ALMATY — More than 100 opposition activists have been detained by police in Kazakhstan where two opposition parties had planned to hold rallies on June 6 in several cities to demand democratic reforms in the Central Asian nation.
Reports spoke of dozens being detained in Almaty, the country’s commercial capital, as detentions were reported in other cities as well, including the capital, Nur-Sultan.
The detentions come despite a more liberal law on demonstrations coming into force.
Human rights groups have criticized President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev with failing to improve respect for human rights after replacing Nursultan Nazarbaev, who stepped down in 2019 after 30 years in power. The oil-rich nation has also been hit hard by a drop in energy prices caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In Almaty, police, including riot units, cordoned off several central squares as well as streets near the area where at least 100 activists had gathered.
An RFE/RL correspondent said about a dozen people were detained near Ghandi Park. They were reported to be supporters of the Koshe party, which is affiliated with the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) party.
The DVK and the Democratic Party had organized the rallies, which authorities said breached COVID-19 social-distancing rules. They also said a new law not requiring groups to obtain permission for rallies would still need a five-day notice period before being applied in practice. Technically, that law entered into force on June 6.
In Nur-Sultan, the capital, an RFE/RL correspondent later reported at least 10 protesters being arrested, with photos showing police hauling people away.
There were reports of at least 20 activists being detained by police in the cities of Semei, Shymkent, and Qyzylorda. Some arrests were also reported in Aqtobe. Later reports said about 30 people were also held by police in Oral. In Taraz, activists did not gather amid reports of arrest prior to the planned action.
Later reports said some had been freed, including those activists detained in Qyzylorda.
In Almaty, one group of activists carried a banner that read “I Can’t Breathe” — a reference to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, which has sparked sometimes violent protests across the United States.
Others chanted “Old man, go away!” — a reference to Nazarbaev, who retains power in Kazakhstan as head of the country’s Security Council, a post the 79-year-old is entitled to hold for life.
Others demanded the resignation of Toqaev and a fairer distribution of wealth.
The nation of 19 million people has been hit hard by a drop in crude oil prices as well as the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. More than 4 million people lost their sources of income during a two-month lockdown that ended last month, according to official data.