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Activist Orynbai Oqasov in court on November 16.

ORAL, Kazakhstan -- A court in Kazakhstan has sentenced an activist to one year of restricted freedom for openly supporting the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement and its associated party, the unregistered Koshe (Street) party, amid an ongoing crackdown on supporters of the two opposition groups.

A court in the northwestern city of Oral sentenced Orynbai Oqasov on November 18 after finding him guilty of taking part in unsanctioned rallies organized by the DVK and Koshe earlier this year and supporting such rallies on social networks.

Oqasov rejected the charges, saying he used his right to express his thoughts and opinions. His lawyer, Zhanbolat Kolzhanov, said the court's ruling will be appealed.

Many activists across the Central Asian nation have been handed lengthy prison terms or parole-like restricted freedom sentences in recent years for their involvement in the activities of the DVK and the Koshe party, as well as for taking part in the rallies organized by the two groups.

The DVK is led by Mukhtar Ablyazov, the fugitive former head of Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank and an outspoken critic of the Kazakh government. Kazakh authorities labeled the DVK extremist and banned the group in March 2018.

Human rights groups have said Kazakhstan’s law on public gatherings contradicts international standards as it requires preliminary permission from authorities to hold rallies and envisions prosecution for organizing and participating in unsanctioned rallies even though the nation’s constitution guarantees its citizens the right of free assembly.

The Kazakh authorities have insisted there are no political prisoners in the Central Asian country.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov attends a summit of the Organization of Turkic States in Istanbul on November 12.

A group of U.S. lawmakers have urged Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, the authoritarian president of Turkmenistan, to release political prisoners in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

U.S. Senators Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, and Sherrod Brown and U.S. Representative Tom Malinowski sent the letter to Berdymukhammedov calling on him to release journalist Nurgeldy Halykov, physician Khursanai Ismatullaeva, and activist Gulgeldy Annaniyazov.

"We write with interest as Turkmenistan pursues an ambitious agenda under your administration to join international institutions, including the WTO, and highlight its economy to the world. Such welcome efforts to participate further in the global economy will undoubtedly be strengthened by further attention to your country’s human rights record," the lawmakers wrote in the letter, dated November 16.

The authors of the letter emphasized that although Annaniyazov was released from prison recently after serving 13 years, "he remains in remote and poor conditions, and his full unconditional release seems long overdue."

The lawmakers also wrote that journalist Halykov's arrest and sentencing to four years in prison last year for reposting a photo of a visiting World Health Organization mission "reinforces the image that people in Turkmenistan do not have freedom of expression."

The letter also calls on Berdymukhammedov to release Ismatullaeva, a noted physician who was dismissed in 2017 and then handed a lengthy prison term on corruption charges the day after the case of her dismissal following a sick leave was discussed in the European Parliament.

Berdymukhammedov has ruled the extremely isolated and secretive Central Asian state with an iron hand, tolerating little dissent, since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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