Kazakhstan sentenced Serikzhan Mambetalin and Ermek Narymbaev to 2 and 3 years in prison respectively, over criticizing the government on Facebook posts. The activists were convicted by the Almalinskii District Court in Almaty on January 22, 2016, under charges of “circulating information in social media that contains elements of inciting social discord” according to Article 174 of the Kazakh Criminal Code . The activists were also barred from civic activities for five years.
The two activists were arrested in October 2015 in relations to critical Facebook posts which related to unpublished book written by Murat Telibekov, an anti-government activist. The posts were attended as describing the Kazakh nation “in provocative terms” and deemed by authorities to be offensive towards “the honor and dignity of the Kazakh nation”.
Serikzhan Mambetalin, former head of the Rukhaniyat party, is a prominent critic of the Kazakh government, actively expressing his critical opinions on social media. In 2011, allegations of irregularities prevented his party from taking part in 2012 parliamentary elections.
Ermek Narymbaev, a lawyer, human rights defender and civil society activist, was arrested twice this year by Kazakh authorities for attempting to arrange peaceful protests.
In response to the arrests, harmful for the democratic rights in Kazakhstan, United Nations human rights expert Maina Kiai called the Kazakhstan authorities on September 2015 to immediately release and drop all charges against him and to “end what appears to be the criminalization of peaceful protests”.
The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association added:
“Public dissent is a hallmark of a democracy and a confident state… Civil society actors are key players in securing sustainable human rights protection. It is essential that they can operate freely, online as well as offline”.
According to Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net report for the year 2015, Kazakhstan’s status is NOT FREE. The report emphasizes that the state of internet freedom in the country continues to decline: “the government increasingly cracks down on independent journalism and online content deemed “extremist”… The government also continues to pass restrictive laws banning certain content online and expanding its powers to shut down communication networks and media outlets”.
The report reveals that in 2015 the criminal code was amended to toughen penalties for defamation. A year earlier, the office of the prosecutor general was given authority to “shut down websites, block access to pages, or disable telecommunications services entirely if they are used for malicious purposes”.