ASTANA -- Dozens of people have been detained by police at rallies in Kazakhstan calling for the release of political prisoners in the Central Asian state.
In Astana, demonstrators rallied on May 10 in a district of the capital where many foreign embassies are located, chanting "Freedom to political prisoners!" and "Shame on the government!"
In the country's largest city, Almaty, protesters held up portraits of political prisoners and posters with slogans like "Stop torture!" and "No to politically motivated imprisonments!"
In both cities, police quickly stepped in and detained an unspecified number of protesters and even individuals not taking part in the rallies.
In Astana, police told RFE/RL that they would release details on those detained later.
The Almaty city police department said in a statement that "an illegal gathering by a group of citizens has been prevented" in the city.
On May 9, human rights defenders in Kazakhstan told RFE/RL that about a dozen activists were summoned by police regarding their plans to organize the rallies that were spearheaded by the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement.
The DVK was established by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive critic of President Nursultan Nazarbaev.
Ablyazov told RFE/RL on May 10 that the protests in Astana, Almaty, and several other cities in Kazakhstan, had been organized by him via the Internet.
In March, a court in Astana banned the movement, branding it an extremist organization.
The rallies were held on the same day when a European Parliament delegation led by Iveta Grigule met with Nurlan Nyghmatulin, speaker of the Kazakh parliament.
Rights activists in Kazakhstan say the European delegation is expected to evaluate whether the country is fulfilling conditions of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and Kazakhstan.
On April 25, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called on Kazakhstan to meet its international commitments, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and to end measures restricting access to social media.
Opponents and rights groups say President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has held power in Kazakhstan since before the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, has taken systematic steps to suppress dissent and sideline potential opponents.