Authorities in Kazakhstan are categorical about what they believe was the ultimate goal of last weekend’s protests against land reforms — to seize power by sowing unrest and ethnic hatred.
In a statement published on May 27, the General Prosecutor’s Office laid out a stark declaration of intent on how it intends to proceed against future displays of antigovernment activity.
The prosecutor’s office is attempting to cast the government as the reasonable party, arguing that it invited people that had announced their intent to take part in the unsanctioned May 21 rallies to engage in “clarificatory activities.” That term is typically a euphemism for preventative summons issued to individuals suspected of planning to participate in anti-government demonstrations.
“Despite that, certain people tried to ignore the law on meetings and to provoke people into taking part in illegal actions,” the prosecutor’s statement said. “Their final goal was not to hold peaceful meetings and to seek changes to the land code, but to destabilize to social and political situation, to incite ethnic hatred and to seize power.”
The General Prosecutor’s Office certainly seems to adopt a loose definition what clarification constitutes. In several cases, it consisted of jailing people for intent to rally. For what it’s worth (not much as it turns out), Kazakhstan is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which grants citizens the right to protest peacefully. Laws on public assembly in Kazakhstan severely curtail that privilege, however, so the prosecutors are in effect on formally legitimate grounds when they formulate their accusations.
As the prosecutor’s office argues, demonstrators hoped the rallies would degenerate into pogroms, violence and marauding that could claim human lives. Aping the message telegraphed by media loyal to the government, the statement suggests parallels with Libya, Syria and Egypt.
Officials say rally organizers used a variety of methods to incite violence.
“In Kyzylorda, stones were thrown at police to provoke them into using force. Afterward, photos of man supposedly killed by police were posted online. In reality this image was from an incident that took place in China,” the statement read.
The most incendiary accusation relates to the claimed discovery several days before the attempted rally in Almaty of a cache of weapons, including clubs, ammunition for firearms and Molotov cocktails.
In the government account of events, the multiple planned rallies across Kazakhstan were all “links in one chain,” which is to imply that they were coordinated by a single interested party and in no way motivated by any genuine social grievances.
If there was the slightest suspicion that the robust police reaction to the May 21 rallies might have been the work of overzealous officers acting out of turn, the General Prosecutor’s Office statement will have put any such thoughts to rest.
Even as Kazakhstan wines and dines foreign dignitaries and investors at its vaunted Astana Economic Forum, the stage is being set for a new descent into authoritarian oppression that will be marked by arbitrary arrests and kangaroo courts.