It has now been 50 days since Asya Tulesova, human rights defender, Kazakhstan's most prominent environmental and civil activist, has been placed in detention. She is still awaiting the start of the hearings in the criminal case against her, which was filed on June 8.* According to lawyers and human rights organizations, the detention and custody of Asya Tulesova goes against the laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan and is a violation of the commitments agreed upon by Kazakhstan under the framework of international human rights law (read the context of this story here).
All court hearings are held online; personal meetings with lawyers and relatives are prohibited. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the campaign supporting Tulesova takes place mainly in the digital space.
Sources of news from Tulesova’s pre-trial detention facility on Krasnogorskaya Street are limited to telephone conversations with her mother, Zhanar Dzhandosova, and short briefings delivered by her live during breaks in court hearings. To get information to Tulesova inside the facility is even more difficult: letters cannot be sent to the isolation ward, and messages sent over radio in the evenings rarely reach her.
Over the past seven weeks, human rights organizations and individuals both in Kazakhstan and abroad have spoken out in support of Tulesova. Solidarity with her was expressed in various forms by artists and poets, lawyers and entrepreneurs, activists and human rights defenders.
Lawyers and human rights defenders
Lawyers, human rights activists and international organizations have repeatedly stated that Tulesova's case is being conducted with many violations of both Kazakhstani legislation and international law. Defenders have petitioned to free Asya from detention. They instead ask for the court to give her permission to post bail and sign an agreement not to flee the country, yet she remains in custody. One of Tulesova's lawyers, Dzhokhar Utebekov, wrote on his Facebook page that he considers the court's decision to take Tulesova into custody incorrect, referring to the Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan: the maximum punishment under the article imputed to her is three years in prison. According to article 147 of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan, "people can only be arrested for crimes that merit a punishment of over five years." The lawyer also clarified: “While there are seven exceptions to this rule in the Criminal Procedure Code, the investigator did not cite any of them to the court in their ruling on the measure of restraint.”
On July 15, the lawyer posted another post on his page calling for justice for his client:
The international organizations Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and International Partnership for Human Rights have all released official statements condemning the actions of law enforcement agencies and calling on Kazakhstani authorities to immediately end the criminal prosecution of Asya Tulesova and release her from custody.
Tulesova, along with human rights defenders from six other countries, was elected as the face of the global campaign #StandAsMyWitness. The campaign, launched by some 200 human rights organizations, is dedicated to International Nelson Mandela Day and calls on authoritarian governments to end the persecution of human rights defenders.
#АсяТакойЧеловек (Asya takoi chelovek, “this is the kind of person Asya is”)
In the first days after the arrest, the Youth Information Service of Kazakhstan launched the #АсяТакойЧеловек campaign on social networks, in opposition to the fake accounts and so-called “nurbots” [accounts affiliated with the government who back anything it says online] who were purposefully denigrating Tulesova’s image. Using this hashtag, her friends and acquaintances told stories that revealed what kind of person Tulesova is. The Instagram page Rukh2k19 has released a series of images that describe Tulesova and her numerous social and cultural projects.
Last year, after Tulesova and other activists were arrested for the demonstration “You can’t run from the truth,” the art community greatly supported her. Now, they do so again. Artists and illustrators from Kazakhstan, Russia, Germany and other countries express their solidarity with the activist through artworks created in a variety of techniques and genres.
Many illustrations are based on previously published photographs by Adamdar/CA.
After Tulesova’s arrest, the artist Saule Suleimenova published a portrait that she had painted of her in May for the activist's birthday, and accompanied it with the text:
“Something has changed. And not only because of COVID-19. Something very important has changed. When we talked about decolonization, we assumed that it would be personal, inner, invisible work of the soul. Now it has become visible ... And now Asya (@miroiu), our conscience, our voice, is charged with Article 380 — the use of violence against authorities, for trying to protect people from the police. She was just trying to stop the violence.”
Sotqa Shaqyrý (“Invitation to court”), a project to publicly monitor trials, posted illustrations about Asya and the case brought against her on their Instagram page. Asya herself is one of the creators and authors of this page.
On June 29, friends and relatives of Tulesova launched an initiative in support of her called #ProtestKorpe. Comparing civil society with the traditional Kazakh patchwork quilt quraq kórpe, the authors of the initiative call on everyone to contribute to the fight against injustice by creating their own “patch” and posting it on social networks. To do this, the authors have created a special site where you can choose one of the suggested slogans and ornaments.
Kazakh artists Saule Suleimenova and Madina Zholdybekova have created their own unique patches for Protest Kórpe.
On the basis of Protest Kórpe backgrounds, sisters and artists Medina Bazargalieva and Suinbike Suleimenova have developed a filter for Instagram called “Asya is us.”
The art collective “Academy of Fools” published illustrations in support of Tulesova and of the Protest Kórpe initiative.
The artists Polina Nikitina (Russia) and Joanne Arkless (Germany) contributed to the international reach of the Protest Kórpe initiative.
Soon after Tulesova's arrest, artist Medina Bazargalieva published the work “Freedom of Assembly” on her Instagram page:
“This video work is ‘inspired’ by the outrageous deeds of our government against Asya Tulesova and Alnur Ilyashev, who are now in custody for their courage and capacity to confront oppressive injustice. As a citizen of the Republic of Kazakhstan, I demand freedom for public assemblies, the release of Asya Tulesova and the release of Alnur Ilyashev! "
"What color is your passport?" is a poetic video performance by actor and writer Anatoly Ogay. In it, he speaks of the critical situation in Kazakhstan in connection with the coronavirus pandemic and other pressing problems in the country. The finale of his performance is dedicated to Asya Tulesova; the hashtags #Kazakhstan2020, #FreeAsya, #EnoughisEnough appear in the final frame.
On July 5, activist Fariza Ospan announced on social networks her intention to carry out a solo picket in Shymkent the next day in support of Asya Tulesova. On July 6, not even having had time to unfold her poster, Ospan was abducted by unknown persons and taken to the police station, where she was rudely interrogated and harassed. The activist described the events in detail in a post on her Instagram page.
On July 10, Forbes Kazakhstan published an appeal to Kazakhstani businessmen about the president, urging them to “ensure of an open and fair trial” for Tulesova. The letter was signed by 6 entrepreneurs: Erkin Tatishev, Oraz Dzhandosov, Bulat Abilov, Nurzhan Bekshenov, Yerkesh Shakeev and Asylbek Kozhakhmetov.
Asya Tulesova, an environmental and civil activist, is the head of the public foundation “Common Sense,” and one of the founders of the environmental organization Almaty Urban Air (AUA). For several years she has been engaged in the study of air pollution in Almaty and activist work to solve environmental problems.
Tulesova was one of the participants of the 2019 art demonstration “You can’t run away from the truth,” which took place at the Almaty marathon on April 21 of that year. She was arrested and sentenced by a court to 15 days of detention. During the trial, she made a heartfelt speech which was later quoted by the media and activists on their posters at numerous solidarity rallies in Kazakhstan, Europe and the United States.
On Saturday, June 6, 2020, peaceful rallies were held in the cities of Kazakhstan, at which 53 people were detained, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The protesters were detained in a rude manner, often with the use of violence and unjustified physical force by the police. According to eyewitnesses, ordinary passers-by were placed in police vehicles along with the participants of the peaceful rally. In Almaty, Tulesova tried to protect civilians in front of one of the police vehicles, and for this she was detained. Several police officers took part in the arrest of Tulesova, grabbing her and throwing her to the ground. She was taken to the Police Department of the Medeu region of Almaty along with other detainees, where she was held for several hours. After her initial release, Tulesova, together with journalists, human rights defenders and civil activists, remained at the police building and demanded the release of her illegally detained fellow citizens. At about 6:00 pm, police officers forcibly took Tulesova to the PD without explaining the reasons for her detention. Later, according to Tulesova's mother, she was taken to the outskirts of the city and released.
On the evening of June 8, Tulesova was summoned for interrogation as a suspect in a criminal case. Тhat evening, she was sent to a temporary detention center. A few days later she was transferred to a pre-trial detention center, where she is still being held.
Tulesova is being charged under two articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan: Article 380 part 1 - “The use of violence that is not dangerous to life or health, or the threat of violence against a government official” and Art. 378 part 2 - “Insulting a representative of the authorities.” A fragment of a video taken on June 6, in which she brushes the cap off the head of one of the police officers who took part in the arrest of the protesters, is used as proof of these charges against Tulesova. Later, it became known that a total of six police officers were the “victims” in the case.
Despite all the petitions that have been collected to relieve the repressive measures against Tulesova (asking to commute her detention to allowing her to post bail and sign an agreement not to flee the country), she remains in custody. One of Tulesova's lawyers, Dzhokhar Utebekov, wrote on his Facebook page that he considers the court's decision to take Asiya Tulesova into custody incorrect, referring to the Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan: the maximum punishment under the article imputed to her is three years in prison, and according to article 147 of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan, "people can only be arrested for crimes that merit a punishment of over five years." The lawyer also clarified: “While there are seven exceptions to this rule in the Criminal Procedure Code, the investigator did not cite any of them to the court in their ruling on the measure of restraint.
An appeal to the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan created on June 9 demanding the release of Tulesova collected more than 4000 signatures in one day and was transmitted to the presidential administration through the government’s online portal. However, according to the website of the Coalition for the Safety and Protection of Human Rights Defenders (PANA), the appeal has remained unanswered.
Initially, Zalina Makharadze was the appointed judge to Tulesova’s case. In June, she sentenced civil activist Alnur Ilyashev to three years of restriction of freedom for criticizing the Nur Otan party.
As of the time of writing, a date has not yet been set for the main hearing of Tulesova’s case. So far, only sessions of the investigating court and a preliminary hearing in the second court of the Medeu region of Almaty have been held. At a preliminary hearing on July 7, lawyers Dzhokhar Utebekov and Nazerke Rizabekova filed 8 motions, of which only three were satisfied: to recognize Zhanar Dzhandosova, mother of Asiya Tulesova, her defender, to attach expert opinions to the case materials and to conduct a forensic philological examination. On July 24, human rights activist Bakhytzhan Toregozhina wrote on her Facebook page that the examination of the Tulesova case had been completed and the case had been transferred back to court. On July 28, it became known that Tulesova’s case was transferred to another judge —Taken Shaimanovich Shakirov.
* On the evening of July 28, after the publication of this article, Zhanar Dzhandosova wrote on Facebook, “Asya Tulesova's trial has been scheduled for August 3 at 11:00am at the Medeu district court.”