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Number Of Political Prisoners On Rise In Kazakhstan, Activists Say

Sanavar Zakirova appears in court in December 2019.
Sanavar Zakirova appears in court in December 2019.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- The number of political prisoners in Kazakhstan has risen to nine, local human rights defenders say in an update of a register they keep of such persons.

The chairwoman of the Almaty-based Ar. Rukh. Khaq. (Dignity, Spirit, Truth) rights group, Bakhytzhan Toreghozhina, said on September 8 that six more Kazakh citizens prosecuted in recent months or being prosecuted have now been recognized as political prisoners on the list, which does not include numerous cases where rights and political activists are jailed for less than 30 days.

The new political prisoners named on the list are Sanavar Zakirova, Asqar Ibraev, Serik Ydyrysov, Askhat Zheksebaev, Abai Begimbetov, and Qairat Qylyshev.

Zakirova, whose initiative to create a new political party, Our Right, was rejected by the authorities, was sentenced to one year in prison in July for "inflicting bodily damage" on a woman, which the civil rights activist denies.

Ibraev, from the northern city of Qostanai, is serving a one-year prison term for taking part in the activities of a banned political opposition movement.

Ydyrysov, a resident of the East Kazakhstan region, was initially handed a parole-like, one-year sentence for supporting a banned opposition group in December 2019. But he was subsequently arrested for organizing a flash mob that demanded an investigation into the death of activist Dulat Aghadil while in custody. Ydyrysov remains in pretrial detention.

Zheksebaev, Begimbetov, and Qylyshev are well-known civil rights activists who have been sentenced to several days in jail on numerous occasions for taking part in unsanctioned rallies. The three men are currently in a pretrial-detention center in Almaty. They are charged with being members of a banned political group called Street Party.

The previous list included Aron Atabek, Maks Boqaev, Erzhan Elshibaev, Eskendir Erimbetov, and Mukhtar Dzhakishev.

Prominent poet and dissident Atabek has been serving an 18-year prison term since 2007. He was convicted of helping organize protests that resulted in the death of a police officer, which he denies, calling the case against him politically motivated.

Boqaev was sentenced to five years in prison in 2016 for organizing massive unsanctioned protests in Kazakhstan’s west against land reform.

Elshibaev, an activist from the restive southwestern town of Zhanaozen, was sentenced to five years in prison in October 2019 for leading protests staged by jobless youths earlier in 2019. He was found guilty of hooliganism, which he and his supporters reject.

Businessman Erimbetov, who is a brother of a lawyer of fugitive Kazakh ex-banker and opposition figure Mukhtar Ablyazov, and Dzhakishev, a former chief of Kazakhstan's state nuclear company, Kazatomprom, were released from prison in December and March, respectively.

They and their supporters have said that their cases were also politically motivated.

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