SHYMKENT, Kazakhstan -- A group of activists detained in the Kazakh city of Shymkent while demanding the release of political prisoners and the reversal of court decisions banning two political groups have been sentenced to jail amid a crackdown on opposition and human rights activists as the country prepares to mark the 81st birthday of authoritarian former President Nursultan Nazarbaev.
A court in Shymkent on July 2 sentenced Erlan Faizullaev and Nurzhan Abildaev each to 15 days in jail and fined Ermek Qonyshbaev $340 after finding them guilty of violating the law on public gatherings. All three were on a hunger strike.
The court also sentenced Zhanmurat Ashtaev, a supporter of the hunger strikers, to 10 days in jail on the same charge.
The three activists started their hunger strike in Shymkent on May 24, joining dozens of other activists in Nur-Sultan and several other Kazakh cities who have been demanding the cancellation of court decisions labeling as extremist and banning the unregistered opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement and its associated Koshe (Street) party.
In the oil-rich Central Asian nation's largest city, Almaty, police on July 1 detained without explanation noted opposition politician Zhasaral Quanyshalin near his home. They were forced to release him hours later after he was rushed to the hospital, where he was treated for a dislocated finger and high blood pressure.
Quanyshalin wrote on Facebook that he will reveal details of his detainment later.
The jailing of hunger strikers in Shymkent and Quanyshalin's detainment come as police in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic round up activists amid preparations to mark the day of the country's capital, Nur-Sultan, which is celebrated on July 6 each year to coincide with Nazarbaev's birthday.
Several activists have been handed jail terms of between 10 days and 20 days in recent weeks after Mukhtar Ablyazov, the DVK's leader, called on Kazakh citizens to stage a demonstration on July 6.
Kazakhstan changed the name of its capital to Nur-Sultan in 2019 to honor Nazarbaev, who ruled with an iron fist from the nation’s independence in 1991 until 2019. The renaming of the capital from Astana to Nur-Sultan sparked protests across the country at the time.
Nazarbaev continues to wield considerable influence as chairman of the Security Council and enjoys almost limitless powers as "elbasy" -- leader of the nation.
Under President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, who was handpicked by Nazarbaev, Kazakhstan continues to clamp down on freedom of speech and to harass opposition members.
Police last year detained dozens of journalists and bloggers and launched criminal cases for alleged crimes such as spreading false information and inciting the public, according to Adil Soz, a local media watchdog.