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Organizing Head Of Nascent Kazakh Opposition Party Detained


Zhanbolat Mamai

The leader of a group seeking to create the opposition Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, Zhanbolat Mamai, has been detained on the eve of a planned protest in Almaty.

Mamai's wife, Inga Imanbai, posted video of Mamai's February 21 detention on Facebook:

The detention occurred outside a courthouse in the city of Kaskelen, near Almaty, where Mamai was attending a hearing on the case of fellow Democratic Party initiative group member Zhanbol Rakhmetulla, who had been detained earlier in the day.

Police in Kaskelen did not respond to requests for comment on Mamai's detention.

In 2017, Mamai was convicted on money-laundering charges that he and his supporters say were politically motivated and given a three-year suspended sentence, which is still in force.

The initiative group to form the Democratic Party was legally registered by the Justice Ministry in December.The group planned to hold a congress in Almaty on February 22, but canceled it on February 19 because of the arrests and detentions of party activists.

Authorities have reportedly detained dozens of party supporters in cities around the country, most of them for allegedly participating in earlier unsanctioned demonstrations. Kazakh law requires that a party's founding congress be attended by at least 1,000 people.

Instead of the congress, Mamai's group called on supporters to attend a February 22 protest in the center of Almaty.

Human rights proponents have said Kazakhstan’s law on public gatherings contradicts international standards as it requires preliminary permission from authorities to hold rallies and envisions prosecution for organizing and participating in unsanctioned rallies even though the nation's constitution guarantees its citizens the right of free assembly.

During a working visit to Nur-Sultan earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lauded what he said was a "real improvement in Kazakhstan" and "real changes" since President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev came to power in March 2019 following the resignation of Nursultan Nazarbaev, who ruled the country for nearly 30 years.

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