Protesters Arrested In Demonstrations Against Kazakh Leaders

Police arrested dozens of protesters on July 6 after they took to the streets demanding Kazakh veteran leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev’s cessation of power. 

“Wake up Kazakhstan!” protesters shouted in Almaty, the largest Kazakh city. Others cried out, “Old man, go away!”, a commonly used anti-Nazarbayev slogan. These demonstrators gathering near squares of major cities were quickly dispersed by officers and ushered into police buses taking them away, said a Reuters correspondent. At least 70 people were detained in Nur-Sultan, and reported that up to 100 people were detained in Almaty. Detentions were also reported in Shymkent, Karaganda, and Oral, cities where protests broke out as well.

Saturday marked the 79th birthday of Nazarbayev, who ruled Kazakhstan from 1989 until his resignation in March of this year. According to Reuters, July 6 is also a public holiday for the Central Asian country, a date that is linked to the inauguration of Astana, the Kazakh capital which was renamed Nur-Sultan after Nazarbayev’s resignation. However, his resignation as president did not remove all power from him, as he handpicked a successor, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, to replace him. Nazarbayev was also able to retain power for himself as head of the influential security council and with a new title: Yelbasy, or national leader.

Radio Free Liberty/Radio Liberty journalists reported that security personnel tried to block filming of the detentions using umbrellas, causing damage to camera equipment. Yet, the Kazakh government stands behind the actions of police at the protests. According to Reuters, Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry said in a statement, that the police had acted in order “to prevent disturbances of public order,” as public protests are illegal in Kazakhstan without permission from the authorities in advance. 

The obstruction of government forces to these reporters shows encroachments on freedom of the press. In addition, Kazakhstan’s banning of public protests without government approval is an infringement on the country’s freedom of assembly. This is echoed by organizations abroad, as Human Rights Watch recently wrote that the Kazakh government “heavily restricts” basic freedoms such as speech, religion, and assembly. Freedom House further calls Kazakhstan a “consolidated authoritarian regime.” After Kazakhstan gained its independence in 1991 from the fall of the Soviet Union and became a democracy, it did not let go of certain Communist ideals, seen by how the government continues to control many aspects of public life. The current lack of freedoms within the state necessitates a surrender of power to the people so that Kazakhstan is not a democracy merely by name. 

Protests erupted earlier this year in June during the snap presidential elections, when Toqaev was elected into office. Many Kazakhs boycotted the vote, calling it illegitimate. These protests led to hundreds being detained in major cities, revealing the consistent police response of detention to assemblies and public expressions of dissent in the country. Western observers also questioned the reliability and authenticity of the presidential elections, stating that the vote was influenced by “detentions of peaceful protesters, and widespread voting irregularities on election day [that] showed scant respect for democratic standards.” 

The suspicion surrounding Toqaev’s rise to power among both Kazakh voters and the international community reveals a pattern of corruption among leaders in high positions. Given that the people are rallying against Toqaev and Nazarbayev, the two leaders should listen and cede their current powers. The demonstrations should not be viewed as disruptions to public order; rather, they should be regarded as legitimate expressions of Kazakh opinion. Detained protesters should be released as soon as possible without any charges against them. There should also be a re-election for the position of president that follows standards held by foreign democratic nations and organizations.