Reports of torture and other ill-treatment by security forces continued unabated, despite government claims that it was successfully addressing these violations. Security forces used excessive force to break up large-scale protest strikes by oil and gas workers and detained dozens of protesters and their supporters, as well as trade union and opposition activists. At least 16 people were killed during clashes between protesters and police in December. A trade union lawyer was sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly inciting social discord during the strikes. The authorities forcibly returned asylum-seekers and refugees to China and Uzbekistan despite international protests and interventions by the UN.
In April, President Nursultan Nazarbaev won uncontested elections with over 95 per cent of the vote. The OSCE concluded that the vote had been marred by “serious irregularities”. Shortly afterwards, the President announced his intention of creating a two-party parliament and, in November, he dissolved the one-party parliament and called early elections for January 2012.
The authorities stepped up counter-terrorism operations targeting unregistered or banned Islamic groups and Islamist parties and organizations following an unprecedented number of bomb explosions, suspected suicide bombings and violent attacks by unidentified armed groups throughout the country. At least 35 people, including security forces and civilians, were killed during these violent incidents which the authorities described as terrorist attacks by illegal Islamist groups. Human rights groups claimed that the authorities used these alleged threats to national security to tighten state control over religious groups. In October, a new law imposed strict regulations on religious organizations, making it compulsory for them to re-register with the state within 12 months or face closure. All mosques were required to come under the authority of the state-controlled Muslim Board or would be outlawed.
On 16 December, in the worst confrontation in recent history, celebrations of the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence in the south-western oil city of Zhanaozen were marred by violent clashes between protesters and police. At least 15 people were killed and more than 100 seriously injured. One protester was killed later in a separate incident. Officials reported 42 buildings burned down or destroyed, including the town hall. The President imposed a 20-day state of emergency in Zhanaozen, sent in military reinforcements and set up a special commission to investigate the violence. All communications with the town were temporarily cut off. The President, who visited the city on 22 December, blamed the violence on “young hooligans” who had taken advantage of the dissatisfaction and anger of the striking workers to destroy and loot public and private property. He said security forces had acted strictly within the law. However, the Prosecutor General’s Office opened a criminal investigation into the use of force by security forces after video footage of the events was released. It also invited the UN to join an impartial investigation into the violence.Top of page
In July, the UN Human Rights Committee discussed Kazakhstan’s report on implementing the ICCPR. It regretted that Kazakhstan had not made more progress in eliminating torture and questioned the political will of the authorities to fulfil their commitments, especially in initiating effective investigations into allegations of torture or other ill-treatment. In the same month, in a retrograde move, the President signed a decree authorizing the transfer of the prison system back to the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, thereby defeating years of reform efforts by government and NGOs. Access by public monitors to prisons and pre-trial detention centres had greatly improved since their transfer to the authority of the Ministry of Justice in 2004. In contrast, access to police cells and other places of detention under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs remained problematic and most allegations of torture continued to be received from there.
Thousands of oil industry workers in south-western Kazakhstan staged a series of strikes and public protests from May onwards, following disputes over pay and working conditions. The companies took legal action: the strikes were declared illegal and hundreds of striking employees were dismissed.
The authorities used excessive force to break up the protests, including in Zhanaozen, and arrested dozens of striking workers as well as trade union and opposition political party activists. Most were sentenced to short administrative terms of detention or fined. Security forces also threatened, detained and beat relatives and supporters of the striking workers, and harassed human rights monitors. Independent journalists covering the strike were assaulted by unidentified attackers in October. The failure of the authorities to investigate such violations added to the workers’ grievances and increased tensions. However, the events of 16 December in Zhanaozen took national and international scrutiny to a higher level. Following a visit to Zhanaozen on 22 December, the President dismissed senior regional and national oil and gas company executives and the regional governor for failing to adequately address the demands of the striking oil workers.
The authorities increased efforts to forcibly return asylum-seekers and refugees to China and Uzbekistan, despite international protests and interventions by the UN.
The men originally fled Uzbekistan, fearing that they would be persecuted due to their religious beliefs, practices or affiliations with banned or unregistered Islamist organizations. They were detained in June 2010, at the request of the Uzbekistan government. Appeals had been lodged against the decision to extradite them, but they were rejected by a district court in Almaty on 15 March.Top of page