Kazakhstan: Activist jailed for people-power banner citing constitution

NUR-SULTAN (TCA) — A Kazakh activist has been sentenced to five days in jail after hanging a big banner citing the constitution from a pedestrian bridge in Almaty, the tightly controlled country’s largest city, amid tension over a snap election that will be held in June, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reported.

Roman Zakharov was detained on April 29 after he affixed a banner that read “The only source of the state power is the people,” a citation from Kazakhstan’s constitution, to the bridge in the city center.

Zakharov’s lawyer, Erlan Erbolatuly, told RFE/RL that his client was found guilty of minor hooliganism, namely “intentionally littering the city’s public places,” and sentenced to five days in jail.

Zakharov’s jailing comes a day after a group of activists was detained in Nur-Sultan, the capital, after they rallied to support two other activists, Asiya Tulesova and Beibarys Tolymbekov, who are serving 15-day jail terms for unfurling banners in Almaty calling for a fair presidential election.

Kazakhstan is holding a snap election on June 9 following the resignation in March of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the authoritarian president who had led Kazakhstan since before it gained independence in the Soviet collapse of 1991.

Tulesova and Tolymbekov were arrested on April 21 after they unfurled a large banner that said “You cannot run from the truth” and featured hashtags calling for fair elections during a marathon held in the city.

The two were found guilty of holding an unsanctioned rally and sentenced on the same day. Tulesova announced a hunger strike protesting her incarceration.

Their arrest was filmed by three friends, Suinbike Suleimenova, Aidos Nurbolatov, and Aigul Nurbolatova, who were also arrested and later fined.

Nazarbayev still heads the ruling Nur Otan party, which on April 23 nominated interim President Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev as its candidate in the snap election. He is almost certain to win the election in the tightly controlled country.

Amnesty International and Freedom House have condemned the activists’ jailing and called for their immediate release.

Sergey Kwan