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Kazakhs Bid Farewell To Noted Activist Who Died In Custody, Demand Explanation

Kazakh Police Detain 20 After Funeral Of Civil Rights Activist Who Died In Custody
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WATCH: Kazakh Police Detain 20 After Funeral Of Civil Rights Activist

TALAPKER, Kazakhstan -- Hundreds of people have gathered to bid farewell to Dulat Aghadil, a well-known Kazakh civil rights activist who mysteriously died hours after he was detained by police at his home.

Despite a heavy snowstorm and cold weather, more than 1,000 people took part in an Islamic farewell ceremony near a mosque in Aghadil's native village of Talapker, near the capital, Nur-Sultan, on February 27.

After the ceremony, Aghadil's relatives, friends, supporters, and colleagues carried his body to a local cemetery on foot, chanting "Freedom!" and "Old man, go away!" addressing ex-President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who is now the lifetime chairman of the Security Council and the leader of the ruling Nur-Otan party.

Aghadil died on February 24 in pretrial detention after being arrested for failing to meet a court order to report to local police.

Following the burial ceremony, dozens of Aghadil's supporters gathered in front of the Astana Concert Hall in Nur-Sultan, to hold a rally to demand the creation of an independent commission including the participation of civil society representatives to investigate Aghadil's death.

Police violently dispersed the gathering, forcing about 20 people into police buses and taking them away.

In Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, opposition figures, rights defenders, and their supporters also gathered to honor Aghadil's life and his legacy.

A leading opposition figure, Zhasaral Quanyshalin, said at the gathering that he was "absolutely confident that Dulat was killed by police on the orders by power-holders."

"The authorities not only killed the hero, they sent a message to all of us, saying if you refuse to be tamed, this is what is going to happen to you, and that can happen to any of us," Quanyshalin said.

"When this corrupt and criminal system in Kazakhstan collapses, Dulat's name and the names of many others fallen in the fight for democratic values will take the honorable places in the history of our country."

Earlier in the week, activists said at least eight people who wanted to travel to Talapker to take part in Aghadil's burial were detained by police.

Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs at the U.S. State Department, expressed condolences to Aghadil's relatives and her concerns about his death.

"We expect a full & thorough investigation & encourage full implementation of President [Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev's] reforms for greater political freedom," Wells wrote on Twitter.

The British Embassy in Kazakhstan expressed similar concerns on Twitter.

"We urge the Kazakh authorities to investigate [Aghadil's] death thoroughly and transparently," the embassy's post says.

As of February 27, President Toqaev had yet to comment on Aghadil's death.

According to police, Aghadil was intoxicated at the time of his arrest and died from heart problems hours later.

Aghadil's relatives and colleagues, however, have insisted that Aghadil did not drink alcohol due to health issues and had never complained about his heart.

Aghadil, a 43-year-old father of six, was widely known for his civil rights activities. He was sentenced to several days in jail several times for taking part in unsanctioned rallies and resisting arrest. Since August last year, he had spent at least 60 days in jail.

In November, Aghadil made headlines after he escaped from jail just one day before his expected release. He later explained that he made the move "to protest my illegal arrest."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and KazTAG
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