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The Kazakhstani authorities must immediately and unconditionally release almost three dozen activists after dramatic wave of arrests, apparently aimed at blocking peaceful demonstrations from going ahead this weekend, Amnesty International said.

At least 34 activists have been arrested across the country over the past three days, many of them for the “crime” of publicly stating their intention to participate in the peaceful protests, planned for May 21, or for posting information about them on Facebook and other social media.

“To prosecute people merely for intending to exercise their human right to peaceful assembly is beyond belief,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Program Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“It is scandalous that dozens of Kazakhstani citizens should be rounded up simply for sharing the details of a peaceful protest, or for saying that they wish to take part in it. The Kazakhstani authorities must release these people immediately and respect their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.”

The planned May 21 demonstrations are the latest in a month-long series of protests over unpopular changes to Kazakhstan’s Land Code that are intended to make it easier for foreigners to lease un-used farmland in the country. No violence has been reported at any of the previous protests, although police have tried to stop people from taking part.

The arrests took place in Almaty, Astana, Atyrau and other cities. Most of the arrested activists have already been sentenced to 10-15 days’ imprisonment in hurried court sessions that fell far short of international standards for fair trials. At least one lawyer, representing several of the people arrested, said that she was stopped from entering the court room when the cases were being heard. Another lawyer reported that he was not given adequate time to read the charges against his clients and to represent them effectively.

The rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly are provided in legally binding international human rights treaties that Kazakhstan has ratified, including Articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.