Kazakh Authorities Say Dozens Detained During Unsanctioned Rallies

NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakhstan's Interior Minister says about 100 people were detained during unsanctioned opposition rallies on September 21.

Erlan Turghymbaev told reporters in Nur-Sultan on September 23 that nine of the protesters were sentenced to several days in jail, while six were fined for "taking part in illegal public gatherings." The others were released, he added.

Turghymbaev said the protesters were detained after rallying in seven or eight towns and cities, but gave no further details.

On September 21, police detained dozens of people at opposition rallies in Nur-Sultan, Almaty, and several other towns and cities in the oil-rich Central Asian nation.

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. He denies the charges.

Ablyazov told Current Time via Skype on September 23 that the holding of protesters in Kazakhstan indicated "the authorities' enormous fear" of dissent.

"The authorities are helping us, they advertise us by blocking streets and squares, mobilizing the army and other [law enforcement units]. They are helping us and I would like to thank the authorities that they...switched off the Internet twice during earlier rallies, so the situation is changing and the whole country knows about DVK now," Ablyazov said, adding that the antigovernment protests will continue.

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 across the country days before the rallies 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 called all of the charges and accusations politically motivated.