Kazakhstan police arrested protesters calling for the release of political prisoners in accordance with an EU resolution.
Kazakhstan police arrested dozens of demonstrators demanding the release of political prisoners in accordance with a resolution passed by the European Parliament.
Opponents of the government attempted their first protest on Sunday since the resolution calling on the European Union to prioritize rights in its relations with Kazakhstan, saying there had been “worrying deterioration” in the oil-rich country.
About 50 protesters were arrested in the larger city of Almaty before they could gather near a city park, where the internet appeared to have been closed.
Several of the demonstrators shouted “freedom to political prisoners” when they were manhandled in waiting vans.
“Nazarbayev, go,” chanted other protesters, referring to the influential ex-President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has retained considerable powers since his resignation almost two years ago and helped election of a hand-picked successor.
The ruling party, Nur Otan, dominated the political scene in the former Soviet republic for nearly three decades, while opposition movements – sidelined and without a seat in parliament – are mostly heard through public events.
The new president of the Central Asian nation, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, presented himself as a reformer and signed a law last year easing restrictions on public meetings.
But the European Parliament’s non-binding resolution of February 11 said “systemic gaps in respect for freedom of association, assembly and expression” persisted.
He also criticized “secret court rulings” which banned two opposition groups affiliated with former Energy Minister Mukhtar Ablyazov.
Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry said the resolution was “initiated by hostile politicians, fueled by inaccurate information from destructive circles.”
The district attorney warned on Friday that anyone participating in the protests – called in cities across the vast country – could face administrative detentions of 20 to 50 days for joining unauthorized rallies.
In a Saturday Facebook post, Ablyazov, who fled the country in 2009, called on the Kazakhs “not to stand on the sidelines when democracies are ready to support the Kazakh people in the fight against dictatorship.”
The former bank chief, wanted for embezzling funds and organizing the murder of a banker in Kazakhstan, has been granted asylum in France.
He insists the criminal cases are political retaliation for his opposition to former President Nazarbayev, who remains a powerful figure and close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.