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Expensive patriotism: man in Kazakhstan fined for hanging flag

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Patriotism can be expensive. At least this is what one understands from the recent incident involving one patriotic man and the national flag of Kazakhstan he put on his balcony. According to authorities who came to his apartment, this was a violation of state laws, for which the man was fined 396,400 tenge ($2.142), Tengrinews reports.

Meet Communications Advisor of the National Chamber Zhandos Kurmanbayev explained that he bought the flag three years ago in a store for 30,000 tenge ($200).

"I thought that every citizen of Kazakhstan should have a flag to show patriotism. For example, during the Olympics, championships, I have a tradition of hanging the flag off the balcony when Kazakhstanis win to show my joy. I did so three times: during the Asian Games, the Olympics and after the victory of Gennady Golovkin the last time," Kurmanbayev said.

According to the man, on 28 February, he was doing a work out when he got a call from the cooperative of apartment owners and was told that representatives of the District Department of Internal Affairs came over to have a prophylactic talk with him.

“I arrived and saw four people - two policemen, a witness and head of the Deparment for analysis, monitoring and methodical work of the Internal policy administration of Astana Akimat Gulzhan Yelubayeva. They left an act of administrative offence under article "Illegal use of state symbols” in my apartment (...) I was fined 396,400 tenge. The flag hung from the window, it was on a flagpole," Kurmanbayev recalls.

According to him, the flag was seized but the representative of the akimat allegedly failed to explain the reason.

Kurmanbayev said that he didn’t agree with the decision of the authorities and was planning to appeal the decision in court. He reminded that it was him who came up with a proposal to create a unified online portal for precise information on the standards of state symbols two years ago.

In turn, the internal policy department's chief for analysis, monitoring and methodical work Gulzhan Yelubayeva, who was the official at the scene, explained: "The citizen was fined 200 monthly calculation indices under article "Illegal use of state symbols." He broke the rules by misusing the state symbols; it is illegal use, that is, on the balcony. There are certain rules in place," she said.

The information about the incident quickly spread through the Kaznet, Kazakhstan's segment of the Internet. And many people voiced their support to Kurmanbayev. One campaign was started on Facebook by user Merey Mustafina, who suggested putting up flags of other countries without any political overtones in a show of Kazakh citizens' inability to use the flag of Kazakhstan. If the fine is canceled, then the people will change these flags to Kazakh flags. If not, the foreign flags will remain hanging. Other propovals were to change avatars to pictures of the Kazakh flag, take a photograph with the flag or hang it from one’s window.

“After the information became viral on the Internet, a Kazakhstani lawyer Mikhail Klenchin made an announcement that he would defend me in court for free together with the lawyer Zhangeldi Suleimanov. He also took a public commitment: if he fails to contest the fine, he will pay it at this own expense out of principle," Kurmanbayev said.

Klenchin says that placing the national flag on Kurmanov’s balcony was absolutely legal and that he was outraged at how the situation was handled by the authorities.

“I, as a lawyer, am amazed and outraged by the fact that he was fined not for violating some or other standard or requirement but for the mere fact of placing the flag. This is exactly what’s written in the protocol: "Kurmanbaev illegally used a flag by hanging it on his balcony." That’s it! I was shocked when I read this line,” Klenchin said. “That is, the police decided that the mere fact of using the national flag by a citizen was illegal. This is an absurd and completely faulty interpretation of the law, because the law provides that the national flag of Kazakhstan can be hoisted, put up on buildings or other premises at the request of their owners.”

The lawyer also said that Zhandos wrote an explanatory note, where he explained that the flag was put up in a show of patriotism and love for Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, this apparently did not have an effect on law enforcement officials and they simply “ignored these obvious facts.”

“Moreover, the police made a number of gross procedural violations in the case, for which, in my opinion, they should themselves be held liable. This is my goal – not only to overrule the fine but also to punish the guilty officials," the lawyer said.

The incident did not leave even the top ranking officials of the country indifferent. A member of the Mazhilis, the lower chamber of the Kazakh parliament, Aigul Soloviyova said: "I looked through the Administrative Offences Code of Kazakhstan this morning and found no rule that could substantiate such a fine. Then it turned out that the issue was not considered by the court, but one of the police officers just made the decision on his own. Today, I called the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the administrative police and asked them this question. They said they would look into it.”

She also said that she was surprised at the amount of the fine, which was contrary to the principle of proportionality. She said that could be the case of abuse of office by the authorities. The MP recalled her worries during the drafting of the law on State Symbols but said she could not imagine that such an absurd situation would arise.

A leader of the Parliamentary faction of the People's Communists Vladislav Kosarev said: "If he put the flag on the balcony, he wanted the flag to adorn his house! What is there to be ashamed of? One should not swing the law like a fool swings a club. Laws have to be obeyed but not misuse it to block away one’s breath! (. ..). Otherwise we are going to kill a man’s ability to think."

Ex-senator and current leader of the Party of Patriots of Kazakhstan Gani Kasymov also commented on the situation: "I don't think the fine is appropriate; I would give him an award instead. And make him a national patriot number one. That’s what I wrote on my Instagram. People express their patriotism without campaigns, without pomposity, want to hang a flag somewhere. Is it forbidden? " Kasymov said.

He acknowledged that many laws in Kazakhstan had excessive provisions and admitted that some rules were enforced rashly in Kazakhstan. According to Kasymov, the incident became a signal to revise domestic laws.

earlier this week the administrative act filed with respect to Zhandos Kurmanbayev was canceled. His lawyer Klenchin explained that cancellation of the act did not automatically cancele the ruling by which Kurmanbayev was obliged to pay the fine.

But the lawyer did not lose his sense of humor. He wrote an open letter to Gulzhan Yelubayeva, the worker of the Akimat who was amont the officials who issued the judgement. He thanked her for her “contribution to the development of civil society and strengthening of political stability in Kazakhstan" and recommended her to leave the ranks of civil servants at the apogee of her career.

“Despite the heavy work schedule and a workload of cases of considerable importance, you have once again responded immediately to a disturbing signal and quickly went to the scene together with the police,” he described the flag incident adding that her show of vigilence was worthy of gracing the annals of history. 

March 6 2015, 10:45

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