ProtectDefenders.eu partners have received alerts about the ongoing situation in Kazakhstan that has escalated to a deeply concerning level of violence. Activists and journalists in the country are reporting on worrying developments: the unwarranted killings of civilians, targeted attacks of activists (the majority of which are engaging in peaceful protests), arbitrary arrests to deter further demonstrations, periodically shutting down access to the internet and messaging platforms – in an attempt to control the information that the people of Kazakhstan receive and send.
The current situation evolved after peaceful protests against rising fuel prices in the town of Zhanaozen spread to several other cities across the country, with thousands of people participating and additional demands being voiced by protestors. On 5 January, clashes ensued in Almaty between law enforcement and security forces and protesters, some of which seized government buildings and other public property, including Almaty airport. Late on 5 January, a nationwide state of emergency was declared in Kazakhstan following the earlier resignation of the government cabinet and a pledge by President Tokayev to use the ‘’harshest possible’’ measures against the protesters.
According to official information, at least 300 people have been injured, and several dozen police officers and protesters have died during clashes. The exact number of casualties and deaths among protesters is unclear at this time, reinforcing concerns about the disproportionate use of force. According to the authorities, over 3000 persons have been detained so far during the protests across the country. According to observers, detainees have been denied access to lawyers, and there are serious concerns about the failure to safeguard their right to due process and fair trials. There have been re-occurring internet outages in the country, and some journalists have been detained when carrying out their professional obligations. The well-documented pattern of systematic violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Kazakhstan reinforces concerns regarding the current situation.
On 7 January 2022, journalist and human rights defender Lukpan Akhmedyarov was detained upon leaving the editorial office of the “Uralsk Week” in Uralsk, Kazakhstan. Later the same day, he was sentenced to ten days of administrative arrest for participation in an unsanctioned demonstration. According to his lawyer, Mereke Gabdualiev, the human rights defender was present at the demonstration in his journalistic capacity, but the court refused to take this into account. On 10 January 2022, the court upheld the decision despite the appeal by Lukpan Akhmedyarov’ lawyer to his detention.
Independent journalists and media are having major difficulties covering the unprecedented anti-government protests in Kazakhstan. They face arbitrary arrests, police violence, blocked telecommunications and Internet cuts. Groups of rioters have been responsible for some of the violence against journalists. The authorities obstruct the work of journalists and media outlets in an effort to maintain their control over news and information. On top of cutting internet access and censoring independent media outlets, the latest method used by the government to prevent independent coverage of the protests and crackdown is to keep the international media at bay.
Kazakhstan is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.