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Human rights defenders from Kazakhstan sentenced to five years in prison

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee conducted jointly a monitoring of proceedings against two NGOs activists from Kazakhstan: Maks Bokayev and Talagata Ayanova.

They were both arrested in May 2016 in connection with their posts on Facebook, in which they had opposed a far-reaching reform of the law of ownership. They also had called on Internet users to hold demonstrations all over the country and, on 24 April 2016, they led a protest that the authorities found to be illegal. The activists were charged with illegally organising mass events (an offence under Article 400 of the Kazakh Criminal Code), inciting to social, national, ethnic, racial and religious hatred (an offence under Article 174 (2)) and disseminating untrue information about “crisis situations” (an offence under Article 274 (4)). The activists remained in custody until the end of the proceedings and on 20 January 2017 were sentenced to five years in prison by a final judgment and deprived of public rights for three years.

The measures taken against the activists violated Article 19 (freedom of expression) and 20 (freedom of association) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Detention of human rights defenders was politically motivated and illegal and hence violated Article 9 of the ICCPR. Moreover, the authorities failed to justify the legitimacy of applying this measure during the entire period of detention. Several rules of a fair trial, which Kazakhstan is obliged to obey under Article 14 of the ICCPR, were violated during the proceedings themselves. In particular, the principle of equality of arms was not observed, which was reflected in automatic denial of any evidentiary motions filed by the activists’ lawyers. Also, Mr Bokayev and Ms Ayanova had a limited access to legal assistance and court records from hearings.

Without a warning, on 30 January 2017, both activists were transferred to a penitentiary facility located 1500 km away from their homes. This was done in breach of the UN Prison Rules known as the Nelson Mandela Rules.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee publish a report on the monitoring of the proceedings, in which they appeal to international bodies to continue monitoring of conditions of the activists’ imprisonment and to protest their conviction. The organisations also appealed to the Kazakh authorities to immediately release activists.

The report is available here.

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