Several opposition and right-wing activists have been arrested across Kazakhstan as the day of snap presidential elections scheduled for November 20 approaches.
Police in the southwestern city of Zhanaozen on November 15 arrested well-known opposition activist Estai Qarashaev, who was sentenced a few hours later to six days in prison for violating rules on holding public meetings.
Karashayev was among oil workers protesting for higher wages in 2011. Police brutally broke up the protests, killing at least 16 people.
In the country’s largest city, Almaty, on November 15, police arrested Aset Abishev, a member of the founding committee of the Algha Qazaqstan (Forward, Kazakhstan) party, which has been trying unsuccessfully to register for the elections for eight months.
It is not clear why Abishev was arrested. Last week, five other members of the unregistered party were arrested for attending an unauthorized rally in August.
WATCH: Several activists from a Kazakh opposition movement have been arrested and police stationed at the door of another movement ahead of snap presidential elections scheduled for November 20.
Meanwhile, in the village of Bobrovka in East Kazakhstan region, rights activist Serik Ydyryshev was arrested, his wife Gulmira Berikqyzy told RFE/RL on November 15. According to Berikqyzy, her husband’s arrest is related to the upcoming early presidential elections. The East Kazakhstan Region Police Department could not be reached for comment.
A day earlier, opposition activist Rashid Qamaldanov was sentenced to 15 days in prison in Almaty for taking part in an unauthorized rally earlier this year.
In Astana, the capital, jailed activist Sandughash Qantarbaeva went on a hunger strike last weekend to protest her administrative arrest, which she says was handed over to prevent her from taking part in protests on the day of the presidential election.
Many activists complained to RFE/RL that they were being followed and that the police were monitoring their homes. According to the activists, the pressure exerted on them is directly related to the presidential election, while the country’s constitution guarantees them freedom of expression and assembly. An Interior Ministry official denied that any action would be taken to prevent activists from holding rallies on election day.
President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, who has attempted to position himself as a reformer, called snap presidential elections on September 1 and proposed changing the president’s term from five to seven years. Under the new system, future presidents will be barred from seeking more than one term.
Critics say Toqaev’s initiatives were mostly cosmetic and do nothing to change the nature of the autocratic system in a country that has been plagued by rampant corruption and nepotism for years.
Toqaev’s predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbaev, who ruled the tightly controlled former Soviet republic with an iron fist for nearly three decades, chose Toqaev as his successor when he stepped down in 2019.
Although he was no longer president, Nazarbayev retained extensive powers as chairman of the Security Council. He also enjoyed considerable powers, holding the title “Elbasy” or leader of the nation.
However, many citizens remained angered by the repression during Nazarbayev’s reign.
Those feelings came to a head in January, when unprecedented nationwide anti-government protests over a gas price hike began, then spiraled into deadly nationwide riots over alleged corruption under the Nazarbayev regime and the nepotism that allowed his family and close friends to escape rich as ordinary citizens could not share in the wealth of the oil-rich Central Asian nation.
Toqaev then stripped Nazarbaev of his role on the Security Council and assumed it himself. Since then, several of Nazarbayev’s relatives and allies have been forced out of office or have resigned. Some were arrested on corruption charges.
A Toqaev-initiated referendum in June removed Nazarbaev’s name from the constitution and annulled his status as “Elbasy”.