Despite a UN decision in his favor, the Kazakh government has yet to provide human rights activist Alnur Ilyashev with any form of remedy after a court unjustly sentenced him to three years of restricted movement, 300 hours of forced labor, and a five-year ban on political and civic activism. Ilyashev was prosecuted for Facebook posts critical of the ruling party.
In its March 2022 decision, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on the Government of Kazakhstan to quash Ilyashev’s conviction and compensate him for the repeated violation of his rights to freedom of expression and due process during the criminal proceedings against him.
However, Kazakhstan has yet to announce any steps it has taken to comply with the Working Group’s decision. Today, Freedom Now and the Clooney Foundation for Justice issued a letter to the Government of Kazakhstan requesting an update and urging the Government of Kazakhstan to grant the UN Working Group’s request to visit the country. The two organizations have advocated for the overturning of Ilyashev’s conviction, with Freedom Now serving as Ilyashev’s international legal counsel since November 2020 and the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch Initiative having monitored and reported on his trial and filed an amicus brief supporting Ilyashev’s appeal.
“It has been five months since the UN Working on Arbitrary Detention issued its decision calling on the Government of Kazakhstan to quash Alnur Ilyashev’s sentence, expunge his criminal record, and accord him an enforceable right to compensation,” said Freedom Now Legal Officer Adam Lhedmat. “However, we have received no communication regarding any progress on these actions.”
Prior to his arrest, Alnur Ilyashev was a vocal advocate for democratization, pluralism, and civic participation in Kazakhstan. He was arrested in April 2020, one month after expressing views critical of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous due process violations during his trial were exacerbated by technical issues arising from the use of video-conferencing software to hold the trial remotely.
The TrialWatch Fairness Report on his case, by TrialWatch Expert Vânia Costa Ramos and staff at the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights, gave the trial a grade of ‘D,’ finding that Mr. Ilyashev’s conviction was “based upon a procedure that contravened basic fair trial tenets and appeared to be politically motivated.”
“Kazakhstan should implement the Working Group’s decision in compliance with its international human rights obligations,” Lhedmat added.
On February 12, 2021, Freedom Now and law firm McKool Smith filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Ilyashev. In March 2022, the Working Group determined Ilyashev’s detention to be a violation of international law and arbitrary. It concluded that “the appropriate remedy would be to quash Mr. Ilyashev’s sentence, expunge his criminal record and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations,in accordance with international law.”
In 2019, Ilyashev brought public awareness to Kazakhstan’s overly restrictive law on peaceful assemblies after his request for a permit was rejected 35 times. The same year, he joined two other activists in preparing to establish an independent political party. However, their efforts were obstructed by the ruling Nur Otan Party (now Amanat).
Ilyashev increasingly used social media to amplify his activism during the COVID-19 pandemic. This included participating in Facebook Live events and publishing a YouTube video calling on former president Nursultan Nazarbayev to use his substantial wealth to fund efforts to mitigate the pandemic.
In March 2020, Ilyashev posted a series of messages on his private Facebook page that criticized the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and commented on the prosecution of a local Nur Otan Party chairman.
On April 17, 2020, Ilyashev was arrested on charges of disseminating false information that threatened public order under Article 274 of the Kazakh Criminal Code. He was kept in pre-trial detention until June 12, 2020, when he was remanded to house arrest. There is evidence that Ilyashev contracted COVID-19 during his time in detention.
The trial against Ilyashev began on June 12, 2020 and consisted of six hearings over the course of ten days. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the trial was held remotely through video-conferencing software. This aspect of the proceedings compounded the already numerous due process violations. Ilyashev and his counsel were either unable, or limited in their ability, to participate in the trial as they were frequently disconnected from audio and video feeds due to technological issues.
At one point on June 15, Ilyashev even lamented: “I am the main person involved and I cannot hear anything.” Moreover, Ilyashev and his lawyer were not allowed to have confidential discussions during the proceedings. If they wished to have a discussion regarding legal strategy, they were required to do so through the main video feed during court breaks, sometimes with the prosecution present.
On June 22, 2020, the court found Ilyashev guilty and sentenced him to three years of restricted movement, 300 hours of forced labor, and a ban on political and civic activism for five years.