Activist Ermek Narymbaev has been sentenced to 20 days in jail by Kazakh authorities, after the human rights lawyer wrote on his personal Facebook page that he was organising a peaceful protest in the financial capital Almaty.
The move has been condemned by human rights groups and the United Nations, who argued that the charge violated Narymbaev’s right to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly.
In Kazakhstan, as in other former Soviet countries such as Russia, protests must be sanctioned and approved by the government beforehand. Narymbaev, distressed by his country’s decision to devalue the national currency, the tenge, on August 20, wrote on his Facebook page: “I believe in peaceful dialogue with the government”. He added that he would hand-deliver demands to the government that day, and encouraged others to join him.
Narymbaev was arrested that evening when leaving his office, and questioned until after midnight. When he got home, he wrote on Facebook: “I did not expect my arrest…. It is very difficult to understand the rules of the game”. He was then sentenced to 20 days in jail for organising an “unsanctioned” protest. This is in addition to the 15 days Narymbaev spent behind bars after he organised another protest.
The United Nations called on the Kazakh government to drop all charges against Narymbaev, arguing that:
“Public dissent is a hallmark of a democracy and a confident state”
After serving 20 days behind bars, Narymbaev commented on his Facebook page about his release. He wrote that while in the “Gestapo” offices, a senior police chief had taunted him and compared his activities to those who filmed the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing. While referring to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled since 1989, when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union, Narymbaev wrote:
“Many of us have not yet been able to mass self-organise in order to protect the rights of the people from the lawlessness and dishonesty of the authorities under Nazarbayev”.
According to Freedom House’s report of Kazakhstan in 2014, its press is described as “not free”. The Central Asian country still has no freedom of expression law, despite the constitution guaranteeing it. Journalists face libel and defamation suits, outright censorship and methods of intimidation by the government.