A court in Kazakhstan has ruled to designate an opposition political movement led by fugitive business Mukhtar Ablyazov an extremist organization.
In considering a petition from the General Prosecutor’s Office on March 13, the Yesil district court ruled that Ablyazov was using the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan to incite the violent overthrow of the government.
Ablyazov fled the country in the late 2000s and is wanted on multiple charges that he argues are politically motivated. In 2017, he was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in jail for allegedly embezzling and spiriting $7.5 billion out of the country. Following his release from a French jail in 2016 after a court struck down an order to extradite him to Russia to face fraud charges, Ablyazov stated that Kazakhstan’s government could only be changed “through force, since Nazarbayev will not leave [power] voluntarily.”
Recently, Ablyazov has taken to Facebook to do much of his online activism. He regularly produces online videos in which he criticizes the government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who he has described as the chief of a criminal syndicate.
The General Prosecutor’s Office argued that Ablyazov’s addresses created a “negative image of the authorities and are stirring protest sentiments.”
Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, or DVK in its Russian-language initials, is an idea repurposed from the political party that was created in 2001, when Ablyazov was still based in Kazakhstan. The movement is not registered in Kazakhstan.
The court’s decision makes it unlawful to disseminate Ablayzov’s video addresses through media, social media and private messengers. Any public show of support of DVK will in principle now be subject to prosecution.
Extremist activity is punishable in Kazakhstan with prison sentences of between two and 17 years.
Ablyazov responded to the court ruling with a statement by denying he ever called for violence and arguing that “Nazarbayev was in a state of terror and panic over the pace of DVK’s development.”
“His only reaction could be to stop DVK by means of repression,” he wrote on Facebook.
There is little evidence, however, to support Ablyazov’s claim that his movement is gathering any useful degree of momentum inside Kazakhstan. His videos typically draw views in the thousands and occasional appeals to supporters to muster for protests usually go unheeded.