Aset Abishev was last week one of the first protesters to take to the streets in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, and one of the first to be arrested. After four days in detention, he emerged covered with bruises that he said were the result of torture and beatings.
“The police department, all five floors, was a kind of torture conveyor belt. Screams could be heard from every window, “said the longtime opposition activist. “The torture was horrific. They pocketed young people and strangled them. They beat people, jumped on those lying on the floor.
“It was ordinary citizens who were caught on the street, passers-by, taxi drivers,” he added.
The biggest and most violent protests in Kazakhstan’s history erupted in the western city of Zhanaozen earlier this month over a rise in fuel prices.
By the time they were suppressed almost a week later, the protests had spread across the country, leading to larger protests over poverty, corruption and the influence of former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev. The unrest prompted the government to resign and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev asked Russian-led forces from former Soviet states for help.
Government buildings were set on fire and the president ordered security forces to shoot “without warning”. More than 160 people, including police officers, were killed. According to earlier official estimates, more than 10,000 people were arrested, although the president said on Friday that 2,000 had been detained.
Tomiris Izgutdinova, a 20-year-old Almaty student, did not join the protests. But her mother, Nuraliya Aytkulova, was shot dead on the way to her daughter’s house. She was shot twice in the chest and was found bruised and beaten on the city’s Republic Square, Izgutdinova said. It is unclear who fired the shots that shot her dead.
“Only this common government is to blame,” said Aytkulova’s brother, Nuraybek. “It must change. What’s happening is awful. They swap places in government, while ordinary people can barely survive. And when they speak out, they are beaten to pieces and literally mixed with filth, as Nuraliya’s body was. ”
Government officials did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations of violence. On Friday, Tokayev said Twitter“Those who have committed serious crimes will be punished according to the law.”
Tokayev addressed parliament earlier this week, blaming Nazarbayev for creating an oligarchic state that has enriched a small group and left millions of ordinary Kazakhs struggling to make a living. The president reversed some fuel price increases and promised wage increases and a social fund – paid for by the rich – to address grievances.
But as the recovery of the internet – which has been shut down across the country for the past week – has revealed the extent of the bloodshed overseen by Tokayev, public sentiment has turned against him, according to political analysts and activists.
“Our people say: ‘They turned off the internet, blood was flowing. They turned on the internet, evidence flowed ‘, “said Dana Zhanay, an activist who joined the Almaty protests.
“We had only one demand: change the regime to power. “People are tired of not having civil rights, for constant disrespect for human rights,” she said.
However, Zhanay and other protesters told the Financial Times they were joined by groups of insurgents and local Islamic radicals with unclear motives. Groups of “very young men in civilian clothes” handed out weapons, she said.
Then, she added, seemingly random disorder erupted, with no obvious target. “People were killed and there were no police, no security services. Right in front of me, grandmothers and grandfathers were lying on the ground. ”
The president claimed earlier this week that Almaty had been harassed by “20,000 terrorists” and blamed activists and the liberal media for “collusion” with them.
Darkhan Umirbekov, a Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reporter in the capital Nur-Sultan, said he was detained for several hours and questioned after filming the first protests. He said police also came to his colleague Makhambet Abzhan’s door, which he claims disappeared shortly afterwards.
“I also sit on my suitcase as if it were 1937 and wait for them to come and get it for me,” Zhanay said, referring to the period of Stalinist oppression in the Soviet era.
Activists told the FT that continued brutality was fueling public anger, with people resigning against what they saw as merely cosmetic government changes since Nazarbayev in 2019.
Despite his detention, Abishev said he was determined to live “in further struggle”. He only recently completed a three-year prison sentence after the government named the opposition movement of which he is a part, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, an extremist organization. The European Parliament referred to it as a peaceful movement.
The organization is led out of France by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former Kazakh banker and civil servant who fell out with Nazarbayev and fled into exile after the government seized his assets and accused him of fraud. He denied the allegations, claiming they were politically motivated.
“What we have seen is not some senseless Russian rebellion,” Ablyazov told the FT. “Mass frustration and hatred led to what you see. . . It will continue. ”
Meanwhile, activists said Kazakhstan’s security forces went from door to door, questioning people and checking their phones.
Almaty resident Liaylim Abildayeva said she was breastfeeding her three-month-old daughter when 10 people burst into balaclavas at her apartment and beat her husband in front of her and two other children. They then took him away, claiming that he looked like someone who had distributed weapons during the protests, she said.
“This is nothing but a horrible mistake. “I and the children will suffer lifelong trauma,” she added. “He may be detained for a long time – he’s the only breadwinner in the family.”
Kazakhstan’s countdown to chaos
2 January 2022
The first protests erupted in the western city of Zhanaozen, spurred on by the government’s decision to lift price fluctuations on liquefied petroleum gas, which is widely used to replenish cars in the region. The protests are peaceful, with no arrests.
Demonstrations have spread to Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty. The focus is shifting to reflect social discontent rooted in inequality and poverty. Protesters are also demanding the removal of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev from his position as head of the Security Council. The protests turned violent and eight police officers were killed. Hundreds are arrested and the internet is blocked.
Violence escalates and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declares a state of emergency. Tokayev accepts the resignation of his government and takes over the Security Council. He appealed to the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance of former Soviet states, for help in stopping the protests.
Russian-led forces arrive, with the task of “protecting important state and military facilities and assisting Kazakh law enforcement to stabilize the situation”.
Tokayev issues a “shoot to kill without warning” notice to security forces. Thousands are arrested and 26 protesters and 18 police are believed to have been killed. The internet has been partially restored.
A restless calm is restored. Some 164 people were killed and thousands were detained during the riots. Karim Massimov, an ally of Nazarbayev, is fired as security chief and arrested on charges of high treason.