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Partnership for Legal Empowerment in Eastern Europe and Central Asia Statement on developments in Kazakhstan

Publication date: January 10, 2022

January 10, 2022

The Partnership for Legal Empowerment in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Partnership) shares the concern of the Civic Solidarity Platform  and other NGOs about the tense situation in Kazakhstan. In light of the dynamically developing events, the Partnership calls on the Kazakh authorities to stop violating their international obligations to respect human rights in response to protests and direct all efforts towards a peaceful settlement of the situation and building a dialogue with society.

The current situation has developed after peaceful protests against the rise in prices for liquefied gas in the city of Zhanaozen began to spread to other cities in the country. Tens of thousands of people joined the protests, and the protesters put forward additional demands. They expressed widespread dissatisfaction with authoritarianism, economic and social inequality, lack of democratic processes, and widespread corruption, which led to the concentration of wealth within a tiny political and economic elite.

On January 5, 2022, clashes broke out in Almaty between law enforcement and security agencies, on the one hand, and protesters on the other. Individual protesters have seized government buildings and other state property, such as the Almaty airport. The government resigned. President Kasim-Jomart Tokayev, in his address, promised to use the most “brutal possible” measures against the protesters. Later, the Kazakh authorities declared a state of emergency. There are reports of gunfire, explosions, arson, and robberies. President Tokayev has sought help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance between six post-Soviet states, where the Russian Federation is a key player, to combat what he has defined as a “terrorist” threat. On the night of January 6, the government announced the start of the anti-terrorist operation.

According to the Ministry of Health of the country, 400 people were hospitalized, 62 people are in intensive care due to the riots. Several dozen police officers and protesters were killed in the clashes, police said. The exact number of victims and deaths among the protesters is still unknown. There is evidence of disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officers and severe abuse of office. According to authorities, more than 5,000 people have been detained across the country. According to local observers, detainees are denied access to lawyers, and there are serious doubts about ensuring the right to an impartial investigation and a fair trial.

Starting from January 5, the country periodically blocks access to the Internet, both wired and mobile. Some journalists were detained while performing their professional duties. The violation of the right to freedom of speech, freedom to seek information, freedom of expression, association, and freedom of peaceful assembly in Kazakhstan raises serious concerns about the situation.

According to the latest reports, foreign troops of the CSTO member states are being brought into some cities of Kazakhstan, in particular Almaty, to suppress the protests. President Tokayev ordered the security forces to shoot to kill the protesters.

As the situation evolves rapidly, the Partnership supports the calls of the UN, EU and OSCE, other international institutions, and foreign governments for restraint and a peaceful resolution of the situation. The Partnership calls on protesters to refrain from illegal actions, supporting the people of Kazakhstan in their quest for a democratic transformation of their nation.

The Partnership calls on the Kazakh authorities to:

  • Ensure the observance of the fundamental rights and freedoms of all residents of Kazakhstan according to the Kazakhstan Constitution (articles 12 – 15).
  • Prevent the use of military force to resolve internal conflicts in Kazakhstan with the help of foreign troops and power structures.
  • Ensure an independent, transparent, prompt, and effective investigation of the cases mentioned above and all cases of the use of force by law enforcement agencies and military personnel, which resulted in casualties. Create a commission to establish the facts of torture against detained protesters and monitor their detention conditions.
  • Hold officials accountable for excessive use of force and abuse of authority.
  • Ensure the right to a fair trial for detained protesters.
  • Ensure respect for the right to freedom of information and unimpeded access to various means of communication, including access to the Internet.
  • Ensure the complete safety of all journalists and the ability to cover events. Prevent the detention of journalists. Investigate all cases of violation of the rights of journalists immediately. Ensure the access to the public interest’s information for journalists according to the Kazakhstan Constitution (article 20, point 1).
  • Ensure that representatives of civil society and international organizations can freely monitor the situation and allow representatives of the National Preventive Mechanism to visit detained protesters.
  • Cooperate fully with the OSCE and the UN to resolve the situation.

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