Administrative charges have been brought against several participants in the women’s march that took place in Almaty on March 8.
On the morning of March 11, activists Fariza Ospan and Arina Osinovskaya were charged at the district police station.
Fariza Ospan was charged with petty hooliganism for igniting a funeral wreath during the finale of the March 8 march.
Arina Osinovskaya was accused of petty hooliganism as well as participation in an unsanctioned protest under article 488 of the Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Administrative Offences. Beybarys Tolymbekov, Asya Tulesova, Aigul Nurbulatova, Suinbike Suleymenova and Aidos Nurbulatov were prosecuted under the same article in April 2019 for the protest “You can’t run away from the truth.”
Court hearings for the Ospan and Osinovskaya cases were slated for 4:00 p.m. the same day. Police officers accompanied the activists over the course of several hours, from the moment they were charged until their court appearances.
Chronology of events
4:00 p.m. Activists and members of the media, having already gathered at the inter-district court, are not allowed inside, despite the designation of the proceedings as open. Arina Osinovskaya and her lawyer, Gulkhan Okapovaya, file a petition to allow the media and other citizens into the courtroom as observers.
4:45 p.m. The petition is granted; however, police officers do not allow the majority of journalists, activists and other citizens inside.
5:00 p.m. The hearing in the case of Arina Osinovskaya’s violation of article 488 begins.
5:10 p.m. From outside the doors, activists who did not make it into the courtroom can be heard chanting demands to be let in. Inside, the civic activist Asya Tulesova addresses Judge N.M. Mukhamedzhan with a request to admit everyone in accordance with the previously granted petition. In reply, the judge orders everyone in attendance to leave.
5:20 p.m. Arina Osinovskaya challenges the judge. The judge leaves the courtroom.
At this time, everyone who came to support the activists gets into the building. While awaiting the decision, those gathered in the courtroom carry on lively discussions on relevant socio-political issues.
6:00 p.m. Judge Tazhikhanov, having been appointed to consider the issue, appears, rejects the petition challenging Judge Mukhamedzhan and hurriedly retreats. A member of the court asks everyone to leave the courtroom on the pretext of a planned hearing for another case. The Osinovskaya hearing is continued in a significantly smaller room.
Approx. 7:00 p.m. This time no one is allowed into the courtroom, and the hearing takes place behind closed doors. Most of the gathered citizens are sent out into the courtyard. Several members of the media, who were promised admission to the courtroom to film the proceedings, remain in the hallway. Police officers in bulletproof vests are stationed at the entrance to the courtroom. Meanwhile, the previous room remains empty.
Approx. 8:15 p.m. The hearing in the case of Arina Osinovskaya concludes. The court finds the activist guilty on both counts and imposes a fine: 5 MCI (monthly calculation index) for burning the wreath, 20 MCI for participating in the protest and also 7 MCI for lacking temporary registration, totaling 84,832 tenge (about $210).
Exiting the courtroom, Arina Osinovskaya commented to journalists and activists:
Fariza and I were accompanied today by five police officers. In that time they could have caught a rapist, saved someone from domestic violence, found murderers, solved a case, but the five of them were holding onto us girls. So it’s clear who the system is protecting: definitely not us.
Fariza Ospan’s trial followed—again behind closed doors.
9:00 p.m. Fariza Ospan is found guilty of “petty hooliganism.” As punishment the court imposes a fine of 5 MCI.
Among those who came to support Fariza and Arina in court are civic activists, who had previously also been subjected to detention, charges, and arrests: Alnur Ilyashev, Bauirzhan Sabit, Roman Zakharov, Aigul Nurbulatova, Asya Tulesova, Zhanel Shakhanova and others. Human rights defenders Tatiana Chernobil and Rustam Kypshakbaev were also present.
In a Facebook post, Tatiana Chernobil commented on the trials of the activists:
“Why does the government violate human rights by bringing Fariza Ospan and Arina Osinovskaya, participants in a peaceful women’s march on March 8, to trial? The fact is that sometimes (like our case) the law is in discord with rights, and not every law is just and humane. The current law about assembly and holding peaceful meetings is one such law. This law serves the interests not of the people, but of the authorities. So far, the state has not once managed to prove otherwise. Therefore, I have come to this conclusion.
The trial of participants in a peaceful (I stress this) march, which did not involve any violations of public order or the rights of the surrounding people, is unjust, not in terms of legality, but in terms of human rights.”
One of the penalties stipulated by both articles that the participants in the march were charged with is administrative arrest for up to 10 days. It’s likely that the court imposed punishment in the form of fines specifically due to their widespread public support.
In the morning the police stated that administrative cases had also been brought against other participants in the march, Leila Makhmudova and Gulzada Serzhan. Despite Leila Makhmudova’s presence in the courtroom both at the police station and in court on March 11, she was not subpoenaed.
Arina Osinovskaya and Fariza Ospan pleaded not guilty and plan to appeal the decision in city court.
On March 12 Fariza published a post on Facebook:
“I do not recognize that I committed a violation when I set a wreath on fire at the march on March 8. I have absolutely no feelings of guilt; on the contrary—I did everything correctly. It’s unlikely that anything will come of an appeal, but I will submit one anyway.
This was not hooliganism. We could have burned trash in a yard or a scarecrow for Maslenitsa with the same result. The wreath is our protest; it embodies all of the patriarchal foundations with which we disagree. I enjoyed watching it burn. My fears burned with it. I am truly tired of being afraid: for my sisters, for myself. I’m scared even to stay at home alone; there’s no trust in the police and our courts. To hell with such a life! How can I feel safe; who will defend me from violence?
It’s written in black and white in the report that, in expressing my dissatisfaction with the situation of women in Kazakhstan, I am breaking the law. But what about freedom of expression? As my allies have correctly noted: the best way to prove that there are no women’s rights issues is to prosecute women for the fact that they are talking about women’s rights issues.
When we shouted slogans, I felt happiness. And the louder we yelled, the better I felt. After all, we were also shouting for the women who are now quiet, afraid to utter even a word. We went out to march for the women who are afraid to go out. And if it needs to be done again, I will do it.
By 4 p.m. yesterday journalists and activists had begun to gather in front of the court building. An officer walked past and looked at his colleague perplexedly. “Those people—journalists, people with signs are gathering over there.” Arina and I asked if they were afraid. To which we received the reply: “We are afraid only of God.” It’s not God you ought to fear, gentlemen, but the law.
Thank you to everyone who came to support us and to those who watched the livestreams and worried for us—you gave us strength. I believe that we will all do everything necessary to make the voice of every woman heard!”