“We Are Fraternal Peoples!”

Activists in Novosibirsk record message for the international community about Kazakhstan • Arina Yuzhnaya • Siber.Realii (RFE/RL) • January 10, 2022

Novosibirsk residents have recorded a video message to the international community “on behalf of all Russian citizens who oppose the Russian military intervention in Kazakhstan.” They are certain that the peaceful protesters in Kazakhstan “are not terrorists,” our correspondent reports.

Nine people appear in the video, including pianist Timofei Kazantsev, former head of the We Are Against Corruption Foundation Viktor Sorokin, and activists Andrei Kaygorodtsev, Rashid Zamanov and Alexander Abrosov. The appeal has been released in two versions: in Russian with English subtitles, and in English translation.

“The citizens of Kazakhstan who came out to protest poverty and corruption are not terrorists. Their arrests, and even more so their murders, are unacceptable,” they say in the message.

They stress that they consider the Russian military intervention unacceptable, since it could lead to “interethnic hostility and bloodshed.”

“President Tokayev called on the CSTO to defend [Kazakhstan] against an external terrorist threat. We believe that the Kazakhs will perceive Russian soldiers, who make up the bulk of the Collective Security Treaty Organization military contingent, as an external threat,” Kazantsev told us.

He believes that there now exists an “extraordinary situation in which our country is potentially behaving like an aggressor.” Kazantsev considers it wrong when an international organization meddles in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, even at the request of the country’s president. All this, in his opinion, is fraught with consequences.

For this reason, the authors of the video also appeal to the people of Kazakhstan. They explain that the Russian people have no “aggressive ambitions,” but that “no one has asked the opinion of ordinary Russians.”

At the end of the appeal, the authors of the video demand the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kazakhstan.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Revolt and Repression in Kazahstan

Revolt and repression in Kazakhstan • People and Nature • January 9, 2022

The Kazakh government has unleashed ferocious repression against the uprising that exploded last week.

Security forces opened fire on demonstrators. “Dozens” died, according to media reports, but on 7 January president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev let slip that “hundreds” had been killed. Tokayev also said he gave the order to “shoot to kill without warning” to suppress protests.

There are no accurate figures, because the government has cut off internet access for almost the whole country and imposed an information blockade.

The internal affairs ministry has said that more than 4400 people have been arrested, and warned that sentences of between eight years and life will be imposed. The Kazakh regime has used torture against worker activists before: its forces may be emboldened by the 3000 Russian and other troops flown in to support them.

From social media via The Insider. The security services facing demonstrators in Almaty

It’s difficult, in the midst of this nightmare, to try to analyse the wave of protest and its consequences. Anyway, here are four points, based on what I can see from a distance.

Continue reading “Revolt and Repression in Kazahstan”

The Zhanaozen Massacre: Ten Years Later

Kazakhstan, ten years after the Zhanaozen massacre: oil workers’ fight to organise goes on • People and Nature • 15 December 2021

Ten years after police massacred striking oil workers at Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, human rights organisations and trades unionists are demanding an international inquiry into the killings.

Even now, the number of victims is unknown. State officials admit that 16 were killed and 64 injured on 16 December 2011 – but campaigners say there were dozens, perhaps hundreds, more.

The initial killings, by police who fired into a peaceful, unarmed crowd, were followed by a three-day reign of terror in Zhanaozen, in the oil-rich Mangistau province in western Kazakhstan, and nearby villages.

Defendants at the 2012 trial of Zhanaozen protesters

The torture and sexual violence used against detainees should also be investigated by an independent international commission, campaigners say.

Although a handful of police officers were tried for “exceeding their powers”, and a detention centre boss was briefly jailed, the Kazakh government has refused to say who ordered the shootings.

The Zhanaozen shootings ended an eight-month strike by the town’s oil workers, one of the largest industrial actions ever in the post-Soviet countries.

Oil workers and their families had demanded better pay and conditions, and the right to organise independent trade unions, at Ozenmunaigaz, a production subsidiary of the national oil company Kazmunaigaz, and contracting firms.

On Saturday 11 December this year, oil workers gathered in Zhanaozen, amidst a heavy police presence, to commemorate the victims. Tomorrow, ten years to the day after the tragedy, activists plan film screenings and other gatherings in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city.

Zhanaozen has become a crucial strand in Kazakh working people’s collective memory. On the day of the killings, local residents risked arrest and worse to smuggle out of the locked-down city video clips showing how demonstrators were executed in cold blood. Today, some of the fear has faded, activists say: whole films – such as this one, made in 2013 (commentary in Russian) – are shared on social media.

https://www.facebook.com/daryn.ibraeff/videos/1302525450187459

An international investigation is needed, because, even now, the Kazakh authorities are desperate to cover up the truth, human rights activists who have pursued the truth about Zhanaozen said in interviews with People & Nature.

Evgeny Zhovtis, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, said “three questions have never been answered” about the events on Alan Square, where the initial shootings took place:

□ Who were the provocateurs who caused trouble on the square?

□ Who exactly gave the order to send in armed interior ministry forces against an unarmed crowd? 

□ Who fired the shots? The authorities have admitted to 15 killings on the square. In each case, [under Kazakh law] an investigation should show either that the officer responsible had opened fire unlawfully, or that he opened fire because his life was threatened.  

Zhovtis said: “The UN commissioner for human rights, Niva Pillay, visited Kazakhstan in 2012 and called for an independent international commission to be set up, to investigate these events. Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, also called for such a commission. This has not happened.”

Human rights defenders in Kazakhstan reject the justice ministry’s claim that an adequate investigation had been carried out, Zhovtis said.

Police in Zhanaozen, 16 December 2011. A still from a video smuggled out by residents to make sure the truth reached the outside world

“The leading western governments are largely indifferent to what happens in central Asia. Look at their response both to the Zhanaozen tragedy and the Andijan massacre [of hundreds of protesters in Uzbekistan in May 2005].

“Nevertheless, we simply have to keep demanding justice.”   

Galym Ageleuov of Liberty, the human rights organisation, who has travelled regularly to Zhanaozen since the massacre to gather evidence, said that, in addition to the events on Alan Square, any investigation should cover:

□ The use of torture against oil workers and their supporters detained during the three-day crackdown. Detailed evidence of this had already been made public, especially at a trial of 37 Zhanaozen residents in 2012.

□ Sexual violence against women detainees, including Roza Tuletaeva, an oil workers’ trade union organiser (about her release, see here and here); Zhansaule Karabalaeva, daughter of a trade union activist; Asem Kenzhebaeva, daughter of another activist (the family’s story here, her evidence of sexual violence here); and others. “There is evidence that women and men prisoners were detained naked [in winter], were beaten, and had freezing water poured on them”, Ageleuov said.

□ The total number of killings in Zhanaozen and nearby villages on 16, 17 and 18 December 2011. Of the 16 admitted by officials, 15 were killed on Alan Square with revolvers, bullets from which usually remain lodged in the body. The authorities have denied responsibility for those killed by automatic gunfire and long-distance sniper fire, including bystanders. Ageleuov said: “There are numerous cases in which bodies were only released to the families of those killed if they accepted death certificates that registered the cause of death as, for example, a heart attack.”

Asem Kenzhebaeva

□ The killing of Torebek Tolegenov in Shetpe, and the wounding of young people who blocked a railroad to protest at the Zhanaozen massacre, needs to be investigated.

□ Multiple reports of bodies being loaded into unmarked graves – including by Yelena Kostiuchenko of Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s prime opposition newspaper, one of the first journalists to get into Zhanaozen after the massacre – have never been followed up. “Any international commission should insist on the exhumation of these bodies”, Ageleuov said.

□ A fire that broke out, inexplicably, at the Ozenmunaigaz offices on the day of the massacre.

The Kazakh labour movement will this week commemorate the Zhanaozen tragedy – at a time when the right to form independent trade unions, a key principle in the 2011 oil workers’ strike, is again at issue in many workplace struggles.

In June, the national oil company Kazmunaigaz tried to scrap an agreement on wages and conditions with the independent Oil Construction Company Workers Union, seeking instead a sweetheart deal with a “union” it had created. That followed an attempt by the authorities to deregister, and effectively put beyond the law, the independent Sectoral Union of Fuel and Energy Workers, a national-level umbrella of which the Oil Construction Company Workers Union is part.

Markhaba Khalmurzaeva, coordinator of the Central Asia Labour Rights Monitoring Mission, said: “There have been several strikes in which workers demanded the right to independent organisation, and in some cases, once the pay dispute was settled, employers even helped to register unions.”

But there is also a constant campaign of repression. “Quite often a strike will be settled, some demands are met, but activists who played a part in organising it are dismissed, and blacklisted.”

These battles for the right to independent organisation flared up earlier this year amidst a wave of strikes over pay and conditions. There were more strikes in the first half of 2021 than in the three years 2018-2020 put together. And this summer, the wave hit the western Kazakhstan oilfield, including Zhanaozen, where 11 firms were on strike simultaneously in July.

In September the Central Asia Labour Rights Monitoring Mission reported:

Most of the strikes are in the rich oil region of Mangistau in western Kazakhstan, although it is not only oil workers who are walking out. The most widespread demand is for wage increases. Some groups of workers demand a 13th wage [i.e. to be paid an extra month’s money each year]; partial or complete funding of sanatorium breaks for those working with toxic chemicals; compensation for Covid-19 tests; and … [a supply of] milk [at work].

In Zhanaozen, in the years after the massacre, the Ozenmunaigaz oil company was reorganised into 14 separate divisions. Many of the strikers were employed in the drilling services division, where pay was raised substantially and today is at more than twice the level of ten years ago.

In an attempt to smother the social discontent that exploded in 2011, the government invested in the town’s infrastructure, providing among other things round-the-clock water supply, where previously water only reached people’s homes for short periods twice a day.

Zhanaozen’s population has also expanded … but not everyone benefits. Unemployment has grown rapidly, and in 2019 young people began to demonstrate at the local authorities’ offices, demanding work at Ozenmunaigaz.

A mass meeting in July this year at KMG Security, one of 11 workplaces on strike in Zhanaozen. Photo: Manas Kalyrtai RFE/RL

Erzhan Elshibayev, who helped to organise these peaceful gatherings, was arrested and jailed for five years. Galym Ageleuov said: “Elshibayev is a victim of political repression. In 2019, he was charged with an offence arising from a fight he was involved in, when he was attacked by four men in 2017 while on his way to work – an incident that gave rise to no charges at the time.

“Elshibayev has been in detention for two years. For the last three months he has been in solitary confinement and no-one has heard from him.” Trade unionists gathered at Bishkek last week at a conference called on the Kazakh authorities to release him immediately.

Ten years after the massacre, labour’s battles against capital continue in the oilfield – for better pay and living conditions, for the right to organise independently at work, for ways to live decently. Exposing the truth about the state repression in 2011, about the chain of command, about the barbaric use of murder and torture in the service of capital, is a part of this wider struggle. SP, 15 December 2021.

■ Statement by human rights organisations in Kazakhstan, 15 December 2021

■ Zhanaozen: worker organisation and repression, by Simon Pirani (Gabriel Levy)

■ Zhanaozen: some lessons by Evgeny Zhovtis

■ They shot to kill. Interview with Galym Ageleuov

■ Kazakh oil workers: index of articles

“Freedom of association is a workers’ right! Free Erzhan Elshibayev! Stop victimising people for being active citizens!”

Originally posted on People & Nature on 15 December 2021. Thanks to its editor, Simon Pirani, for allowing me to repost his article here. ||| TRR

Remembering Aron Atabek

Aron Atabek: poet, rebel, Kazakh samurai (People & Nature, 6 December 2021)

The dissident poet Aron Atabek has died in Kazakhstan, weeks after being released from 15 years as a political prisoner.

Atabek, 68, died in hospital on 24 November, where he was being treated for Covid-19. Years in prison, beatings by guards, and long stretches of solitary confinement had taken their toll on his health.

Aron Atabek after his release from prison. Photo from bureau-kz

In the weeks prior to his death, Atabek’s family had released photos of the poet, weighing 50 kilos and emaciated – down from a healthy 85 kilos when he was jailed in 2006.

Atabek had been arrested for his part in defending the Shanyrak shanty town, set up by homeless people outside Almaty – a key chapter in the history of resistance to the authoritarian regime of Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Friends of Aron Atabek, members of his family and participants in opposition movements gathered on 28 November at the statue of the poet Abai Kunanbaev in Almaty. They read poems, and demanded that the Shanyrak case be reviewed.

The human rights campaign group Oyan, Qazaqstan issued a statement, saying:

We believe that the responsibility for the death of the poet Aron Atabek lies entirely with the [Kazakh] authorities. They passed an illegal sentence on Aron when they imprisoned him. The deterioration of Abatek’s health, and his death, is on their conscience. Aron Atabek stayed true to his principles to the end of his life. He did not agree to an amnesty, he did not once beg for forgiveness from Nazarbayev, and he never became disillusioned with what he himself did. For us he remains the same, unbending, a Kazakh samurai.

Atabek had been politically active in democratic and nationalist circles since late Soviet times (the 1980s). In the 2000s, the price of oil, Kazakhstan’s main export, rose, the elite accumulated vast wealth, the gap between rich and poor yawned still wider – and Atabek paid the price for defending the dispossessed.

The Shanyrak shanty-town was a sanctuary for those who suffered most in the oil boom, and the construction frenzy that it financed, when developers grabbed land with scant regard for the law. It is estimated that, when it was destroyed by a violent, illegal police operation, it comprised more than 2000 dwellings with up to 10,000 residents.

The notorious police clearance of Shanyrak took place shortly after the promulgation on 5 July 2006 of the law “On Amnesty and Legalisation of Property”.

The city authorities, citing shanty-town dwellers’ failure to register their properties correctly, ordered them to leave. Atabek and other oppositionists argued that the real reason was that the authorities wanted to make more land available to developers.

Atabek lobbied parliamentarians, wrote articles, organised petitions and reminded the shanty-town dwellers of constitutional rights that protected them. But pleas by Atabek and other activists went unheeded.

Remembering Aron Atabek in Almaty, 28 November. Photo from the-village-kz

The police tried to clear the shanty-town forcibly, and a violent clash ensued in which a police officer died. A round-up of activists followed.

Atabek was tried and convicted in October 2007 of “orchestrating mass disorder” – despite there being no evidence that he was nearby when the clashes occurred. Atabek was offered a pardon in exchange for admitting guilt, but he vehemently refused.

Atabek continued to write in prison, detailing illegal and inhumane prison conditions on his website. An international campaign in his defence was supported by PEN Internationalthe International Times, and others.

In 2011, a six-month strike by Kazakh oil workers was brought to an end by a police massacre at Zhanaozen that left at least 16 dead and 64 wounded. Campaigners linked Atabek’s case to the wider clampdown on labour and opposition groups that followed.

In an obituary of Atabek in The Diplomat, Paolo Sorbello wrote:

At his core, Atabek was a nationalist. He was on the square in December 1986 when students and activists in Almaty protested the appointment of Gennady Kolbin, an ethnic Russian, to head the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. The police repression of the riots turned the events into a dark page in the country’s history. During “Jeltoqsan” (December in Kazakh), the authorities ordered a violent repression of the demonstrations, which resulted in several dead. The Soviet establishment never allowed for a transparent investigation and trial over the violence.

Aron Atabek at his trial in 2007

On the eve of independence in 1991, Atabek was instrumental in the creation of the Alash National Independence Party. In the 1990s, fearing repercussions for his political positions, he continued his activism from Russia and Azerbaijan. He returned to Kazakhstan in the early 2000s and founded the public association “Kazakh Ulty” (Kazakh Nation), through which he criticised Nazarbayev, at a period of heightened political struggle.

In the mid-2000s Kazakhstan’s most important oil contracts were finally drawing financial windfalls, while Nazarbayev was consolidating his power in the face of growing opposition movements. Furthermore, the economy’s reliance on the US dollar and the housing boom in Almaty were a foreboding tale of the long-lasting effects of the global financial crisis of 2007. The Shanyrak events were essentially an explosive cocktail, the product of the unstable situation in the country.

The repression of opposition movements, the arrest of Atabek, and later on the violent reaction to the strikes in the oil town of Zhanaozen were stepping stones in the consolidation of Nazarbayev’s grip on power and the insurance policy on a season of political stability.

Remembering Aron Atabek in Almaty, 28 November. Photo from the-village-kz

Follow People & Nature on twitter … instagram … telegram … or whatsapp. Or email peoplenature[at]protonmail.com, and I’ll send you updates.

Originally posted on People & Nature on 6 December 2021. Thanks to its editor, Simon Pirani, for encouraging me to repost his obituary here. ||| TRR

Adaptatsiya, “Life in a Police State”

Adaptatsiya performing “Life in a Police State” at Hanger 49 in Berlin on April 13, 2013

The same old faces in newspapers and on screens
We have nowhere to go and nowhere to hide
Some leave the country, having in reserve
Another homeland, but
Not everyone is so lucky, someone has to stay
And resist all the nastiness
Not let them destroy themselves and others
To prevent another 1937

Life in a police state

A friend of mine lost his job
Now he’s sinking to the bottom
His family has gone begging in the streets
And he’s started boozing, cursing fate
Seeing no ray of light in the pitch-black stupor
More and more innocent people
Commit suicide or worse
They give birth to abnormal children

Life in a police state

And my mother protected me from my father’s beatings
You were one of the few who pushed on till the end
And when everyone was tired, you rushed forward
But blocking your way were
Mobs of dirty soldiers and hateful cops
They serve the regime of assholes like them
The ones who build palaces and move capitals
And you’re so eager to go off and tune out

Life in a police state

And if you ask me what will happen next
I will keep my counsel because it’s a slippery slope
There is no cause for optimism and faith
There are prisons, fences, bars and walls
I still have friends and a beloved broad
But I’m one of those who doesn’t find that enough
I am afraid for all my loved ones
I see and I know where we are headed

Life in a police state

Source: Megalyrics. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Bayan Mirzakeyeva: Where Do You Begin?

Anti-University
Facebook
August 7, 2020

“My name is Bayan Mirzakeyeva. I am 21 years old, and I am an ethnic Kazakh from Almaty. I have been living and studying in St. Petersburg at the Architectural University for several years. It was here, in Russia, that I realized that I was “non-white” and learned about this condescending and contemptuous attitude towards myself. Since almost no one around me talks about racism and migration, I wanted to make my own statement. I posted these pictures on social networks and have faced different reactions, from support to aggression and rejection. This was expected, but it has been a kind of impetus for me to continue working with this problem.”

Bayan sent us her illustrations, and we are publishing them for you.

Come and talk about racism and migration at the open events that we are doing together with the Viadrinicum Summer School. Details here: https://www.facebook.com/AntiUniversityMSK/posts/626498341315382

churka 1

I had never been called a “wog” [churka].

“So what’s it like in Moscow”?

“It’s the same old same old. Only there are more wogs.”

“There aren’t that many of them, actually.”

But this time it was if I had been called that name personally.

“But the Gypsies are everywhere.”

“Ha-ha-ha.”

churka 2

But how do I differ from those who are called “wogs”?

Am I different because I finished high school with honors?

Because I got a scholarship to university?

Because I speak Russian without an accent?

churka 3

I have the same narrow eyes, the same coarse black hair. An unusual name.

Where does “wog” end and where do you begin?

 

Thanks to Sofiko Arifdzhanova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Kazakhstan: Land Protesters Face Police Rampage

Kazakhstan: Land Protesters Face Police Rampage
People and Nature
May 25, 2016

Street protests against plans to step up land privatization were broken up by police in many of Kazakhstan’s largest cities on Saturday, May 21. The demonstrations were organized by informal online networks rather than by any of the recognized opposition groups. Here are the key points from a report by Andrei Grishin, published in Russian on the website of the Fergana News Agency.

Special rapid-reaction police detachments attacked small groups [of demonstrators] wherever they gathered. They grabbed everyone, regardless of gender, age and nationality. Dozens of journalists were arrested.

Kazakhstan had waited for the events of May 21 with bated breath. [Protesters had named that as a day of action after a previous wave of demonstrations had forced the government to pull back from planned land reforms. See an earlier report here.] The official media had railed against the protests. And it all ended, as it has so many times before, with the “slaughter of the innocents,” but this time more brutal than usual. The detention of dozens of journalists, including foreigners, was proof of that.

Police detain land protester in Almaty
Police detain protester in Almaty, May 21, 2016

However, for the first time, people came out to protest all at once, in a number of cities and towns, without any leaders, because these leaders had either been arrested in advance, or had agreed to the authorities’ demands [after the previous demonstrations] and joined the [government’s] land commission.

[In Almaty in the southeast, the largest city in Kazakhstan and former capital, the authorities used every possible method of disrupting people’s plans to demonstrate. They created a “terrorism” scare, announcing the discovery of a stash of molotov cocktails, sticks, money and explosives; blocked social media; and issued orders forbidding public sector employees, students and workers in large enterprises from demonstrating, and in many cases, called people into work. Nevertheless, people gathered in small groups at Astana Square and by 11.30 am there were about a thousand of them. The police then went on the rampage, arresting and dispersing people.]

In other towns where activists made attempts to gather in squares or parks, the authorities acted similarly, although the numbers of both demonstrators and police were much smaller than those in Almaty. [There were arrests in Astana, the new capital, whereas things went compariatively peacefully in Kustanai and Pavlodar.]

In any case, no revolution took place! The president of the administrative policing committee at the ministry of internal affairs, Igor Lepekha, announced on Saturday that there had been “no unsanctioned gatherings or conflicts with the police. No breaches of order were permitted.” But at the same time he confirmed the detention of a number of people, including journalists; there had been a “misunderstanding” with the latter, he said.

Nevertheless, even this small number of demonstrations was a new phenomenon in Kazakhstan, in the sense that they started simultaneously in different regions. And all the experts noted in chorus that the land question was just the pretext, that in fact people have all sorts of other issues with the government. And that is really worrying parliament, above all, the fact that people are openly, and quite legally, calling for the resignation of the president.

And so it was clear that the government once again would deal with the problem [of protest] with repression. Evidence of this was the series of criminal cases opened even before May 21 against civil society activists, and the announcement by the internal affairs department of Western Kazakhstan about “preventing mass disorder.”And it is still possible, of course, that the Almaty police will “find” the owners of the molotov cocktails and sticks [i.e. use frame-up tactics against militants].

Police detaining protesters in Almaty on Saturday, May 21, 2016
Police detaining protesters in Almaty on Saturday, May 21, 2016

However at the same time the authorities have treated the land question with great caution, thus the one-year moratorium [announced by President Nazarbayev on 6 May] on the amendments [to the land code], and the establishment of the land commission, and inclusion in it of several “disloyal” civil society activists, and the hints that have been dropped about the possibility that each citizen of the country could be granted by law 1,000 square meters of free land.

Riot police loading protesters onto a bus, Almaty, May 21, 2016
Riot police loading protesters onto a bus, Almaty, May 21, 2016

Just a few days ago, when the government feared the spread of mass action, President Nazarbayev appealed to Kazakhs “not to shame ourselves before the world, but to solve our complicated problems by means of constructive dialogue.”

Despite this talk of “constructive dialogue” from the president, the police special detachments hid firearms in their buses on Saturday. Whether they had plastic bullets, tear gas or live ammunition we don’t know. But thankfully they didn’t open fire on the crowds: bearing in mind the events at Zhanaozen and Shetpe [in December 2011, when police fired on a crowd of striking oil workers, killing at least 16 and wounding at least 60], it seems there was enough sense at the top to order that there be no repeat of that. 25 May 2016.

The Zhanaozen Massacre: Four Years Later

Kazakhstan: who ordered the killings and tortures?
People and Nature
December 13, 2015

Who ordered police to shoot down oil workers demonstrating for fair living standards? Who organised the torture of activists in police cells?

Four years after police killed at least 16 demonstrators and injured 60 more in the oil city of Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan, trade unionists and human rights campaigners are demanding answers.

They will spell out their calls for justice again on Wednesday this week, the fourth anniversary of the massacre, on December 16, 2011.

After the killings, some rank-and-file police officers who opened fire were jailed, and some local officials punished for corruption offences. But those who organised and instigated the crackdown have so far escaped justice.

Demonstrators in Uralsk, Kazakhstan, on the third anniversary of the Zhanaozen massacre last year. Photo: R. Uporova/ Uralskaya Nedelya newspaper

Demonstrators in Uralsk, Kazakhstan, on the third anniversary of the Zhanaozen massacre last year. Photo: R. Uporova/ Uralskaya Nedelya newspaper.

The well-documented use of torture against trade union activists after the massacre has gone unpunished.

Demands for an independent international enquiry, by the United Nations and international trade union federations, have not been met.

In the Kazakh oil fields, workers have been told they will be sacked if they dare to mark the anniversary on Wednesday. Activists in Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere will demonstrate at Kazakhstan’s embassies. If you live in another country, you can mark the anniversary by sending a message of support or taking any other type of solidarity action. (See links at the end.)

Here is an update on the campaign for justice for those killed, injured and tortured while fighting for workers’ rights.

Justice for those killed and injured on 16 December 2011

Statements about the Zhanaozen killings by the Kazakh authorities contradict each other, contradict accounts by other witnesses, and are difficult to reconcile with video and audio recordings made on the day.

Trade unionists and international campaign organisations supporting the oil workers’ families fear that, by jailing a small number of officers – all of whom have now been released – the government hoped to cover up the chain of command that led to the killings.

Journalist Saniya Toyken, who is based in the Mangistau region (which includes Zhanaozen), this month explained in an article (link to Radio Azattyq site here, Russian only) that:

■ On 18 December 2011, two days after the Zhanaozen killings, Kazakh internal affairs minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov denied that anyone had ordered police officers to open fire on peaceful demonstrators. He claimed that police were unarmed, but went to fetch Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition after disorder broke out.

■ On the same day, the Kazakh general prosecutor admitted that 15 people had been killed in the course of the forcible response to the oil workers’ demonstration. Ten days later, on 27 December 2011, the prosecutor announced that five officers would be charged for “exceeding their legal powers.” At a trial in April-May 2012, five officers were found guilty of “exceeding their legal powers with the use of firearms.” The indictment against one, police colonel Kabdygali Utegaliev (who received the heaviest sentence, of seven years), referred to him “giving an order to use weapons.”

■ At the trial it was stated that police lieutenant-colonel Bekzhan Bagdabaev, former head of the department for combating extremism of the department for internal affairs, had killed Zhanar Abdikarimova, a peaceful resident of Zhanaozen – and that the same bullet that killed Abdikarimova had also struck Rakhat Tazhmivanov and Rzabek Makhambet. The

Oil workers at Munaifildservis in the Mangistau field at a meeting in February 2014. Photo: Saniya Toiken

Oil workers at Munaifildservis in the Mangistau field at a meeting in February 2014. Photo: Saniya Toiken

charges against three other officers (colonel Erlan Bakytkaliuly, senior lieutenant Rinat Zholdybaev and police captain Nurlan Esbergenov) mentioned deaths of, and injury to, specific victims.

■ Another victim, Bazarbai Kenzhebaev, died as a result of injuries received in police detention after the demonstration. Zhenisbek Temirov, who had been the officer in charge, was also jailed – again on charges of “exceeding his legal powers” – and made to pay 1 million tenge (about $5000) to Kenzhebaev’s family.

■ The verdicts were publicly questioned by Bagdabaev’s wife, Gulzhikhan, who in a media interview said that her husband had not opened fire and had been unjustly punished, whereas those who had used their weapons – and could be clearly seen doing so on videos – had not been brought to justice.

Relatives of massacre victims expressed dissatisfaction with the trial’s outcome, and demanded that charges of murder – rather than “exceeding legal powers” – be brought. In August 2012 they took an appeal to the regional cassation court (which re-examines legal issues, but not evidence). Judge Doszhan Amirov confirmed the trial decision but said that the question of murder charges “remained open.”

The relatives, and human rights organisations who supported them, reacted fiercely to a statement made during the officers’ trial that “unknown police officers used unregistered weapons without permission.”

Asel Nurgazieva, the legal representative of victims’ families, said: “How can police officers be described as ‘unknown’? This would mean that the whole state does not know who it employs and in whose hands it places weapons.”

Max Bokaev of the human rights campaign group Arlan, who acted as a trial observer, said in a recent interview with Toyken that while police officers’ faces were not visible in videos – which were in any case not used as evidence – their voices could be identified from sound recordings. “Now it will be complicated to ascertain who concretely shot and killed people, but those who gave the orders could be identified,” he said.

Ninel Fokina of the Helsinki committee in Almaty pointed out that there was no provision in Kazakh law for civil society to monitor the use of weapons by state agencies.

In addition to the shootings at Zhanaozen, firefighter Serik Kozhaev was killed, and 11 people injured, when police opened fire on demonstrators at the nearby railway station of Shetle on November 16, 2011. A week later, a local internal affairs ministry official, Serik Kozhaev, told journalists that police officers had fired on the crowd.

“That firefighter was on the other side [i.e. the demonstrators’ side]”, Kozhaev said. “Who opened fire? We did! We have the right to use service weapons in life-threatening situations.” Kozhaev claimed that some of the demonstrators were armed, but no evidence of this was brought to court.

One day, hopefully, our campaign efforts will lead to a genuine investigation of the killings. Then, a list of the senior security services officers responsible for the police action – compiled by Saniya Toyken, and reproduced below (“Officials with questions to answer”) – will come in useful.

Justice for trade unionists who were imprisoned and tortured

Security services officers who tortured trade unionists and their supporters  imprisoned after the Zhanaozen events have gone unpunished. These crimes have not even been investigated by the Kazakh authorities.

Thirty-seven Zhanaozen residents were tried in April-May 2012 for their part in the oil workers’ struggle, and 13 of them jailed. (More details here.) The trial judge passed numerous claims of torture, made in court, to the Mangistau district prosecutor’s office, which declined to open a criminal case, citing a lack of evidence. The office did not explain why it chose not to exercise its investigative function.

Kazakh human rights campaigner Erlan Kaliev, who acted as an observer at the oil workers’ trials, wrote on this site last year:

In court, the accused started publicly to deny the testimony that they had given during the investigation. They argued that they had been compelled to give that testimony under the strongest psychological and physical pressure from police officers. They spelled out concrete examples of how torture had been used against them.

The most common methods were suffocation with plastic bags; soaking with cold water at a temperature of minus 20 or minus 30 degrees; and hanging by the hair from the ceiling, as was the case with Roza Tuletaeva. The accused were made to stand for many hours, to sleep on the bare, or even iced-over, floor. They threatened to rape underage children, as became clear from the statements [in court] of Tanatar Kaliev and Roza Tuletaev. [Aleksandr] Bozhenko spoke of how they beat him mercilessly with switches [sheafs of branches] and jumped on him.

What’s more, all the victims gave the names of those who had treated them so brutally. They said that the perpetrators – police officers, prison staff or Committee of National Security operatives – very often made no attempt to cover up their identities. Their first names and surnames are in the court record. But there has been no investigation.

Victims of torture, listed in another recent article by Saniya Toyken (link here, Russian only), include:

■ Maksat Dosmagambetov, oil worker and trade union activist jailed at the 2012 trial and given conditional early release in February this year. He has cancer of his facial bones, apparently caused by the beating he received in police custody. In March, after his release, he travelled to South Korea for treatment. Dosmagambetov had pointed to a police officer and

Police at Zhanaozen on 16 December 2011

Police at Zhanaozen on 16 December 2011

said: “You saw with your own eyes how they beat me and punctured my ears with a staple gun.” Another defendant, Tanatir Kaliev, repeated the claim. (Activists have not published the name of the officer, who has not been charged.)

■ Yesengeldy Abdrakhmanov, an unemployed man from Zhanaozen who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment but released via an amnesty, told the court that he had contracted tuberculosis as a result of police torture. “I was stripped naked. They poured freezing water over me and beat me.”

■ Shabdol Otkelov, sentenced to five years, said in court that a security services officer “put a cellophane bag over my head and, stuffing it in to my mouth, forced me to confess to the preparation of explosives and to sign papers prepared by an investigator based in Astana [the capital of Kazakhstan].”

■ Roza Tuletaeva, a trade union activist who told the court she had been suffocated and hung by her hair, demanded that the tortures be investigated.

■ Kairat Adilov, sentenced to three years, told how an investigator put a gun to his head and threatened to shoot if he did not confess guilt.

■ Allegations of torture by police, prison officers and other security personnel were also made to the court by Ergazy Zhannyr, Serik Akzhigitov, Islam Shamilov, Bauyrzhan Telegenov, Zharas Besmagambetov, Samat Koyshybaev, Ertai Ermukhanov, Sisen Aspentaev, Zhenis Bopilov and Rasul Mukhanbetov.

■ Trial observers from Open Dialog say that, furthermore, six trial witnesses made allegations of torture in court. One, Aleksandr Bozhenko, who repeated the claims in television interviews, was murdered in unclear circumstances ten days later.

In 2013, Amnesty International accused Kazakhstan of “routinely” using torture, including in the Zhanaozen cases. (Amnesty report downloadable here.) Now some campaigners are calling for a “Zhanaozen list” of officials to be compiled, similar to the “Magnitsky list” drawn up by human rights activists in Russia, which led to the USA sanctioning security services officers involved in the ill-treatment and death in prison of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Lyudmyla Kozlovska of the international campaign group Open Dialog, that has championed human rights cases in Kazakhstan, said in an interview with Saniya Toyken that putting together a list would take time. “The question of tortures is not being raised [by the authorities] in Kazakhstan, because it involves people at the highest levels of government.”

The UK connection

There are strong business links between the UK and Kazakhstan. BG Group (former British Gas, now merging with Shell) and other oil companies work there; Kazakh companies raise money through the London markets. Tony Blair, former prime minister, advised Kazakhstan’s government – including specifically encouraging them to hush up the Zhanaozen issue – and UK government ministers, together with Prince Andrew, keep the relationship sweet. GL, 13 December 2015.

■ Send solidarity messages via the Confederation of Labour of Russia (email ktr@ktr.su) and/or via the Justice for Kazakh oil workers facebook page, and/or via gabriel.levy.mail@gmail.com.

Kazakh oil workers information page

Kazakhstan: oil companies threaten activists

Officials with questions to answer

►Kalmukhanbet Kasymov, minister of internal affairs at the time of the Zhanaozen massacre, has twice been reappointed to that position. In 2014 he was awarded the Order of Honour, and in 2015 was given the rank of general-colonel.

►Amanzhol Kabylov, who was head of the department of internal affairs of Mangistau region, and was appointed commandant of Zhanaozen when the state of emergency was declared there after the massacre, has been promoted. He now works as the deputy chairman of the criminal investigation committee of the Astana police.

►Abkrasul Oteshov, former deputy head of the directorate of internal affairs in Zhanaozen, who was accused of torture at the oil workers’ trial, is currently deputy head of the directorate of internal affairs of Munailinsky district of Mangistau region. 

►Former head of the directorate of internal affairs of Zhanaozen, Mukhtar Kozhaev, has been promoted to a position as head of criminal police in Astana.

►Another deputy head of the directorate of internal affairs in Zhanaozen, Nuraly Barzhikov, who has said “I was on the square [where the shootings took place] and I used firearms,” remains at his post.

►Officer Marat Kyzylkuluky, who admitted using firearms, now works with the migration police in Zhanaozen.

►Colonel Ulykbek Myltykov, who said in court that he had not fired on fleeing demonstrators – and after being showed video vidence, said he “did not know why [officers] fired” – is currently head of the administrative police of the department of internal affairs of the Mangistau region.

►Former deputy head of the department of internal affairs of Mangistau region Erzhan Sadenov currently works as the head of the department of internal affairs transport division in Astana.  

__________

Kazakhstan: oil companies threaten activists
People and Nature
December 13, 2015

Oil company managers have warned workers not to demonstrate on the fourth anniversary of the Zhanaozen massacre, Kazakh opposition news sites reported last week.

A fresh wave of unrest is brewing in the oil field after the announcement of redundancies, caused by the falling oil price and company cutbacks. A Kazakh-Chinese drilling company laid off 200 people in August.

Activists jailed after the 2011 strikes – which ended with police killing at least 16, and wounding 60, when they opened fire on protestors on 16 December 2011 – are under special scrutiny. “The security services have

Roza Tuletaeva. Photo: Saniya Toyken

Roza Tuletaeva. Photo: Saniya Toyken

been active, and have carried out ‘preventive discussions’ with activists, especially those who have been released from prison,” Respublika newspaper reported.

“They have promised [the activists] that they will again be put behind bars, especially if they try to influence trade union elections, as happened on 21 November in Zhanaozen.”

Akzhanat Aminov, one of the activists who was jailed and conditionally released, has been given an additional one year suspended sentence. That was a response to his election in June this year as chairman of the trade union committee of Ozenmunaigaz, the largest state-owned oil production company, the socialismkz.info site reported.

Roza Tuletaeva, a prominent trade union activist who was jailed at the Zhanaozen trial, said last month in a telephone interview with Radio Azattyq that she is back at work in the well drilling division of Ozenmunaigaz. She expressed concern for the condition of Maksat Dosmagambetov, her fellow activist who is seriously ill following torture in detention. Roza added that she remains in touch with the 12 other workers jailed at the Zhanaozen trial.

While the Zhanaozen prisoners have now been released, the politician Vladimir Kozlov of the democratic movement Alga was last week denied conditional release terms. He was jailed in a general crackdown following the oil workers’ strikes, of which he was a prominent supporter. GL, 13 December 2015.

Editor’s Note. My profound thanks to Gabriel Levy for his permission to reproduce these articles here.