Kazakhstan Government Says It Has Detained Over 5,000 Protesters as Clampdown Worsens

By Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.
January 10, 2022Updated: January 10, 2022

The Kazakhstan government has declared it has detained over 5,000 people as political unrest continues to unfold around the country.

In an official update from Kazakh President Kassem-Jomart Tokayev on Jan. 9, Kazakh authorities announced that they had detained 5,800 people, many of whom they labelled “foreigners.”

The news of the arrests comes after Kazakh officials said that 164 people have officially died in the ongoing violence.

However, there are unconfirmed reports from Kazakhs on social media sites like Twitter that the actual death toll is much higher as government forces implement Tokayev’s “shoot without warning” order.

The shoot-to-kill order from Tokayev has come under international criticism from both human rights groups like Amnesty International and the United States government, with Secretary of State Anthony Blinkin stating on Jan. 9 he completely rejects the concept.

“The shoot-to-kill order, to the extent it exists, is wrong and should be rescinded,” Blinkin said. “Kazakhstan has the ability to maintain law and order, to defend the institutions of the state, but to do so in a way that respects the rights of peaceful protesters and also addresses the concerns that they’ve raised—economic concerns, some political concerns.”

State Calls Unrest Hybrid Terrorist Attack

It comes as Kazakh Secretary of State Yerlan Karin told national TV channel Khabar 24 on Jan. 9 that the original protests were “large-scale” and “peaceful,” but that they had been hijacked by what he termed a hybrid terrorist attack.

“The ultimate goal is difficult to say now, but I think that we are faced with a hybrid terrorist attack on Kazakhstan, with the ultimate goal of general destabilization and the implementation of a possible coup d’etat,” Karin said, reported Tengrinews.

He said that the current government assessment was that it appeared some unknown force wanted to start a revolution in the country, but it was not able to and resorted to the current unrest.

“The circumstances in our country are different: The position of the authorities is quite stable. They would not allow the implementation of the classic versions of a color revolution,” Karin said. “This led them to try another way of destabilizing the situation, but with the use of radical and terrorist groups.”

The comments have been refuted by Kazakhs on social media—particularly those in the city of Almaty, which has seen the bulk of the security forces’ attention—who argued there are not any terrorists on the streets in the country’s largest city.

Epoch Times Photo
A burned car is seen in front of the mayor’s office building which was torched during protests triggered by a fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Jan. 6, 2022. (Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters)

The Kazakh government is being supported by the Russian-backed Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), of which Kazakhstan is a member. The CSTO has sent in peacekeeping troops from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Belarus, and Russia, while the Russian Ministry of Defense has said that it is deploying more than 70 Il-76 and five An-124 aircraft of the “Russian contingent of the CSTO peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan around the clock.”

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan is also facing a cash and food shortage after the KazakhTelecom, the government-owned telecommunication giant, began throttling Internet access on Jan. 4, leaving residents unable to get access to their money after debit card terminals, which rely on the Internet and dominate retail outlets across the country, were shut down.

This has left Kazakhs little choice but to form long lines at ATMs across the country.

Nurserik Zholbarys, a resident of the country’s capital Nur-Sultan, told Eurasianet that he waited over 30 minutes in a line to withdraw 10,000 tenge ($23) from a SberBank ATM, the daily limit allowed in the country.

Zholbarys said he was doubtful he would be able to get more after banks started to temporarily shut down ATMs due to the inability to transfer funds to the machines.

The ongoing crisis has also claimed the jobs of the former government, which resigned on day three of the protest, as well as seen the arrest of the former head of the national security committee and former prime minister Karim Massimov, on suspicion of high treason on Jan. 8.

Karim Massimov
Karim Massimov, chairman of the National Security Council of Kazakhstan, meets with Chinese deputy leader Wang Qishan at Zhongnanhai in Beijing on April 8, 2019. (Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool via Reuters)

Massimov, who was fired after the protest erupted around the country, is a long-term ally of the former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose continuing influence over the state has been a target of the protesters, with many demonstrations featuring the chant “Old Man Go” in reference to Nazarbayev. In other parts of the country, protesters have posted images on Twitter of pulled down statues of Nazarbayev.

The protests, which started on Jan. 2 in the west of the country in the city of Zhanaozen and the Mangistau region, began in response to an increase in fuel price to 120 tenge (27 cents) from last year’s 60 tenge (14 cents).

Kazakh petroleum prices had previously been regulated and subsidized in the country. However, in 2019 the government decided to institute an electronic pricing system to end subsidies for domestic liquefied petroleum gas customers and allow the market to dictate prices instead, and in some provinces like Mangistau, there have been steep jumps in prices.

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