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Kazakh Civil Rights Activists Under Pressure Amid Coronavirus Spread

People gather outside a post office in Kyzylorda to collect social payments on April 6.

Civil rights activists in Kazakhstan have been under mounting pressure in the past several days as the authorities impose even stricter controls to slow the spread of coronavirus.

On April 7, police in the western city of Oral detained well-known blogger and civil rights activist Aslan Sagutdinov.

Sagutdinov posted on Facebook the moment he was detained outside a grocery store.

Oral regional police spokesman Bolat Belgibekov told RFE/RL that Sagutdinov was detained over a libel probe launched against him in a lawsuit filed by a local resident. Belgibekov added that Sagutdinov will also be charged with disobeying police for resisting arrest.

"He broke the police car's window," Belgibekov claimed.

Sagutdinov made headlines in May 2019 amid the mass arrest of rights and opposition activists across the country after he staged a one-man protest in Oral's main square holding a blank piece of paper. He was detained, but later released after police could not determine what to charge him with.

Another blogger and civil rights activist, Baghdat Baqtybaev, was sentenced to 10 days in jail in the southern region of Zhambyl for a live video broadcast on Facebook of long lines of people at a post office in the village of Tolebi. The residents were desperately trying to obtain social benefits the government has promised to people left unemployed because of the pandemic.

Baqtybaev's wife, Diana, told RFE/RL late on April 7 that her husband was jailed the day before after a court found him guilty of "conducting actions violating law and order during the state of emergency." She said her husband will spend 28 days in jail, as another 18-day jail term he received days earlier on similar charges will come into force on April 16.

Bakhytzhan Toreghozhina, the head of the Almaty-based human rights foundation Ar.Rukh.Khaq, told RFE/RL by phone on April 8 that the Kazakh authorities were concerned about any domestic and international spotlight of their efforts to handle the spread of coronavirus in the Central Asian country.

"Kazakh authorities have always silenced dissent by imposing pressure on bloggers and rights activists, and now they are doing everything to muzzle activists to prevent their criticism of the government's anti-coronavirus measures," Toreghozhina said.

The government promised to distribute 42,500 tenges ($95) to citizens who have lost their jobs due to lockdown measures imposed to slow the coronavirus pandemic. However, cash distribution has been hindered by bureaucratic hurdles, causing long lines at banks and post offices across the country in violation of regulations ordering people stay 2 meters away from each other to prevent coronavirus infection.

As of April 8, the number of registered coronavirus cases in Kazakhstan stood at 709, including seven deaths.

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    RFE/RL's Kazakh Service offers informed and accurate reporting in the Kazakh and Russian languages about issues that matter in Kazakhstan, while providing a dynamic platform for audience engagement and the free exchange of news and ideas.