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Blogger detained in psychiatric hospital

Aigul Utepova
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Aigul Utepova is a well-known blogger and activist and has 8,000 followers on Facebook and a large following for her YouTube channel. In 2015 she put herself forward as a candidate in the presidential elections, but later withdrew. She is accused of being a follower of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan opposition party. On 13 March 2018, the party was arbitrarily declared to be an “extremist” organization for “inciting national discord” in accordance with vaguely worded anti-extremism legislation.

Aigul Utepova has been under house arrest in Nursultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, since 17 September, and on 19 November a court approved the investigator’s request for a judge’s order to forcibly place her in a psychiatric hospital “for observation”. Her lawyer fears that this puts her at risk of being arbitrarily diagnosed with a mental health condition and forcibly treated and held at the psychiatric hospital for a prolonged period of time. Upon arrival to the hospital with a family member on 23 November they were informed that Aigul Utepova would not be allowed any contact with the outside world.

It is not unusual for critics of the government or those who oppose vested interests to be subjected to lengthy psychiatric observation and assessment. In 2019 the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that Zinaidi Mukhortova had been subjected to arbitrary detention and torture and other ill-treatment because she had been detained and treated against her will in psychiatric institutions on five separate occasions. 

Aigul Utepova should never have been prosecuted and placed under house arrest, and this measure contradicts Kazakhstani law which stipulates that house arrest should be used only in cases where the maximum sentence is five years or more and only if there are substantive reasons why lesser restrictive measures cannot be applied. Aigul Utepova’s prosecution and house arrest are a form of reprisal for her outspoken criticism of the government. 

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Activist sentenced to "restricted freedom"

Alnur Ilyashev
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Urgent Action Outcome: Activist sentenced to “restricted freedom”

Alnur Ilyashev, a Kazakhstani political and human rights activist, was
sentenced to three years of “restricted freedom”.

1st update on UA 65/20

Eastern Europe and Central Asia: Governments must stop abusing emergency powers during COVID-19 pandemic

A young woman looks through a window of a quarantined building in St Petersburg © Alexander Demianchuk/TASS

Governments in the region routinely resort to repressive measures to silence critical views but some have used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to further clamp down on opposition Authorities in Kazakhstan have welded apartment doors shut to trap residents inside, while Chechen police have assaulted people for not wearing facemasks ‘As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds in the region, many governments seem more interested in cracking down on dissent than protecting public health’ - Heather McGill Governments in Eastern European and Central Asian countries are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

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Activist jailed for criticism during pandemic

Alnur Ilyashev
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In the late evening on 17 April, police arrested human rights activist Alnur Ilyashev at an office, and then visited two family homes in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city. In an apparent attempt to frighten the family, police used intimidation and physical force against his relatives. In one of the homes, Alnur Ilyashev’s 17-year-old daughter was alone with a friend, also a minor. The police officers took away the girls’ phones preventing them from calling any adults and proceeded to search the flat. His daughter had a panic attack and repeatedly lost consciousness. Police were still searching the flat when her mother arrived and called an ambulance. The ambulance crew attended to the girl in the presence of the police officers. Police officers left both homes in a state of deliberate disorder. The following day Alnur Ilyashev was remanded in custody for two months. 

The criminal proceedings against Alnur Ilyashev have been opened under Article 274 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan ("dissemination of knowingly false information that threatens public order”), and specifically under part 4(2) which applies in a state of emergency and imposes an increased penalty of between three and seven years’ imprisonment. The investigating police officer listed Alnur Ilyashev’s publications on Facebook, YouTube, and in other social media platforms, dated between 29 February and 28 March 2020, as the grounds for his prosecution and evidence of his “crime”. In them, the activist alleges that the ruling Nur Otan party and the authorities in Kazakhstan are corrupt and incompetent, including in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Alnur Ilyashev is a principled advocate of peaceful activism, and has been campaigning for human rights and strict observance of the law and the Constitution by the authorities. The unduly restrictive law governing peaceful assemblies in Kazakhstan requires their organisers to receive the authorities’ prior permission for any street protest.

To make his point, Alnur Ilyashev, repeatedly and tirelessly requested a permission to hold a rally and that was consistently refused 35 times. He unsuccessfully challenged the refusals in court. Finally, permission was granted in June 2019, after which he organised a peaceful assembly that was attended by more than 100 people. According to his lawyer, Alnur Ilyashev will not discuss any deals with the prosecuting authorities and intends to stand trial and defend his innocence in court. In a hand-written note addressed to his relatives and friends, Alnur Ilyashev assured them that he was fine and asked them to remain calm, asked for some books, and concluded with his familiar personal slogan “God and the Constitution are on our side!” 

The ruling political party Nur Otan was founded by President Nursultan Nazarbaev in 1999, and he has since been its chair, including after he resigned from his position as president in March 2019. After his resignation he retained the official title “First President of Kazakhstan” and continued to wield considerable political power. Successive parliamentary elections that have been criticised by international observers as far from free and fair, have ensured that Nur Otan remained the only party represented in the legislature.

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Urgent Action Update: Human rights defender facing bogus charges

Serikzhan Bilash is being prosecuted simply for defending the human rights of ethnic Kazakhs in China.

1st Update on UA 46/19 Issued 16/08/2019

Urgent Action Outcome: Human rights defender released with conditions

After more than five months of detention, prisoner of conscience Serikzhan Bilash was released from house arrest.

2nd Update on UA 46/16 Issued 26/08/2019

Urgent Action: Human rights defender under house arrest

Human rights defender Serikzhan Bilash has been under house arrest since 10 March.

UA 46/19 issued 09/04/2019

Kazakhstan: thousands with intellectual disabilities denied basic rights - new report

Legal capacity can only be restored if the person is judged to have been 'cured' © Anthony Cole

At least 16,000 people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities denied right to make own decisions about study, work or marriage ‘Guardianship’ system is legacy of Soviet psychiatry ‘Once a person is declared “incapable”, he or she literally has no legal recourse’ - Heather McGill Thousands of people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities in Kazakhstan face stigmatisation and isolation from society and are prevented from exercising their human rights, Amnesty International said today as it launched a new report calling for change and the respect, protection and fulfilment of

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Urgent Action: Prisoner at risk of losing eyesight in Kazakhstan

Muratbek Tungishbayev risks losing sight in his left eye due to failure to provide him with necessary medical care.

UA 157/18 issued 24/08/2018
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