Kazakhstan: Political activist sentenced to “restricted freedom” for criticizing government’s COVID-19 response

Reacting to news that a court in Almaty sentenced prisoner of conscience Alnur Ilyashev, a human rights activist, to three years of restricted freedom and a ban on political and civic activism for five years for criticizing the government’s handling of COVID-19, Heather McGill, Amnesty International’s Central Asia Researcher, said:

“The Kazakhstani authorities have shamelessly exploited the state of emergency that was called to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic to clamp down on voices of dissent. Alnur Ilyashev has committed no crime. He has only expressed his opinions peacefully which the authorities and their ‘experts’ have portrayed as a criminal act and severely penalized.

“Alnur Ilyashev’s sentencing under absurd charges is a clear sign that it is business as usual in Kazakhstan and no independent voices will be permitted to criticize the government’s policies and actions. Any violation of the terms of the sentence will mean that Alnur Ilyashev will be imprisoned. On hearing the verdict, he asked to remain in prison.”

Alnur Ilyashev’s sentencing under absurd charges is a clear sign that it is business as usual in Kazakhstan and no independent voices will be permitted to criticize the government’s policies and actions
Heather McGill, Amnesty International’s Central Asia Researcher

Background

On 22 June, the Medeu District Court No. 2 of Almaty (Southern Kazakhstan) found Alnur Ilyashev guilty of the “dissemination of knowingly false information that threatens public order during the state of emergency” and sentenced him to restricted freedom (a form of non-custodial sentence) for three years and banned him from “voluntary political and social activism” for five years.

Under the conditions of restricted freedom, he will be required to report to a probation officer regularly and cannot leave his city of residence or employment without permission from the authorities. He was released during the court hearing.

Alnur Ilyashev was detained on 17 April over social media posts alleging that the authorities in Kazakhstan, including the ruling Nur Otan party, were corrupt and incompetent in their handling of COVID-19, among other things. During the trial, prosecution witnesses called as experts claimed that Alnur Ilyashev’s posts would cause the public “to be alarmed.”