NUR-SULTAN -- A court in Kazakhstan's capital, Nur-Sultan, has sentenced an activist to 18 months in a minimum security prison for having ties with the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement amid an ongoing crackdown on individuals supporting the opposition group and its associate, the Koshe (Street) party.
Before handing down the sentence to 44-year-old Asqar Qaiyrbek on June 21, the court said it had found him guilty of organizing the activities of an extremist group and for taking part in such activities.
Qaiyrbek's lawyer, Gulshat Duisenova, told RFE/RL on June 22 that her client rejected the charges and will appeal the court decision.
Several activists across the Central Asian nation have been handed lengthy prison terms or parole-like "freedom limitation" sentences in recent years for their involvement in the activities of DVK and the Koshe Party, as well as for taking part in the rallies organized by the two groups.
Meanwhile, seven activists in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, have been on hunger strike since June 20 to demand the cancellation of a court decision to ban Koshe.
DVK is led by Mukhtar Ablyazov, the fugitive former head of Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank and outspoken critic of the Kazakh government. Kazakh authorities labeled 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.