NHC condemns harsh sentence given to peaceful activists

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee condemns the five-year sentence given yesterday to peaceful activists Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayan in retaliation for their peaceful protest against proposed amendments to the country’s land-law in April and May. The harsh prison sentence is in violation of the Constitution of Kazakhstan and the country’s international human rights obligations, and must therefore be quashed, the NHC said.

“Yesterday’s politically motivated verdict is a mockery of justice, and can only be understood as retaliation for Bokayev and Ayan’s outspoken role in the peaceful protests that took place in Kazakhstan in April and May”, said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “We call on Kazakhstani authorities to reconsider the verdict and immediately free Bokayev and Ayan”, he said.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee was present yesterday in Atyrau City Court No 2, when judge Gulnar Dauleshova announced her verdict. The court found Bokayev and Ayan guilty of incitement of social discord, dissemination of knowingly false information and violations of the law regulating peaceful assembly. They were sentenced to five years imprisonment and ordered to pay court expenses.

“This sentence is a reminder that Kazakhstan has serious human rights challenges. My hope is that by the time EXPO 2017 opens in Astana, Bokayev and Ayan will be at home with their families, as they should be”, said Engesland.

Background: In Early 2016 Kazakhstani authorities proposed several changes to the country’s existing land code including a proposal that would increase the time foreigners could rent land from ten to 25 years. Critics feared that the proposal would allow foreigners to gain permanent ownership of Kazakhstani land, which in turn spawned broad popular discontent with the proposal and the authorities, and laid the foundation for protest rallies that would spread across Kazakhstan. In Atyrau in western Kazakhstan, outspoken civil society activists Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayan publicly opposed the proposed reform, and were among the key organizers of a protest meeting on April 24 – the first major public demonstration against the amendments. The broad public discontent with the proposals fueled further demonstrations that soon spread across the rest of the country, and on May 6 President Nazarbayev declared a moratorium on the reform. Protests continued however and in early May, Bokayev and Ayan applied to Atyrau authorities for permission to hold a public protest meeting on May 21. Authorities dismissed the application, and on May 17 administratively detained the two. Initially authorities charged Bokayev and Ayan with “propaganda or public calls for seizure or retention of state power” under article 179 of the criminal code. The state later dropped these charges, instead the two were convicted of “incitement of social discord”, “dissemination of knowingly false information” and violations of the law regulation peaceful assembly under articles 174, 274 and 400 of the Criminal Code.