ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Authorities in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, have withdrawn permission given to local lawyers to hold a protest rally on March 13, citing precautions over the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 12, one day before the scheduled rally, Almaty's sanitary and epidemiology control department announced that the rally had been canceled over fears it could become a "super-spreader" event.
"Almaty has been included into 'the red zone' level of the epidemiology situation and holding any mass events in the city may lead to an abrupt increase of COVID-19 patients among residents," Saduaqas Baighabylov, the deputy chief of the department, said.
The lawyers planned to protest a government-proposed bill amending the law on their activities and judicial assistance. They said they had yet to be notified officially about the plan to withdraw permission for the rally, which was granted to them on March 9.
"[On March 10] we met with city officials, police, and the mayor of Almaty's Medeu district. There was no word about the cancelation. On the contrary, they offered us their assistance in preparations for the rally. We have an official document from city authorities saying that the rally is allowed. We do not have any other documents at this point and, therefore, legally we have the full right to hold the rally," one of the lawyers, Gulnara Zhuaspaeva, told RFE/RL on March 11.
The lawyers say the bill outlined by the Justice Ministry would "kill the independent practice of law," as its statutes do not correspond to "the standards of self-regulation of judicial consultants' groups." If adopted, the amendments "would force independent lawyers to join state-controlled bodies and pay significant fees," they said.
The decision to include Almaty in the "red zone" -- which designates areas that are reporting high coronavirus caseloads -- was made on March 10.
Public demonstrations used to be rare in the Central Asian nation but have become a bit more frequent in recent months, though most are held without permits.
As of March 12, the number of registered coronavirus cases in Kazakhstan was officially reported as 221,669, including 2,837 deaths.