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Language Activist Flees Kazakhstan After Investigation Opened Against Him

Quat Akhmetov has left Kazakhstan for Ukraine. (file photo)
Quat Akhmetov has left Kazakhstan for Ukraine. (file photo)

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- A Kazakh language activist has fled the country after authorities launched a probe against him on a charge of inciting ethnic hatred over his YouTube videos showing him demanding people in public places speak Kazakh to him instead of Russian.

Quat Akhmetov's lawyer, Abzal Quspan, told RFE/RL on August 31 that his client fled to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

"It is not clear if he will stay in Kyiv, it will depend on human rights activists there," Quspan said, adding that Akhmetov decided to leave the country after the Prosecutor-General's Office opened an investigation against him for inciting ethnic hatred.

The charge against Akhmetov stems from a series of videos placed on his YouTube channel, Til Maydani (Language Front) Online Party, where he and his associates are shown visiting shops and entertainment sites in the former Soviet republic, demanding people provide service in Kazakh instead of Russian.

If convicted, Akhmetov faces up to seven years in prison.

Akhmetov's videos sparked a negative reaction in Russia, where state media called him and his videos "Russophobic," and the Interior Ministry barred him earlier this month from entering Russia for 50 years.

On August 19, Almaty city police briefly detained Akhmetov and charged him with administrative offense over his videos. A court fined him $340 the same day.

While Kazakh is constitutionally mandated as the Central Asian country's state language, Russian is also an official language in the former Soviet republic.

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    Ayan Kalmurat

    Ayan Kalmurat is an Almaty-based correspondent with RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. A graduate of Almaty's Turan University, he has many years of experience as a correspondent in different media outlets. Since joining RFE/RL in 2017, Kalmurat has been working as a reporter, television host, and investigative journalist covering a wide variety of topics.