On May 6, two activists of “Oyan, Qazaqstan” (kaz. for “Wake up, Kazakhstan!”) political movements were detained for protesting the election results. Both have been actively protesting in the past and were detained on the grounds of “violating the procedure for organising and holding peaceful assemblies” for solitary pickets in November 2022 and March this year.
Held a protest, detained, released, detained again
Vlada Yermolcheva has been demonstrating with a poster stating “We were robbed of elections” in the central pedestrian street in Almaty on March 26, a week after the parliamentary election. She was swiftly detained that day, but later released. On May 6, police officers approached her in a cafe and demanded she follow them to a police station. On the night to May 7, she was found guilty of a violation of Article 488(7) of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Darkhan Sharipov has also been detained for a protest on November 20, 2022. On the day of the presidential election, a group of activists unfurled a banner reading “Will we live to (see) fair elections?” on the main square in Almaty. All were detained by the police in less than ten minutes and released the same day without charge. On May 7, the night court found Sharipov guilty of a violation of Article 488(6).
Police and court violated the procedure
In his interview to The Village Kazakhstan Yermolcheva’s attorney, Talgat Miyermanov, pointed out numerous procedural violations. No document stating the time and date of Yermolcheva’s first detention in March has been provided in the court materials. The detention report is dated 27 March – a day after the initial detention – but includes information from 19 April. Moreover, possible penalties stated in the law include a fine, an arrest is imposed only in exceptional cases – for instance, when a person has a previous conviction. The court, however, chose the harshest punishment – arrest with the maximum term, despite the fact that Yermolcheva had no criminal record.
Penalties for peaceful assembly without permission
Kazakhstan’s law “On Peaceful Assemblies” is heavily criticised by civil society for violating the right of peaceful assembly. While the Constitution grants the right to peacefully gather to all Kazakhstani citizens, and the Law states that it is sufficient to inform local authorities without obtaining explicit permission to organise a demonstration, in fact there is a very limited space where such gatherings could be held, and the organisers need to “book” them in advance by the same city council, who has the ability to veto the assembly. For the mobile demonstrations such as rallies, notification is not enough – one has to apply for a written approval of the authorities.
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Human rights defender Tatiana Chernobil, commented to Novastan on why the authorities acted so long after the pickets took place, says one can be held liable within one year after the peaceful assembly itself.
“This law prohibits the holding of peaceful assemblies without the so-called sanction of the Akimat (city council), – explains Chernobil. – Pickets under this law are considered to be peaceful assemblies, which means that holding them, the same as with other peaceful assemblies, without notification and, importantly, without obtaining the necessary reciprocal approval of the Akimat will be illegal.
Darkhan and Vlada held their actions without notifying the Akimat out of principle, rightfully believing that holding of solitary pickets should not require the approval of the authorities. Fair enough because these are international human rights standards. But our government and the law believe otherwise. Therefore, holding even single pickets without Akimat approval in Kazakhstan is fraught with penalties.
What is interesting is that, in general, the limitation period for administrative responsibility established by the Code of Administrative Offences is 2 months, but a special period of 1 year is established for violating the legislation on peaceful assemblies.
It is also interesting to see what other administrative offences have such a long limitation period of 1 year. These are ‘corruption offences, unlawful interference of officials into entrepreneurial activity and also for offences in the sphere of inspections of private enterprise and other forms of control and supervision with visits to private enterprise, taxation, environment protection, protection of competition, customs, legislation on pension provision, on obligatory social insurance, on energy saving and improvement of energy efficiency, on state secrets, on natural monopolies, subsoil and subsoil use.’ This is the kind of company that peaceful assemblies find themselves in,” – concludes Chernobil.
On May 11, after Yermolcheva’s verdict was upheld in the court of appeal, she declared she is going on a hunger strike.
In his letter from detention center, Darkhan Sharipov sends warm greetings to his fellow activists: “You must not be ashamed for your civic position; the president and the state must be ashamed of imprisoning citizens for dissent. Until there is one person willing to fight for their rights and freedoms, I have no doubt about the future of this country.”
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Written by Anna Wilhelmi
Edited by Abby Scripka