Election in Kazakhstan: Gross falsifications and mass arrests of peaceful protesters

  • 21.06.2019
  • Author: Igor Savchenko, Andriy Osavoliyk

1. Summary

Nazarbayev's protege Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev expectedly won the presidential elections in Kazakhstan. The elections were fully controlled and constituted merely an imitation of the electoral process. A lack of trust in the election results is not only due to the lack of legislative conditions for fair elections, and serious cases of rigging recorded. The elections were also marred by mass arrests unprecedented in the history of Kazakhstan.

On the election day, i.e. on 9 June 2019, as well as in the following days, i.e. on 10 and 12 June 2019, anti-government protests, attended by thousands of people, were held in various cities and towns of Kazakhstan. The top-attended protests were held in Almaty and Nur-Sultan (former Astana); they hit a record for Kazakhstan as regards the number of participants and arrestees.

Participants in peaceful rallies protested against unfair elections, criticised the authorities and demanded democratic changes. The rallies were brutally dispersed. Police officers, internal troops and police special forces officers violently grabbed the protesters, twisted their arms and, holding them by the arms and legs, dragged them into paddy police cars (transport vehicles). There were cases when protesters were beaten with truncheons, fists, and kicked, also intentionally, even in the situations when people weren’t resisting. The policemen inflicted injuries on several protesters, causing dislocations and fractures of arms, hematomas, and head bruises.

Minors and elderly people, ordinary passers-by, as well as parents with small children were arbitrarily detained. At least 7 human rights activists and 13 journalists were pushed into the police transport vehicles. A representative of the France Press agency, Chris Rickleton, suffered a hematoma under the eye as a result of the detention.

The Minister of Internal Affairs stated that in the period between 9 June 2019 - 13 June 2019, approx. 4,000 people were detained in Kazakhstan. However, the actual number of detainees may be substantially higher. According to estimates of human rights defenders and observers, only on 9 June 2019, more than 1,700 people were detained.

The police stations in Almaty and Nur-Sultan were overcrowded. The detainees were questioned and asked about their political views and support for opposition ideas. The police officers seized their phones and checked their correspondence in social networks. Several hundred people were held in police stations for 10-17 hours. All this time, many were deprived of the opportunity to drink, eat, or even use the toilet. They were not allowed to contact their lawyers or relatives.

From the evening of 9 June 2019 until the morning of 10 June 2019, the detainees were tried right in police stations on charges of ‘participation in an illegal rally’. Prosecutors and judges arrived at the police stations, where they held court sessions behind closed doors in the absence of lawyers. The trials were hasty and often lasted less than five minutes. According to official figures, 677 people were sentenced to administrative arrest for up to 15 days, 305 detainees were sentenced to an administrative fine, and 172 detainees received a warning.

The Open Dialogue Foundation, with the help of volunteers from Kazakhstan, collects and updates lists of detainees and arrestees. As of 19 June 2019, we received names and some data on several hundred cases of rally participants of 9-11 June 2019; Almaty – 343 detainees (of which 192 were arrested); Nur-Sultan – 733 detainees (of which 442 were arrested).

Nur-Sultan and Almaty could hardly accommodate all administrative arrestees. Therefore, the police transported several hundred arrestees to other regions, namely, to Akmola, Karaganda and Almaty Provinces. They were transported for several hours in stuffy police transport vehicles with passenger compartment sized 1m x 1,5 m for a distance of 100-200 km. The authorities did not inform their relatives about where the destination point. Only three-four days later, the relatives began to find out about the arrestees’ whereabouts.

Against the backdrop of mass arrests, the authorities held unfair and non-competitive elections. In the previous report, The Open Dialogue Foundation analysed the creation by Kazakhstani authorities, of such institutional conditions under which the holding of competitive elections is impossible: electoral legislation that does not comply with international standards; dependence of the Central Election Commission (CEC) on the authorities; controlled mass media; blockage of social networks; an actual ban of independent sociological research; a lack of political competition and independent candidates.

Subsequent developments confirmed that Amirzhan Kosanov, who positioned himself as an ‘opposition candidate’, was merely a nominal candidate, and, in fact, acted in the interests of the authorities. Kosanov labelled the protests, held on the election day, ‘unlawful and provocative’: "Our youth is mistaken in adhering to pseudo-democratic positions". Against the backdrop of massive, violent, arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters, Kosanov stated that President Tokayev "once again confirmed his intentions to engage in a dialogue with society, [showed his] tolerance for dissent".

On the morning of 10 June 2019, even before the official election results were announced, Kosanov congratulated Tokayev on his victory. Kosanov  closed his eyes to reports of large-scale rigging and did not dispute the results of the counting of votes. Thus, he played up to the authorities in their attempt to legitimise the election results.

Observers published copies of the vote counting protocols on social networks. The Open Dialogue Foundation processed 74 protocols from Nur-Sultan polling stations, and also used similar data from observers in other cities and towns. The protocols showed that Kosanov and Tokayev received an approximately equal number of votes (with the advantage of one or another candidate in different regions), which confirmed a large percentage of the protest vote.

However, the official results provided by the CEC, were quite different. According to the results of the CEC, in different regions, Tokayev received several dozens of thousands of votes more than it was expected by the voting tendencies, according to the protocols.The CEC did not provide the results for individual polling stations, which was another way to conceal the rigging.

Observers noted systemic electoral irregularities, such as massive ballot stuffing in the ballot box by representatives of the election commission; the systemic use of administrative resources, including forcing students and government officials to vote for Tokayev under the threat of being expelled from school or dismissed from work; voting several times (by one voter); obstruction of the work of observers and others. The OSCE pointed out these violations in its conclusions, but the newly elected President Tokayev labelled them ‘politically biased’.

While the government misinformed the international community and provided understated data on the number of detainees, as soon as on the third day after the elections, Tokayev’s inauguration was held. This haste can be explained by the desire to arrange the so-called ‘transit of power’. At the same time, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who served as President for 30 years, is now the Chairman of the Security Council of Kazakhstan and has control over all key government bodies.

“Three and a half years ago, Nursultan Nazarbayev told me: “You will be the next President.” It's a question of time. We chose the moment", - Tokayev enunciated in an interview after the election.

The authorities of Kazakhstan demonstrate their readiness to resort to even more oppressive measures in suppressing dissent. In order to disperse protesters, the authorities deploy the internal troops forces without identification signs and wearing masks. Human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis believes that these people are likely to be servicemen of the National Guard, who are subordinate to the Minister of the Interior. They have very broad powers, and the law does not directly require them to comply with the procedural guarantees of the rights and freedoms of citizens.

In order to suppress peaceful gatherings, the authorities give orders to bring military vehicles onto the streets, including water cannons and vehicles with special equipment. Activists report that, most likely, these cars are used for wiretapping, and near them, access to the Internet is particularly difficult. During the protests, social networks are repeatedly blocked.The UN Special Rapporteur NíAoláin expressed her concern over the large-scale Internet blockages in Kazakhstan.

Persecution of civil society representatives has intensified after, at the request of the prosecutor's office, a Kazakhstani court recognised the opposition movement Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) an ‘extremist’ organisation in March 2018. The decision of the court states that the DCK ‘excites social discord’ and ‘forms a negative image of the authorities’. Based on this decision, the authorities treat participation in peaceful rallies and criticism of the authoritiesin social networks as ‘participation in the activities of an organisation recognised as extremist’ (Article 405 of the Criminal Code).

In this regard, numerous activists have been subjected to arbitrary detention and political persecution. Activists and participants in peaceful gatherings have been subjected to imprisonment, criminal prosecution, searches, inappropriate or cruel treatment. There are frequent cases of blocking their bank accounts, exerting pressure on their family members, dismissal from work, threats of expulsion from the university and other threats on the part of the special services. Over the past year, more than 215 victims of these persecutions have sent their powers of attorney to the Open Dialogue Foundation and requested that the organisation protect their rights.

On the eve of and after the elections, the actions of the Kazakhstani authorities continued a series of gross violations of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion, protection from arbitrary detention, protection from torture, the right to a lawyer and a fair trial. Thus, the authorities violate the ratified international agreements – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Torture. Also, these actions contravene the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement concluded between the EU and Kazakhstan, and the resolution of the European Parliament of 14 March 2019 on the human rights situation in Kazakhstan.

The European Union must review the principles of building economic relations with Kazakhstan and make them conditional on the fulfilment by Kazakhstan of its international obligations. We emphasise the need to introduce personal sanctions against those who are responsible for or have been involved in serious human rights violations in Kazakhstan, including the prosecution of participants in peaceful gatherings.

2. Chronology of dispersal of peaceful rallies

On the eve of the elections, the authorities dispersed several large anti-government protests: between 21-22 March 2019, on 1 May 2019 and 9 May 2019, a total of approx. 400 people were detainedCriminal charges were filed against several participants in these rallies for ‘participating in the activities of an organisation (meaning: the DCK – Ed.)found to be extremist’ (Article 405 of the Criminal Code). In particular, Oksana Shevchuk, Zhazira Demeuova, Gulzipa Dzhaukerova, Yerkyn Kaziyev are currently under house arrest. With regard to another accused person, Sabyrzhan Kasenov, a preventive measure hasn’t been applied yet.

On 9 May 2019, Oksana Shevchuk and her seven-month-old child were held in a temporary detention facility for three hours. Zhazira Demeuova and Gulzipa Dzhaukerova are single mothers. At the same time, due to house arrest, Dzhaukerova cannot provide proper special care to her youngest 9-year-old child who is ill. During the arrest, Yerkyn Kaziyev was subjected to ill-treatment by the police, which resulted in a leg injury and dislocation of the shoulder. Thus far, several people, namely: Ablovas Dzhumayev, Aset Abishev, Almat Zhumagulov and Kenzhebek Abishev were sentenced to prison terms for participating in the rallies, criticising the authorities in social networks and supporting the opposition ideas of the DCK.

9 June 2019. Almaty. Photo: Petr Trotsenko (RFE/RL)

In addition, two days before the elections, i.e. on 7 June 2019, at least 12 activists were subjected to a search, and detained. Several of them (in particular, Akmaral Kerimbayeva, Gulmira Kalykova, Serik Zhakhin, Kairbek Kenzhakhmedov) faced criminal cases. The police were looking for ‘objects that are indicative of their involvement in a banned organisation’ (DCK). The activists’ telephones, equipment, as well as Kazakhstani flags were seized. Thus, the authorities of Kazakhstan regard national symbols as ‘prohibited campaign materials’. The Russian occupation authorities act in a similar way in Crimea, removing flags during searches of pro-Ukrainian activists. Also, Kazakhstani law enforcement officers paid attention to the blue elements of clothes (blue is the colour of the symbol of the DCK). For example, in the search protocol of Yerbol Yeskhozhin, the police emphasised that he was wearing a ‘blue jacket, a ‘blue undershirt’ and ‘blue pants’.

Activists Serik Zhakhin, Gulmira Kalykova and Akmaral Kerimbayeva. Photo: personal archives of activists

On 9 June 2019, a preventive measure in the form of house arrest for a period of two months was appointed with regard to Kalykova and Kerimbayeva. On that day, the court also sanctioned the arrest of Zhakhin in the detention facility for a period of two months. According to his relatives, Zhakhin has been suffering from a pituitary adenoma for a long time and should be regularly monitored by doctors. He was not allowed to take medication in the detention facility.

Mother of many children Oksana Shevchuk; Zhazira Demeuova and Gulzipa Dzhaukerova who are single mothers. Photo: personal archives of activists

  • Protests on 9 June 2019

On election day, 9 June, anti-government protests of thousands of people took place in various cities of Kazakhstan. The rallies were called for by the opposition movement DCK. The largest rallies were held in Almaty and Nur-Sultan. Protesters spoke out against unfair election, shouted “boycott the election!” and “freedom!” and also held Kazakhstan's flags and sang the national anthem. 

The rallies were violently dispersed by huge numbers of law enforcement officers. The dispersals involved police officers, special police units and internal troops, all of whom had no identification marks. Also, the police received commands from people in civilian clothes, presumably intelligence officers.

Many videos show how the internal troops surrounded the protesters and then pushed them back using shields and batons. In response, the protesters tried to resist and push forward. Police and special forces officers stormed the protesters and violently snatched them out of the crowd, striking and strangling them. 

The protesters were carried by their arms and legs, dragged partly along the asphalt, and then literally thrown into police buses and transport vehicles. In Nur-Sultan, the protesters managed to surround the buses and release a number of detainees. In the evening of 9 June 2019, people began to gather again at the squares in Almaty and Nur-Sultan, so the arrests continued.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs provided inconsistent data on the number of detainees. In the daytime of 9 June 2019, a representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Marat Kozhaev, stated that there were “about 100” detainees in Almaty and Nur-Sultan. In the evening, he already spoke of “about 500” detained persons. Most of the media outlets relied on this data, although they were several times underestimated.

According to estimates of human rights defenders and lawyers, as well as on the basis of data on the occupancy of police stations, on 9 June 2019, at least 400-500 people were detained in Almatyat least 1000 were detained in Nur-Sultan, about 60 in Aktobe, about 20 in Shymkent, while in Kostanay – several dozen people. Several cases of detention were also recorded in Semey, Uralsk and Karaganda.

The Open Dialogue Foundation, with the help of volunteers from Kazakhstan, collected the names and data of several hundred people detainedon 9 June 2019; 203 people in Almaty and 461 people in Nur-Sultan.

9 June 2019. Nur-Sultan. Photo: Ayan Kalmurat's page on Facebook

The data was collected based on the Facebook group #IHaveAChoiсe #ActivistsNotExtremistsin which more than 1100 activists from different regions of Kazakhstan are reporting on persecution for participating in peaceful rallies. We are updating and publishing the list of detainees, which contains information about the date of birth, duration of stay at the police station, name of the police station, current status of the detainee, etc.

  • Protests on 10 June 2019

In the daytime of 10 June 2019, a rally was held in Almaty, with participants pointing to massive falsification and opposing the recognition of election results. Police and special forces officers placed the protesters in transport vehicles.

In the evening on the same day, more than 100 people came to the police department in Almaty to learn about the fate of the detainees. On the night between 10 and 11 June 2019, the protesters formed a walking column. They were joined by other people and the column began to count about 500 people. Some of the protesters formed a motorcade: they gave audible signals, sang songs and chanted “wake up, Kazakh!”. They were soon blocked by police and internal troops vehicles. Then, violent detentions began: people ran away from police officers, trying to hide in the courtyards of houses. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported “about 200” people detained on 10 June 2019.

10 June 2019. Almaty. Photo: Reuters

According to journalists and observers, about 100 people were detained in Almaty during the daytime of 10 June 2019, and more than 100 people were detained at night. In addition, we received the names and case files of 272 people who were detained on the same day in Nur-Sultan. Also in Shymkent, about 20 people were detained.

  • Protests on 12 June 2019

On 12 June 2019, on the inauguration day of Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev, the opposition movement DCK called for rallies to be held at 6 P.M. In Almaty and Nur-Sultan, large forces of police and internal troops cordoned off the places of the planned meetings and blocked the streets. City centres were filled with internal troops' cars and transport vehicles, and armoured water cannons were also installed in yards.

In the afternoon, offices, government offices, cafes and banks located in the centres of Almaty and Nur-Sultan were closed down. Social networks have been blocked. On that day all the people who were in the places of the planned rallies, including those sitting on benches, were dragged by the police into transport vehicles. In this way, more than 200 people were detained in Almaty, 15 people were detained in Uralsk, and more than 20 people were detained in Nur-Sultan and Shymkent.

12 June 2019. Nur-Sultan. Photo: Asemgul Mukhitkyzy (RFE/RL)

It is noteworthy that, according to the statement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, on 12 June 2019 in Almaty “there were no detentions”, but there were “preventive talks”and “no one was placed in transport vehicles”. Such statements seem absurd against the background of numerous videos showing the police actions. 

3. Grave violations during mass detentions

Random passers-by, as well as those who expressed indignation at the actions of the police or filmed the events with cameras, were subjected to brutal detentions. Most of the participants and detainees were young and middle-aged people. Minors, and elderly people were also thrown into transport vehicles. On 12 June 2019 in Almaty, three children aged 8-12 were left alone on the street, as police officers took their mother away in a transport vehicle.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that “the officers behaved in the most correct manner in their dealings with citizens”. The Minister of the Interior provided false information, stating that the police "did not use batons’. “Only physical force was used to localise these conflicts”, the Minister noted. At the same time, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported on “approx. 300 policemen’ who, in the days of detentions, “suffered minor bodily injuries”.

Below are some of the documented examples of how detainees were beaten and injured:

  • June 2019, Nur-Sultan. Radio Svoboda journalist Saniya Toiken saw a police officer kick one of the detained, Kamshat Saparova, in the groin area. Besides, one of the videos shows a man surrounded by police in a crowd of protesters. The police officers are checking his pulse and giving him an indirect heart massage. Some eyewitnesses said he didn't show any signs of life. The Interior Ministry said that the man has “fainted” and the doctors helped him. However, the authorities did not provide the data of this person, nor the evidence that he was okay.
  • June 2019, Almaty. Police officers twisted the hands of detainees, including Aibek Shokabayev, and, holding them by their hands and feet, carried them to transport vehicles. When Ulan Astayev began video shooting of the arrests, the police grabbed him and dragged him across the ground. Astayev said that he had thrombosis of his legs, but the police continued to use force and also hit him on the head. One of the videos taken in the vehicle shows the bruised hands of the detainees. Another video shows how six masked special forces officers seize a passer-by on the street in Almaty and beat and kick him.
    9 June 2019. Almaty. Photo: KIBHR
  • 10 June 2019, Almaty. In the afternoon, one of the women held in a transport vehicle protested by cutting her wrist. She was taken away by an ambulance. Late in the evening, detentions were carried out by masked officers of special units, who, among other things, punched detainees in the face. Azamat Baikenov, one of the persons detained on that day, showed his bruised face and said that he had been beaten by special forces and lost his consciousness. According to him, he regained consciousness already in the transport vehicle, where the officers continued to beat him.
  • 12 June 2019, Almaty. Nurzhan Omarov expressed his indignation at the actions of the police towards civilians, after which six policemen pushed him to the ground. Omarov was approached by several other policemen, one of whom sat on him. Besides, in a video message, one of the detainees said that a man was beaten up in the transport vehicle.
    12 June 2019. Almaty. Photo: KIBHR
  • On 9-10 June 2019there were cases of the so-called “titushky” (mercenary agents) acting together with the policemen. These were men of sporty appearance who struck protesters and journalists.

On 9-12 June 2019 at least 13 journalists who covered the protests were detained:

  • 9 June 2019, Almaty. Pyotr Trotsenko (Radio Svoboda), Dimash Alzhanov and Katerina Suvorova (Vlast.kz), Ainur Khalliollaeva (Holanews) and Chris Rickleton (Agence France-Presse) were detained. As a result of the detention, Chris Rickleton got a hematoma under his eye. The police took away his accreditation and dragged him into the transport vehicle where, according to him, he fell and hit the policeman’s knee. After the intervention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the journalist was released, but all the photos and videos taken by him were erased by the police. 
  • June 2019, Nur-Sultan. Radio Svoboda journalist Saniya Toiken was detained twice, during the day and evening, while she was covering the rallies.
  • 12 June 2019, Almaty. Journalists Bakytzhan Kosbarmakov, Ardak Bukeeva and Yerzhan Abdiraman were detained. In Uralsk, journalists Lukpan Akhmedyarov, Aleksei Vorobiev, Artem Bukreev and Raul Uporov were placed in a transport vehicle and taken to the police station.

In addition, during the protests, several human rights defender who covered the events were detained, including Marius Fossum of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Dmitry Tikhonov of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Maksat Mukarov, a volunteer with the Italian Federation for Human Rights (who was subsequently arrested for 10 days).

4. Beatings, prolonged detentions and interrogations at overcrowded police stations

On 9-10 June 2019 in Almaty and Nur-Sultan, protesters were taken to various police stations in transport vehicles in search of a place where they still had room for detainees.

According to Kazakhstani law, detention may not last more than three hours in the event of an administrative violation. Some of those detained in the afternoon of 9 June 2019 were released before midnight. However, several hundred detainees in Almaty and Nur-Sultan were held at police stations from the afternoon of 9 June 2019 until the morning of 10 June 2019, that is for 10-17 hours. During this time, many detainees were refused to drink, eat and even use the toilet, which is considered ill-treatment.

Activist Dulat Agadil. Photo: Dulat Agadil’s page on facebook

Several cases of beatings at police stations have become known:

  • 9 June 2019, Nur-Sultan. While at the police station, Maksat Mukarov reported that two men were taken to hospital with a head injury and a broken arm. Blogger and human rights activist Dulat Agadil said that some detainees at the Yesil police station were outraged and tried to leave the premises, after which they were beaten with batons, and some of them were handcuffed. The doctors diagnosed Agadil with a dislocated arm and put a plaster cast on it.
  • June 2019, Almaty. According to detainee Daurzhan Aripov, at the Turksib police station, the police kicked people and beat them with batons for shouting and demanding that they be released.

Detainees were not allowed to consult a lawyer. In addition, relatives, lawyers and human rights defenders were not allowed access to detainees:

  • Marzhan Aspandiyarova, a lawyer with the Kazakhstan International Bureau of Human Rights, was not allowed into the Almaty police station.
  • At the Bostandyk police station in Almaty, lawyer Zhanara Balgabaeva was not allowed to meet with her clients. When Balgabaeva's assistant Aydin Turganbekov tried to enter the building, a policeman grabbed him by the neck and tried to hit him: Turganbekov dodged and answered with a punch to the face. As a result of the brawl, the lawyer's shirt was ripped open.Relatives and friends are accompanying activist Alimzhan Izbasarov to the army. Maskat Mukarov, Zhanbota Alzhanova, Aigerim Mukhamedzhan and Aliya Izbasarova were detained for covering the events of 9 June. Photo: Zhanbota Alzhanova’s page on Facebook

At police stations, detainees were interrogated about their political views. They were asked if they supported the opposition movement DCK, whether they have subscribed to the pages of the DCK and their leader Mukhtar Ablyazov in social networks, and why they attended the rally. The Ministry of Internal Affairs emphasised that “people took to the streets at the call of the banned DCK movement”. The police took the phones from the detainees and checked whether they were subscribed to DCK groups in social networks. In most cases, documents regarding arrests, searches and interrogations were not prepared.

Human rights defenders who monitor violations of the rights of participants in peaceful assemblies were detained and harassed

  • In Nur-Sultan, on the night between 9 and 10 June 2019, observers from the Italian Federation for Human Rights (FIDU) Zhanbota Alzhanova, Aigerim Mukhamedzhan and Aliya Izbasarova came to the Baikonur police station to deliver food, water and medicines to the detainees. However, the police officers placed them in transport vehicles, confiscated their telephones and took them to a village 70 km away from Nur-Sultan. They were released after 28 hours. All this time, they were deprived of sleep, food and the opportunity to make a phone call. FIDU protested against the pressure on its observers.
  • On 10 June 2019, another FIDU observer, Daniyar Khasenov, who visits politically motivated trials and is one of the co-authors of the letter sent to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, prior to his visit to Kazakhstan, was detained. The letter calling for attention to the violations of human rights was signed by more than 1,000 people. It received wide publicity in Kazakhstan and in the West, after which, according to Khasenov, intelligence officers began to threaten him and his family.

Dana Zhanayeva, one of the initiators of the letter to Tusk, and the volunteer of the Open Dialogue Foundation, who helps to collect data of the detained and arrested participants of peaceful gatherings, also received threats from the special services. Zhanayeva was threatened with expulsion from the university and arrest, in the event that she does not delete the published letter to Tusk, as well as her other publications in the Facebook group #IHaveAChoiсe #ActivistsNotExtremists. Also, her parents received threats about unscheduled tax audits at the workplace.

Dana Zhanayeva and Daniyar Khasenov. Photo: personal archives of activists

  • On 13 June 2019, Daniyar Khasenov reported that the police imposed restrictions on his and his family's bank accounts. The decision was taken as part of the criminal case under Article 405 of the Criminal Code, according to which Khasenov is currently recognised as a “witness with the right to defence”. Another example of blocking accounts without a court order is the case of Inkar Tishtybaeva, a mother of many children, who was detained on 9 June 2019 in Nur-Sultan and subjected to an administrative fine for “calling for a rally”. A criminal case was also opened against her and her bank accounts were seized. 

5. Night courts at police stations and the clandestine transfer of arrested persons to neighbouring regions

From the night of 9 June 2019 until the morning of 10 June 2019, court sessions” took place right at police stations. Judges and prosecutors arrived at the police units, and, in the absence of lawyers, they held hasty trials, some of which lasted less than five minutes.

Lawyer Amanzhol Mukhamedyar reported how it happened: “People are being sent into offices one after another, where the judge and the prosecutor are waiting for them. The prosecutor has only two questions: do they have any disabilities and how old are they. After that, the court stands up and announces its decision: almost everyone is placed under administrative arrest”.

Detainees in a crowded police car. Photo: The Facebook group #HaveAChoice @ActivistsNotExtremists

Most of the detainees were convicted under Article 488 of the Administrative Code — “Violation of the legislation on the order of holding peaceful assemblies”. Some of them were convicted under Article 667 of the Administrative Code — “disobedience to the lawful demands of a police officer”. According to official figures, 677 people were sentenced to administrative arrest for up to 15 days. The Open Dialogue Foundation, with the help of volunteers and activists from Kazakhstan, collected a list of names and data in the cases of 638 arrestees;the rally of 9 June 2019 - 71 arrestees in Almaty, 379 arrestees in Nur-Sultan and four arrestees in Aktobe; the rallies of 10 June 2019 – 121 arrestees in Almaty and 63 arrestees in Nur-Sultan.

In the morning of 10 June 2019, the police began to take hundreds of arrested persons to places where they started serving their sentences. Soon it became known that there were no more places in Nur-Sultan to locate the administratively arrested persons, and they began to be taken to the neighbouring Akmola and Karaganda regions. The Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that about 200 people arrested for the rally on 9 June 2019 were taken outside of Nur-Sultan “in order not to create an overcrowding’ in a situation where all of them would stay in the same place”. Those arrested in Almaty were also sent to the Almaty region.

The arrested were taken away to a distance of 100-200 km from Nur-Sultan in crowded transport vehicles — without water, food and the possibility of using the toilet. Some arrested persons say that they spent more than 5-10 hours in a transport vehicle under such conditions.

On 12 June 2019, the Ombudsman appealed to the Ministry of Internal Affairs with a recommendation to inform relatives about the whereabouts of the arrested. At the same time, the Ombudsman expressed support for the position of the President regarding the “inadmissibility of provocations and illegal actions”.

An ambulance was called to one of the persons held in the Almaty special detention centre because he was beaten and had a concussion during his arrest on 10 June 2019.

9 June 2019. Almaty. Photo: Reuters

The available information on the conditions of detention of the arrested participants of peaceful assemblies is alarming. According to the legislation, they should be held in special detention facilities for persons under administrative arrest. However, as shown by previous arrests of peaceful protesters, due to overcrowding in special detention facilities, they were placed in temporary detention facilities (TDFs). 

According to lawyers and human rights activists, most of the special detention facilities and TDFs are small cells for several people, often with dampness and lack of drinking water (water needs to be brought in). The protesters who were taken to the TDF in Nur-Sultan reported poor conditions of detention, in particular, the fact that the toilet was separated from the bed only by a wooden board. As a rule, conditions in regional TDFs (and many of the arrested were taken to Akmola and Karaganda regions) are even worse.

6. Mass irregularities and rigging of elections 

Immediately after the end of the voting, civil activists and observers began to distribute copies of vote counting protocols (reports) from polling stations on social networks. The documents showed that Amirzhan Kosanov and Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev received approximately equal numer of votes. However, the official results of the counting of votes provided by the Central Election Commission were completely different.

  • Nur-Sultan

According to official data of the CEC, in Nur-Sultan, 91,038 voters (19.57%) voted for Amirzhan Kosanov and 275,346 (59.19%) voted for Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev.

Civil society activists and observers published the reports of vote counting at 74 polling stations in the city of Nur-Sultan. According to the figures in the reports, Amirzhan Kosanov was voted for by 35,604 voters, and Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev —by 51,164 voters. A more detailed analysis for each polling station indicates that the gap could have been even smaller. At 66 out of 74 polling stations, Kosanov and Tokayev received an approximately equal number of votes, with a slight advantage of the latter.

It is noteworthy that at eight polling stations, Tokayev received 7-10 time more votes than Kosanov. Such a large deviation from the general voting trend indicates possible falsifications in these polling stations. 

Based on the trend of vote counting at 74 polling stations, Kosanov should have received about 114 thousand votes at 239 precincts of Nur-Sultan, and Tokayev should have received about 164 thousand votes. However, officially, Kosanov received 23,000 fewer votes, and Tokayev received 111,000 more.

  • Uralsk

According to official data of the CEC, in West Kazakhstan Region, 63,355 voters (20.85%) voted for Amirzhan Kosanov and 223,937 (73.69%) voted for Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev. As in Astana, according to the reports, Kosanov received several thousand fewer votes than the trend of voting in the region. At the same time, Tokayev won 141 thousand votes more (more by 270% than the voting trend suggested).

  • Almaty

Data from 20 polling stations in Almaty also show that Amirzhan Kosanov and Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev received approximately equal numbers of votes — 6,576 (43.36%) and 6,943 (45.78%), respectively. According to official CEC data, Amirzhan Kosanov received 8.57% of the vote in Almaty, while Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev received 66.73% of the vote — that is five times higher than the voting trend. Voter turnout at the 20 polling stations studied in Almaty was 32.58%. According to official CEC data, the turnout in Almaty was 52.2%.

  • Mangystau Region

According to the statement of Kosanov's trustee, Uaisu Ersayinuly, in the Mangystau region, observers managed to obtain 70% of the reports from polling stations. According to these reports, Amirzhan Kosanov won 68.3% of the vote, and Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev won 29%. However, the CEC provided completely different results: Amirzhan Kosanov received 32.7% of the vote, and Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev received 55.5%. 

9 June 2019, Shykment. Polling station No. 162. Several folded voting cards, which may indicated that they were inserted by one person. Photo: Dilara Isa (RFE/RL)

Below are the most common violations identified by observers at polling stations:

  • Obstruction of the work of observers: they were not allowed to move around polling stations they were not allowed to take photographs and videos, they were prevented from monitoring the counting of votes and were expelled from polling stations. 
  • A single voter was able to vote at several polling stations by abusing the temporary residence registration or the absentee ballot procedures. Voters who were not included in the voter lists were able to obtain temporary registration directly at the polling stations.
    According to OSCE/ODIHR observations, an average of 25 voters were added to the voter lists at each station on election day. Also, at 12% of the observed stations, election commissions did not record the data of voters who voted by absentee ballots, and did not retain their ballots.
  • Systematic application of administrative resources, especially in relation to students and civil servants, as well as mass organised transportation of voters to polling stations. Prior to the elections, information was spread in social media networks that students and civil servants were forced to attend Tokayev's campaign events and vote for him under threat of being expelled from the educational institution or dismissed from work. To confirm the “correctness” of voting, students and civil servants were required to take a photograph of their voting cards.
  • Issuance of voting cards on the basis of a copy of an identity card.9 June 2019. Shymkent. Photo: Dilara Isa (RFE/RL)
  • Interrupting the counting process when commission members stopped counting votes and left the polling station. 
  • Identical signatures in voter lists that indicate the issuance of multiple voting cards to a single voter or falsification of the issuance of voting card.
  • One person placing several ballots into the ballot box.
  • Mass placing of ballots in the ballot box by election commission representatives. At polling station No. 40 in Nur-Sultan, observers recorded that the commission members had unused ballots on the table, in which votes were cast for Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev. At this station, Tokayev won three times as many votes as Kosanov (1,056 versus 362).
  • Total number of ballots used at a polling station that exceeded the number of voters. OSCE/ODIHR observers noted such violations in 9% of polling stations observed.
  • In the cases of voting at home, the total number of voters was not noted in the reports. OSCE/ODIHR observers recorded such violations in 25% of cases.
  • Difference between the numbers announced after the vote count and in the final report. 
  • At the polling station in the village of Kainazar, Almaty region, a pen with disappearing ink was found in the voting booth.

The General Prosecutor's Office of Kazakhstan stated that only 19 cases of violations of electoral legislation were revealed on election day.

12 June 2019. Almaty. Special forces officers who participated in the military dispersal of peaceful protesters. Photo: Petr Trotsenko (RFE/RL).

7. President Tokayev believes that the OSCE conclusions are biased

None of Kazakhstan's elections were recognised by Western observers as free and fair. The 2019 extraordinary presidential election was no exception. The OSCE stated that the election was held in a “political environment dominated by the ruling political party and in an atmosphere that suppressed critical opinions. The organisation noted that irregularities on election day made it impossible to guarantee a fair vote count. The OSCE also noted the mass detentions of civic activists and protesters during the election campaign and on election day, which are contrary to Kazakhstan's international human rights obligations.

According to OSCE/ODIHR, in more than half of the polling stations where the observation was carried out, the count was assessed negatively by observers. In 11% of the observed station, deliberate falsification was recorded.

The EU, referring to the OSCE conclusions, also stressed the large number of violations during the voting and counting processes, as well as the mass arrests on election day.

Commenting on the findings of the OSCE, Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev suggested their political motivation: “I know all this environment very well, [I know] how they prepare these reports, how politically biased they can be depending on the country in which these people are working. Therefore, I take the OSCE reports with absolute peace of mind, believe meThe OSCE/ODIHR is just one of the many international organisations. We should not focus on the assessments of this particular organisation”.

8. Conclusions and recommendations

The early presidential elections of 2019 exposed the real scale of the crisis of the legitimacy of the authorities in Kazakhstan. Officially, the candidate from the government, Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev, won with the result of 70.1% of the vote. However, the scale of rigging and the independent counting of votes at polling stations show that this figure is greatly overestimated. Official turnout was 77.5%. However, according to the protocols, the actual turnout was from 25% to 40%, which clearly testifies to the lack of trust of citizens of Kazakhstan in the institution of elections.

Since 2018, the number of protests in Kazakhstan has increased dramatically. Residents of the country presents their requests to the authorities in a democratic way. However, instead of the declared dialogue, the authorities intensify oppression and curtail civil and political freedoms. Opposition activities are, in fact, banned in Kazakhstan. Since March 2018, several thousand people have been arbitrarily detained for participating in peaceful rallies. 

The new President has clearly demonstrated that he will continue the policy of Nursultan Nazarbayev on the domestic and foreign arena. The methods of countering opposition and civic activism remain the same: en massearbitrary detentions, beatings of peaceful protesters, criminal prosecutions of critics of the authorities and exertion of pressure on the relatives of dissidents. Such methods can lead to unrest and riots in society, as was the case in Zhanaozen in 2011, which destabilises the situation not only in the country, but also in the region.

On 19 June 2019, the Mazhilis of the Parliament of Kazakhstan began to consider a package of amendments to the act “On Martial Law”. According to the proposed amendments, during the period of martial law, the President of the country “imposes bans or restrictions on holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches, pickets, strikes”. The draft law also provides that in the event of martial law, the State Protection Service is entitled to use the necessary forces and means of other state bodies to ensure the security of protected persons and the defence of protected facilities. Thus, the authorities create the legal prerequisites for the use of the army to counteract protests in the event of martial law in the country.

Expressing regret for the dispersal of peaceful protesters during elections, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that, by doing so, the authorities pose risks to stability and social cohesion in the country. 

The EU allocates money for justice reform projects in Kazakhstan, and the EU Delegation to Kazakhstan “positively assesses” the results of these projects.  Another illustration of the ‘desire’ of the authorities to introduce this reform was hasty court trials held against participants in peaceful rallies right in the police stations, at night and without the assistance of lawyers. Not a single acquittal was recorded at these trials (subsequently, under pressure from the international community, the prosecutor’s office reduced the term of arrest with regard to 311 people, but they were not acquitted). Even the appearance of separation of powers wasn’t created, as the courts were held in the closed territory of the executive bodies, where it is impossible to ensure proper examination of the evidence or questioning of witnesses.

As regards the level of observance of human rights and civil liberties, Kazakhstan is rapidly approaching its neighbours - China, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Even now, the authorities resort to massive blocking of the Internet, and plan to tighten control over social networks following the example of China.

Hundreds of Kazakhstani civil society representatives have repeatedly called on the EU to support and respond to serious human rights violations in the country. Therefore, the European Union, as a large investor and a significant economic partner of Kazakhstan, must not silently observe such a development of the situation. The adoption of the European equivalent of the Magnitsky Act can be an effective way to enforce human rights obligations.

The Open Dialog Foundation hereby calls on the competent bodies of the UN, EU, OSCE, Council of Europe, and democratic governments to revise the principles for building relations with Kazakhstan. Taking into account the provisions of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Kazakhstan, and the resolution of the European Parliament of 14 March 2019 on the human rights situation in Kazakhstan, the provision of financial assistance and the development of trade and economic relations must be made strictly conditional on Kazakhstan’s fulfilment of its human rights obligations and democratic freedoms. In addition, given the absence of any improvements in the work of the Kazakhstani justice system, it is necessary to verify the effectiveness of the funds allocated by the EU to Kazakhstan for the implementation of reforms.

We hereby urge you to demand that the authorities of Kazakhstan:

  • Immediately release all detained and arrested participants in peaceful protests and dismiss the criminal cases carried out against them.
  • Rehabilitate those participants in peaceful protests who have already been convicted.
  • Carry out an official investigation and bring to justice law enforcement officers who participated in the beating of participants in peaceful protests.
  • Demand that the authorities of Kazakhstan bring the electoral legislation in line with international standards for fair elections.
  • Fulfill the demands set forth in the Resolution of the European Parliament on the human rights situation in Kazakhstan of 14 March 2019, which demands the cessation of politically motivated prosecutions and persecutions against the opposition, the release of political prisoners, and the reform of oppressive criminal legislation.