Jailed Kazakh Activist's Sentence Toughened After He Signs Letter To UN, EU

By RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- A court in Kazakhstan has toughened the sentence of a jailed activist convicted of "creating a banned organization and taking part in its activities."

Kazakhstan’s Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (KMBPCh) said on October 26 that a court in the Central Asian nation's largest city, Almaty, ruled last week that Ulasbek Akhmetov's sentence must be toughened and two more months must be added to his two-year prison term.

The court also ruled that Akhmetov, who was recognized by human rights groups in Kazakhstan as a political prisoner, must serve his term not in a colony settlement, as per Akhmetov's initial sentence, but in a regular prison. A colony settlement is a dormitory-like penitentiary located near an industrial facility where convicts work along with regular people.

According to the KMBPCh, the court did not provide any explanation for its move.

The court announced the decision on October 20, a day after media reports said that Akhmetov, along with other four jailed activists, had signed a letter addressed to the United Nations and the European Parliament that called on the international bodies to impose sanctions against Kazakh officials and judges involved in an ongoing crackdown on dissent.

Akhmetov was initially sentenced on August 31 to two years in a colony settlement and banned from any political and social activity for five years, after a court in Almaty found him guilty of being a leader and organizer of the banned Koshe (Street) Party.

The Koshe Party is associated with the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) of fugitive businessman and former Energy Minister Mukhtar Ablyazov, who was convicted in absentia of murder and embezzlement.

Ablyazov is an exiled former head of BTA Bank and an outspoken critic of the Kazakh authorities who has fought multiple extradition battles over accusations that he embezzled billions. The government designated the DVK an “extremist” organization in March 2018.

Human Rights Watch earlier this year criticized the Kazakh government for using anti-extremism laws as a tool to persecute critics and civic activists. Several hundred people have been prosecuted for membership in the Koshe Party.

The Kazakh authorities have insisted there are no political prisoners in the Central Asian country.