Police block the road to control traffic in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, January 12, 2022.
Credit: AP Photo
With about 12,000 people arrested after anti-government protests in Kazakhstan last week, friends and relatives waited for those held by police on Wednesday outside a jail in hopes of learning their fate. Some even went to morgues to see if a loved one was among the many killed in the unprecedented violence in the Central Asian nation.
Authorities, according to human rights activists, have refused to allow relatives or lawyers to see those in custody and provide little information about them.
Demonstrations began on January 2 in western Kazakhstan over a sharp rise in fuel prices and spread across the country, apparently reflecting wider dissatisfaction with the government, which declared a state of emergency for the entire country and called for a Russian-led military alliance. to send troops in to help restore order.
A further 1,678 people were arrested during the past 24 hours in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, which was hardest hit by the unrest. More than 300 criminal investigations have been initiated. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed foreign-backed “terrorists” for the riots, but provided no evidence, and he had given shots — to kill orders to the security forces to quell the riots.
Outside a home affairs department that housed a large detention center, a man who only gave his name as Renat said he had been waiting nearly a week to see or get any information about a close friend, Zhandos Nakipovich. He said Nakipovich, whom he described as being “a brother” to him, was taken into custody on January 4 during a peaceful protest.
“He was first held in an area, then they told us he was in the Department of Home Affairs,” Renat told the Associated Press. “Since January 6, we’ve been here and we do not know if he’s alive or not.”
Military checkpoints prevented anyone from getting close to the building.
‘Neither lawyers nor relatives – no one is allowed in. Lawyers should be present during the interrogation, but as you can see, no one can pass, “said Galym Ageleuov, leader of the Liberty Human Rights Group, which was waiting at the barricade.
“The control post blocks the access for lawyers and relatives to see what is going on there. We do not even have the list of detainees, “said Ageleuov.
More than a dozen men and women in dark winter clothes gathered outside one of Almaty’s morgues, some of them waiting to collect the bodies of relatives killed in the riots. Supported together in small groups, they stood at the gate to the facility, chatting quietly with each other but refusing to speak to a journalist.
Although the official death toll was announced at 164, Tokayev has said hundreds of civilians and security forces were killed and wounded.
Life in Almaty has begun to return to normal after days of unrest, with cars and buses set on fire, government buildings storming and setting on fire, the airport seized and the sound of gunfire. The riots were largely over last weekend.
Public transport has resumed and shopping malls have reopened, and the only reminders of the violence were occasional military roadblocks and the charred exterior of the town hall, which was set on fire at the height of the riots.
The authorities in the energy-rich country of 19 million tried to alleviate the anger against the government by limiting fuel prices for 180 days. The cabinet resigned, and longtime former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev was ousted from his influential post as head of the National Security Council. Nazarbayev resigned as president in 2019 after nearly three decades in power, but retained influence in the security forces.
Tokayev enlisted the help of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, a Russian-led military alliance of six former Soviet states. The bloc sent over 2,000 troops to Kazakhstan, and Tokayev said troops will begin withdrawing Thursday.