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Police Detain Antigovernment Demonstrators In Kazakhstan
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Amnesty International has called on Kazakhstan to respect the right to peaceful assembly after hundreds of protesters were arrested across the Central Asian country on one single day last month.

The authorities "once again demonstrated their disregard for the right to peaceful assembly" by detaining the protesters who had gathered in several cities on February 27, the London-based human rights watchdog said on March 5.

A statement said that the peaceful demonstrations and detentions took place near the headquarters of the ruling Nur Otan party in Almaty, Astana, and other cities, as the party was holding a congress.

Protesters accused the government of the energy-rich country of ignoring the needs and demands of ordinary people and families.

Freedom of peaceful assembly is heavily restricted in Kazakhstan, which authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev has ruled since before it gained independence in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Amnesty International said that those detained on February 27 were questioned in police stations and then released, usually several hours later.

The group quoted human rights defender Dmitry Tikhonov as saying that he was detained along with others, including schoolchildren and pensioners, in Almaty by police officers wearing masks and without any identification badges.

Most of those detained together with Tikhonov reported being questioned about their support for the banned Democratic choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement, according to Amnesty International.

The watchdog called on the Kazakh authorities to respect and protect the right to peaceful protest by "making necessary changes to legislation and respecting the right in practice."

All those who were arbitrarily detained last month for attempting to exercise this right should be offered reparation, while the police officers and other officials "responsible for or complicit in these violations should be held responsible in due proceedings," it added.

All the activists who were arrested had belonged to the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. Clockwise from top left: Sam Rajabi, Houman Jokar, Niloufar Bayani, Morad Tahbaz, Kavous Seyed Emami, Taher Ghadirian, Amirhossein Khaleghi, and Sepideh Kashani (not pictured Adbolreza Kouhpayeh). Emami died in custody in February 2018.

Amnesty International has called on Iran to release eight environmentalists following what the human rights watchdog called a "grossly unfair trial" on "trumped-up" spying charges.

The London-based group issued the call in a March 5 statement, ahead of a verdict in the case expected in the coming days.

"There is evidence that they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment including through prolonged solitary confinement in order to extract forced 'confessions'," a statement said.

The eight scientists -- all members of a local environmental group, the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation -- were arrested in early 2018 and went on trial in a Revolutionary Court in Tehran in January this year.

Four of the defendants were charged last year with "sowing corruption on Earth," a charge that can carry the death sentence in Iran.

Three other activists are accused of espionage and the last one has been charged with "cooperating with hostile states" against Iran and "gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security." If convicted, they could face up to 11 years in prison.

"Protecting endangered wildlife is not a crime," said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International.

"These conservationists are scientists who were carrying out legitimate research," Luther added. "It is absurd that they have been prosecuted without any evidence and are being treated as criminals."

In October, Human Rights Watch has called the accusations against the eight environmentalists "ridiculous."

The environmental activists on trial are Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Houman Jokar, Sam Rajabi, Sepideh Kashani, Morad Tahbaz, and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh.

The 63-year-old managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Kavous Seyed Emami, was also detained but he died in prison under disputed circumstances.

The judiciary said the Iranian-Canadian sociology professor had committed suicide. The claim has been questioned by his family and acquaintances.

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