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Kazakh Police Prevent Journalist, Activists From Attending Release Of Jailed Government Critic


Kazakh journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov (pictured) was stopped by police while on his way to meet government critic Maks Boqaev on February 3. (file photo)
Kazakh journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov (pictured) was stopped by police while on his way to meet government critic Maks Boqaev on February 3. (file photo)

ORAL, Kazakhstan -- Police in Kazakhstan's northwestern city of Oral have prevented journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov and several activists from traveling to the western city of Atyrau, where they planned to greet outspoken government critic Maks Boqaev upon his release from prison on February 4.

Activists in Oral told RFE/RL that Akhmedyarov, the chief editor of the independent newspaper Uralskaya Nedelya, was stopped by police on his way to Atyrau on February 3 and held for questioning in an unspecified case.

Akhmedyarov placed a video on Facebook showing the moment of his detention as he argued with police, saying that he had received a subpoena ordering him to show up on February 5 at a police station for questioning, which he was going to follow and therefore there was no need to hold him.

Four rights activists in Oral, Maqsat Aisauytov, Bekbolat Otebaev, Bauyrzhan Alipqaliev, and Orynbai Oqasov, also were summoned to the police on February 4. They say they were ordered to come to the police so that they were unable to travel to Atyrau on that day to attend Boqaev's release.

The police department in Oral told RFE/RL that the activists and Akhmedyarov were summoned over "a classified criminal case."

"Kazakhstan authorities are once again trying to prevent journalists from reporting on public interest issues, and this time they have targeted editor Lukpan Akhmedyarov," Gulnoza Said, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement.

"Instead of wasting their time detaining and threatening members of the press, authorities should encourage journalists to report on politics and expose corruption," she added.

A day earlier, police in Nur-Sultan, the capital, stopped a vehicle with four rights activists who were on their way to Atyrau, where they also planned to see Boqaev at the moment of his release. Police then impounded the vehicle, citing an unspecified investigation.

The 48-year-old activist Boqaev was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison on extremism charges in 2016 after he organized unsanctioned protests against land reform in Atyrau. While serving his term, Boqaev refused to ask for clemency, insisting that the case against him was politically motivated.

The United States, the European Union, and the United Nations have urged Kazakh authorities to release Boqaev.

Human rights organizations in Kazakhstan have recognized Boqaev as a political prisoner. Kazakhstan's government has insisted that there are no political prisoners in the country.

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