ASTANA: A closed-door military court in Kazakhstan today sentenced a wealthy businessmen accused of plotting to topple the Central Asian country’s authoritarian government to 21 years in prison, a court representative said.
Tokhtar Tuleshov, best known for owning a brewery in Shymkent, a city in the south of the ex-Soviet state had been charged with attempting to overthrow the government, though the court representative would only confirm to AFP the sentence and refused to say what precisely he was convicted of Kazakhstan’s national security committee in June implicated Tuleshov in the organisation of protests against a controversial land reform that had rocked the government over the two previous months.
Thousands participated in the countrywide demonstrations against amendments that would have changed the maximum length of leases on land for foreigners from 10 to 25 years.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev, 76, subsequently halted the reforms until 2021.
New York-based Human Rights Watch reported that hundreds were detained in the build-up to a planned nationwide protest on May 21 and at least two people are still awaiting judgement in connection with the unrest.
Land policy is highly sensitive in ex-Soviet Central Asia where many recall the privatisations of the 1990s after the collapse of the USSR with bitterness.
Tuleshov was already in detention at the time of the land protests, but authorities said Tuleshov had “inspired and financed” them before his arrest in January.
He previously headed the Kazakh office of a Russian think-tank, the Centre for the Analysis of Terrorist Threats (CATT) as well as leading Shymkent Beer, maker of one of the country’s most popular brews.
Tuleshov has in the past acted as an advisor to the Russian parliament and worked to strengthen ties between the two countries.
Some observers painted Tuleshov’s January arrest as part of an ongoing power struggle in Kazakhstan connected to the looming issue of the country’s political succession.
Once hailed as a regional success story in volatile Central Asia, Kazakhstan has endured a period of unrest amid depressed global prices for its key crude oil export.