Zhanbolat Mamai speaks at a rally in memory of those killed during the January events in Almaty on February 13.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has demanded Kazakh authorities release opposition figure Zhanbolat Mamai, who faces up to 10 years in prison on charges of organizing mass riots and knowingly disseminating false information during protests early this year.
In a June 13 statement , HRW said the case launched against Mamai "appears to be totally unfounded, and Kazakh authorities should release him immediately.”
The charges were filed against the 33-year-old head of the unregistered opposition Democratic Party on June 6.
Mamai has been in pretrial detention since mid-March on separate charges of insulting an official and distributing false information. Those charges carry a penalty of up to one year in prison.
Before that, he served 15 days in jail for organizing an unsanctioned vigil to commemorate peaceful protesters who were killed by security forces during the January 2022 protests.
"A day after President [Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev] stated that human rights are at the fore for Kazakhstan, the authorities bring baseless criminal charges against an opposition leader for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly," HRW's Europe and Central Asian director, Hugh Williamson, said in the statement.
Mamai, known for his harsh criticism of the country's authoritarian government, has been trying to register the Democratic Party, but claims he is being prevented from doing so by the government. He says officials only permit parties loyal to the political powers to be legally registered.
Kazakhstan was ruled by authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev from its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until Toqaev succeeded him in 2019.
Over the past three decades, several opposition figures have been killed and many jailed or forced to flee the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.
Toqaev recently broadened his powers after Nazarbaev and his clan left the oil-rich country's political scene following unprecedented deadly anti-government protests in January.
The protests started over a fuel price hike that spread across Kazakhstan because of discontent over the cronyism that had long plagued the country. At least 230 people were killed during the dispersal of protests by security forces and police.
Several participants in the protests have been handed lengthy prison terms across the country in recent weeks on charges of organizing mass disturbances and riots.
"Kazakhstan should stop prosecuting political and civil activists for peacefully exercising their right to free speech during the January events," Williamson said.
"Instead, it should set up an independent investigation involving national and international experts to establish what happened during these events and hold those responsible for grave human rights violations to account."