Kazakhstan: Courts issue jail sentences against May Day protesters


NUR-SULTAN (TCA) — A court in Kazakhstan’s capital, Nur-Sultan, has begun to issue jail sentences against detained participants in a May Day protest against the country’s longtime leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and his family, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reported.

Dozens of people who took part in the protest rally and march were detained by city police on May 1.

Bauyrzhan Azanov, a lawyer for detained demonstrators Alimzhan Izbasarov and Altynbek Oryntaiuly, told RFE/RL on May 2 that his clients were convicted during a hearing overnight on charges of disobeying police orders.

He says they were each sentenced to five days in jail.

Activists say on social media that a third detained protester, Serik Asqarov, also has been sentenced to five days in jail. But those reports have not been independently confirmed by Kazakh authorities.

RFE/RL has learned that the court in Nur-Sultan also was conducting a hearing on May 2 against at least one other detained protester. She was identified at the court hearing as Bibigul Tuyaqova.

Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry said on May 1 that a total of 80 protesters were detained during May Day rallies in Nur-Sultan and in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty.

But RFE/RL correspondents who covered the Almaty demonstration reported that about 100 people were detained in that city alone.

The May Day protests in Nur-Sultan, Almaty, and several other cities were the largest in Kazakhstan since at least 2016.

They are an indication of growing public discontent with Kazakhstan’s political system, which has been dominated by Nazarbayev since before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Many of the protesters on May 1 were criticizing the scheduling of a snap presidential election on June 9 to confirm Nazarbayev’s successor as president following his sudden resignation from the post on March 19.

The 78-year-old Nazarbayev, who tolerated little dissent, continues to head Kazakhstan’s ruling Nur Otan party. He also retains the formal title “Leader of the Nation.”

On April 23, Nur Otan nominated interim President Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev as its candidate in the June presidential election.

Tokayev is expected to easily win the vote in the tightly controlled country.

Kazakhstan’s Nationwide Social Democratic Party, the only registered political party in the country that casts itself as in opposition to the government, has said that it will boycott the vote.

It has suggested that participating in the election would make it appear to be a puppet of the state.

Opponents, critics, and rights groups say Nazarbayev has denied many citizens their basic rights and has prolonged his hold on power by manipulating the democratic process.

International observers have never deemed an election in Kazakhstan as “free and fair” or as meeting international democratic standards.

Sergey Kwan