Several opposition and rights activists have been arrested across Kazakhstan ahead of the day of the early presidential election scheduled for November 20.
On November 15, police in the southwestern city of Zhanaozen arrested prominent opposition activist Estai Qarashaev, who was sentenced to six days in jail several hours later for violating regulations relating to the holding of public gatherings.
Qarashaev was among the oil workers who demonstrated in 2011 to demand higher wages. 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, who has been trying unsuccessfully for eight months to register for the elections.
It is not known why Abishev was detained. Last week, five other members of the unregistered party were arrested for taking part in an unauthorized rally in August.
WATCH: Several activists from one Kazakh opposition movement were arrested and police were stationed outside the door of another ahead of a snap presidential election scheduled for November 20.
Meanwhile, in the village of Bobrovka in the East Kazakhstan region, rights activist Serik Ydyryshev has been arrested, his wife Gulmira Berikqyzy told RFE/RL on November 15. According to Berikqyzy, her husband’s arrest is linked to the upcoming early presidential election. The East Kazakhstan Region Police Department was not available for comment.
A day earlier, opposition activist Rashid Qamaldanov was sentenced in Almaty to 15 days in jail for participating in an unauthorized rally earlier this year.
In Astana, the capital, imprisoned activist Sandughash Qantarbaeva went on a hunger strike last weekend, protesting her administrative arrest which she says was handed to her to prevent her from taking part in protests on the day of the presidential election.
Many activists complained to RFE/RL that they had been followed and that the police were watching their homes. According to the activists, the pressure imposed on them is directly linked to the presidential election, while the country’s Constitution guarantees them freedom of expression and freedom of public assembly. A Home Ministry official denied that measures to prevent activists from holding rallies on election day were underway.
President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, who has tried to position himself as a reformer, called a snap presidential election on September 1 and proposed extending the presidential term from five years to seven years. Under the new system, future presidents will not be able to run for more than one term.
Critics say Toqaev’s moves have been mostly cosmetic and do not change the nature of the autocratic system in a country that has for years been plagued by rampant corruption and nepotism.
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 no longer president, Nazarbaev retained sweeping powers as head of the Security Council. He also enjoyed substantial powers by holding the title of “elbasy” or head of the nation.
Many citizens, however, remained upset by the oppression during Nazarbaev’s rule.
These feelings came to a head in January when unprecedented nationwide anti-government protests began over a fuel price hike, then erupted into deadly nationwide unrest over perceived corruption under the regime. Nazarbaev and the cronyism that allowed his family and close friends to become rich while ordinary citizens. failed to share the wealth of the oil-rich Central Asian nation.
Toqaev then stripped Nazarbaev of his role on the Security Council, taking him on himself. Since then, several relatives and allies of Nazarbaev have been removed from their posts or resigned. Some have been arrested for corruption.
A referendum initiated by Toqaev in June removed Nazarbaev’s name from the constitution and canceled his status as an “elbasy”.