ASTANA -- A court in Kazakhstan has branded an opposition political movement established by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive critic of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, as an extremist organization.
Astana's Esil District Court ruled on March 13 that Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) "propagates the forcible change of Kazakhstan’s constitutional order" and thus qualifies as extremist, Prosecutor-General's Office spokeswoman Olga Loskutova said.
A senior prosecutor, Erlan Abaev, told journalists that criminal cases had been launched against several DVK members across Kazakhstan on charges of inciting social discord and making public calls for the seizure of power.
Ablyazov, a vocal foe of Nazarbaev, and several other Kazakh opposition figures living abroad announced the creation of the DVK movement in April 2017, saying its goal would be "democratic reforms in Kazakhstan."
Wanted by Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine on suspicion of embezzling some $5 billion, Ablyazov has been living abroad since 2009. He denies any wrongdoing and contends that the case against him is politically motivated.
In June, a court in Kazakhstan sentenced Ablyazov to 20 years in prison in absentia after convicting him of organizing and leading a criminal group, abuse of office, embezzlement, and financial mismanagement.
Opponents and rights groups say that Nazarbaev, who has held power in the Central Asian nation since before the 1991 Soviet breakup, has taken systematic steps to suppress dissent and sideline potential opponents.