A court in Kazakhstan has sentenced three bloggers to 10 days in jail on “minor hooliganism” charges. Nurali Aitelenov, Rinat Kibraev, and Dmitry Shchyolokov were detained by police outside a restaurant in Almaty, where the city's mayor, Akhmetzhan Esimov, was meeting with selected bloggers on February 5. The three young men were prevented from entering the restaurant because they had not been invited to the meeting. They were also not allowed to film the restaurant. Police detained the three bloggers after they unfolded posters saying “Esimov Talks To Tamed Bloggers Only” and “Esimov! Come Out”.
The meeting with the mayor has split the Kazakh blogger community. Those who had not received an invitation to the event accused the invited bloggers of being “venal” or “corrupt”. One of the detained individuals, Aitelenov, tweeted one day before the meeting:
— IT-len-off Нурали (@extremkz) February 4, 2014
Tomorrow at #Esimov's lunch… [Text under Esimov's photo reads, “Dear corrupt bloggers”].
Shortly before his detention, Aitelenov tweeted this image:
— IT-len-off Нурали (@extremkz) February 5, 2014
Several social media users found it strange that the bloggers who had frequently criticized the Almaty mayor were dining with him at one of the city's most expensive restaurants, apparently at his expense.
Надеюсь, хоть кто-то из блогеров на обеде с Есимовым догадался достать портмоне, и заплатить за свой обед?
— Cinemaholic (@baitukenov) February 5, 2014
I hope at least some of the bloggers attending a lunch meeting with Esimov have taken out their wallets and paid for their food?
Some netizens interpreted the meeting as a deliberate tactic by the mayor to divide the blogger community and improve his own image.
Блестящий ход акима: Если блогеры не придут на встречу, значит не хотят идти на диалог. А если придут, то однозначно продажные.
— Rustem Karymov (@rustem_karymov) February 5, 2014
Brilliant move by the [mayor]: If bloggers don't come to the meeting, they don't want to hold a conversation. If they do come, they are corrupt.
Blogger Ernar Prediktor suggests [ru] that the Kazakh public views bloggers as “just and independent”. He argues that the meeting with “not the most prominent or popular” bloggers was part of the Almaty mayor's public relations campaign:
[P]ебята, вас просто поюзали. Использовали имидж блогера для достижения своих целей. Теперь на каждом углу будут говорить (писать), что аким такой распрекрасный и демократичный, без проблем встречается с представителями алматинцев, решает совместно проблемы и пр..
You have been used, guys. They have used the blogger's public image for their own benefit. Now they will claim everywhere that the mayor is good and democratic, that he easily meets with the representatives of the residents of Almaty and solves problems jointly with them, etc.
But those who attended the meeting and some of their followers on social media sites thought the event was useful.
— Марина Андрейченко (@glazishi1) February 5, 2014
Following the meeting, bloggers have also responded to criticisms.
Если кто-то считает что возможность иметь хоть какой-то цивилиз-ный разговор и озвучить проблемы сводяться к оплате чека в ресторане анфолоу
— жадность=грех (@evlaman) February 5, 2014
If someone thinks that an opportunity to have at least some kind of a civilized conversation and discuss problems is a matter of who pays the bill at the restaurant, unfollow [me].
— Али Джи (@ali_g_aka_kamaz) February 5, 2014
Only recently they all complained that they could not get hold of #Esimov; now those who are not at a meeting with him curse those who are there. Typical #Kazakhs.
Bloggers Samson keeps a record of online discussion related to the Almaty mayor's meeting with bloggers here [ru].