NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has warned of repercussions for what he called "illegal public gatherings" ahead of protest rallies planned by exiled opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov.
Domestic and international human rights groups have criticized Kazakhstan's new law on mass gatherings adopted last year, saying it allows the government to maintain its tight control over peaceful assembly.
Speaking at a session of parliament on October 21, Toqaev downplayed those concerns while saying that "those who take part in illegal demonstrations will be prosecuted."
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"The law on peaceful public gatherings we adopted is an important step for democratization, no matter what people say about it. Nobody is against peaceful gatherings, demonstrations. There is no need to obtain permission for that. Just informing authorities about that is enough. But some people do not follow even that requirement," he said.
"I want to warn the ones who commit such a violation of law that such activities will be legally assessed. The duty of the Prosecutor-General's Office is to explain the law to citizens, while law enforcement must provide safety and security in the society," Toqaev added.
Toqaev also took aim at women who have frequently rallied in front of the government buildings and banks to demand social allowances and other benefits for single mothers and lower-income families.
"We must honor mothers in our society. But mothers also must understand they have obligations. Some mothers with many children are disrupting the social order," Toqaev said.
Toqaev's statements come two days before rallies planned by Ablyazov, an exiled former head of BTA Bank and an outspoken critic of the Kazakh authorities who has fought multiple extradition battles over accusations that he embezzled billions.
Kazakh authorities designated Ablyazov's Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) and the group's associate, the unregistered Koshe (Street) party, as “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 parties.
The Kazakh authorities have insisted there are no political prisoners in the Central Asian country.