NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakhstan's Interior Minister says about 80 people were briefly detained on March 1 during unsanctioned rallies in several cities over the mysterious death of a civil rights activist while in police custody.
Erlan Turghymbaev told reporters in the capital, Nur-Sultan, on March 2 that one person was fined and three jailed for several days for organizing the events and resisting police.
"Practically all of [those detained] were held for about three hours and then released after speaking with police," Turghymbaev said.
Police in Nur-Sultan, the Central Asian nation's largest city, Almaty, as well as in the cities of Shymkent, Aqtobe, Atyrau, and Oral detained dozens of activists before and during the March 1 rallies, which were peaceful.
Kazakh human rights activists said late on March 1 that, according to their data, police detained 144 activists on that day, many of whom were forcefully removed from the rallies.
The demonstrations were organized by the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement led by opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov, who lives in self-imposed exile in France, as well as by the Street Party, Respublika, and Wake Up, Kazakhstan movements.
The protesters and the organizers of the events demanded a thorough investigation into the death of Aghadil, a 43-year-old civil rights activist and a father of six, who died in police custody just hours after he was detained by police on February 24.
They also called for ex-President Nursultan Nazarbaev to leave the country's political arena. Nazarbaev stepped down last year as head of state but remains influential through his chairmanship of the increasingly powerful Kazakh Security Council and other political channels.
Demands for a probe into Aghadil's last hours intensified when a video emerged on February 28 showing what appeared to be wounds on the dead man's hands and feet and bruise-like discolored areas scattered across his shoulders, back, upper arms, and other areas of the body.
Friends and fellow rights defenders have questioned the official account of Aghadil's latest detention alleging he was intoxicated, saying he did not drink due to a medical condition.
They also say he had no history of heart issues, an explanation given by the authorities.
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev broke his public silence on Aghadil's death in an interview on February 29, saying, "Given the public outcry, I carefully examined this matter [and] I can confidently say that, unfortunately, activist Aghadil died as a result of heart failure. To say the opposite is to deny the truth."
Aghadil had spent a combined two months in jail since his arrest in August 2019 for taking part in unsanctioned rallies, and had made headlines with an escape one day before his planned release in November in what he said was a "protest [of] my illegal arrest."
He was buried on February 27.