Newspaper editor Igor Vinyavskiy, who had been in detention facing seven years on charges of anti-constitutional activities, has been abruptly freed under amnesty. The authorities’ surprise about-face comes only days after they suddenly released a lawyer who was jailed for her role advising striking oil workers in the troubled town of Zhanaozen.
Vinyavskiy was released on March 15 and shortly afterwards posted a message on Facebook: “I’m free. At home. From the bottom of my heart I thank those who supported me, since that warmed my soul.”
Vinyavskiy was arrested on January 23 on suspicion of advocating the “violent change of constitutional order” with some leaflets authorities seized almost two years previously. He was arrested on the same day Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the unregistered Alga! party, was detained on suspicion of inciting violence in Zhanaozen, where 17 people were killed in December when security forces fired on protestors.
The timing, amid a political crackdown in Kazakhstan, sparked suspicions that Vinyavskiy’s arrest was a reprisal for his Vzglyad newspaper’s reporting on Zhanaozen.
Kozlov and other activists remain in jail facing charges over the unrest. Forty-three protestors also face trial, along with five police officers.
Trade union lawyer Natalya Sokolova, who had been advising striking oil workers in Zhanaozen until her imprisonment for six years last autumn (before December’s violence) on charges of inciting social discord, was freed on March 7, her sentence commuted to a suspended one.
The unexpected releases have left observers puzzling over the implications. Writing on Vinyavskiy’s Facebook page, activist Murat Tayzhan said he hoped it meant a “relaxation of the regime.”
“Now it is necessary to understand why you and Sokolova have been freed,” Tayzhan wrote.
Vinyavskiy was freed the day after theater director Bolat Atabayev – who also faces charges of inciting violence in Zhanaozen – staged a play that included metaphorical allusions to the unrest in Almaty, RFE/RL reports. Proceeds are to be sent to families of the Zhanaozen victims.
Civil society activists harbor tentative hopes that these releases could signal a change of tack from authorities' hitherto hard line toward those they say planned and perpetrated the Zhanaozen violence.