Washington, D.C. – On February 12, 2021, Freedom Now and the law firm McKool Smith filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Kazakh human rights activist Alnur Ilyashev. The petition argues that Kazakhstan’s detention of Ilyashev is related to his online criticisms of the Kazakh government, a direct violation of his rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Alnur Ilyashev’s wrongful detention is a tragic example of Kazakhstan using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to crackdown on civil society,” said Freedom Now Legal Officer Adam Lhedmat. “Alnur has been persecuted for sharing his opinion on the government’s efforts to manage the public health crisis. We are confident that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will conclude his fundamental human rights have been violated and he should be released immediately.”

Prior to his arrest, Ilyashev was a vocal advocate for democratization, pluralism, and civic participation. In 2019, he brought public awareness to Kazakhstan’s overly restrictive law on peaceful assemblies after his request for a permit was rejected 35 times. The same year, Ilyashev joined two other activists in preparing to establish an independent political party. However, their efforts were obstructed by legal action from the ruling Nur Otan Party.

Ilyashev increasingly used social media to amplify his activism during the COVID-19 pandemic, including participating in Facebook Live events and publishing a YouTube video calling on former president Nursultan Nazarbayev to use his substantial wealth to fund efforts to mitigate the pandemic.

In March 2020, Ilyashev posted a series of messages on his Facebook page that were critical commentaries on new articles involving the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the prosecution of a local Nur Otan Party chairman.

The following month, on April 17, 2020, Ilyashev was arrested on charges of disseminating false information that threatened public order under Article 274 of the Kazakh Criminal Code. He was kept in pre-trial detention facilities until June 12, 2020, when he was remanded to house arrest. During his time in detention, there is evidence that Ilyashev contracted COVID-19.

The trial against Ilyashev began on June 12, 2020 and consisted of six hearings over the course of ten days. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the trial was held remotely through video-conferencing software. This aspect of the proceedings compounded the already numerous due process violations. Ilyashev and his counsel were either unable, or limited in their ability, to participate in the trial as they were frequently disconnected from audio and video feeds due to technological issues. At one point on June 15, Ilyashev even lamented that “I am the main person involved and I cannot hear anything.” Moreover, Ilyashev and his lawyer were not allowed to have confidential discussions during the proceedings. If they wished to have a discussion regarding legal strategy, they were required to do so as part of the main video feed in front of the judge and prosecutors.

On June 22, 2020, the court found Ilyashev guilty and sentenced him to three years of house arrest, 300 hours of forced labor, and a ban on political and civic activism for five years.