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Jailed Kazakh Activist Starts Hunger Strike After Early Release Cancelled

Kenzhebek Abishev (left) and Almat Zhumagulov appear in the court during their trial in Almaty in September 2018.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Kenzhebek Abishev, who was jailed for being linked to a political movement founded by a fugitive tycoon, has launched a hunger strike after his early release on parole was cancelled at the last moment.

Kazakhstan's International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law said on April 12 that Abishev started the hunger strike the previous day. It published a letter from the activist addressed to President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, urging him to intervene on his behalf.

In his letter, Abishev calls the cancellation of the court's decision to release him on parole in February and the case against him "illegal," adding that his medical conditions -- heart and respiratory problems -- had worsened due to the lack of proper medical treatment in prison.

"There is no sense for me to continue living, consuming food, and treat my illnesses. Do you want to kill me? Then kill me. I am tired of life," Abishev said in his letter to the president.

There have been no official statements regarding Abishev's hunger strike either by the Penitentiary Service or the Prosecutor-General's Office.

On February 1, a court in the southern city of Qapshaghai ruled that Abishev could be released on February 16, more than three years early, for good behavior while in prison, a procedure allowed by Kazakh law.

However, the Almaty regional prosecutor's office appealed the ruling at the very last moment, arguing that the 53-year-old activist's good behavior in custody was not enough for his release since he still had more than three years to serve.

The court then scrapped the move, leaving Abishev in prison.

Abishev was sentenced to seven years in prison in December 2018 after he and two other activists were found guilty of planning a "holy war" because they were spreading the ideas of the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement. His prison term was later cut by eight months.

Abishev, whom Kazakh rights groups have recognized as a political prisoner, pleaded not guilty, calling the case against him politically motivated.

The DVK was founded by Mukhtar Ablyazov, an outspoken critic of the government who has been living in France for several years.

Ablyazov has organized unsanctioned anti-government rallies in Kazakhstan via the Internet in recent years.

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