Kazakhstan: repressive response to mass fuel protests condemned

Mass protests triggered over rapidly increasing prices for liquefied petroleum gas 

Police have reportedly arrested at least 200 protesters

‘For years, the government has relentlessly persecuted peaceful dissent’ – Marie Struthers

Security forces on the streets of Almaty © Getty/Valery Sharifulin/TASS

Amnesty International has called for the authorities in Kazakhstan to end their repressive response to large-scale protests over rapidly increasing prices for liquefied petroleum gas – which many people use to power their cars – that have swept through the country in recent days. 

On 2 January, protests erupted in the Mangystau Region in south-east Kazakhstan over gas price increases, before spreading into several other major cities – including the biggest city, Almaty.

The protests – which have also focused on deteriorating living standards – have gradually turned violent, with reports of protesters damaging police cars and storming the Almaty city administration’s office today.

In response, police have fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters, while President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has said in a televised address that he plans “to act as toughly as possible”. The authorities introduced a state of emergency in the Mangystau Region, Almaty and some other cities on Tuesday and Wednesday, and have reportedly also restricted the internet and social media, warning all media against violating Kazakhstan’s unduly restrictive media law.
 
Police said they have arrested at least 200 protesters and that dozens of officers have been injured. Security officials arbitrarily detained and questioned at least two senior journalists from the RFE/RL’s local Azzattyk radio service.

Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, said:

“The protests unfolding in Kazakhstan, which have turned violent, are a direct consequence of the authorities’ widespread repression of basic human rights. 

“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. 

“Protesters accused of internationally-recognised crimes for violent actions should be provided with fair trials in accordance with international human rights law.
 
“Kazakhstan’s commitments under international law and its own constitution enshrine the right to peaceful assembly. The authorities must honour these obligations, protect peaceful protesters and respect free speech. 

“They must also ensure that police do not use unlawful and excessive force. Any police officer or other official responsible for inflicting human rights violations must be held to account.”

Years of repression 

For years, the Kazakhstani authorities have repressed the basic rights of people in the country by banning peaceful protests and opposition political parties. Numerous peaceful protest leaders, human rights defenders, bloggers and others have been jailed following unfair trials. In 2011, least 14 protesters were killed after police cracked down on a demonstration in the city of Zhanaozen.