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Kazakhstan Again “Permits” Protests

Some experts think the resumed practice of issuing permits is an attempt made by the authorities to create “legal opposition”, other experts think this is a step towards the dialogue with the society.

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Protest in Almaty on June 30, 2019. Photo: Aigul Nurbolatova

On June 30, three protests agreed with the authorities were held in the capital of Kazakhstan and in Almaty. This has become a sensation in the recent history of the country. Last time a protest was permitted was 11 years ago, in 2007, in the largest city of the country, Almaty.

The initiator of the protest was civil activist Alnur Ilyashev. For Ilyashev, the struggle for having such permits has become a question of principle in the last several years – he filed 36 requests to the akimat of Almaty in the last two years.

He filed the last one, 36th, on June 19, 2019. A week before the country had seen a wave of unauthorised protests against the results of presidential election voting. Then, according to the official statement of the interior ministry of the country, more than 4,000 people were detained, and 900 of them were either fined or arrested for five to 30 days.

See also: Post-Election Kazakhstan. How Authorities Respond to Protests?

When Alnur filed a request, he said he would take to the streets anyway if he doesn’t have a permit, and asked the authorities to arrest him for 10 days as a preventive measure. However, the permit was unexpectedly issued for the first protest in 11 years.

Last time citizens were freely allowed into the centre of Almaty was in 2007 during the protest in memory of the opposition leader and ex-minister of information Altynbek Sarsenbaev and his mates. In 2006, he and his two assistants were kidnapped and found dead later.

Since then, the city has not allowed unauthorised protests, and the maximum number of permitted protest actions in Kazakhstan has not exceeded 9 per cent of the total number.

A day before this, a video interview of the newly elected president Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev to the Euronews channel was found on the internet. He said about the plans to develop a new protest law.

“Those people who want to take to streets and share their opinions will apply to relevant authorities, and will be given a special place where they could come together and have a say,” Tokayev said.

According to experts, the “change” promised by Tokayev contradicts the applicable legislation and constitution of Kazakhstan.

According to article 10 of the law “On procedure of organisation and holding of peaceful assemblies, protests, marches, pickets and demonstrations in Kazakhstan”, local authorities “may additionally specify the procedure of holding assemblies, protests, marches, pickets and demonstrations based on local conditions and requirements of this law.” However, according to lawyer Yerlan Kaliev, they are not yet authorised to determine special places for protest actions.

Political analyst Dimash Alzhanov thinks this is the attempt of the authorities to isolate the protesters on the outskirts of the city.

“The risk is that such authorised protests could lead to a more unified law, where restricted areas for protests would be decided not by the maslikhat, but de jure, which would isolate the protesters from the society and prevent the mobilisation of the latter,” political analyst said.

Moreover, local authorities (maslikhats) may either determine “special places” for peaceful assemblies, which are usually distant from the city centres, or curb them at all.

Protesting Kazakhstan

In 2019, Kazakhstan has seen the upsurge in protest movements and the protest of June 30 was interesting in terms of the society demanding having a say.

See also:  Detentions and Blocks in Kazakhstan: What Will Tokayev Do Next?

Since March 20, after the capital name change was announced, the level of protests in the country grew at an exponential rate, political analyst Arsen Sarsekov said.  According to him, the peak was reached a day after the presidential election – June 10. Afterwards, the authorities decided to pass on to permits rather than denying protests.

However, according to the expert, this is nothing more than some preparatory work to the 100-day presidency report, when short-term results are usually reviewed.

“Thus, the authorities are gradually adducing arguments to their benefit. People demand democratisation, here it is – the authorised protest for the first time in 11 years. People demand improvement of material well-being, here it is – write off of loans etc.,” Sarsekov said.

Moreover, according to the political analyst, the authorities have officially legalised the protest potential by having allowed candidate Amirzhan Kosanov with the nearly opposition agenda to the presidential election, and who, according to official data, took second place with 16 per cent of votes or 1.5 million of voters.

See also: What Kazakhstan Will Be like After Presidential Election?

Years before that, the civil activity of Kazakhstanis had declined steadily. In 2011, oil workers rebelled in the town of Zhanaozen, in the west of the country, but were suppressed with savagery. After that, the protest field was cleansed and the number of protests plummeted.

Moreover, according to the monitoring data of Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights, the majority of these protests were mainly related to social problems. However, in 2019, the protests were related to political issues – presidential election and observance of human rights.

That is exactly why the issue of obtaining permits for holding protests in the country has come to the fore now. Another point is the attempt to monopolise protests by Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), which is a forbidden organisation found extremist by a Kazakhstan court. From time to time its leader Mukhtar Ablyazov urges his followers based in Kazakhstan to hold anti-government protests by shaping the protest agenda and gathering people in one place.

According to Sergei Duvanov, an expert of the Bureau for Human Rights, people who don’t support DVK have to attend the protests because people just have no other choice to protest due to the cleansing of the protest field.

Protest in Almaty on June 30, 2019. Photo: Aigul Nurbolatova

Atomisation of the opposition

The calls against DVK became the subject of another protest held on June 30 in the capital of Kazakhstan. The protest organised by the ruling party Nur Otan, led by ex-leader of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, “against the attempts of destabilisation and provocations” gathered nearly fifteen hundred people, including members of the mazhilis of the parliament. The Nur Otan party has 84 of 107 seats in the lower house of the parliament.

Deputy Pavel Kazantsev urged fellow citizens to “repulse the destructive forces” and criticised Mukhtar Ablyazov, the leader of DVK, heavily.

“The protest of the authorities was against Ablyazov and in favour of the authorities. The campaign itself means nothing, but as I have already said it can justify the law, which should isolate the protests, and has been discussed in the government as the draft law,” Dimash Alzhanov commented on the campaign by deputies.

Sergei Duvanov agrees with him and thinks that the “protest” activity of Kazakhstanis has declined in the last few years because the authorities have “cleansed” the opposition and no one has been left to apply or protest.

“I think the authorities have decided to divide the protest activity of citizens dissatisfied with Akorda into two nonintersecting forces. They want to divide them to set them against each other,” Duvanov said. “They seem to want to separate those who are dissatisfied with the authorities, but don’t support Ablyazov, from his supporters. So that each of them protests separately, in pure form.”

According to experts, such separation will let the June 30 protesters protest without joining the campaigns held by DVK and vice versa. As a result, now protesters will protest differently in Kazakhstan: some will do it as permitted, others in the name of the prohibited organisation.

Duvanov added that now all those who want to protest would have a choice: either to protest with the permit of the authorities at the place specified, or to protest without permission and at the risk of detention, fine or administrative arrest.

“Akorda seems to end the growing wave of protests in the civil society by doing this. We’ll see if it works on July 6,” expert added.

One of the organisers, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, is planning to hold unauthorised protests this day.

Nevertheless, the organisers of permitted protests are not going to fulfil such conditions set forth by the authorities. On June 30, in the resolution to the campaign, Ilyashev demanded, inter alia, to cancel designated places for peaceful assemblies until July 5.

“People have a right to take to the streets and express their opinion. That’s why we’ve set this deadline. I am going to take part in the protest in one way or another. There should be no permits, only notices,” Alnur Ilyashev said.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

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