Press release

Kazakhstan: Activists arrested on charges of inciting hatred

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ARTICLE 19

15 Jun 2012

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Theatre Director Bolat Atabayev and public activist Zhanbolat Mamai have today (15 June 2012) been arrested in Almaty and placed into Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee (KNB) detention facility.  This follows a court decision of 14 June 2012 to formally arrest them, stemming from their absence from interrogations conducted into incitement of social discord leading to the riots in Zhanaozen in December 2012 with which they are charged.

In the coming days, Atabayev and Mamai are expected to be transferred to Mangistau oblast, where their cases are being investigated. In May, according to the prosecutor of Zhanaozen, Bolat Atabayev and Zhanbolat Mamai failed to show up despite being summoned for questioning by officials, which has now led to their formal arrest.  

“The growing number of arrests and criminal cases in Kazakhstan involving charges of inciting social discord is alarming,” says Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.  “ARTICLE 19 is particularly concerned about the circumstances of these cases. The riots in Zhanaozen and Shepte are currently being dealt with by local courts while in parallel high-profiled political and public activists face spurious charges of inciting social discord, which have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Kazakhstan.”

A date for the trial of Atabaev and Mamai has yet to be announced. According to different opposition sources in Kazakhstan, 11 other people, including opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, will be tried on similar charges involving incitement of social discord.

In an interview with ARTICLE 19 Atabayev and Mamai expressed the fear that the charges against them might be changed to include the accusation of violently overthrowing the constitutional order. They stated that following a  linguistic exercise to determine if their public statements contained signs of incitement to social hatred, the KNB concluded that rather than social hatred, that there were elements that included attempts to overthrow the constitutional order.

Background

In January 2012, the Kazakh authorities conducted searches of the apartments and offices of belonging to members of unregistered opposition party, Alga, and the independent newspaper, Vzglyad. Vladimir Kozlov, the leader of the Alga party, Igor Vinyavskiy, chief editor of Vzglyad, and opposition member, Serik Sapargali, were all detained on various charges related to the official investigation into the riots in Zhanaozen. Following the search, Atabayev and Mamai each received a summons by the Almaty department of the KNB and were formally charged with inciting social hatred under Article 164 of the Kazakh Criminal Code, however they were not detained and signed a ‘pledge not to leave the city .

 On 4 June  the city court of Aktau found 34 of 37 defendants in the Zhanaozen riots trial guilty under Article 241 (2) and (3) of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan that provide for “Participation in mass unrest accompanied by violence, arsons, wrecking, destruction of property, the use of fire arms, explosives, or explosion devices, as well as by armed resistance to a representative of the state authorities” and “Exhortations to active non-compliance with legal requirements of representatives of the state authorities, as well as exhortations to mass unrest, as well as to violence against citizens.” Twelve of the 34 received prison sentences ranging from to three and seven years. Earlier, on May 21, the court of Aktau convicted 10 out of 12 protesters over rioting in the town of Shetpe.

 Criminal prosecution of those who publicly protest and disseminate information about their critical position may expand to more cases well beyond just the scope of the Zhanaozen riots.

 Berik Zhagiparov, editor-in-chief of the Molodezhanaya gazeta newspaper, currently awaits the outcome of a KNB investigation started three months ago with a ‘discussion’ with a KNB investigator. The KNB had started a pre-investigation check into Berik Zhagiparov in March of this year following the posting of a video interview of with workers from Kazakhmys (the leading copper producer in Kazakhstan) on his newspaper’s website in which they expressed their intention to begin protests. Despite the legal obligation for a pre-investigation not to last up longer than two months Zhagiparov remains unaware of the outcome of the pre-investigation, and the formal grounds for its opening. The uncertainty about the possible charges are coupled with threats of violence and demands to close down his newspaper and show the vulnerability of independent journalists in Kazakhstan.

  • For more information, please contact Nathalie Losekoot, ARTICLE 19 Senior Programme Officer, Europe, nathalie@article19.org or call + 44 207 324 2509
  • ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.