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Kazakh Activists Under Pressure Ahead Of Planned Opposition Rallies

Amangeldy Orazbaev (left) and Marua Eskendirova (second right) attend a protest rally in Oral in June.
Amangeldy Orazbaev (left) and Marua Eskendirova (second right) attend a protest rally in Oral in June.

ORAL, Kazakhstan -- Activists in the western Kazakh city of Oral are under pressure ahead of planned opposition protest rallies scheduled for October 23.

On October 22, a court in Oral sentenced Amangeldy Orazbaev to 20 days in jail for "violating the law on peaceful demonstrations" by organizing an unsanctioned rally last month.

Orazbaev rejected the charge, saying that "every Kazakh citizen has a constitutional right to hold public events and publicly express opinions."

Another activist in Oral, Bekbolat Otebekov, told RFE/RL that during a recent regular health check-up, doctors tried to "persuade" him to check in to the hospital even though his state of health is "very good."

Another rights activist and Orazbaev associate, Marua Eskendirova, told RFE/RL that she had been under surveillance, adding that a car had been parked next to her house in Oral for hours as men in civilian clothing watched her house.

A day earlier, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev publicly warned about legal repercussions of "illegal mass gatherings" in the country.

The anti-government rallies scheduled to be held across the country were planned by Mukhtar Ablyazov, the exiled former head of BTA Bank and an outspoken critic of the Kazakh government who resides in France.

The authorities declared Ablyazov's Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) and the associated, unregistered Koshe (Street) party "extremist" organizations in March 2018.

Human Rights Watch earlier this year criticized the Kazakh government for using anti-extremism laws as a tool to persecute critics and civic activists. Several hundred people have been prosecuted for supporting or being members of the DVK or Koshe.

The Kazakh authorities have insisted there are no political prisoners in the Central Asian country.

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