Wed, 20 Jan 2021

Riding Into Trouble In Kazakhstan

14 Jun 2019, 23:45 GMT+10

Arman Abdullakhanov was biking home from the grocery store when he rode into trouble with police trying to disperse rallies in Almaty against the results of Kazakhstan's recent presidential election.

It was June 10, a day after the presidential election won by Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, the handpicked successor of former authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev. The result sparked protests in many cities, including Almaty.

Police detained dozens of protesters, including passersby like Abdullakhanov.

'I crossed the same square on my way to the shop and nobody said anything,' Abdullakhanov says. 'But on the way back, they didn't let me go.'

Abdullakhanov, a lawyer and former wrestler, insists he had no intention of joining the rally.

'Had I been planning to go to the rally, I wouldn't take my bicycle and wouldn't be carrying a grocery bag with bread, juice, and sugar,' Abdullakhanov told RFE/RL on June 11.

Videos and photos of Abdullakhanov and his bike and bag being taken away by police in different vehicles went viral on Kazakh social media.

One photo shows Abdullakhanov -- still on his bike -- being held by several police officers.

Another photo, apparently taken moments later, depicts Abdullakhanov being carried away by three policemen and three officers in black uniforms of the Special Rapid Response Unit.

Another image shows two officers taking Abdullakhanov's bike and bag to a police vehicle.

'The officers put me in the vehicle and closed the door,' Abdullakhanov recalls of his detention. 'I sat on the floor and I was angry.'

Abdullakhanov says that there were two policemen in the vehicle, and that he overheard one of them 'whispering to another that 'this man is my neighbor.''

'I told him, 'If you're my neighbor, then you know that I live here. Why are you detaining me like this?' He responded that, 'It wasn't me who arrested you. My job is only to transport you to the police station,'' Abdullakhanov says.

According to Abdullakhanov, the vehicle took him to the Zhetysu district police station as police officers got information that the nearby Almalinsky station was already full of detainees.

'There were many people in Zhetysu, too,' he recalls. 'The policeman told me not to go inside with everyone else and just quietly leave the site instead.'

Abdullakhanov said he was happy to be released.

'They grabbed me, bruised my sides a bit, but thank God, I didn't have to go inside,' he said.

His bike and grocery bag were returned with the help of acquaintances in law enforcement agencies.

Abdullakhanov says that being a lawyer and having contacts, along with the coincidence of meeting a neighbor -- the policeman -- in the police van helped him to get released easily.

'I don't want to even imagine what would happen if someone was in my place facing that situation,' he adds.

Political Pluralism

Abdullakhanov says he doesn't want to 'politicize' his detention, although he admits the experience has shocked him.

'At first, I wanted to write about it on social media, but I thought better of it because emotions are still running high and the post may turn out to be not quite so objective,' Abdullakhanov says.

Asked about Kazakhstan's politics, Abdullakhanov says that he thinks the country's main problem is the lack of pluralism and any platforms for dialogue.

Arman Abdullakhanov with his sons in Almaty

'Look at our parliament, for example. It's a basically one-party parliament,' he says. 'Monopoly is always bad.'

Abdullakhanov says that when he shares his political opinion, some people ask if he supports the opposition.

'Of course, I don't, but as a voter I am for political pluralism,' he adds.

On June 13, the Prosecutor-General's Office said 957 detained people had been 'punished" for taking part in unsanctioned rallies. That includes 670 people who were sentenced to between six and 15 days in jail, 115 who were fined, and 172 who received official warnings about taking part in 'illegal' actions.

Translated and condensed from the Russian by Farangis Najibullah

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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