. Though there have been 29 single-mandate seats up for grabs, solely six had been gained by “unbiased” candidates — the remaining had been captured by candidates nominated by the nation’s dominant celebration, previously referred to as Nur Otan and now referred to as Amanat. In Almaty, the place Imanbai ran, voter turnout was formally 25 p.c — with observers calling even that dismal determine inflated.
As famous above, Mamai intends to enchantment his conviction and the restrictions positioned upon him. His case serves for example how little has modified in Kazakhstan, significantly relating to the liberty of speech allowed to authorities opposition and the flexibility to protest or arrange.
In 2020, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev pushed via updates to the nation’s protest legal guidelines, which had been characterised as reforms. Probably the most crucial change was to be a flip within the approval course of. As I wrote on the time, underneath the earlier legislation, “with a view to maintain a authorized demonstration activists needed to search the state’s permission and it was not often granted. Underneath the brand new legislation, the organizers of a rally notify the authorities forward of time.” In follow this has didn’t work as said, with authorities persevering with to say no permission and people, like Mamai, going through prices for organizing rallies or making an attempt to train their rights to speech and meeting.