Kazakhstan Cops Protect Citizens' Free Speech Rights By Arresting A Protester Holding A Blank Sign

from the i'm-sorry-i-cannot-help-you-make-sense-of-this dept

Kazakhstan police unintentionally helped a protester prove his point. To protest the lack of free speech protections in the country, Aslan Sagutdinov engaged in a physical representation of a thought experiment.

To test the limits of his right to peacefully demonstrate in Kazakhstan, Aslan Sagutdinov, 22, stood in a public square holding a blank sign, predicting he would be detained.

He was right.

Sometimes it sucks to be right. Sagutdinov hoped to point out the "idiocy" of his country and its laws. Protesting nothing in particular, he was arrested by police and taken to the station. So far, there's been nothing reported as to which charges, if any, he'll be facing. But it's too late for the cops and his idiotic country. The point has already been made.

The police argued -- via an official statement -- that order must be maintained or something. According to the police, officers had "received a report" of an "unknown male" holding a blank placard and drawing a small crowd of curious onlookers. Rather than align themselves with the content of Sagutdinov's placard and do nothing, officers chose to something. And that "something" was to drive their irony-proof squad car to the scene and detain the protester.

The official explanation does not make the country look any less idiotic.

The police statement maintained that the authorities “were acting within the boundaries of the law.”

And then, because it couldn't possibly drill Sagutdinov's point home any harder, the police released another statement asserting the protester was wrong because he was right.

Bolatbek Beldibekov, the head of the local police department’s press service, told the newspaper Uralskaya Nedelya that the offense was not that he demonstrated with the blank placard. Rather, he said, Mr. Sagutdinov ran afoul of the law by making the political statement that “there is no democracy and free speech in Kazakhstan” in a public place.

Feel free to take as much time as you need to wrap your head around that statement.

Apparently, protesters in Kazakhstan have a Constitutional right to "peacefully" engage in "rallies, demonstrations, street processions, and pickets." But those rights are more like privileges and come with several caveats attached. Multiple court decisions and amendments have watered down this right from a given to a theoretical by allowing individual government agencies to decide whether or not they'll allow protests in front of their buildings or whether "peaceful processions" will actually be allowed to proceed from one place to another.

The protections are also badly-written, allowing the government to determine almost anything citizens believe would be protected expression to be unprotected and subject to criminal charges. Here are just a few of the many, many problems of this so-called right, as explained by Kazakhstan human rights activists.

The Law, together with decisions of local representative agencies limits the places for holding assemblies of citizens and public associations. In a series of cities, are established strictly out-of-the way places, as a rule, located on the outskirts of the city. Higher officials and local authorities, and also some political organizations, for the holding of assemblies, have the unfounded exclusive right to use squares in the city center, in comparison with citizens and their associations, which is discrimination. In addition to the element of discrimination, this is a violation of the essence of freedom of assembly. In fact, there can be no reasonable substantiation, from the viewpoint of international standards, to bind the realization of freedom of assembly to one location. Moreover, not all forms of assembly can be held in such conditions, since pickets, demonstrations or processions virtually cannot be contained to one place in the city.

[...]

The Law does not give clear definitions of types of peaceful assembly, which violates the principles of legal predictability and specificity. Any cluster of people in such a situation could be potentially termed an assembly in the sense of the Law, and correspondingly, illegal, if there was no permission given by an executive agency of the government. In other words, citizens seeking to lay flowers on a memorial or carrying a petition to the authorities, participants of flash mobs, courtyard meetings of apartment residents, etc may be held to administrative accountability. In addition, the Law does not contain a distinction between who is considered a participant in an assembly and who is not. This makes it possible to hold accountable anyone found in the location where an assembly is held.

This is why someone holding a blank sign can be arrested for protesting nothing. The sanctity of the whatever-the-fuck must be maintained by the immediate subduing of dissenting voices, even when it isn't immediately clear what they're dissenting from. The government has made an ass of itself and confirmed what many citizens already feared: their right to protest isn't being protected by their government.

Filed Under: free expression, free speech, kazakhstan, protests


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 1:44am

    'I tried to tell them...' -Admiral Ackbar

    Bolatbek Beldibekov, the head of the local police department’s press service, told the newspaper Uralskaya Nedelya that the offense was not that he demonstrated with the blank placard. Rather, he said, Mr. Sagutdinov ran afoul of the law by making the political statement that “there is no democracy and free speech in Kazakhstan” in a public place.

    "... which we proceeded to confirm for him and everyone else by arresting him for engaging in free speech via a blank placard."

    Not only oppressive and dictatorial, but monumentally stupid too, nice combo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 4:13am

    It wasn't a bad plan - either he gets arrested and makes his point - or uses photoshop later and makes a different one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      AnonyOps, 21 May 2019 @ 6:57am

      Re:

      Which leaves the door open for a virtual form of Tienanmen Square website to gather and speak in real time about real subjects that demand immediate attention without the government interfering in the conversation. Which is something Facebutt is against at this very moment.

      This could create a new form of social networking and facilitate change?

      How about even a virtual guillotine erected in the virtual square with a real time translation system and crowd voting system that enables machine translation to the words splashed on the screen?

      Implausible you say? You'd be surprised what crowd sourcing can achieve. Red Square Online has quite the ring to it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 4:52am

    "The police statement maintained that the authorities “were acting within the boundaries of the law.”"

    What a shame that they don't understand that something need not be illegal in order for it to be both stupid and counter-productive. It's believe it's perfect legal for me to fly a kite near overhead power lines, but that doesn't mean I'm not an idiot if I try it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Daydream, 21 May 2019 @ 5:17am

    It's obvious which kinds of expression are protected.

    Only protests and pickets that speak favourably of the government are allowed.

    Everyone should organise a huge demonstration, praising the Kazakhstan government for supporting free speech, never arresting a protester for petty reasons, and that there's absolutely no substance to any of the myriad terrible things that the government's been accused of.

    ...And hold it on Opposite Day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      AnonyOps, 21 May 2019 @ 7:04am

      Re: It's obvious which kinds of expression are protected.

      They could be arrested based on the tone of /sarcasm remember the law there doesn't specify a reason for the arrest only differentiates those whom the law wants to arrest selectively. Any protest would need be large enough to fight the police or military if necessary to fend off illegitimate arrests.

      The same sex types in Khazakhstan have been disappeared or are in hiding from their own murderous government, because of their very existence.

      What the government gets away with today Karma will return in vengeance 10 fold. It will be their own children who will turn on their elders and then the parents whose children have been destroyed by that same government with its murderous intent.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 5:51am

    [ ]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 6:24am

    i am curious as to how many countries now behave in the same way? remember, millions died protecting what was supposedly free speech, the right to protest, etc, etc. almost every country, everywhere in the world is behaving in the exact opposite manner, where anyone doing nothing, as in this case, can be and is arrested. this 'big brother' syndrome is exactly what the people dont want but is exactly what governments, the rich, the famous do want because then they can complain about anything found out about them and broadcast everywhere, and get it stopped and the perpetrators jailed! on the other hand, they want to be able have access to everyone else whole life. sounds very much like the very opposite to what should be happening, what was fought for and why the war(s) were fought in the first place! those mentioned above, the so-called '1%' cant bear the thought of their lives being open or not being able to control everyone else! what a despicable place this planet is now. why the hell any Aliens, if they exist, would want anything to do with us is beyond me!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Improbus (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 6:31am

    This is Stupid

    Are you expect Kazakhstan to be equivalent of Belgium or something? Pull your head out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 10:33am

      Re: This is Stupid

      "Country X has human rights violations orders of magnitude larger than Country Y. Are you honestly trying to say that you think no countries should have human rights violations?"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 12:27pm

      Re: This is Stupid

      By "this" are you referring to the situation, the article, or your comment?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bruce C., 21 May 2019 @ 7:14am

    Thinking of the "free speech zones" used even in the US to isolate protesters from government officials and onlookers, I fear it won't take much to water down our own freedom of speech to the same level. The migration of expression to online platforms that filter/censor speech according to their own needs as defined in their terms of service just makes the problem even worse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 7:29am

      Re:

      "The migration of expression to online platforms that filter/censor speech according to their own needs as defined in their terms of service just makes the problem even worse."

      That depends upon your point of view. The US Government, I'll bet, is overjoyed with the way things are going. Not too much further into the future things will be such a mess that they will be able to do what they like and blame it on the platforms. The street protest will continue to decline until the 'couch potato resistance' becomes the defacto method, and the police will have to fear for their lives from electronic messages (which will happen).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    FlatZOut (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 7:28am

    “It was a Blank Sign”

    That or he wrote it with invisible ink.
    (I’m going with the former)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 7:31am

    Somewhere in the afterlife, Franz Kafka and Joseph Heller are having a good laugh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    unrepresented taxpayer, 21 May 2019 @ 8:50am

    It's a good thing the protester wasn't carrying a blank sign claiming that the government was a murderous regime.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 21 May 2019 @ 8:59am

    Obviously he was planning on using that sign as a weapon. Good thing they arrested that terrorist!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 21 May 2019 @ 9:20am

    I foresee another brutal dictator getting the red carpet treatment to the White House soon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 10:24am

      Re:

      Kazakhstan has been getting America's "red carpet treatment" ever since breaking away from the Soviet Union nearly 3 decades ago, and despite its rapid evolution into an undemocratic authoritarian state with an atrocious human rights record, that friendship remains rock solid, as is the case with numerous former Soviet republics (Russia being the glaring exception).

      Kazakhstan is a NATO partner, though not yet a full-fledged member, and as an important strategic ally against Russia, these sorts of abuses, numerous as they are, are naturally forgiven.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 11:02am

    Since when did any Government at any time in history act in benefit of its citizens said Rights ??????????

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 1:18pm

    If then...

    If this, then that, only If' that is this?? but not that!

    If you do this, we do that, then This happens, because of that..

    Love the concept.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 3:25pm

    The rest of the story

    Closer examination of the so-called blank placard found a terroristic message sprayed in white ink on white paper. This hooligan should not get a free pass just because he was incompetent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 21 May 2019 @ 3:42pm

    When the Kazakhstone Kops were asked to provide the offending ..

    evidence in kourt, they drew a blank.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 5:25am

    Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

    ...not!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.