Two prominent political activists have been arrested in Kazakhstan as a fresh trial over December’s violence in Zhanaozen looms.
Bolat Atabayev, a 60-year-old theater director known for his outspoken political views, and Zhanbolat Mamay, a well-known youth activist, were arrested on June 15, Novosti-Kazakhstan news agency reported.
The two had already been charged with “inciting social unrest” in Zhanaozen for visiting striking oil workers in the town, where a protracted industrial dispute descended into deadly violence on Independence Day.
They had been out on bail pending the start of their trial. Eleven other activists are in jail awaiting trial on the same charge.
The arrests come less than two weeks after the conclusion of the largest Zhanaozen trial to date, in which 34 people were convicted of crimes relating to the violence. Thirteen were imprisoned after a trial described by Human Rights Watch as “flawed.”
Atabayev had declared he was refusing to cooperate with the investigation in protest at those convictions.
The development further ramps up political tensions in Kazakhstan. In a statement carried by the Respublika newspaper, the Alga! opposition party, whose leader Vladimir Kozlov is among those in jail awaiting trial, said its members were being summoned for interrogation by the KNB, the domestic intelligence service.
“The dawn of another stage in the political inquisition is obvious,” the statement said. “There is no doubt that Akorda [President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s office] has this time decided not to restrict itself to cosmetic purges and threats. The course has been set to totally root out any possible threats and irritating factors.”
The charge of fomenting unrest faced by Kozlov, Atabayev, Mamay and the other activists carries a 12-year prison sentence. Atabayev and Mamay have argued that they are innocent and were merely expressing their right to freedom of expression by addressing the oil workers.
Forty civilians (34 from Zhanaozen in one trial and six from nearby Shetpe in another) have been convicted in connection to the riots. Over half were amnestied but 17 were jailed for terms of up to seven years.
Six members of the security forces have also been jailed for terms of five to seven years for their roles in the violence, in which at least 16 people were killed after police opened fire on protestors.