Freedom Now strongly condemns the conviction of Kazakhstani journalist, civic activist, and political opposition leader Zhanbolat Mamay on charges of organizing mass disorder, spreading false information, and insulting a government representative. On April 10, the Bostandyk District Court of Almaty delivered a suspended sentence of six years as well as a ban on activism, journalism, and using social media for six years. He must also pay 600,000 Kazakhstani tenge ($1,350) in material damages.
“Today’s verdict is the culmination of a long drawn out case of judicial harassment designed to silence Zhanbolat Mamay for his legitimate criticism of the Kazakhstani government,” said Freedom Now Executive Director Maran Turner. “Although Zhanbolat will soon be released from house arrest after nearly 14 months, his conviction and the lengthy bans on various activities are punishment for and aimed at preventing him from legitimate peaceful political activity. His engagement in these activities could lead to a future arrest. Kazakhstan may consider this a solution to sustained international criticism of its actions, but the world is still watching. We call for Zhanbolat’s conviction to be vacated and all restrictions on his activities lifted.”
On February 25, 2022, Mamay was arrested for organizing a peaceful demonstration two weeks earlier to memorialize the protestors that were killed, injured, and arrested during the January 2022 anti-government protests (now known as the January Events). Mamay was arrested by plainclothes officers who initially refused to disclose the reasons for the arrest. Once he arrived at the police station, officers stated that he was arrested for organizing a peaceful protest without government permission and sentenced to 15 days administrative detention.
On March 12, 2022, Mamay’s detention was extended after the government brought criminal charges against him for insulting a government representative and spreading false information due to his criticism of the authorities and calls for reforms at protests in January 2022. Prosecutors later charged him with organizing mass riots for a January 4, 2022 protest he organized in solidarity with protesters in western Kazakhstan who criticized fuel price increases.
The government has a history of targeting Mamay for his activism. In 2012, Mamay was arrested and charged with inciting social hatred after speaking out against inequality and in support of protesting oil workers in the western region of Zhanaozen. These charges were later dropped. In 2017, Mamay served as editor of an opposition newspaper Tribuna, which was the target of government harassment. He was accused and convicted of money laundering in charges that were widely considered to be politically motivated. While detained, Mamay suffered torture and intimidation. Mamay is also the co-founder of the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, an opposition party which has for years been unable to officially register.
On May 3, 2022, the Human Rights Defenders Expert Council in Kazakhstan labeled Mamay as a political prisoner. Numerous international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have called the charges against Mamay unfounded and called for his immediate release. During an August 2022 visit to Kazakhstan, members of the European Parliament called for a “halt to the harassment and intimidation of political and civil society activists and the release of all political prisoners, in particular Zhanbolat Mamay.”