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Opposition Figure Convicted in Kazakhstan

Government Claims of Reform Ring Hollow in Protest Aftermath

Zhanbolat Mamay, center, sits with his lawyers during a trial hearing in November 2022 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. © 2022 Private

On April 10, a court in Almaty, Kazakhstan convicted Zhanbolat Mamay, an opposition figure accused of organizing mass riots in Almaty during January 2022 protests, and sentenced him to a six year prison term, which was suspended. The charges had carried a maximum 10-year sentence. The court also found Mamay guilty of insulting law enforcement officers and disseminating false information and prohibited him from any “social or political” activism, including by publishing on social media for six years. If authorities deem Mamay violates the prohibition, he faces imprisonment.

While the court did not send Mamay to prison, his conviction effectively stripped him of his basic human rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association for the next six years. As a result, he cannot continue to try to register his political party, the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, or participate in peaceful rallies or meetings. He cannot freely use social media or work as a journalist or blogger.

Mamay’s sentencing comes shortly after recent parliamentary elections, which authorities portrayed as a step toward advancing President Tokaev’s promised political reforms. Although independent candidates could run, independent monitors pointed to problems that included “undue administrative hurdles” and the authorities’ control over the party registration process. No election in Kazakhstan has been deemed free and fair by independent election monitors.

Courts have also convicted over 1,000 others in connection with the January 2022 events. Authorities have overwhelmingly prosecuted protesters instead of effectively investigating law enforcement officers’ use of lethal force or detainees’ allegations of torture and ill-treatment. As a result, over a year on, Kazakh authorities have yet to ensure justice for the 238 people who were killed in the unrest, including six people who the government admits died of torture while in police custody.

When Kazakhstan’s leadership talks about their reform agenda, their international partners should raise Mamay’s conviction, even if he was not sent to prison, and how it contrasts to the lack of justice for the many January 2022 victims.

Until opposition figures like Mamay are free to exercise their rights to political activism, register genuine opposition parties, and peacefully but loudly express their critical views online or in the streets, the government’s claims of political reform will ring hollow.

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