Amnesty International has recognized two jailed activists in Kazakhstan as prisoners of conscience.
Asiya Tulesova and Beibarys Tolymbekov were arrested on April 21 and later sentenced to 15 days in jail after they held political banners during a marathon in Almaty, the country’s largest city.
In an April 24 statement, Amnesty said the two activists were imprisoned for “the peaceful expression of their views and are prisoners of conscience."
Amnesty called for the activists to be “released immediately and unconditionally.”
The activists had unfurled a banner that read: You Cannot Run Away From The Truth #ForFreeElections #IHaveAChoice.
Tulesova and Tolymbekov were found guilty of holding an unsanctioned rally and sentenced on the same day.
Their arrest was filmed by three friends, Suinbika Suleimenova, Aidos Nurbulatov, and Aigul Nurbulatova, who were also arrested and later fined.
“The actions of the protesters should not have been subjected to any sanction, criminal or administrative, as they are protected by the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” Amnesty said. “Kazakhstan must review legislation concerning assemblies to ensure that peaceful protesters are not subject to administrative or criminal sanctions simply for organizing or taking part in unauthorized events.”
During her hearing, Tulesova said they had unfurled the banner to “attract attention to the fact that we need to come together and hold honest independent elections.”
She added: “I want people to realize that they also have a choice, that we must learn to build democratic institutions.”
Tulesova is the great granddaughter of the Kazakh writer and cultural activist Ilyas Zhansugurov, who was executed by Soviet authorities in the 1930s.
The incident came weeks after President Nursultan Nazarbaev's resignation in March after 30 years in power.
Nazarbaev still heads the ruling Nur Otan party, which on April 23 nominated interim President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev as its candidate in a choreographed transition. He is almost certain to win.
Opponents, critics, and rights groups say Nazarbaev, an authoritarian leader who has tolerated little dissent, denied many citizens basic rights and prolonged his power in the energy-rich country of 18.7 million by manipulating the democratic process.