A young man in southern Kazakhstan has committed suicide by setting himself alight in a gesture intended to draw attention to what he said was the injustice he has suffered at the hands of the police.
The desperate act bears echoes of a similar self-immolation by a street vendor in Tunisia in 2010, which sparked a wave of protests that led to the toppling of that country’s long-term president.
Yerlan Bektibayev, 20, set himself on fire on October 24 in front of the local headquarters of the ruling Nur Otan party in Taraz. The town was the center of much official coverage earlier this month, when it hosted celebrations to mark what Kazakhstan’s authorities say was the 550th anniversary of Kazakh statehood. Those festivities were designed in part to help shore up support for President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
“I have come here because I hope Nur Otan will help me,” Bektibayev said in a video later posted on YouTube. The footage then shows Bektibayev setting himself on fire before running while screaming with pain into the Nur Otan building.
Police said on October 26 that they had arrested people they suspect filmed the video, but did not specify on what charges. The person filming appears directly complicit in Bektibayev's self-immolation and makes no evident effort to aid the young man once he has followed through on the act.
In the video, Bektibayev explained that he was going to commit suicide because of injustices he believed he had suffered at the hands of the police and judicial system. He had spent time in jail for a murder he did not commit and the police once planted marijuana on him, Bektibayev said.
“That is the reason I am going to kill myself,” Bektibayev said. “I am sick of life. I don’t want to live anymore.”
Bektibayev was rushed to hospital, but later died of his burns.
Nur Otan staff “provided rapid assistance to the victim in extinguishing the fire” and called an ambulance, Zhasulan Abdihalyk, a Taraz-based spokesman for Nur Otan, later wrote on his Facebook page.
Bektibayev had not sought any assistance from Nur Otan, which is led by Nazarbayev, prior to running into the building, Abdihalyk said.
He also said that the young man had previously been convicted of “serious crimes” and possession of narcotics.
Disturbing acts of self-harm has long been a last-resort form of protest in Kazakhstan, where avenues for legal recourse often remain closed to those that feel they have suffered an injustice.
In 2011, a group of inmates at a prison in central Kazakhstan collectively slashed their abdomens in demand for improved living conditions.