Kazakhstan: Amnesty calls on authorities to release protestors
Amnesty International has called on Kazakhstan’s authorities to release journalists and activists who have been arbitrarily detained for their coverage of mass protests across the country over the past week, as the number of individuals arrested reaches close to 10,000.
The human rights organisation also called on Kazakhstan to order an effective and impartial investigation into all reported human rights violations, including lethal use of force by the security forces, and to respect human rights in the context of the unrest.
“While the situation appears to have calmed down in Kazakhstan, the crisis is far from over. Nothing is more important now than free access to independent information, full accountability for what has happened and a commitment to respect human rights moving forward,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The exact number of casualties in Kazakhstan resulting from the recent violence remains unknown. The authorities confirmed that at least 18 law enforcement officers had been killed but have so far failed to disclose the number of civilian casualties. On 9 January, a Telegram channel associated with the government released information about the deaths of 164 individuals but it was later disavowed by the Ministry of Health as a technical glitch.
“The silence of the authorities regarding the number of victims of the unrest and the circumstances of their death is outrageous. Information about civilian causalities must be disclosed immediately,” said Ms Struthers.
On Tuesday, Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry said that almost 10,000 people have been arrested since mass unrest and violent clashes between police and protestors. More than 400 criminal cases have already been initiated. According to the Prosecutor General, most of these criminal cases concern violence, including killings.
However, in some cases of which Amnesty International is aware, the authorities have prosecuted peaceful dissent under the charge of “incitement of social discord”, the NGO said. This includes the opening of criminal proceedings under these charges in connection with a solitary street picket which environmental activist Artyom Sochnev held in Stepnogorsk on 4 January.
Kazakhstan’s restrictive law governing public assemblies effectively bans any street protest unless expressly permitted by the local authorities. Under this legislation, thousands of Kazakhs who took part in peaceful protests in recent days are liable to arrest and fines or up to 15 days of detention.
“We are extremely worried about the conditions of detention and the grounds for arrest of thousands of detainees. There are also missing individuals, including journalist Makhambet Abzhan, whose whereabouts remain unknown since 6 January,” said Ms Struthers.
She added: “Sadly, unfair trials remain widespread in Kazakhstan, as does torture and other ill-treatment, while lawyers are often denied access to their clients and are routinely muzzled by non-disclosure orders. One lawyer, Yubzal Kuspan, was arrested and is in detention for 10 days himself, simply for taking part in a peaceful demonstration.”