Kazakh Activist Goes On Trial For Alleged Links With Banned Political Groups

By RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

SHYMKENT, Kazakhstan -- A Kazakh activist arrested in January in the southern city of Shymkent for his alleged ties with two banned opposition groups has gone on trial.

The prosecutor at the Qaratau district court said on May 18 at the start of the trial of 46-year-old Nurzhan Mukhammedov that he was charged with having links with the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement and the Koshe (Street) party.

He is also charged with insulting traffic police.

Mukhammedov, who took part in the trial via video link from a detention center due to coronavirus precautions, rejected the first charge.

He admitted to insulting traffic police, saying that they were "illegally" attempting to violate his constitutional right to free movement.

About 20 people gathered in front of the court building to express their support for Mukhammedov, saying that his trial was politically motivated.

Mukhammedov, who is known as a vocal critic of the government, held two hunger strikes while in custody, demanding all charges against him be dropped.

He has been fined and sentenced to jail terms between five days and 15 days for his previous participation in several unsanctioned rallies. Human rights organizations in Kazakhstan have recognized Mukhammedov as a political prisoner.

Several activists in the Central Asian country have been handed prison terms or parole-like sentences in recent years for their support or involvement in the activities of the DVK and its associatd Koshe party, as well as for taking part in unsanctioned rallies organized by the two groups.

The DVK is led by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive former head of Kazakhstan's BTA Bank and outspoken critic of the government. The authorities labeled the DVK an extremist group and banned it in March 2018.

Human rights groups say Kazakhstan's law on public gatherings contradicts international standards, as it requires preliminary permission from the authorities to hold rallies and envisions prosecution for organizing and participating in unsanctioned rallies, even though the constitution guarantees its citizens the right to free assembly.