Kazakh Police Break Up Opposition Rallies, Detain Over 50

Police in Kazakhstan have broken up opposition rallies in several cities, including the capital Nur-Sultan, detaining dozens.

Police were out in large numbers ahead of the planned unsanctioned action on September 21 in Nur-Sultan, the capital, and Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city, according to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.

As crowds began to gather to voice their protests against Chinese investment and the continued influence of former President Nursultan Nazerbaev, police in each city quickly moved in to disperse them.

According to the Kazakh Interior Ministry, 57 individuals were detained in Nur-Sultan and Almaty and could face fines or other legal actions for taking part in an unsanctioned event.

Rallies were staged in smaller cities as well, including Shymkent, where RFE/RL's correspondent reports that at least 20 people were taken away by police.

The rallies were organized by Kazakhstan's Democratic Choice, which is banned and whose leader, Mukhtar Ablyazov, lives in self-imposed exile in France. He is wanted by Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine on suspicion of embezzling some $5 billion.

In the capital, one unidentified woman was seen raising her hands up in view of police, saying: "We are peaceful, our hands are free" before she was ushered to a police vehicle.

In another scene, captured on video by RFE/RL, a group of police in Nur-Sultan can be seen forcibly detaining a teenage girl despite her mother's claims that the teen was just "going to the store" along with her younger siblings.

In Almaty, demonstrators who had assembled in a central street said they were there to oppose the establishment of joint Kazakh-Chinese companies in the country, and to express their dissatisfaction with the political situation.

The country's longstanding ruler, Nursultan Nazarbaev, stepped down as president in March but still holds considerable sway as leader of the ruling Nur Otan party. His successor, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, was elected in early elections in June.

The Interior Ministry said on September 21 that "despite repeated warnings" some citizens had succumbed to the "provocative calls of a banned extremist organization," and some had threatened the peace and safety of fellow citizens in the process.

Kazahkstan's Prosecutor-General’s office had warned people to stay away from the coordinated event, warning that law enforcement officers would take "strict measures to prevent illegal rallies."

"Destructive forces are... provoking a threat to social security by trying to incite social and ethnic discord. The Prosecutor-General's office calls on the citizens to strictly follow laws, stay away from provocations and abstain from taking part in the illegal actions and activities of organizations banned on our country’s territory," Deputy Prosecutor-General Berik Asylov said in a statement.

The Almaty-based Coalition of Civil Initiatives human rights group said on September 20 that about 50 activists had been fined or sentenced to jail terms between 7 and 15 days in the last five days in Nur-Sultan, Almaty and several other cities on charges of organizing or taking part in unsanctioned rallies earlier this month.

Last year, a Kazakh court sentenced Ablyazov in absentia to life in prison for murder, a charge he also has denied and labeled politically motivated.

That ruling came after another Kazakh court had sentenced Ablyazov to 20 years in prison in absentia after convicting him of organizing and leading a criminal group, as well as abuse of office, embezzlement, and financial mismanagement.

Ablyazov has denied all of the charges and accusations, calling them politically motivated.