Kazakhstan: Top Brass Go Free as Police Face Zhanaozen Shooting Charges
Where does the buck stop over last month’s deadly violence in and around Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan? The answer is: Pretty low.A handful of police officers face trial for shooting protestors, while oil executives and local officials face corruption charges. Yet no one very senior will be in the dock, while the courts will be jammed with protestors charged over the violence – outnumbering the police facing trial by over 10 times. Opposition activists being blamed for incitement face long prison sentences.A total of five police officers face charges. The most senior is the deputy regional police chief, identified as Utegaliyev, held responsible for failing to “prevent the illegal actions of subordinates,” Prosecutor-General Askhat Daulbayev said late January 25, releasing the investigation’s preliminary results. Three officers face charges of exceeding their authority and causing fatalities, including Zhanaozen’s deputy police chief, Bagdayev. The investigation says 15 people died in Zhanaozen-related unrest: 14 in Zhanaozen, plus one shot dead by police in Shetpe when protests spread. Officials say two other deaths in Zhanaozen were “not linked to the mass unrest;” previously they had said one person died in a fire set by looters and another was shot dead by a resident of Zhanaozen in a related incident. Sixty-four civilians sustained firearms injuries; 35 police sustained bodily injuries.Another man was beaten to death in police custody – but the direct culprits have not been found. The officer in charge of the remand center where police inflicted fatal injuries on Bazarbay Kenzhebayev faces charges of negligence. No other officers yet face charges over allegations of widespread torture in custody.Fifty-five protestors face trial, nine on charges of organizing the riots (facing prison sentences of up to 10 years), 35 on charges of participating (facing sentences of up to eight years), and 11 on lesser charges.Back in Almaty security services carried out a raid on the opposition earlier this week, rounding up Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the unregistered opposition Alga! party, who – along with Alga! activists Ayzhangul Amirova and Serik Sapargali – now faces charges of “inciting social enmity” in Zhanaozen and a sentence of up to 12 years. Newspaper editor Igor Vinyavskiy, arrested on January 23 like Kozlov, is being held on suspicion of advocating the overthrow of the constitutional order, the National Security Committee says. OSCE media freedom representative Dunja Mijatovic has called for his “immediate release.”The investigation into the Zhanaozen violence found that corruption exacerbated socioeconomic problems that fueled the original protests dating back to May. Zhanaozen’s mayor, Zhalgas Babakhanov, and predecessor Orak Sarbopeyev face charges of embezzling money intended for socioeconomic development, as do five oil company officials.