One 12 months in the past, state media largely ignored the most important outbreak of civil unrest in Kazakhstan’s historical past. The job of informing the general public objectively in regards to the widespread protests fell on impartial reporters and some so-called citizen journalists and bloggers who did their jobs at nice private danger. These journalists had been attacked by protesters, assailed and tear-gassed by police, shot with rubber bullets, detained, and in some instances arrested, overwhelmed, and imprisoned.
When the air, so not too long ago full of smoke from grenades and bullets, each rubber and actual, cleared, reporters had been those urgent the federal government for a full accounting of the 238 folks killed, greater than 4,500 injured, round 10,000 detained, and a number of other hundred reportedly tortured.
That is the story of the Qandy Qantar — “Bloody January” — rebellion by means of the eyes of those that lined it, starting in Zhanaozen and ending in Almaty.
TARAZ, Kazakhstan: Nuradin Rakay had not left his home in 5 days. He’d heard by means of colleagues that he was on an inventory of individuals to be arrested after having attended town’s January 2022 protests.
Nuradin mentioned he had gone to town middle as an impartial journalist on January 4 however hadn’t worn his press vest as he livestreamed the protest to his Fb web page. However then, Nuradin — a former press secretary to the regional mayor and adviser to town mayor — put down his digital camera and in an authoritative voice made two speeches, every lasting a few minute.
Afterward, a policeman pulled Nuradin from the gang and urged him to go away instantly. He did. Minutes later, police wearing black garments and surgical masks started grabbing protesters and ushering them into police buses. Two journalists had been briefly detained. A 3rd, Aizhan Auelbekova, a correspondent for Vremya, was taken to the police station the place she mentioned she was overwhelmed earlier than being launched three hours later.
Nuradin was summoned to the police station, too. Police instructed him there can be an investigation, suggested him to return dwelling, and warned him not depart his home. For days Nuradin waited. By associates he discovered how hundreds of protesters had amassed on the sq. and the way the peaceable rally had became a lethal riot.
On the evening of January 6, protesters set fireplace to the buildings of the regional mayor, a political social gathering constructing, a number of police buildings, and a pre-trial detention middle.
Safety forces returned fireplace on what they mentioned was an armed group of protesters. The Zhambyl regional mayor mentioned 15 folks had been killed, all from bullet wounds. (RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, Radio Azattyq, lists 18 deaths from the region.) Greater than 288 folks had been injured, most of them between 17 and 25 years previous.
On January 9, Nuradin heard the knock at his entrance door that he’d been anticipating.
About 110 miles west of Taraz lies Shymkent, with a inhabitants simply over 1 million — greater than twice that of Taraz. Though the 2 cities in southern Kazakhstan are dissimilar in some ways, the protests and regulation enforcement response in each throughout early January performed out in eerily comparable methods. Like Taraz, protests in Shymkent began round midday on January 4 however had been scattered all through town.
On that day, Dilara Isa, 36, then a reporter for Azattyq, seen a number of folks sitting in a automobile watching her home. Dilara was used to seeing such watchers. For years, folks wearing civilian garments would present up exterior her home and comply with her any time there was a protest. Dilara usually took the bus to protests as a result of she felt safer amid the opposite passengers. However not less than one of many watchers would get on the bus, too, after which openly take footage of her. A number of instances Dilara confronted the watchers — who she believes are police or state safety officers, often known as KNB — demanding to know why they had been following her and taking her image. However they by no means answered.
When Dilara arrived on the sq. in entrance of town corridor on January 4, she seen about 20 protesters and the identical individuals who had been staking out her home. Dilara traveled across the metropolis filming sporadic protests that had been rapidly quashed when police hauled away a few of the protesters. Wherever she went, the watchers adopted her.
Sporting a press vest and a masks with the Azattyq brand, Dilara livestreamed the peaceable rallies on to the Azattyq web site. She filmed folks holding up the Kazakhstan flag and singing the nationwide anthem. At one level whereas she was filming police arresting protesters, a feminine police officer, who Dilara knew, demanded she cease recording. Dilara requested the officer to not disrupt her work, however the officer stood in entrance of her digital camera and frequently blocked Dilara’s view.
By 8:30 p.m. about 5,000 folks had gathered on Al-Farabi Avenue between Shymkent Plaza, which homes a multi-level procuring middle and the Russian Drama Theater.
“For a second, the gang and the police appeared at a loss as to what to do subsequent,” Dilara mentioned.
Police blocked the streets however stopped attempting to detain anybody. Then the web ceased working, however Dilara continued to movie.
“All I used to be considering is that I’ve to cowl every little thing as a result of I used to be the one journalist there,” she mentioned. “The entire duty to cowl this fell on me.”
Protesters made an inventory of social calls for and insisted police launch people who had been detained. By 11 p.m. greater than 10,000 folks crowded into the world close to the plaza. The gang was loud however peaceable. They demanded town mayor tackle them; when he didn’t seem, they determined to stroll to metropolis corridor, about 5 and half miles away.
As the gang marched they sang the nationwide anthem and stopped site visitors. These in automobiles turned on patriotic songs at full quantity and rolled down their home windows. Some shouted: “Outdated man go away!” “Get up Kazakhs!” “Down with corruption!”
The procession stretched for greater than a mile. Residents stood on their balconies on either side of the streets to look at. Protesters inspired the bystanders to hitch them.
Most protesters had been younger, Dilara mentioned. Many had been girls and activists, however there additionally was a contingent of males carrying beards and quick pants — distinctly Islamic costume — who shouted “Allahu Akbar” — “God is the best.” Some protesters suggested the gang to not destroy property.
When the gang reached metropolis corridor at 1:30 a.m. on January 5, they had been met by a further 1,000 protesters already gathered on town sq.. Dilara noticed folks attempting to get into metropolis corridor.
The peaceable rally then turned ugly: Somebody threw stones and broke home windows at metropolis corridor.
“I couldn’t consider my eyes once I noticed somebody climb on high of the police automobile and began kicking it and breaking home windows,” Dilara mentioned. When she obtained nearer, she noticed that the police automobile had been turned over.
“One in all them mentioned: ‘Let’s destroy all of the automobiles.’ In 10 minutes, the home windows of dozens of police automobiles had been smashed,” she mentioned. “There was smoke and mud combined within the air.”
“Individuals Had been Crying and Struggling”
On January 9, three days after the protests led to Taraz, Nuradin opened his entrance door to search out police wearing civilian garments.
“They took me to the station and arrested me,” Nuradin mentioned. “I used to be overwhelmed. They beat me with their arms, with a gun, with a baton. I used to be primarily overwhelmed on my physique, on my kidneys. But it surely wasn’t solely me. We had been in a small barracks, and so they had been bringing increasingly folks —greater than 100 folks. There was no air in there. Individuals had been crying and struggling.”
Nuradin mentioned he was compelled to go by means of a small hall the place police had been beating 10 folks at a time.
“I assumed that I used to be going to die,” he mentioned. He questioned what would come subsequent and whether or not he may maintain the blows.
Listening to the cries of others being overwhelmed introduced him again to the second and the query of why he was punished for talking up. He mirrored on what he’d mentioned on the sq.. He thought he was doing the correct factor, advising the protesters to not destroy property and to make their calls for recognized to the mayor.
Police, carrying masks and civilian garments, compelled him and others to lie in a inclined place whereas the beating resumed. The primary day he fell unconscious after he was overwhelmed. He had a tough time respiratory. Then his kidneys stopped working and for 3 days he couldn’t urinate.
Because the beatings continued, Nuradin fell out and in of consciousness. He was afraid sooner or later he merely wouldn’t get up. “I assumed if I die, I won’t be able to show that I’m not responsible,” he mentioned.
Police dragged him right into a particular room for interrogation and used psychological methods on him. “They’d inform me: ‘Yesterday we noticed you with a grenade in your arms; we noticed you with a gun.’ ”
Throughout the interrogation he wasn’t allowed to take a look at his interrogators. Throughout beatings he mentioned he was made to face the wall or away from the particular person administering the punishment. “They pressure you to say that you just noticed some particular person, you knew some particular person. For those who refused to say what they instructed you, they made you enter the room the place the beatings passed off.”
Nuradin continued to insist he was harmless. He’d been at dwelling since January 4, adhering to the police warning to not return to town sq..
“I used to be fairly a well-known journalist round right here, and I additionally had some official place within the mayor’s workplace as an adviser,” he defined.
He mentioned his interrogators knew this and taunted him. “They mentioned: ‘Effectively, why don’t you write about this then?’”
After studying that he had been detained, many associates had been afraid to go his home, he mentioned. The neighborhood handled his household as if he had grow to be “an enemy of the nation.”
“My spouse and youngsters didn’t know if I used to be alive or useless,” he mentioned.
Protesters Grow to be Aggressive
Because the protest within the early morning hours of January 5 grew violent, the protesters turned extra aggressive towards Dilara, too. One man scolded Dilara for filming the violence, saying her pictures and movies would get protesters in bother. She ignored him. Others grabbed at her arm, attempting to yank away her telephone. A younger man with a beard and quick trousers yelled at her to cease filming. She instructed him to not intervene. A young person with the person mentioned they’d inform the “abi” and he would break her telephone. An “abi” is the chief of a non secular group.
Dilara seen that the protesters who smashed home windows and broken automobiles had been totally different from the peaceable protesters who’d put ahead calls for, sang the nationwide anthem, and suggested others within the crowd to not destroy property.
As protesters grew extra aggressive towards her, Dilara determined she wanted to go away. Her husband had joined her as soon as she’d reached metropolis corridor, however by then she felt it was too harmful for the 2 of them. Her husband drove them dwelling round 3 a.m., adopted by the automobile stuffed with watchers.
From dwelling, Dilara and her husband may nonetheless hear the sound of exploding stun grenades coming from the neighborhood of metropolis corridor, a 15-minute drive from their home.
Witnesses known as her on the telephone and mentioned safety forces had been utilizing a water cannon.
The morning of January 5, Dilara went to metropolis corridor and noticed police and troopers lined up in entrance of the constructing. Close by had been a dozen destroyed and overturned police automobiles.
“Town appeared to be gripped by an incomprehensible worry,” she mentioned. All over the place she went, folks had been whispering that one other protest was deliberate for that night at metropolis corridor. “Individuals had been warned to take money from the banks. Some banks had stopped working. They had been warned to get groceries earlier than 5 p.m. as a result of the retailers had been closing. There was a variety of panic.”
Dilara deliberate to cowl the protest a second evening, however when she known as her editor on the Azattyq workplace in Almaty, she was instructed that journalists in Almaty had been shot at. Editors had been ordering reporters to remain dwelling.
From dwelling at about 9 p.m., Dilara mentioned she once more heard the sound of stun grenades coming from metropolis corridor. Two hours later, a number of activists she knew known as her and mentioned folks had been shot, some fatally, and lots of had been injured. Why wasn’t she there? They requested. She instructed every of them that she’d been ordered to remain away by her editors.
Dilara mentioned she fought the urge to return to the scene all evening.
The calls saved coming till 3 a.m. She reminded herself she was the married mom of 4 youngsters.
“I couldn’t shut my eyes,” she mentioned.
The taking pictures continued till 6 a.m., she mentioned.
Later that morning, Dilara went to metropolis corridor and located 50 to 60 protesters milling about. Troopers encircled the mayor’s burned-out workplace constructing. There was blood on the bottom and bullet casings. Cobblestone on the sq. was destroyed. Vehicles had been burned.
A number of activists instructed her how members of the army and particular forces had begun taking pictures and the way ambulances couldn’t attain injured folks.
“I regretted then that I didn’t come out at evening and document what was taking place,” she mentioned.
Like a Russian Crime Film
On his fourth day in detention, January 12, Nuradin turned 35. He didn’t know the way lengthy he was going to have to remain in that place.
In some unspecified time in the future, Nuradin mentioned he had a trial earlier than a decide who appeared on a video monitor. “The decide instructed me that there ought to simply be a warning and I ought to must pay a nice.”
“I instructed them that I’m not going to pay cash and that if I’ve any guilt, I’ll go to jail. I’m not in any situation to pay any cash. I’ve 5 youngsters to lift.”
Some detainees had been fined about 60,000 tenge, about $124, and had been comfortable to pay to be free of police detention, he mentioned. Others acquired 10 days of administrative detention and didn’t dispute the sentencing as a result of it meant they may depart the barracks the place they had been overwhelmed each day.
On January 21, Nuradin was launched. He posted about his 13 days in police detention on Fb.
“For half a month they investigated whether or not I used to be a terrorist,” he wrote. “It was a scene from an everyday Russian crime film. What did the chief of the social gathering whose constructing burnt down acquire from scary journalists? I’m not a terrorist.”
Nuradin’s physique was purple with bruises and his head was swollen from being hit, he mentioned. After his launch, he was nonetheless having problem urinating and sought medical remedy. He mentioned docs on the hospital instructed him his kidneys had been barely broken, however it wasn’t important.
Discovering a job was his greatest problem. After his detention, he mentioned corporations had been afraid to rent him. “They had been considering that I’d carry issues.”
It took 5 months, however he lastly was employed as a journalist at Channel 31, he mentioned. He had beforehand labored for the channel for 9 years till 2019. After that he labored as a press secretary for the regional mayor. And after that job, he labored as an advisor within the Division of State Architectural and Building Management.
Nuradin contends that earlier than he made his speech on January 4, he resigned from his metropolis place “so no one would have issues due to me.” However on his Fb web page, Nuradin twice instructed his readers that he was fired from his job.
A Secret Doc
Dilara was decided to search out out what had occurred late January 5 and early January 6 when the taking pictures began in Shymkent. She interviewed witnesses, the injured, and households of the useless.
Dilara needed to know the way 73 folks had been shot and 20 killed, and why police had detained greater than 3,500 folks. She wrote tales in regards to the useless and lined their instances in court docket as prosecutors labeled them “terrorists.”
“All these tales began to have an effect on me psychologically,” she mentioned. “The deeper I obtained within the tales, the small print of how a few of them died, and the way others had been purely unintentional had an impact on me.”
Dilara believed her telephone was tapped and that she remained underneath surveillance by the KNB or police, so she was cautious about the place and the way she interviewed folks. A supply, whose identification she continues to guard, offered her a secret police investigative doc in regards to the 20 folks killed in the course of the protests.
“It was an important doc,” she mentioned. “My editors had been shocked.”
For weeks, metropolis officers denied that police and army had used stay ammunition in opposition to protesters. The key doc Dilara acquired offered plain proof that metropolis officers had sanctioned police and particular forces to make use of lethal pressure on protesters.
In accordance with the doc, about 11 p.m. on January 5, Shymkent metropolis officers licensed the police and army officers to fireside 9 mm caliber pistols and 12 mm computerized weapons on protesters.
“The protesters had been in a state of alcoholic intoxication, weren’t afraid of stun grenades, tear gasoline, and water cannons, had been extremely aggressive and used smoothbore weapons and different weapons, threw Molotov cocktails, and attacked the police and the army from all aspect,” the doc acknowledged.
Twenty-three army, 51 cops and two medical staff had been injured, in line with the doc; 142 police and army automobiles had been burned or broken. The doc additionally listed objects stolen in the course of the protests: two Makarov pistols, 151 items of physique armor, 81 shields, 57 helmets, 110 rubber batons, 51 radios.
Of the 20 folks killed, solely three had traces of alcohol of their system, in line with the doc. Solely a kind of killed was discovered with a weapon: an computerized pistol and 4 rounds of ammunition.
The households of the useless had been outraged after they discovered town authorities had licensed using stay ammunition. “My son went to a rally,” mentioned Murat Abdraimov, father of Nurbolat Alpamys, 19. “However he didn’t break something. My son was shot within the head. Why are they allowed to shoot at odd peaceable folks?”
In November, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev granted amnesty to a whole lot of people that had been charged and imprisoned in reference to the January protests. Human rights activists say the amnesty permits regulation enforcement officers who opened fireplace on unarmed demonstrators to evade prosecution.
Tomorrow, January 7, we are going to comply with the story of Kazakhstan’s Bloody January to Almaty.