A man holding up a blank placard is arrested

Aslan Sagutdinov had a hunch. The authorities in Kazakhstan are so intolerant of dissent, he reasoned, that it does not really matter what protesters write on their placards.

A dissident with nothing to say

Simply holding up a sign of any sort is considered subversive enough to merit arrest. After all, two democracy activists, Asya Tulesova and Beybaris Tolymbekov, had been arrested in April for unfurling a banner at a marathon in Almaty, the financial capital, that read “You cannot run from the truth #forafairelection #Ihaveachoice”. They were jailed for ten days for breaching rules on public assembly, even though the authorities insist that the presidential election on June 9th will be fair, and that people will have a choice.

To test the government’s paranoia, Mr Sagutdinov stood in the middle of the city of Uralsk and held up a big blank sheet of paper. Sure enough, the police took him into custody. They could not think of anything to charge him with, however, so they soon let him go. A police spokesperson later helpfully explained that Mr Sagutdinov had been detained not for holding up a piece of paper, but for the opinions he expressed as he did so.



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