ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN - Kazakhstan on Thursday sentenced a man to three years in prison for inciting hatred on social media after he took a swipe at the country's septuagenarian leader and his kinsmen.
A court in the western city of Aktau found Ablovas Jumayev guilty of inciting social hatred on the messaging app Telegram and calling for the forcible overthrow of the government by distributing leaflets.
The 44-year-old father of four maintained that he was innocent of both crimes and intends to appeal the sentence, his lawyer said.
'There is a lot of evidence of his innocence that the court did not admit,' lawyer Zhanargul Sundetkaliyeva told AFP. 'We consider the verdict very unjust.'
The case gathered much attention in Kazakhstan because of the central role played by a post written on Telegram, a messaging service founded by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov that has become popular in Kazakhstan.
Jumayev claimed on an opposition Telegram channel that the police chief in his region was a member of the same clan as 78-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev, who became ex-Soviet Kazakhstan's president before the country's independence in 1991.
The recent appointment of the police chief was probably designed to stop members of Jumayev's clan rising up, he claimed, according to court documents cited by Sundetkaliyeva.
Clan and regional affiliations play an important role in Central Asia, a Muslim-majority region, although many analysts argue their influence has faded in the years since independence from Moscow.
Jumayev has admitted to writing the post but denied distributing leaflets which he said were planted in his car prior to his arrest in May.
Kazakhstan has never had a strong opposition and has no tradition of competitive elections.
A visiting delegation from the European Parliament criticized the country's rights record on Wednesday.
The delegation from the body's foreign affairs committee urged 'the authorities of Kazakhstan to stick to their commitments made under the international conventions.'
Kazakhstan, a vast, oil-rich country, has sought to curry favor with the West without alienating traditional ally Russia as Moscow's geopolitical tensions with Brussels and Washington deepen.