2011 Mangystau riots
|2011 Mangystau riots|
The 2011 Mangystau riots took place in Kazakhstan's western Mangystau Province over the weekend of 16–17 December 2011. They resulted in at least 14 deaths as protesters in the oil town of Zhanaozen clashed with police on the country's Independence Day, with unrest spreading to other towns in the oil-rich oblast, or province.
Under President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan has grown richer from oil revenues. The country also has earned itself a reputation for stability in Central Asia. The country's democratic record, however, is very poor. Widespread corruption, electoral fraud, and violation of human rights are some of the most serious problems.
In May 2011, workers from the Ozenmunaigas oil field went on strike over unpaid danger money. The strike was declared illegal by local courts and the state oil company sacked nearly 1000 employees. Some of the sacked workers then staged a round-the-clock occupation of the town square in protest. In mid-December, some workers in the square began calling for the right to form independent political parties free of the government's influence. On 16 December, there were clashes between protesters and police who were attempting to evict them from the square in preparation for an Independence Day celebration. Activists claimed security officers opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. Authorities claimed that "bandits" infiltrated the protesters and began the riots first, producing video to support their version of events. Eleven were killed, according to government officials, though opposition sources put the death toll in the dozens. General Prosecutor Askhat Daulbayev claimed that "civilians, who had gathered in the main square to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the country's independence, were attacked by a group of hooligans". The Kazakh opposition TV channel K-Plus showed the beginning of the unrest, as men purported to be oil workers ran on the stage, tipped over the speakers and pushed around civilians before police arrived. In the disturbances which followed, local government offices, a hotel and an office of the state oil company were set on fire, according to Daulbayev. Eighty-six people were injured in the clashes, according to officials. Due to a shortage of hospital beds in Zhanaozen, many were taken to be treated in Aktau, around 150 km away.
On 17 December, a 20-day state of emergency was declared; roads into Zhanaozen were blocked, and the local airport closed to incoming flights. Mobile phone coverage was blocked for a small period of time, as were internet connections.
Workers on the Kalamkas and Karazhanbas oilfields went on strike in response to the events at Zhanaozen.
President Nazarbayev visited Mangystau Province several days after the initial eruption of unrest. He said on 22 December, while in Aktau, that he would fire his son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev, from his position as head of state-affiliated energy company KazMunaiGas over his handling of the crisis. Nazarbayev took a sympathetic tone toward protesters, saying, "The workers' demands were in general justified. ... [Employers] should have listened to them and, as much as it is possible, supported them. To my regret, this was not done."
Trials and allegations of torture and abuse
A trial of protesters began in Aktau in May 2012. Many defendants complained that they had been physically abused, and some even tortured, while in police custody and during interrogation. Some witnesses also claimed they had been threatened by police into giving false testimony. Several opposition figures were arrested in connection with the protests, including journalist Zhanbolat Mamay, politician Serik Sapargali, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan leader Vladimir Kozlov, and theater director Bolat Atabaev.Human Rights Watch protested the arrests, stating that "If the Kazakh authorities can prove these political activists were involved in the violence in Zhanaozen, they shouldn’t need to resort to using vague and undefined criminal allegations to imprison them ... The 'inciting social discord' charge should be dropped immediately and those against whom there is no evidence of any violent activity should be released from custody." Anti-censorship group ARTICLE 19 described the charges as "spurious" and "alarming", warning that the arrests of Atabaev and others would have "a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Kazakhstan".Amnesty International described the charge against Atabaev as "trumped-up", designating him a prisoner of conscience, "detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression".
Two further trials of security officials are currently taking place. In one, 5 police officers are accused of shooting demonstrators. In the other, the former chief of a police detention centre in Zhanaozen is being prosecuted in relation to the death of a suspect who was allegedly beaten to death.
In the media
Popular Kazakh singer Bavyrjan released a song which openly criticised president Nazarbayev for not listening to the complaints of Zhanaozen's demonstrating workers. The song was banned by the government.
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