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Human Rights Defender Bokayev and Activist Ayanov Sentenced to Five Years Prison

28 November 2016

Update: On November 28, 2016 Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov were sentenced to five years imprisonment followed by a ban to engage in public activities for three years. In addition to that, the court imposed fines of about $ 1,500. Both activists were found guilty of inciting social discord by organizing an unsanctioned rally and spreading false information.

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights denounce the hefty sentence to the human rights activists following a trial that did not live up to the internationally accepted standards of justice. The decision of the court in the case of Bokaev and Ayanov signifies a dangerous trend towards criminalisation of the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly in Kazakhstan. The NHC and the HFHR demand immediate and unconditional release of the two activists.

In November 2015, Kazakhstan introduced new land legislation, which caused a series of protests across the country. In 2016, the protests were followed by large scale detentions, prosecution of activists and journalists, the blocking of news websites and continued restrictions on the free exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Human rights defender Max Bokayev and activist Talgat Ayanov were among the many activists in different regions of Kazakhstan who stood up against the reform peacefully, organizing a demonstration on 24 April 2016 and calling for protests on their Facebook profiles. Their demonstration was deemed illegal by the government.

On 16 May 2016 criminal proceedings were opened against the organizers of the demonstration. Bokayev and Ayanov were detained on 3 June 2016 and remain in custody until this day. Hefty charges were brought against them after two days of detention which included incitement to social, national, ethnic, racial, class or religious hatred (art. 174 par. 2 of the Criminal Code) and violation of the order of organizing or conducting mass events (art. 400 of the Criminal Code).

The case is pending before the Court No. 2 in Atyrau and is carried out with an extremely fast pace. Court hearings are appointed almost every day. Already at the first hearing, the presiding judge G. Daulesheva violated procedural rules by deciding to reject a motion she was not allowed to. According to international standards, a motion to dismiss a judge should be reviewed by another judge. Moreover, in a decision issued on 10 October 2016, she granted herself police protection, arguing that “this is a political process”, which caused a “public outcry”.

The hearings attract a lot of public interest, with numerous observers, journalists and bloggers being present at court. However, they are not allowed to enter the courtroom, due to its limited seize. Some people follow the hearing from another room, where the case is being broadcast.

Normally, hearings are open to the public and it is the duty of the presiding judge to organize hearings in the most inclusive manner.

Belongings of observers are always searched and checked. Furthermore, observers are not allowed to carry voice recorders or cameras.

During the hearings of this case, the principle of equality of arms has been violated on many occasions, and the accused are placed in a disadvantageous position.

The accused are seated behind a glass wall, which does not allow them to hear the judge and the witnesses properly. Defense lawyers have complained many times about the bad quality of the Russian-Kazakh translation, which makes comprehension difficult. They have also complained about the limited access to the case file as not all case materials have been delivered to them. They only received 16 CDs with materials out of the 60 collected for the case.

Motions to hear the accused witnesses and experts have all been rejected by the court. The judge constantly raises objections, thereby threatening the defense lawyers that they will be prosecuted for contempt of the court.

Six prosecution witnesses have been heard by now. Some of them via a video connection of poor quality. However, there were no reasonable obstacles to hear them in court. Objections of the defense lawyers against this have been rejected.

The health of Max Bokayev, who suffers from chronic hepatitis C, has deteriorated; a doctor was called to the hearing on 17 October.

The accused appears before the court unshaved, as the prison guards refuse to provide him a razor. Talgat Ayanov was brought to the court on 19 October, despite his poor health condition. His mental health is bad. While in detention he tried to cut his veins.

Numerous human rights violations occur around the trial. Multiple local trial observers report on administrative harassment and intimidation.

On 23 October 2016, three activists, Askhat Bersalimov, Kural Medeuov and Suyundyk Aldabergenov, were prevented from holding a peaceful assembly in support of Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov. They were detained by the police and brought to court. The specialized administrative court imposed a sentence on them of 10 days of administrative detention.

On 24 October 2016 at 11:30 pm Atyrau Rinat Iskaliyev, a civil activist who observes the trial, has been beaten by an unknown man while going to his house. He was taken to an emergency room by an ambulance. Civil society representatives from Kazakhstan believe that he was beaten with the purpose to obstruct him in his role as an observer.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, the Netherlands Helsinki Committee and their partners in Kazakhstan will continue monitoring the trial and call on the government of Kazakhstan to ensure a fair and transparent legal process for Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov. The two activists should never have been arrested in the first place for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The government of Kazakhstan should take immediate action to put a halt to administrative and physical harassment of local civil society activists observing the trial and fulfill its duty to provide adequate protection of human rights defenders.

Find out more: “Freedom of assembly on trial: Proceedings against two human rights defenders to┬ábegin tomorrow”,
a joint press-release by the OMCT, FIDH, IPHR, KIBHR and NHC as of 11 October.