On July 6, a rally was organised in Almaty by the Kazakhstan Democratic Party (DP) under the slogan, “Against price increases and the participation of Chinese capital in the Kazakh economy”.
The DP is an extremely unpopular, pro-presidential party whose main topic for protests has been the so-called “Chinese expansion”. This resulted in zero interest from Kazakh society. Now it is trying to raise its popularity using left-wing slogans and demands. The national liberals (as they call themselves) have included a subject for protests that worries everyone In Kazakhstan – rising prices.
Two communists from our organisation, Red Yurt – Alimzhan Izbasarov and Valikhan Sultanov – went to the rally on their own initiative. The leader of the Democratic Party, Zhanbolat Mamai, despite his diametrically opposed political views, allowed Alimzhan Izbasarov to speak. Alimzhan has some authority among Kazakhstan activists, so he insisted that Valikhan should also be allowed to speak.
At 12 pm, a SWAT team and security forces surrounded the protesters. No one was allowed to go out of the circle or into it. The protesters made several unsuccessful attempts to break free. Valikhan Sultanov contacted the correspondents of Red Yurt to tell them the protesters were not being released, under the pretext that the rally had not been sanctioned.
We were told that the protesters were running out of water and the police were not allowing water to be passed to the protesters. Journalists and activists of Red Yurt immediately went to the place of the rally.
When we arrived with water and sandwiches, we found the police had cordoned off Baitursynov and Abai streets for a kilometre along the perimeter, not allowing any pedestrians through except journalists and no private transport, only buses. The rally was blocked by city buses positioned along the perimeter. Only journalists from a left-wing human rights organisation who had journalist IDs were able to reach the protesters. Only after long negotiations with SWAT, the transfer of water and food was allowed
Towards three pm, there were just 28 protesters inside the circle, nine of whom were women. There was about 200-250 SWAT personnel, so attempts to break out of the ring were doomed to failure in advance. After one particular attempt, SWAT attacked the protesters. Valikhan Sultanov, Yrysbek Toktasyn, and Dostiyarov Dauren were brutally attacked by the security forces. They were taken to the police department for, allegedly, clarification of the circumstances. It was actually to make it impossible to film and witness the beatings they were giving them.
After most of the victims of SWAT were taken away, the cordon was still not removed. The protesters were not released from the police cordon, which continued to try and prevent the transfer of water, and journalists were threatened with arrest. The protesters were not allowed out of the ring for almost 10 hours: from 12 noon to almost 10 pm. Never before have there been such incidents at rallies in Kazakhstan. After the cordon was removed, many protesters went to look for the detainees. We went to the nearest Bostandyk police station, but our comrades were no longer there.
With the excuse of the coronavirus pandemic, a summary online trial was held and the detainees were sentenced to 10 days’ detention and taken away to an undisclosed location.
The following day
On July 7, Red Yurt and Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Citizens’ Defence) helped to search for the victims of this police brutality. From early in the morning, activists went round all the city’s police stations, to the Special Reception Centre for those who have been ‘Administratively Arrested’ and to the temporary detention centre of the Department of Internal Affairs. Our comrades Yrysbek Toktasyn, Dostiyarov Dauren, and Valikhan Sultanov were not registered on any lists of detainees.
One of the organisers of the protest, Zhanbolat Mamay, held a press conference at the premises of the Internal Affairs Directorate of Almaty (Temporary Detention Centre, under the Department of Internal Affairs), where he mentioned Yrysbek Toktasyn and Dostiyarov Dauren and called Valikhan “another unknown person”.
An Azattyk journalist interviewed the activists of Red Yurt, who explained that all three had been ‘disappeared’. They explained that Valikhan was the “third unknown person”. The events clearly amounted to an “abduction of activists”. But these comments were cut from the journalist’s report.
We learned that Yrysbek Toktasyn and Dostiyarov Dauren were probably in different police stations outside the city – one in the Issyk police station and the other in the Kaskelenskiy police station. Valikhan Sultanov was in a hospital, but where and in what condition, the security forces refused to say.
In the evening, a message came from Valikhan himself that he was at the Center for Mental Health (CPH) in Almaty. By 10 pm our Red Yurt journalists arrived there. But nobody wanted to comment on anything in the Central Reception Centre. Everything is closed there and it is impossible to reach anyone. We contacted all the human rights defenders we could, including the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR).
Andrei Grishin, a spokesman for the Civil Defence public association, said that KIBHR had hired a lawyer for all those detained at the rally. We contacted a lawyer, Yerlan Yerbolatuly, who eventually told us that neither Yrysbek Toktasyn nor Dostiyarov Dauren was in any of the police stations. Later they were found in the Special Prison for the Administratively Arrested, in which they were not registered and they had already been given a term of ten days’ detention.
Security officials denied responsibility “in connection with the injuries of Valikhan Sultanov”.
A lawyer went to film the injuries of the first two and to appeal against the charges against them. As he himself put it, if he had enough time, he would make sure that Valikhan Sultanov is there. We told the lawyer that we were going to the mental hospital, and would keep him abreast of all the events. The activists did not wait for the lawyer; we decided that we had to do something ourselves.
At the entrance, where the parcels are received, they called the department. After long bickering from the hospital staff who mainly referred to the fact that information would only be provided to relatives, the head doctor came to us. The activists were not allowed to meet with Valikhan. The head physician said that Valikhan was with them, but, if we “continue our search, he will be worse off,” and, in general, she says this “in secret to the whole world”. We agreed with her that it would be possible to transfer the necessary things to him, but this is all unofficial.
The rest of the time, activists and correspondents devoted to sending messages to as many leftist organisations as possible and contacting both official and unofficial human rights defenders.
The time allowed for handing in packages to the mental hospital inmates was from 10 am to 1pm and then from 5 pm to 8 pm. We gave in things for Valikhan – cigarettes and other things that were allowed to be handed over. It was not possible to talk to Valikhan himself; the handover was completed without much argument. According to the lawyer, he is going to go to the mental hospital tomorrow and will try to meet with Valikhan.
The lawyer was not allowed to meet with Valikhan who has been illegally detained in the mental hospital for the fifth day, at the time of this writing. Strangely enough, the Azattyk news network quite accurately conveys the lawyer’s conversation with the hospital administration:
“I showed them documents – a certificate that I am a lawyer – and asked permission to go to him. They started asking me for a vaccination passport. I presented this passport. But I was still refused, citing the situation with the coronavirus. And it seemed to me that they were just looking for reasons not to let me in.
“The head physician also refused me under the same pretext. He asked to write an official request, which will be answered within three days. I explained that I needed to go in now, but they still wouldn’t let me in.
“I explained to the director that their actions were illegal. The deputy head physician said that, in any case, you need to get permission from the head physician and he has a working day that finishes at 5 pm. While I sorted this out – running around the offices -the working day was over”.
The situation remained in limbo.
Valikhan Sultanov is free! We have his first video! Thank you all for your support! We wouldn’t have succeeded without you. Here’s what he says:
“I, Valikhan Sultanov, am free. I express my deep gratitude to everyone who helped my release. Without you, they would have kept me for another half a year. Many thanks to Red Yurt for the support and for seeking out the information all this time. I also express my deep gratitude to everyone else who showed solidarity.”
Message from Red Yurt, 15 July
Another leftist activist, a communist, was detained today (14 July). The reason is participation in the rally which took place on July 6th in Almaty. Alimzhan Izbasarov was charged under Article 434 (Petty Hooliganism) of the Administrative Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan and sentenced to 6 days of administrative arrest. We will keep you updated on the progress of the case.
Alimzhan Izbasarov is also a member of the Red Yurt group. During the aforementioned rally, he went as a private person, and not as a representative of an organisation. Alim did not show aggression towards the police, did not commit any illegal or inappropriate actions, and was not involved in any crimes.
Is it for real that the authorities are going to continue their punitive actions against left-wing activists? And it happened the very moment when we thought all repressions are behind us, literally a few hours after the release of Valikhan Sultanov.
Today we managed to contact the detained activist, communist Alimzhan Izbasarov, and give him the necessary things. Also, a lawyer was admitted to Alimzhan, through whom he filed an appeal and transmitted the following message:
“I express my gratitude to my family, my friends for their support and tell them: Everything is fine with me, don’t worry.”
According to Alimzhan, during the arrest, physical force was applied to him (a blow to the stomach). Alimzhan described his condition as normal.
The appeal will be reviewed by the court tomorrow. We will keep you updated.
The CWI says:
These attacks by the authorities, undoubtedly on the orders of the central government, emanate from none other than Nursultan Nazarbayev. A dictator in Kazakhstan from before the days of the break-up of the ‘Soviet Union’, he still holds the reins of power.
Just this week, when peaceful protesters are being arrested and beaten up by state forces, has come news of a new film being made by Oliver Stone that whitewashes the vicious rule of Nursultan Nazarbayev for more than three decades. Nazarbayev still rules the roost behind the Nur Otan government that supresses nearly every democratic right…to freedom of speech and protest, assembly and indepedent organisation.
These rights are inscribed on the banner of the Committee for a Workers’ International, as well as those for an end to capitalism and for workers’ democracy and socialism.
Red Yurt say they received solidarity messages from a “wide variety of left organisations” and are very appreciative of the support given by the CWI. Many sections of our International sent protests to Kazakhstan embassies – along the lines of the letter from Campaign Kazakhstan published on this site – and also sent letters of solidarity to Red Yurt (at firstname.lastname@example.org).