Human rights advocates expressed alarm Friday after Kazakhstan’s president ordered security forces to “shoot to kill without warning” protesters engaged in ongoing demonstrations over high fuel prices, economic inequality, and corruption.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced he had given the order in a speech as he also accused media outlets of encouraging unrest and claimed without evidence that demonstrators have taken orders from a “single command post” and have “a clear plan of attacks on military, administrative, and social facilities in all areas.”
“They need to be destroyed and this will be done,” said Tokayev of the demonstrators, adding that suggestions of negotiating peacefully with the public were “just nonsense.”
Noting that authorities “have a duty to maintain order,” Amnesty International said on social media that “giving blanket approval for police officers and troops to fire without warning is unlawful and a recipe for disaster.”
The popular uprising began Sunday in the western city of Zhanaozen after the government lifted a cap on the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is used widely by Kazakh drivers. After the cap was lifted, gas station prices quickly doubled from the equivalent of $0.14 to $0.28 per liter.
The protests unfolding in #Kazakhstan, which have turned violent, are a direct consequence of the authorities’ widespread repression of basic human rights. Here's what you need to know. pic.twitter.com/7444p7n9GJ— Amnesty International (@amnesty) January 6, 2022
The price hike exacerbated simmering anger over economic inequality in the oil-rich Central Asian country, where the average worker earns less than $600 per month and wealth is concentrated among the very rich.
“The only thing flourishing in Kazakhstan is corruption,” a protester identified as Saule told Euronews Friday.
🇰🇿 "The only thing flourishing in Kazakhstan is corruption".— euronews (@euronews) January 7, 2022
Protesters decry the Kazakh government amid widespread unrest gripping the country.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev recently authorised police to 'shoot to kill without warning' to deal with the protests. pic.twitter.com/BbG2lpipBA
As the demonstrations grew, protesters expressed anger over a system in which the president appoints regional leaders rather than holding elections. On Friday, attendees at a rally in Zhanaozen called for a return to the constitution that was in place after Kazakhstan became an independent country in 1991, which had “a more democratic tone and a clearer division of power than the current one,” according to the Washington Post.
“The protests unfolding in Kazakhstan, which have turned violent, are a direct consequence of the authorities’ widespread repression of basic human rights.”
The government has agreed to some concessions since the unrest began, announcing a new cap on LPG prices and utility bills on Thursday, dismissing Tokayev’s cabinet, and suggesting that Parliament could be dissolved and new elections could be held.
But Tokayev has blamed tens of thousands of demonstrators for the escalation of unrest, including a fire that was set at City Hall in Almaty, the nation’s largest city, on Wednesday. He also called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops into the country, a move Tokayev said Friday had helped his government regain power.
Security forces have reportedly killed at least 26 people since the protests began, with the Interior Ministry saying the “armed criminals” had been “liquidated.” Authorities also said Friday that nearly 4,000 “riot participants” had been detained and blamed demonstrators for the deaths of 13 police officers.
Authorities said they were carrying out an “anti-terrorist operation” in Almaty, leading protesters to gather with signs reading, “We are residents of Almaty, not terrorists.”
“The protests unfolding in Kazakhstan, which have turned violent, are a direct consequence of the authorities’ widespread repression of basic human rights,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, on Wednesday. “For years, the government has relentlessly persecuted peaceful dissent, leaving the Kazakhstani people in a state of agitation and despair.”
“Instead of threatening to crack down on protesters, the Kazakhstani authorities must resolve the situation peacefully by immediately and unconditionally releasing all those who have been arbitrarily detained and addressing past abuses committed by the state,” Struthers added. “Protesters accused of internationally recognized crimes for violent actions should be provided with fair trials in accordance with international human rights law.”
Free press advocates also condemned reports that at least eight journalists have been detained for reporting on the uprising while at least two news sites have been blocked for covering the events of the past week.
The Ministry of Information said as the protests grew that outlets which “knowingly [spread] false information” would face an increased maximum penalty of up to seven years in prison.
“We call on the Kazakh government to cease detaining members of the media, ensure the free flow of information, and take all possible measures to ensure the safety of journalists on the ground,” said Gulnoza Said, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
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