ALMATY, Kazakhstan – Around 7:30 p.m. on January 6, Yerlan Zhagiparov left his home to see what was happening nearby at the city’s Republic Square, a center of major political protests. At 7:54 p.m., Mr. Zhagiparov, 49, called a close friend to say that he had been detained by the National Guard. The phone was disconnected after his friend heard him scream in pain.
When his family found his naked, mutilated body in a city morgue six days later, his right hand was broken and his face red and swollen. He was still handcuffed, with gunshot wounds near his heart and abdomen.
As more and more people began to recount similar abuses at the hands of Kazakh authorities, it became increasingly clear that Mr. Zhagiparov’s case was not an isolated one.
Nationwide Protests broke out on January 2 The fuel price hike quickly turned violent – ramped up, many witnesses and rights advocates say, by provocateurs – and was met with a strong security crackdown. For weeks, little was known about the tactics used to subdue the protesters – labeled “terrorists” by the government – other than the “shoot to kill” order given by the president of Kazakhstan on 7 January. .
But now, primarily through community sourcing, human rights groups and activists are beginning to document a reign of terror that went well before the killing order. Videos and testimonials gathered by the groups, as well as interviews conducted by The New York Times with protesters and their family members, reveal a brutal campaign and ruthless intimidation. quickly tamed a surprising revolt.
In one report Published last week, Human Rights Watch said Kazakh security forces used excessive and deadly force against protesters on at least four occasions between January 4 and January 6, resulted in at least 10 deaths and 19 injuries.
Human Rights Watch The death toll from Kazakhstan’s security forces is likely to be much higher, researchers say.
“There is a lot of evidence that security forces opened fire without any clear justification,” said Jonathan Pedneault, a conflict and crisis researcher at Human Rights Watch. In a statement, it added, “The death toll from the violent crackdown could be much greater.”
There is also evidence that detainees have been mistreated.
“Torture takes place on a massive scale,” said Yevgeniy Zhovtis, director of the International Office for Human Rights and the Rule of Law of Kazakhstan, which is collecting reports of abuses.
Very little information has come from Kazakhstan’s secretive, autocratic government. It took nearly 10 days before the statistics of the dead and missing were released – at least 225 people were killed, including 19 policemen and more than 4,000 were injured.
But from scattered anecdotal reports, rights advocates suspect a brutal campaign and widespread intimidation behind the government’s sketchy numbers. So they started sourcing information from the community, providing legal and logistical support to those who continued to tell stories of loved ones missing or being abused.
After receiving calls from across the country about protesters being arrested or taken away, Bahytzhan Toreghozhina, a human rights lawyer, started a spreadsheet so people could list loved ones who had been killed. missing.
“Our government says 10,000 people have been arrested for the violence,” she said. “We want to find these people.”
The list, which is updated regularly to reflect those who have died or been imprisoned, currently contains about 1,300 entries from across Kazakhstan. As of January 22, there are 970 people confirmed to be in custody, including 31 political activists.
The list of the dead has reached 227, slightly higher than the official number announced by the state. The branch of Radio Liberty in Kazakhstan has also started its own operation list Of the dead, 124 people have been identified so far, including an 11-year-old boy.
And as more stories emerge, rights advocates have little doubt that the total will grow as more families continue to use accounts like Mr. Zhagiparov’s.
At first, thinking he was in police custody, his family was relieved, said his brother, 44-year-old Nurlan Zhagiparov. As an amateur archaeologist with a passion for the discovery of Bronze Age rock carvings, Yerlan Zhagiparov has never been active in politics.
His family just thought the police would check his papers and take him home, his brother said, adding: “No one expected that a group of troops would take him away.”
Ethnic Zhagiparovs are hoping for a fair investigation, something many Kazakhs are demanding after the most violent period since the country declared independence from the Soviet Union 30 years ago.
“We want to know who these people shot him, who tortured him, who broke his arm,” Mr Zhagiparov said as his mother sat silently beside him. “These sadists are walking among us in the streets. They must be punished.”
Kazakh officials have denied wrongdoing.
“The government of Kazakhstan has not, has not and will not use lethal weapons against peaceful protesters,” Erzhan Kazykhan, an adviser to the country’s president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, said in an interview. at the beginning of the month.
At the start of the protests, authorities blamed the violence on unnamed criminal groups, including some from abroad. At the request of Mr. Tokayev of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-dominated military alliance of post-Soviet states, send thousands of troops in less than 24 hours.
The government’s claims evolved to include unnamed “terrorists”, but authorities provide little evidence of foreign involvement and no terrorist group claims to have it. role in the uprising.
Hugh Williamson, director of Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, said: “The beating and torture are used both to intimidate and also to make false confessions. Human rights groups have pointed to the “confession” of the famous Kyrgyz jazz pianist, Vikram Ruzakhunov, as a prominent example.
Authorities released a video in which Mr. Ruzakhunov, apparently beaten, says he was paid to go to the protest and cause havoc. But he said he was in Almaty on business and was detained while trying to return to Kyrgyzstan. He Written on Instagram on January 24 that he suffered a chest injury, broken ribs, concussion and multiple bruises during his incarceration.
He was far from being the only protester to meet that fate.
Dauren Dostyarev, an electrician, was arrested on January 4, the first day of protests in the nation’s largest city, Almaty. In an interview, he said that he responded to a call on Facebook from an opposition group and joined a rally in the western part of the city. When police arrived, he said he pulled a megaphone to remind the crowd to be peaceful.
He was first taken to the local police station and then to Almaty Interior Ministry headquarters, where he said he was held in a basement cell and beaten for eight days. He said interrogators beat him to his genitals, used electric shocks and forced other detainees to beat him. He was told many times that he would never come out alive.
“I am preparing for the last days of my life,” said Mr. Dostyarev, 32 years old and recently married. He has never had access to an attorney or medical assistance.
Almaty police did not respond to a request for comment, and neither did the State Prosecutor’s Office.
Mr. Zhovtis, a human rights campaigner, says he has received many reports of torture in detention units. He said that fear of the government was so widespread that he estimated only about 10% of victims dared to file a complaint.
Ms. Toreghozhina, the lawyer, has sounded the alarm about reports of people being injured during unrest and then being taken from hospital beds to prison. ONE videotapes from a hospital in Almaty leaked to Radio Liberty seems to confirm this.
This week, the government announced a state-funded commission, led by prominent human rights lawyer Aiman Umarova, will look into the events that Almaty residents refer to as “Qandy Qantar,” or “ Bloody January”. But organizations like Human Rights Watch have called for a truly independent investigation, with international experts.
Laylim Abyldayeva, 34, said in an interview that her husband, Timur Kim, 38, was driving near the city center on January 9 with her brother to see what was going on. The men were stopped and searched, then released. But hours after Mr. Kim returned to their suburban apartment, riot police stormed in and dragged him away for questioning.
He was brought back the next day, covered in blood and handcuffed, when police searched the apartment. Ms Abyldayeva said he told her he had been beaten and threatened throughout the night.
After an investigator told her Mr. Kim was charged with terrorism, he was taken away again. She has been looking for him ever since.
“My husband is innocent, he didn’t even participate in any protests,” she said in an interview in her sparsely furnished apartment. She appeared with her children, 8, 6 and 3 months old, on Instagram video Calling for her husband’s release.
Before the protests, Ms. Abyldayeva said that neither she nor her husband cared much about politics. They run a small business selling tables and chairs, and he works as a computer repairman. But now, she said, she has lost faith in the state.
“They simply have a quota that they need to fill to show people that there are terrorists,” she said. “My husband is not a terrorist.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/31/world/europe/kazakhstan-uprising-abuse-torture.html During the Kazakh uprising, reports of widespread abuses by security forces