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Charges dropped for activist arrested in Zhanaozen riot crackdown

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Almaty: 05.07.12 - ARTICLE 19 welcomes the release of theatre director, Bolat Atabayev, on 3 July, after the charges of inciting social hatred originally brought against him in connection with the Zhanaozen riots in December 2011, were dropped. ARTICLE 19 considers these charges politically motivated.

“ARTICLE 19 calls on the government of Kazakhstan to also urgently release public activist Zhanbolat Mamai, who remains in detention on the same charges,” said Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. “The Kazakh authorities have to ensure that the Zhanaozen riots are not used as a pretext to arrest and pressure those who present critical views and have publicly supported trade unions and labor rights.” she added.

Bolat Atabayev and Zhanbolat Mamai were arrested and placed into the KBN detention facility in Almaty on June 15 and later transferred to Western Kazakhstan. Following his release, Atabayev reported he had been severely beaten on the day of his arrest by an officer of the National Security Committee (KNB), Armanzhan Nurgaliyev. On 4 July the bruises on his face were still visible as he gave a press conference in Almaty. There he also stated that he had refused to give evidence against others, including opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov currently facing similar charges, as the authorities had wanted.

Immediately following his arrest, Atabayev refused to eat and continued refusing food until 18 June when he fell unconscious. Other prisoners helped him return to normal. After he was transported to Western Kazakhstan and placed into the KNB detention facility he refused to speak with the investigators and provide evidence. “I was planning to begin a hunger strike on 6 July, and to go on a dry strike once I would be informed of the date of the court proceedings. I wanted them to judge me after my death”, stated Atabayev on 4 July.

Information that Atabayev and Mamai would both be released was disseminated for the first time on 29 June. However, only Atabayev was released on 3 July after his status was formally changed from “accused” to “witness” and he had 'repented', signing a statement that he had traveled to Zhanaozen and publicly expressed support to the oil workers who were then on strike. He was released in accordance with Article 65 of the Kazakh Criminal Code. This stipulates that after having committed a crime, a person may be exempt from criminal liability, if he/she actively contributed to the prevention, disclosure, or investigation of the alleged crimes committed.

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