Andrei Prigor, Astana, Kazakhstan
In the spring of this year, Kazakhstan society was stirred up by the government making amendments to the law on land which would give foreigners the right to buy land. In an unprecedented development, all opposition movements, liberals and socialists and just activists came out against the law.
In the city of Atirau, at the beginning of April, notice was given for holding a peaceful rally but the local authorities refused to allow it. Regardless of this, on the 24 April, between 4,000 and 5,000 came out onto the square. Then a series of demonstrations swept through many other towns across the country. Aktobe, Semipalatinsk, Kizil-Orda, Almaty, Zhanaozen and many others took part in Kazakhstan-wide demonstrations.
Arrests and detention
As these were all spontaneous protests, it was decided to hold similar peaceful demonstrations on the same day – May 21- across the whole of Kazakhstan. In the middle of the month, organisers from Atirau were arrested and detained for 15 days. Among them were Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov.
On the eve of the 21 May demonstration, over 400 more people in various cities were subject to arrest and detention, with the aim of the peaceful protests being prevented from going ahead. In Astana, for example, in the early hours of 21 May about 30 potential participants were held.
Later, on May 31 – the day in Kazakhstan on which the victims of political repression are remembered (!) – Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov were arrested again – this time on criminal charges. They were accused of “aiming to overthrow constitutional order and seize power by violent means”, “inciting social discord”, “spreading false information” and “violating the procedure for organising peaceful gatherings”.
The first charge was later withdrawn. However, a trial is now proceeding on the remaining three charges and is causing a huge public outcry. The judge, either accidentally or deliberately, announced that the trial is ‘political’. This meant it was immediately taken up by human rights activists; international observers are now following the court proceedings. The authorities are taking all possible measures to prevent supporters of Max and Talgat from participating in the trial, trying to put a limit on the numbers who can participate. But activists are finding various ways of protesting and supporting these brave fighters.
This trial shows openly the rottenness of the Nazarbayev regime, which is actually shaking with fear before its own people. It is showing its nervousness in the run up to the fifth anniversary of the state massacre of oil-workers in Zhanaozen – December 16th. They want to get this trial over before then. They have been stepping up harassment of activists to try and prevent any public demonstrations to mark the anniversary. On the other hand, they have made sure that concessions have been made in relation to demands put forward recently by Zhanaozen workers.
Socialists, activists and trade unionists in Kazakhstan are actively involved in campaigning for the release of Max and Talgat. Their only ‘crime’ has been to help organise genuine peaceful protest against the anti-people laws of the Nursultan Nazarbayev regime.