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Kazakh Political Activist's Early Release Request Denied

Activist Asqar Qaiyrbek demonstrates against Chinese expansion in Nur-Sultan in August 2019.
Activist Asqar Qaiyrbek demonstrates against Chinese expansion in Nur-Sultan in August 2019.

PETROPAVL, Kazakhstan -- A court in the northern Kazakh city of Petropavl has rejected a request for early release filed by Asqar Qaiyrbek, who was sentenced for organizing activities of the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) opposition group.

Qaiyrbek participated in the hearing on January 26 via video link from the penal colony where he is serving his sentence.

Judge Almas Zhumaghazin explained his decision by citing "a lack of evidence proving that the convict had been rehabilitated."

The 44-year-old activist was arrested in December 2020 and sentenced to 23 months in prison in June 2021 after a court found him guilty of organizing activities for an extremist group and taking part in such activities.

Critics say the 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 despite constitutional guarantees to the right of free assembly.

In August, Qaiyrbek launched a hunger strike to protest against his conviction and sentence.

In recent years, Kazakh courts have routinely given prison or parole-like sentences for involvement in the activities of the DVK and its associate, the unregistered Koshe (Street) party, or for taking part in rallies organized by the two groups.

The DVK is led by Mukhtar Ablyazov, the fugitive former head of the BTA Bank and an outspoken critic of the government. The authorities banned the DVK as an extremist group in 2018.

Rights groups in Kazakhstan say at least 300 men and women in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic have been convicted for their ties to the DVK and Koshe, or for taking part in events they organized.

The authorities insist there are no political prisoners in Kazakhstan.

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