As Kazakhstan gears up for parliamentary elections this spring, the Almaty City Prosecutor’s office on January 26 charged the opposition leader of the unregistered Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, Zhanbolat Mamay, with “organizing mass riots,” for his alleged role in the January 2022 protests in Almaty. The charge carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Oddly, this “new” charge comes just two months after the prosecutor’s office dropped an identical charge, reclassifying his alleged actions as “violating the procedure for organizing and holding peaceful assemblies.” Mamay was placed under house arrest after spending just over eight months in pretrial detention. Mamay also faces lesser charges of “insulting law enforcement officers” and “disseminating false information.” His trial on those began November 7, 2022 and is set to resume on February 6. Mamay remains under house arrest. Kazakhstan does not allow any genuinely independent opposition parties; Mamay’s party has not been able to register.
The new 59-page indictment asserts that Mamay decided to “organize mass riots, accompanied by violence, pogroms, arson, destruction, property damage, the use of firearms, as well as armed resistance to the authorities.” At least 238 people died in the January 2022 events in Kazakhstan, most of them in Almaty. The authorities have failed to ensure accountability for the hundreds who died or who alleged ill-treatment and torture following the violence.
What is lacking in the indictment is any evidence that Mamay committed the alleged crime.
The prosecutor argues that in order to organize mass riots, Mamay uploaded videos to Facebook calling on Almaty residents to join the peaceful protest on January 4, that he misinformed the crowd by saying tens of thousands of people had gathered in the city of Zhanaozen, and that he acted on people’s heightened emotions to call for a fair government, a fair election, political reform, the dissolution of Parliament, and registration of political parties in Kazakhstan.
Expert analyses commissioned by the prosecution concluded that Mamay “promoted destructive attitudes of civil and political behavior” and “contributed to the growth of protest activism on January 3-4, 2022.”
However, the indictment does not say Mamay carried out any violent acts or called for violence because there is no evidence he did.
Calling for political reforms is not a crime, but locking Mamay away for 10 years most certainly would be.