Several opposition and rights activists have been detained across Kazakhstan as the day of an early presidential election scheduled for November 20 nears.
Police in the southwestern town of Zhanaozen on November 15 detained noted opposition activist Estai Qarashaev, who was sentenced to six days in jail several hours later on a charge of violating regulations for holding public gatherings.
Qarashaev was among oil workers who protested in 2011 to demand higher wages. Police brutally dispersed the protests, killing at least 16 people.
In the country’s largest city, Almaty, on November 15, police detained Aset Abishev, a member of the founding committee of the Algha Qazaqstan (Forward, Kazakhstan) party that has been trying unsuccessfully for eight months to get registered for the election.
It is not clear why Abishev was detained. Last week, five other members of the unregistered party were detained for taking part in an unsanctioned rally in August.
WATCH: Several activists of a Kazakh opposition movement have been arrested and police were stationed outside the door of another ahead of a snap presidential election scheduled for November 20.
Meanwhile, in the village of Bobrovka in the East Kazakhstan region, rights activist Serik Ydyryshev was detained, his wife Gulmira Berikqyzy told RFE/RL on November 15. According to Berikqyzy, her husband’s arrest is linked to the upcoming early presidential election. The police department of the East Kazakhstan region was not available for comment.
One day earlier, opposition activist Rashid Qamaldanov was sentenced in Almaty to 15 days in jail for taking part in an unsanctioned rally earlier this year.
In Astana, the capital, jailed activist Sandughash Qantarbaeva stared a hunger strike last weekend, protesting her administrative arrest that she says was handed to her to prevent her from taking part in protests on the day of the presidential election.
Many activists complained to RFE/RL that they have been followed and that police have been monitoring their homes. According to the activists, the pressure imposed on them is directly linked to the presidential poll, while the country’s Constitution guarantees them freedom of expression and freedom of public gatherings. An Interior Ministry official denied that measures to prevent the activists from holding rallies on the day of election are under way.
President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, who has tried to position himself as a reformer, on September 1 called the early presidential election and proposed changing the presidential term to seven years from five years. Under the new system, future presidents will be barred from seeking more than one term.
Critics say Toqaev’s initiatives have been mainly cosmetic and do not change the nature of the autocratic system in a country that has been plagued for years by rampant corruption and nepotism.
Toqaev’s predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbaev, who ran the tightly controlled former Soviet republic with an iron fist for almost three decades, chose Toqaev as his successor when he stepped down in 2019.
Though he was no longer president, Nazarbaev retained sweeping powers as the head of the Security Council. He also enjoyed substantial powers by holding the title of “elbasy” or leader of the nation.
Many citizens, however, remained upset by the oppression during Nazarbaev’s reign.
Those feelings came to a head in January when unprecedented antigovernment nationwide protests started over a fuel price hike, and then exploded into countrywide deadly unrest over perceived corruption under the Nazarbaev regime and the cronyism that allowed his family and close friends to enrich themselves while ordinary citizens failed to share in the oil-rich Central Asian nation’s wealth.
Toqaev subsequently stripped Nazarbaev of his Security Council role, taking it over himself. Since then, several of Nazarbaev’s relatives and allies have been pushed out of their positions or resigned. Some have been arrested on corruption charges.
A Toqaev-initiated referendum in June removed Nazarbaev’s name from the constitution and annulled his status as “elbasy.”