ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Kazakh human rights organizations have added three activists to a list they keep of political prisoners in the oil-rich Central Asian state, bringing the total number to 23.
The three activists added to the list on July 21 are Bekizhan Mendyghaziev, Asylkhan Zhaubatyrov, and Erulan Amirov.
Mendyghaziev, 55, from the western city of Atyrau was arrested in June on charges of embezzlement, tax evasion, and involvement in the activities of an organized criminal group. His supporters say the case was politically motivated to impose pressure on Mendyghaziev's brother, opposition politician Barlyq Mendyghaziev, who currently resides in the United States.
Zhaubatyrov, 44, from the northwestern city of Aqtobe was arrested in May on a charge of having links with the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement.
Amirov, 33, from the southern city of Shymkent, was arrested in April and charged with propagating terrorism, inciting social hatred, and involvement in the DVK's activities. Last month he was forcibly placed in a psychiatric clinic.
In recent years, many activists across Kazakhstan have been handed prison or parole-like sentences for their involvement in the activities of DVK and its associate, the Koshe (Street) 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 the BTA Bank and an outspoken critic of the Kazakh government. Kazakh authorities labeled the DVK an extremist group and banned it in 2018.
Human rights groups have said Kazakhstan's law on public gatherings violates international standards as it requires preliminary permission from the authorities to hold rallies and it prosecutes organizing and participating in unsanctioned rallies even though the country's constitution guarantees its citizens the right of free assembly.
Kazakh authorities have insisted that there are no political prisoners in the country.