NUR-SULTAN -- Police in Kazakhstan have detained more than three dozen people who were trying to gather for anti-government protests that have been deemed by authorities as “illegal actions.”
Reporters from RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service on October 26 saw more than a dozen people being arrested at a public square near the Astana Concert Hall in the capital, Nur-Sultan.
RFE/RL correspondents also witnessed a dozen would-be protesters being detained near Astana Square in the city of Almaty.
Those detained included women and at least one elderly man.
Kazakhstan's Interior Ministry confirmed that 26 people were detained in Nur-Sultan and Almaty, adding that authorities were considering whether to file administrative charges against them.
Meanwhile, an RFE/RL correspondent in the northern city of Aqtobe reported that 10 people were detained in the central square. Some told RFE/RL that they were just walking through the square with members of their families when they were arrested.
In the southern city of Shymkent, an RFE/RL correspondent witnessed the arrests of three people who said they were trying to attend a demonstration.
Several would-be demonstrators told RFE/RL before they were arrested that they wanted to protest against the “expansion” of business ties between China and Kazakhstan through the creation of joint ventures.
They also called for the “release of political prisoners” by Kazakh authorities.
Protests on October 26 had been called by the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK), a political movement that has been banned by Kazakh authorities as an “extremist” group.
The Prosecutor-General’s Office in Kazakhstan warned on October 25 that anyone trying to part in the demonstrations would be arrested on charges of being involved in an “illegal action.”
Deputy Prosecutor Bulat Dembaev accused DCK members of “inciting the population to illegal actions” and “disrupting normal life in society.”
He said demonstrations were “creating a threat to people’s safety, their lives, and their physical health,” and that demonstrators were “damaging property.”
But RFE/RL correspondents in Nur-Sultan and Almaty report that those who were detained on October 26 were not involved in any violence or vandalism.
Apparent pro-government figures who wore black masks were deployed alongside police buses while detainees were being arrested.
Their role in the police crackdown was to open umbrellas in order to block cameras used by RFE/RL and other media outlets to record video of the arrests.
RFE/RL correspondents have reported similar actions, as well as violent police attacks against journalists, during protests earlier this year against the government’s decision to rename the city of Astana after former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who unexpectedly resigned from office in March.
Those police actions were criticized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
RFE/RL correspondents on October 26 also reported the deployment of police and security forces in other Kazakh cities ahead of the planned protests.
The DCK was founded by Mukhtar Ablyazova, a former banker and critic of the Kazakh authorities.
Ablyazov, who has been living outside of Kazakhstan since 2009, announced the creation of the movement in April 2017, saying that its goal was to push for the implementation of "democratic and constitutional reforms in Kazakhstan."
Since a Kazakh court deemed in March 2018 that the DCK was an “extremist organization,” proceedings have been initiated against dozens of alleged and actual supporters.
Lawyers have described the court’s decision to ban the DCK as “controversial.”
Protests against China’s increasing influence and economic power in Kazakhstan began in early September.
Kazakh authorities say that high-tech joint ventures being set up by Kazakhstan and China could provide jobs for thousands of people.
Initially, police did not detain the protesters. But as the demonstrations continued, police began to arrest protesters and issue administrative fines.
Some demonstrators have been jailed for up to 15 days for taking part in the ongoing protests.