ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Thirteen Kazakh opposition and rights activists, including four women, have gone on trial for their alleged links with the banned opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement and its associated Koshe (Street) Party.
The trial started on July 27 in a district court of the Central Asian nation's largest city, Almaty.
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All of the defendants were charged with taking part in the activities of extremist organizations, while 10 of the men and women in the group were additionally charged with organizing the activities of extremist groups.
Due to coronavirus precautions, the trial is being held online.
Kazakh human rights organizations have recognized four of the defendants -- Diana Baimaghambetova, Askhat Zheksebaev, Noyan Rakhymzhanov, and Qairat Qylyshev -- as political prisoners.
The Qaharman human rights foundation called the trial "a persecution of activists for taking part in peaceful protests, calling for rallies, criticizing Kazakhstan’s authorities, supporting political prisoners and their relatives, defending human rights, and demanding immediate release of all political prisoners."
In recent years, many activists across Kazakhstan have been handed prison or parole-like sentences for their involvement in the activities of DVK and the Koshe Party, as well as for taking part in rallies organized by the two groups.
DVK is led by Mukhtar Ablyazov, the fugitive former head of Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank and an outspoken critic of the Kazakh government. Kazakh authorities labeled the DVK an extremist group and banned it in 2018.
In early July, Human Rights Watch criticized Kazakh authorities, saying that they had targeted at least 135 people across the country with criminal investigations and prosecutions for alleged participation in banned “extremist” political opposition groups.
Human rights groups in Kazakhstan say at least 300 men and women in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic were convicted for having links with DVK and Koshe or taking part in events organized by the two outlawed groups.
Human rights groups have said Kazakhstan’s law on public gatherings violates international standards as it requires preliminary permission from authorities to hold rallies and it prosecutes organizing and participating in unsanctioned rallies, even though the nation’s constitution guarantees its citizens the right of free assembly.
Kazakh authorities have insisted that there are no political prisoners in the country.