Kazakh Judge Fired After Opposition Activist's Acquittal

The chief judge of a court in western Kazakhstan has been fired after his court acquitted an opposition activist in a high-profile case.

The Manghystau regional court said on February 11 that Malik Kenzhaliev was fired for violating rights of workers whom he had hired to build a private cottage along the Caspian Sea shore, but did not pay them the agreed sum of money.

Kenzhaliev said his firing was politically motivated and accused the regional court, the Supreme Court, the National Security Committee, and the police of putting pressure on him and his colleagues.

Kenzhaliev said in a video statement on Facebook on February 11 that he was fired right after his judge, Gulnar Baiturova, had acquitted Aigul Aqberdieva in a case that stemmed from her social-media posts.

Kenzhaliev also said that police in Aqtau prevented him from holding a press conference in a local hotel on February 11 by harassing and interrogating people who gathered for the briefing.

In a second February 11 video statement on Facebook, Kenzhaliev called on international human rights organizations, the European Union, the United States, and Canada to help him and his colleagues and provide them with legal protection.

The 39-year-old Aqberdieva was acquitted on February 6.

She was accused of posting messages on social-media accounts belonging to the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement to call for the "forceful overthrow the government."

Aqberdieva went on trial in September, four days after her 45-year-old husband, Ablovas Zhumaev, was found guilty of the same charge and sentenced to three years in prison.

Both Aqberidieva and her husband pleaded not guilty and said their cases were politically motivated.

The couple has four children, the youngest of whom is 2 years old.

Kazakhstan banned the DVK in March 2018, accusing it of extremism.

The political movement was founded by fugitive former banker Mukhtar Ablyazov, who has been a vocal critic of President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

In November, Ablyazov was sentenced in absentia to life in prison by a Kazakh court for murder. He has denied the charge and called it politically motivated.

Opponents and rights groups say that Nazarbaev, in power since before the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, has taken systematic steps to suppress dissent and sideline potential opponents.