Annual Report: Kazakhstan 2013

May 23, 2013

Annual Report: Kazakhstan 2013

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Republic of Kazakhstan

Head of state Nursultan Nazarbaev

Head of government Serik Akhmetov (replaced Karim Massimov)

A criminal investigation into the use of lethal force by security officials during the mass unrest in Zhanaozen in December 2011 resulted in charges being brought against five individual officers. Alleged organizers and participants were put on trial in March. Most of those charged with organizing and participating in the violence claimed that they were tortured to force their confessions. The leader of an unregistered opposition party received a long prison sentence for his alleged involvement in the Zhanaozen violence after an unfair trial. Independent media outlets were branded as “extremist” and closed down. Extraditions continued of individuals at risk of torture and other ill-treatment upon return to the countries requesting their return.

Excessive use of force

In January 2012, following an investigation into the lethal use of force by security forces, five senior security officers were charged with abuse of office in relation to the use of force in Zhanaozen. However, the number of deaths and serious injuries from gunshot wounds indicated that many more security officers had used firearms. The trial followed the events on 16 December 2011, where celebrations of the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence in the south-western city of Zhanaozen were marred by violent clashes between protesters and police. At least 15 people were killed and more than 100 seriously injured. Reportedly, security forces had no specific training in using non-violent and proportionate methods of crowd control while policing protest demonstrations and strikes, despite months of being confronted by striking and protesting oil industry workers and their families and supporters in 2011.

In response to calls for further investigations into all cases of deaths and injuries, including those not recorded officially, in order to establish the true number of fatalities and casualties and bring all those responsible to justice, the General Prosecutor's Office asserted in October that all available evidence had been thoroughly investigated by the Regional Department of Internal Affairs and that there was no need to bring further criminal charges against other security officers.

  • Five senior security officers from Mangistau Region and Zhanaozen city were charged in late January with abuse of office in relation to the use of firearms. According to the General Prosecutor's Office, some of them had been identified using video footage. They were sentenced to between five and seven years in prison in May. Several police officers testifying at the trial as witnesses confirmed that they had used firearms to shoot directly at protesters. However, no charges were brought against them.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Most of the 37 defendants, put on trial in March in the regional capital Aktau for organizing or participating in the violence in Zhanaozen, alleged that they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention by security forces in order to extract confessions, and recanted their confessions in court. The torture methods described by the defendants were consistent with the allegations made by many of the released detainees in December 2011, namely that they were taken to unofficial places of detention or underground detention facilities at police stations, stripped naked, made to lie or crouch on a cold concrete floor, doused with cold water, beaten and kicked by security officers, often to the point of losing consciousness. They would then be doused with cold water again and beaten at regular intervals in cycles lasting for hours. Ten of the witnesses for the prosecution withdrew their testimonies against the defendants during the trial proceedings and complained that they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated into giving evidence implicating the defendants.