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Kazakhstan: president's 'fire without warning' announcement is recipe for disaster

Thousands reportedly in detention amid fears of large death toll

Russian and other troops mobilised against unspecified ‘external threat’

‘This blanket order not to provide warning is extremely dangerous’ - Marie Struthers 

In response to a televised address this morning (7 January) by Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev where he called for security forces in the country to “fire without warning” during any further disturbances following recent mass protests and violence, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, said:

“The Kazakhstani authorities have a duty to maintain order, but giving blanket approval for police officers and troops to fire without warning is unlawful and a recipe for disaster. 

“Unless this order is immediately and clearly revoked, Kazakhstan’s already abysmal human rights record and the ongoing crisis which it has produced are set to get worse. 

“This blanket order not to provide warning is extremely dangerous and alludes to a policy of ‘kill first, think later’.

“The presence of violent individuals or groups does not remove the Kazakhstani security forces’ obligation to protect the right to peaceful assembly.”

Death toll still unclear

Kazakhstan’s interior ministry has said that more than 3,800 people have been arrested, while - it said - there have been hundreds of injuries and 26 deaths among protesters and officers. The number of protester deaths is likely to be much higher, given that activists and the police themselves have already referred to “tens” of casualties. President Tokayev has spoken of “hundreds”.

Police have fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters, and later used firearms. There are videos and eyewitness testimonies that provide evidence of the security forces firing live ammunition at crowds, including near Almaty’s Republic Square on 6 January. The authorities have also restricted the internet and other means of communication and warned all media against “violating” Kazakhstan’s restrictive media law. Communication with people in the country, and particularly in Almaty, is now severely disrupted.

Under international law and standards, law-enforcement officials must only use firearms as a last resort where necessary to protect themselves or others from an imminent threat to life or serious injury. The relevant UN principles specify that, “law-enforcement officials shall identify themselves as such and give a clear warning of their intent to use firearms, with sufficient time for the warning to be observed, unless to do so would unduly place the law enforcement officials at risk or would create a risk of death or serious harm to other persons, or would be clearly inappropriate or pointless in the circumstances of the incident”.

Timeline

On 5 January, the Kazakhstani government requested military assistance from Russia and other regional allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation. These agreed to provide close to 3,000 troops, purportedly to restore order and address an unspecified external “threat”.

On 4 January, police arbitrarily detained and questioned at least two senior journalists from the RFE/RL’s local Azzattyk radio service, and other media workers have since been detained.

On 2 January, protests erupted in the Mangystau region in south-east Kazakhstan over rapidly increasing prices for liquefied petroleum gas - which many people in the country use to power their cars. Amnesty has called on the authorities to end their repressive response to the protests.

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.  

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