Dina Baidildayeva's one-woman show of support for other bloggers got her arrested.
Kazakhstan has never been a bastion of press freedom, but the arrests of four Almaty bloggers in the past week have put Internet commentators in the country’s cultural capital on high alert.
In the latest case Dina Baidildayeva was detained by police on February 8 after staging a one-woman show of solidarity with three jailed bloggers, who were imprisoned on February 5 on hooliganism charges that they denied.
Nurali Aytelenov, Rinat Kibrayev, and Dmitriy Shelokov each received a 10-day prison sentence after protesting outside a restaurant where the mayor, Akhmetzhan Yesimov, was lunching with selected bloggers. The protesters, who had not been invited, accused the mayor of only wanting to hold a dialogue with “tame” bloggers.
In response, Baidildayeva, who is a blogger and also a social networks editor at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, took to Republic Square opposite Almaty city hall waving a poster reading: “Freedom to bloggers – Shame on Yesimov.”
“Mr Yesimov, resign! Freedom to bloggers who were jailed just because they wanted to ask questions to Mayor Yesimov, because they are not satisfied with his work!” she said. “He only gathered bloggers that he liked and who were loyal to him, and that’s not what an intelligent government does!”
Police watched the five-minute protest before moving in to detain Baidildayeva at the scene after she had finished speaking and packed away her poster. She complained that they did not specify what crime she had committed.
She was later charged on two counts of holding an unsanctioned public protest and resisting arrest, although the second charge was dropped. Baidildayeva, who denies the charges and says she was exercising her constitutional right to freedom of speech, was ordered to appear in court on February 10. The trial did not go ahead and the following day she was ordered to appear in court on February 12. If convicted she faces a fine or up to 15 days in jail.
The controversy over the arrests, which have had wide play on social networks, is likely to come as an embarrassment for Yesimov, who has just been at the Sochi Winter Olympics with President Nursultan Nazarbayev (and bloggers have had a field day over the cost of Yesimov’s trip).
The detentions cast an unwelcome spotlight on media freedoms in Kazakhstan, which Reporters Without Borders ranked 160th out of 179 countries in its 2013 Press Freedom Index.