On April 21, during the Almaty Marathon, civil activists Asiya (Asya) Tulesova and Beibarys Tolymbekov were detained by the police for holding a banner which read, “You cannot run from the truth,” above the hashtags #AdilSailayUshin (“For Fair Elections”) in Kazakh and #УМеняЕстьВыбор (“I Have A Choice”) in Russian. On the evening of the same Sunday, trials against them were held. Both Tulesova and Tolymbekov were found guilty under administrative article 488, paragraph 3, and sentenced to serve 15-day prison terms. The following day, cinematographers Suinbike Suleimenova, Aigul Nurbolatova and Aidos Nurbolatov were brought to trial for “actively participating” in the demonstration, i.e. filming the process. All three were found guilty and fined.
From the very first day, people in Kazakhstan and other countries of the world have been expressing their support of the detained activists. Thousands of people joined the campaign in social media by posting the words from the banner. Solidarity efforts took place in the streets of Almaty, Karaganda, Astana, Milan, Paris, London, Berlin, Prague, and Istanbul. Several prominent figures in culture, sport, and art have showed their support of the activists: artist Askhat Akhmediyarov, ultra marathon runner Marat Zhylanbayev, street artist Pasha Cas, Russian hip-hop duo AIGEL, Kyrgyz singer and art activist Zere Assylbek and many others. This level of response from the art community has become unprecedented for Kazakhstan.
Here, Adamdar/CA publishes some of the artists’ tributes to Asya Tulesova and Beibarys Tolymbekov.
Sreenihal Pouka, @sreenihal:
“I'm Sreenihal Pouka, an Indian graphic designer and illustrator based in Milan, Italy.
When I got to know the current issue that happened in Kazakhstan, I couldn't wait to make an artwork which contains the issue, and tell the world. What just happened on April 21, 2019 should have not happened anywhere in the world. When the young generation is getting aware of the current politic scenarios and life, it's always better to spread that to thousands. It's our responsibility as humans to deserve a better life in our own counties. From my heart as a designer and a human I truly support 'Asya' the young lady. I truly believe and hope we need more Asya's in the current world.
Support from Milan,
Madina Zholdybekova, @madikendraws:
“The ice has broken. On April 21, many people woke up for real. Civil society now will be gradually shaping up. Asya and Beibarys have given us hope that Kazakhstan can become a democratic state even if it takes years, or the whole generation has to change.”
Pasha Cas, @pashacas:
“I think that their way of expressing their opinions can be considered art in a public space that raises timely matters! And people should be given awards for art; not arrested.
We’re with you, guys. Hold on!”
Aruzhan Abilkhamit, @aruzhan.abilkhamit:
“It is important to raise the issues of credibility of truth and to avoid the veil of silence, so my posters are a heartfelt cry, 'Wake up, Kazakh' in Myrzhakyp Dulatov's words.”
Aziza Kireyeva, @vermillioni:
“I am not going to lie; I am scared. I am scared of the inhumanity and irrationality. It's like living in a mirror-world. I was at the appeal court at Asya and Beibarys' second trial. Looking at the uniformed personnel, the judge and some other weird people in suits, I wondered: do they even realize what's happenning? How can they pass a sentence like that? Don't they see how absurd it all is? What if it is all intentional?
But the good thing is that the pendulum has finally swung. The youth are getting more active. It is frustrating though to hear some say it was all done for hype. They say everyone should start from themselves. I think we did. What we must not do is give up and let go of the situation. For the very first time, I can now feel hope and that something can be changed. It is important to keep supporting the guys, to hold on and to speak out. You cannot be silent and think it has nothing to do with you. It is time to recall Martin NIiemöller's words:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
I hope that our country will get well. We have everything to make it happen; all we need to do is conquer that inhumanity.”
Balnour Nussipova, @sadnerdo:
“This whole situation first seemed like a tragicomedy or mockery, but sadly, the show has gone beyond fiction. I watched the live stream from the trials against Asya and Beibarys. A uniformed man lazily mumbled answers to the attorney’s questions. He barely could stand straight, so he leaned on the stand with all his policeman weight. It looked pathetic and sad. His words sounded ridiculous, so the audience could not restrain their emotions.”
Perizat Suleimanova, @ownpen:
“Let's stay united!
We are a nation that has such a history and historical figures who can be examples for us, so let their hard work and sacrifice not be in vain. Let's achieve together the justice and honesty they dreamt of.” *
* The image used in the collage depicts Iliyas Jansugurov and his wife Fatima Gabitova, Asiya Tulesova's great-grandparents. Iliyas Jansugurov, a legendary Kazakh poet, was repressed and executed by shooting in 1937.
Alina Olalimova, @olalimova:
“I do not want to be proud of the present state of the country where patriotism is valued at 15 days and 150 dollars.”
The only means of communication with the activists during their imprisonment is mail. To show their support, people send notes and letters to the address of the administrative detention facilities in Almaty. Recently, Asya Tulesova and Beibarys Tolymbekov's letters from behind bars were published in social media.
On April 23, while behind bars, Asya Tulesova went on hunger strike to declare her disagreement with the court’s decision. Neither Tulesova’s family nor the public knew about her decision until April 26 as the attorney had not been allowed to the arrested activists.
Amnesty International recognized Asiya Tulesova and Beibarys Tolymbekov as prisoners of conscience and stated that they had been “detained for the peaceful expression of their views.”
Cover artwork by Ermina Takenova
A few hours after this piece was published, it became known that this morning, April 29, in Almaty, the police had detained Roman Zakharov, an artist who had unfurled a banner citing an article from the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan: “The only source of state power is the People.”
After a 6-hour detainment, a trial against Zakharov was held. He was found guilty under administrative article 434 (“disorderly conduct”), and sentenced to serve a 5-day term in prison. Numerous representatives of civil society and the media, who came to the court building to support the artist, were not allowed into the courtroom.