Asya Tulesova is a Kazakhstan activist who gained notoriety after she was jailed for 15 days in 2019 for holding a poster during the Almaty marathon saying “You can’t run from the truth”. This week a court handed down another “guilty” verdict, this time leaving Tulesova with a criminal record.
Her crime? Losing her cool with police officers as they forcefully rounded up people who were peacefully protesting on June 6 this year. Tulesova, who was angry at the police officers’ actions, knocked the hat off one officer, calling several police at the scene “bastards” and “wretched cops”.
In her closing statement at trial this week, Tulesova said she considers the use of force by police toward citizens trying to peacefully express their views a violation of Kazakh citizens’ constitutional rights. But she concluded with an apology: “…I also understand that this did not justify my unrestrained reaction towards you, [and] I once again offer my sincere apologies.”
An Almaty court nonetheless convicted her of “insulting a government official” and “using violence against a police officer”, fined her, and placed restrictions on her freedom of movement for one-and-a-half years. While they did not impose a custodial sentence, Tulesova had already spent over two months in pretrial detention, as courts repeatedly refused to release her on bail. It is hard not to see those two months as punitive.
Tulesova’s criminal conviction, along with the routine arrest and jailing of people in Kazakhstan for trying to peacefully protest, shows just how little Kazakhstan’s law enforcement and judiciary respect the fundamental right to protest.
In addition to forcefully detaining protestors on the streets, authorities spent time and resources building a criminal case against Tulesova on the basis of a single officer’s hat being knocked off and six officers allegedly being “insulted”. The court spent considerable time examining whether the words “cop,” “wretched,” and “bastard” are offensive. Insulting words alone should never be criminalized.
Instead of targeting activists like Tulesova with unwarranted criminal charges, Kazakh authorities should protect the right of people in Kazakhstan to protest peacefully and express their critical views.