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Kazakh Activists Start Hunger Strike To Protest Opposition Party Ban

Kazakh Hunger Strikers Demand Lifting Of Opposition Party Ban
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WATCH: Kazakh Hunger Strikers Demand Lifting Of Opposition Party Ban

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Several Kazakh activists have launched a hunger strike, demanding the cancellation of a court decision to ban the opposition Koshe (Street) party.

Several residents of the Central Asian nation's largest city, Almaty, started the hunger strike on June 20 in front of the Esil district court, which banned the party a year ago.

The protesters are demanding the ban be legally assessed and cancelled, as well as the release and exoneration of all people sentenced for taking part in the activities of the Koshe party.

"Dozens of people were sentenced. About 20 have been in custody for more than 10 months now, many under house arrest. Lawmakers must assess the court's decision and the situation," one of the hunger strikers, Meirkhan Abdimanapov, told RFE/RL on June 21.

The activists say they will not stop the hunger strike until the decision to label the party extremist is reversed.

Kazakhstan's courts have issued prison sentences or parole-like sentences to several activists in recent months for their support or involvement in the activities of the Koshe party and its associate Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement. Other activists also have spent time in jail for taking part in unsanctioned rallies that were organized by the two groups.

The DVK is led by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive former head of Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank and an outspoken critic of the Kazakh government.

Kazakh authorities banned the DVK as an extremist group in March 2018.

Human rights groups say Kazakhstan’s law on public gatherings contradicts international standards.

The law requires rally organizers to obtain preliminary permission from authorities. It also calls for the prosecution of those who organize or participate in unsanctioned rallies -- despite constitutional guarantees stating that citizens have the right to freely assemble.

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    RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

    RFE/RL's Kazakh Service offers informed and accurate reporting in the Kazakh and Russian languages about issues that matter in Kazakhstan, while providing a dynamic platform for audience engagement and the free exchange of news and ideas.