ALMATY: Police in Kazakhstan detained dozens of activists Saturday after two opposition groups announced plans to hold anti-government protests in the oil-rich Central Asian country.
An AFP correspondent saw police detain at least ten activists from the unregistered Democratic Party who were attempting to hold a protest in the largest city Almaty.
Eyewitnesses said that police had detained up to 70 people, who were en route to the site where the group said it would hold a protest.
Authoritarian Kazakhstan has long faced criticism from local and international rights groups for its restrictive laws regulating demonstrations.
Zhanbolat Mamay, a filmmaker and prominent figure in the Democratic Party was arrested and sentenced to three days in administrative detention on Friday.
Mamay told AFP by telephone Friday that “at least ten” members of his group had received sentences of up to five days in detention earlier this week — a measure he said was intended to prevent the Democratic Party holding a conference.
He was detained later in the day.
Another group, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK), also announced plans to hold a rally on Saturday.
A Kazakh court banned the group as extremist in 2018, and the country’s state prosecutor on Friday warned citizens not to participate in the group’s protest.
DCK’s France-based leader, Mukhtar Ablyazov, thanked the state prosecutor for giving the group “an advert” ahead of the demonstration.
Ablyazov, a former energy minister, banker and long-time opponent of Kazakhstan’s regime has said the court ruling is simply a pretext to crack down on the group.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev pledged to reform laws governing freedom of assembly shortly after succeeding long-ruling Nursultan Nazarbayev as president last year.
But civil society groups in the Central Asian state have expressed dissatisfaction with a new draft law, which they argue would entail fresh restrictions.
Currently activists risk arrest if they hold demonstrations without permission from the authorities, which is almost never given for political demonstrations.
Nazarbayev, 79, who became Kazakhstan’s president the year before its formal independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, is still widely viewed as dominating policymaking in the vast republic of 18 million people.