Kazakhstan: Still no real investigation into the violence against protesters, two years after the January 2022 Events

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Alexandr Bogdanov / AFP

Two years after the January 2022 Events, also known as Qandy Qantar or "Bloody January", the Kazakhstani authorities still fail to carry out thorough and independent investigations into the mass human rights violations, committed during and in the aftermath of the protests. The Kazakhstani authorities need to hold those responsible for the human rights violations accountable.

Paris, Astana, 8 February 2024. Two years ago, the protests against a sharp increase in liquified gas prices, which began on 2 January 2022 in the city of Zhanaozen, turned into unprecedented peaceful mass demonstrations throughout Kazakhstan, including in Almaty, with thousands demanding genuine socio-economic and political change. On 4 January, according to eyewitnesses, new groups –unidentified menbelonging to criminal gangs, radical Islamic groups, as well as armed groups close to the local or regional elites– joined the peaceful demonstrations and resorted to violence against the security forces, attacking members of the security forces, looting shops, and storming and burning government buildings. In a brutal crackdown, the Kazakhstani security forces used indiscriminate force against the peaceful protesters, suppressing the demonstrations and firing tear gas, stun grenades, and bullets into the crowds. Referring to the protesters as "bandits" and "foreign-trained terrorists", President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued an order to "shoot to kill without warning", and requested the assistance of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), which promptly deployed "peacekeeping" troops, mostly Russian soldiers, to Kazakhstan.

According to official numbers, at least 238, among them 19 law enforcement officers died, and thousands were injured during the January Events. Following the preliminary conclusions of the ILI Foundation, which conducts independent investigation of violations of right to life in January 2022, the number of deaths could be much higher, because the mortuaries could release a large number of dead bodies to relatives without an autopsy procedure or identifying the causes of death, which casts doubt on the officially recognized number of deaths.

Additionally, over 10,000 people were arbitrarily arrested and subsequently subjected to torture and ill-treatment. As documented by the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, and Kazakhstan’s NGO Coalition against Torture (NGO Coalition), in partnership with the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), this included cases of "severe beatings, burning with hot irons, the use of electric shocks, hooding, being doused with boiling or ice-cold water outside, pulling out teeth, sexual violence, and threats of rape".

"The Human Rights Alliance, a group of Kazakh human rights organisations and experts, created in mid-January 2022, right after the events, published an Analytical Report On observance of the rights of persons detained during and after the January 2022 events at the stage of pre-trial investigation which highlights serious violations of the rights of detainees", explained Yevgeniy Zhovtis, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, and member of the Alliance.

While the Kazakhstani authorities firmly rejected international investigations into the January 2022 Events, two years after the protests, only around 30 law enforcement officers have been convicted for abuses linked to the January 2022 Events. At the same time, the Kazakhstani authorities continue to arrest and prosecute civil society activists, human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents for alleged crimes linked to the January 2022 Events, often on "extremism" charges, in blatant disregard of their fair trial rights, as documented by the ILI Foundation.

"We monitored trials in 18 criminal cases, amounting to at least 100 court hearings. During the monitoring of the trials, a large number of violations of the right to life, to freedom of torture and fair trial rights were identified", said Aina Shormanbayeva, President of the International Legal Initiative Public Foundation.

"The work of our member organisations and other Kazakhstani Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) clearly shows how the impunity for the human rights violations committed during the January protests continues to fuel new repression against civil society, independent media and the opposition", added Natalia Morozova, interim Head of FIDH’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Desk.

FIDH and its Kazakhstani member organisations call on the Kazakhstani authorities to carry out thorough, independent and transparent investigations into the human rights violations committed during and in the aftermath of the January 2022 Events, to hold those responsible to account, and to provide reparations to survivors or their relatives.

The organisations also urge the Kazakhstani authorities to fully abide by their international human rights obligations, especially under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), and to immediately stop the persecution of civil society activists, journalists, human rights defenders and political opponents.

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