Anger is mounting in Kazakhstan at a strict new residency registration law after two people dropped dead at government service centers processing the permits.
The recently implemented rules require people living anywhere for more than one month to register with the local authorities or face fines, which has led to massive crowds forming at government offices ill-equipped to handle the demand. Several hours of waiting to be served is reportedly the norm.
On January 16, 53-year old Zharas Kuntakov collapsed at an overcrowded Civilian Service Center (TsON in its Russian initials) in Almaty. The man was at the center with his father and wife and was seeking to register at his father’s home.
A witness who gave his name as Khalelkhan told Nur.kz news website that the man fell to the ground before his very eyes.
“I called the ambulance. He died five minutes later. His heart failed. The medics only arrived after an hour. Later they had to take him out through the back entrance,” Khalelkhan said.
The Government for Citizens, a state corporation created to handle the provision of government services, was swift to downplay the notion that the crowds caused by the registration drive were to blame for Kuntakov’s death and said there were few people around at the time of his collapse anyhow. Photos and video footage of the service center, however, tell another story.
Just for safe measure, Government for Citizens has advised anybody with chronic illnesses to refrain from visiting service centers at peak hours.
This is the second death at a TsON in the space of a few days. On January 11, a one-legged 59-year old man, Konysbek Salimbayev, collapsed and died after spending three hours waiting in line in crowded and airless premises.
After the second death, journalists grilled lawmaker Amanzhan Zhamalov whether he had any regrets about supporting the registration law, but he rejected the criticism, saying it was improper to link the fatalities to the legislation.
“You think a man died at a TsON because they announced that you have to undergo registration in Kazakhstan? He could just as successfully, probably, have died at home given his state of health. I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. Why don’t you ask the first aid medics about this,” Zhamalov blustered.
Video footage of the lawmaker making the remarks were widely circulated on social media and, predictably enough, set off yet more consternation, particularly at his use of the word “successfully.”
Azamat Maitanov, editor of Atyrau-based newspaper Ak-Zhaiyk, was particularly acid in his assessment of Zhamalov, who graduated in the 1980s from a Moscow institute of railway engineering.
“Engine operator Zhamalov could have as #successfully died, for example, falling off a train. But instead he became a member of parliament, and the only thing that died there was his conscience,” Maitanov wrote on his Facebook account.
Zhamalov was later forced to beg forgiveness of the relatives of the two people that died in the service centers and admitted that his wording was not appropriate.
While Zhamalov has accepted responsibility for his statements, no officials has yet remarked on the deaths or suggested authorities might be moved to take any preventative measures to safeguard the public physical and mental well-being.