A year after Kazakhstan’s deadly riots, questions persist

Jan 19, 2023, 9:17 AM | Updated: Jan 20, 2023, 9:41 am
FILE - Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attends the unveiling of a monument in Almaty, Ka...

FILE - Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attends the unveiling of a monument in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Friday, Dec. 23, 2022, in a photo released by his Presidential Press Service. The memorial honors those killed in January 2022 in the worst unrest in the Central Asian country’s three decades of independence. The violence, which grew out of peaceful protests of corruption and economic inequality, saw over 200 people killed and thousands detained in what came to be known as “Bloody January.” (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP, File)

(Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP, File)

              FILE - Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attends the unveiling of a monument in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Friday, Dec. 23, 2022, in a photo released by his Presidential Press Service. The memorial honors those killed in January 2022 in the worst unrest in the Central Asian country’s three decades of independence. The violence, which grew out of peaceful protests of corruption and economic inequality, saw over 200 people killed and thousands detained in what came to be known as “Bloody January.” (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Voters talk to each other at a polling station in Astana, Kazakhstan, Nov. 20, 2022. A snap presidential election delivered a second term to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, with official results saying he won over 81% of the vote. Tokayev called the election, which will keep him in office until 2029, as part of reforms following a wave of unrest in January 2022 that saw over 200 people killed and thousands detained. (AP Photo/Stanislav Filippov, File)
            
              FILE - Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev votes at a polling station in Astana, Kazakhstan, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in a handout photo released by his press office. A snap election delivered a second term to Tokayev, with official results saying he won over 81% of the vote. Tokayev called the election, which will keep him in office until 2029, as part of reforms following a wave of unrest in January 2022 that saw over 200 people killed and thousands detained. (Kazakhstan's President Press Office via AP, File)
            
              FILE - A Kazakh soldier patrols a street as relatives of a protester who was detained in anti-government demonstrations gather near a police station in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. With thousands jailed that month after the worst unrest in the Central Asian country’s three decades of independence, friends and relatives of those in custody waited and hoped to learn their fate. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)
            
              FILE - Russian peacekeeping troops attend a ceremony of to mark their withdrawal from Almaty, Kazakhstan, Jan. 13, 2022. As Kazakhstan was roiled that month by the worst unrest in the Central Asian nation’s three decades of independence, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev asked for 2,000 of the troops from a Moscow-led regional security alliance to be deployed in his country. (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Municipal workers cover the burned city hall building for repairs in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. As protests over a rise in fuel prices broke out that month and grew into broader criticisms of corruption and economic inequality in the Central Asian country, the government responded with a deadly crackdown. Over 200 people were killed, with thousands detained in the worst unrest in the nation in three decades of independence. (AP 
Photo/Sergei Grits, File)
            
              FILE - In this photo released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian peacekeepers guard an area in Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. As Kazakhstan was roiled that month by the worst unrest in the Central Asian nation’s three decades of independence, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev asked for 2,000 of the troops from a Moscow-led regional security alliance to be deployed in his country. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - In this handout photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, vehicles of Russian peacekeeping troops leave an airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. As Kazakhstan was roiled that month by the worst unrest in the Central Asian nation’s three decades of independence, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev asked for 2,000 of the troops from a Moscow-led regional security alliance to be deployed in his country. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Soldiers patrol a street near the central square blocked by Kazakhstan troops and police in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. As protests over a rise in fuel prices broke out that month and grew into broader criticisms of corruption and economic inequality in the Central Asian country, the government responded with a deadly crackdown. Over 200 people were killed, with thousands detained. (AP Photo/Vasily Krestyaninov, File)
            
              FILE - A body of victim covered by a banner, right, lays near to a military truck, which was burned amid unrest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. As protests over a rise in fuel prices broke out that month and grew into broader criticisms of corruption and economic inequality in the Central Asian country, the government responded with a deadly crackdown. Over 200 people were killed, with thousands detained. (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ via AP, File)
            
              FILE - A car, which was burned after clashes, is seen on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Jan. 7, 2022. As protests over a rise in fuel prices broke out that month and grew into broader criticisms of corruption and economic inequality in the Central Asian country, the government responded with a deadly crackdown. Over 200 people were killed, with thousands detained. (AP Photo/Vasily Krestyaninov, File)
            
              FILE - The body of a victim is seen in a damaged car in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. As protests over a rise in fuel prices broke out that month and grew into broader criticisms of corruption and economic inequality in the Central Asian country, the government responded with a deadly crackdown. Over 200 people were killed, with thousands detained. (AP Photo/Vasily Krestyaninov, File)
            
              FILE - A riot police officer detains two protesters in a street after clashes in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The demonstrations, initially peaceful, grew into broad criticisms of corruption and economic inequality in the worst unrest in the Central Asian country in its three decades of independence. Over 200 people were killed, with thousands detained. (AP Photo/Vasily Krestyaninov, File)
            
              FILE - Smoke rises from city hall during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Jan. 5, 2022. The demonstrations, initially peaceful, grew into broad criticisms of corruption and economic inequality in the worst unrest in the Central Asian country in its three decades of independence. Over 200 people were killed, with thousands detained. (AP Photo/Yan Blagov, File)
            
              FILE - Demonstrators ride a truck during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. The demonstrations, initially peaceful, grew into broad criticisms of corruption and economic inequality in the worst unrest in the Central Asian country in its three decades of independence. Over 200 people were killed, with thousands detained. (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Riot police prepare to block protesters in the center of Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. The demonstrations, initially peaceful, grew into broad criticisms of corruption and economic inequality in the worst unrest in the Central Asian country in its three decades of independence. Over 200 people were killed, with thousands detained. (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Demonstrators stand in front of police during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. The demonstrations, initially peaceful, grew into broad criticisms of corruption and economic inequality in the worst unrest in the Central Asian country in its three decades of independence. Over 200 people were killed, with thousands detained. (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Protesters raise their cellphones as they gather in the center of Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. The demonstrations, initially peaceful, grew into broad criticisms of corruption and economic inequality in the worst unrest in the Central Asian country in its three decades of independence. Over 200 people were killed, with thousands detained. (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ via AP, File)
            
              FILE - In this photo from Wednesday, March 20, 2019, the interim president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, right, shakes hands with outgoing President Nursultan Nazarbayev after an inauguration ceremony in Astana, Kazakhstan. Demonstrations broke out in the western part of the Central Asian country over an increase in state-controlled gas prices as 2022 began. Those soon spread and became broad criticisms of corruption, economic inequality and a continuing hold on politics and the country's energy wealth by Nazarbayev, the former Soviet country’s first leader, and his family. The unrest left over 200 dead and thousands detained. (AP Photo/File)
            
              FILE - Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev speaks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Friday, Dec. 23, 2022, at an unveiling of a memorial to those killed in January 2022 in the worst unrest in the Central Asian country’s three decades of independence. The photo was released by his Presidential Press Service. Words on the memorial speak of the need for unity and harmony in the former Soviet country of 19 million, but a year after calm was restored and a state of emergency lifted on Jan. 20, 2022, both appear elusive. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attends an unveiling of a memorial in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Friday, Dec. 23, 2022, in a photo released by his Presidential Press Service. The monument honors those killed in January 2022 in the worst unrest in the Central Asian country’s three decades of independence. Words on the memorial speak of the need for unity and harmony in the former Soviet country of 19 million, but a year after calm was restored and a state of emergency lifted on Jan. 20, 2022, both appear elusive. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev speaks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Friday, Dec. 23, 2022, at an unveiling of a memorial to those killed in January 2022 in the worst unrest in the Central Asian country’s three decades of independence. The photo was released by his Presidential Press Service. Words on the memorial speak of the need for unity and harmony in the former Soviet country of 19 million, but a year after calm was restored and a state of emergency lifted on Jan. 20, 2022, both appear elusive. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - In this photo released by Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attends an unveiling a memorial to the hundreds of people killed amid the worst unrest in Kazakhstan's three decades of independence in January of 2022 in Republic Square, in the heart of the country's former capital Almaty, Kazakhstan, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. Lettering on the stark concrete steles of the "Tagzym" ("Reverence") memorial spoke of the need for unity and harmony a year on from the events dubbed "bloody January." (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Voters talk to each other while leaving voting booths at a polling station in Astana, Kazakhstan, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. A snap presidential election in late November delivered a second term to President Tokayev, with official election figures saying he netted over 81% of the vote. Final results showed that over 77% of voters supported the changes, which included stripping Nazarbayev of his remaining state posts and veto powers over important areas of domestic and foreign policy. (AP Photo/Stanislav Filippov, File)
            
              FILE - A Kazakhstan soldier patrols a street as relatives of the arrested after anti-government protests gather near a police station in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. With about 12,000 people arrested after anti-government protests in Kazakhstan last week, friends and relatives of those held by police waited outside a jail, hoping to learn their fate. According to figures released by the Kazakh Prosecutor General's office, 238 people were killed in the January unrest. Rights campaigners have criticized the government-published list of victims for not clarifying the circumstances of their deaths. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)
            
              FILE - Municipal workers cover the burnt city hall building for repairing in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. At Tokayev's request, 2,000 peacekeepers from the Moscow-led CSTO security alliance were deployed to Kazakhstan, leading to speculation about possible direct intervention by the Kremlin. These fears did not come to pass, with the CSTO announcing in late January that its troops had pulled out without firing a single shot. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)
            
              FILE - In this photo released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian peacekeepers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization guard an area in Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. To quell the violence, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev requested help from a Russia-led security alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The bloc of six former Soviet states sent more than 2,000 troops. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - A body of victim covered by a banner, right, lays near to a military truck, which was burned after clashes, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. The government, by then led by Nazarbayev's close ally Tokayev, responded with a deadly clampdown, culminating in a "shoot-to-kill" order as the president blamed "terrorists" allegedly funded and trained from abroad. (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ via AP, File)
            
              FILE - A car, which was burned after clashes, is seen on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. The government, by then led by Nazarbayev's close ally Tokayev, responded with a deadly clampdown, culminating in a "shoot-to-kill" order as the president blamed "terrorists" allegedly funded and trained from abroad. (AP Photo/Vasily Krestyaninov, File)
            
              FILE - The body of a victim is seen in a damaged car in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. The government, by then led by Nazarbayev's close ally Tokayev, responded with a deadly clampdown, culminating in a "shoot-to-kill" order as the president blamed "terrorists" allegedly funded and trained from abroad. ​(AP Photo/Vasily Krestyaninov, File)
            
              FILE - Smoke rises from the city hall building during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. The gatherings were initially peaceful, but over the course of a week, groups of armed men appeared in Almaty, some seen riding in cars without license plates or with their faces covered. Participants of peaceful marches told the AP at the time that these men had urged them to storm government buildings, promising to give them guns. (AP Photo/Yan Blagov, File)
            
              FILE - Demonstrators ride a truck during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. Demonstrators denouncing the doubling of prices for liquefied gas have clashed with police in Kazakhstan's largest city and held protests in about a dozen other cities in the country. (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Riot police prepare to block protesters in the center of Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. The gatherings were initially peaceful, but over the course of a week, groups of armed men appeared in Almaty, some seen riding in cars without license plates or with their faces covered. Participants of peaceful marches told the AP at the time that these men had urged them to storm government buildings, promising to give them guns. (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Demonstrators stand in front of police line during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. Demonstrators denouncing the doubling of prices for liquefied gas have clashed with police in Kazakhstan's largest city and held protests in about a dozen other cities in the country. (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Protesters light by their smartphones as they gather in the center of Almaty, Kazakhstan, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. The gatherings were initially peaceful, but over the course of a week, groups of armed men appeared in Almaty, some seen riding in cars without license plates or with their faces covered. Participants of peaceful marches told the AP at the time that these men had urged them to storm government buildings, promising to give them guns. (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Kazakhstan's interim president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, right, and outgoing Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev shake hands after an inauguration ceremony in Astana, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, March 20, 2019. Demonstrations broke out Jan. 2 in western Kazakhstan's oil-producing region over an increase in state-controlled gas prices as 2022 began. Those protests soon spread to the cities and morphed into broad criticisms of corruption, economic inequality and a continuing hold on politics and the country's energy wealth by its long-serving first leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and his family. Marchers referred to him by shouting "Old man out!" (AP Photo/File)
            
              FILE - In this photo released by Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev speaks during an unveiling a memorial to the hundreds of people killed amid the worst unrest in Kazakhstan's three decades of independence in January of 2022 in Republic Square, in the heart of the country's former capital Almaty, Kazakhstan, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. Wisps of fog hung over central Almaty, Kazakhstan, last month as President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev somberly unveiled a monument to those killed a year ago in a wave of unrest that was the worst in the Central Asian nation's three decades of independence. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - In this photo released by Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attends an unveiling a memorial to the hundreds of people killed amid the worst unrest in Kazakhstan's three decades of independence in January of 2022 in Republic Square, in the heart of the country's former capital Almaty, Kazakhstan, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. Words on the stark concrete "Reverence" memorial speak of the need for unity and harmony in the former Soviet country. But a year after calm was restored and a state of emergency lifted on Jan. 20, 2022, both appear elusive in the country of 19 million. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - In this photo released by Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev speaks to people as he attends an unveiling a memorial to the hundreds of people killed amid the worst unrest in Kazakhstan's three decades of independence in January of 2022 in Republic Square, in the heart of the country's former capital Almaty, Kazakhstan, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. Words on the stark concrete "Reverence" memorial speak of the need for unity and harmony in the former Soviet country. But a year after calm was restored and a state of emergency lifted on Jan. 20, 2022, both appear elusive in the country of 19 million. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP, File)
            FILE - An armed riot police officer detains two protesters during a security anti-terrorists operation in a street after clashes in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The government, by then led by Nazarbayev's close ally Tokayev, responded with a deadly clampdown, culminating in a "shoot-to-kill" order as the president blamed "terrorists" allegedly funded and trained from abroad. (AP Photo/Vasily Krestyaninov, File) FILE - In this handout photo released by Kazakhstan's President Press Office, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev casts his ballot at a polling station in Astasna, Kazakhstan, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. A snap presidential election in late November delivered a second term to President Tokayev, with official election figures saying he netted over 81% of the vote. Final results showed that over 77% of voters supported the changes, which included stripping Nazarbayev of his remaining state posts and veto powers over important areas of domestic and foreign policy. (Kazakhstan's President Press Office via AP, File) FILE - Russian peacekeepers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization attend the official ceremony of starting withdraw its troops in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. At Tokayev's request, 2,000 peacekeepers from the Moscow-led CSTO security alliance were deployed to Kazakhstan, leading to speculation about possible direct intervention by the Kremlin. These fears did not come to pass, with the CSTO announcing in late January that its troops had pulled out without firing a single shot. (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ via AP, File) FILE - Soldiers patrol a street near the central square blocked by Kazakhstan troops and police in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. The government, by then led by Nazarbayev's close ally Tokayev, responded with a deadly clampdown, culminating in a "shoot-to-kill" order as the president blamed "terrorists" allegedly funded and trained from abroad. (AP Photo/Vasily Krestyaninov, File) FILE - In this handout photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, vehicles of Russian peacekeepers leave an airport of Almaty, Kazakhstan, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. At Tokayev's request, 2,000 peacekeepers from the Moscow-led CSTO security alliance were deployed to Kazakhstan, leading to speculation about possible direct intervention by the Kremlin. These fears did not come to pass, with the CSTO announcing in late January that its troops had pulled out without firing a single shot. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File)

Wisps of fog hung over central Almaty, Kazakhstan, last month as President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev somberly unveiled a monument to those killed a year ago in the worst unrest in the Central Asian nation’s three decades of independence.

Words on the stark concrete “Reverence” memorial speak of the need for unity and harmony in the energy-rich country of 19 million.

But a year after calm was restored and a state of emergency lifted on Jan. 20, 2022, both appear elusive. And an official fog still shrouds many of the events surrounding the days known as “Bloody January.”

Despite government promises of accountability as well as promises of economic and political reforms in the former Soviet nation, many Kazakhs say they have not seen meaningful changes or even clarity about what happened to those who were killed and detained in the rioting.

“So many questions remain about what happened,” said Dimash Alzhanov, a Kazakh political analyst and co-founder of the civic movement known as Oyan, Qazaqstan, or “Wake up, Kazakhstan.”

Government video of the memorial’s Dec. 23 unveiling in Republic Square, attended by about two dozen officials, showed a subdued ceremony. The scene was starkly different 11 months earlier, when protesters stormed two palatial state buildings on Jan. 5 and set them ablaze.

The Prosecutor General’s office said 238 people were killed; human rights groups say over 10,000 were detained.

The demonstrations began Jan. 2 in western Kazakhstan’s oil-producing region over an increase in state-controlled gas prices as 2022 dawned. Those protests spread and morphed into broad criticisms of corruption, economic inequality and a continuing grip on power and the country’s energy wealth by its long-serving first leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and his family. Marchers referred to him by shouting “Old man out!”

Over the course of a week, the initially peaceful gatherings grew violent. Participants in the marches told The Associated Press at the time that armed men, their faces covered and riding with cars without license plates, appeared in Almaty, the former capital, and urged them to storm government buildings, promising guns.

The government, led by Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor Tokayev, responded with “shoot-to-kill” orders, blaming foreign-trained and funded “terrorists.”

At Tokayev’s request, 2,000 mostly Russian peacekeeping troops were sent in by the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance of six former Soviet states. This raised fears of an intervention by Moscow — weeks before its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. Those fears never materialized, with the CSTO pulling out in late January.

Human rights activists allege that Kazakh security troops used excessive force, arbitrary detentions and widespread torture on thousands of detained protesters. They criticized government-published lists of victims for not clarifying the circumstances of their deaths.

Tokayev’s administration rejected calls for an international investigation.

It did, however , push through reforms that included strengthening parliament, reducing presidential powers and limiting the presidency to a single seven-year term. Tokayev, who succeeded Nazarbayev in 2019, won a snap presidential election in November with a reported 81% of the vote, ensuring he will stay in office until 2029.

The reforms also stripped Nazarbayev, 82, of his remaining powers over domestic and foreign policy. In September, the capital of the country reverted to the name of Astana, after being renamed Nur-Sultan in his honor in 2019.

Despite those reforms, human rights campaigners and analysts say they see troubling familiar patterns.

“We continue to live in a Soviet-style authoritarian regime, and it hasn’t changed very much since the January events,” Yevgeniy Zhovtis, head of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, told AP. “In fact, the January events have led to new issues, linked to torture and civilian deaths and related investigations being closed.”

Kazakh human rights lawyer Tatiana Chernobil, working with the Coalition Against Torture nongovernmental organization, said that while her group received 190 complaints of torture and ill-treatment in 2022, the real number could be much higher.

She said 104 of those cases brought by her organization were dismissed for lack of evidence. The Kazakh ombudswoman, Elvira Azimova, gave a similar figure in November, with state media quoting her as saying about 80% were dismissed before going to court.

In February, the press service of the president said criminal investigations were launched into 170 instances of torture and abuse of power from the unrest. In October, Deputy Prosecutor General Aset Chindaliyev said 17 police officers and 12 security operatives were implicated in criminal cases into the alleged torture of detained protesters.

Chernobil said authorities don’t do enough to verify the allegations, noting many people claim they can identify their torturers and have medical records of injuries. Investigators “often stop at questioning the suspects, who claim that they didn’t commit any wrongdoing — and that’s it,” and then conclude the account can’t be verified, she said.

According to the United Nations, the burden of proof in torture cases lies with the state. As long as complainants can provide evidence of bodily harm or being held in custody, it is up to authorities to prove torture did not occur.

“In Kazakhstan, we see a lack of compliance with international standards. We see a kind of victim-blaming, laying the burden of proof on those bringing the allegations,” Chernobil said.

Rachel Gasowski, a Central Asia researcher at the International Partnership for Human Rights, said torture allegations in Kazakhstan predate 2022. Cases cited after protests in the oil-producing city of Zhanaozen in 2011 led to neither investigation nor redress for victims, despite recommendations from U.N.-linked rights bodies. A joint report by Kazakh and international groups on torture is to be published this month.

Gasowski said her group was “dismayed” that most cases from the 2022 protests have been closed.

Chernobil expressed cautious optimism about a government decision to transfer jurisdiction in torture cases from the police and state anti-corruption agency to the Prosecutor General’s Office but is unsure if it will bring real change. Her group has stopped demanding an independent investigative body, she said, “because it’s a major question to what extent you can really be independent in Kazakhstan.”

Zhovtis, the activist, said an international probe is needed because most criminal investigations of civilian deaths have been dismissed due to authorities frequently withholding key evidence such as CCTV video, citing national security.

The government list of those killed often omits whether they were accidental deaths, such as from excessive force, or if they were “genuinely terrorists,” Zhovtis said, referencing the government line of foreigners being behind the unrest. The administration has yet to provide any such evidence.

An official in the Prosecutor General’s Office told Kazakhstanskaya Pravda in February that authorities were investigating the deaths of at least six people in custody as the result of “prohibited interrogation methods.”

Some high-ranking officials were accused of involvement in the unrest. Former anti-terrorism chief Karim Masimov, described as a Nazarbayev ally, was detained in January 2022, along with other key security figures and charged with high treason in an ongoing closed trial.

Tokayev speaks often of a “new Kazakhstan” that breaks with the Nazarbayev era, one with accountability and democratization. But Zhovtis sees limits to these promises.

Human rights defenders and independent journalists still face pressure, from online harassment to detentions and physical attacks.

On Saturday, journalist Dinara Yegeubayeva, who plans to run in March 19 parliamentary elections, posted photos of her burned-out car in Almaty.

“Tokayev! Explain! Is this your new Kazakhstan?” she said. Media reports say Yegeubayeva received bomb threats last year, although emergency responders found no evidence of one in her car. A criminal investigation has been opened.

Zhovtis linked the attack to what he called an official unwillingness to allow true political opposition.

Alzhanov, the analyst, said candidates have difficulty registering and gathering signatures from supporters.

He accuses Tokayev’s administration of “imitation reforms” for the benefit of the West. He cited the case of opposition figure Zhanbolat Mamai, who has been charged with organizing mass riots and spreading false information in the 2022 protests. He faces up to 10 years in prison on allegations he calls politically motivated.

Despite the challenges, Zhovtis remained optimistic.

“Society is different now. The January events and their coverage in social media networks have played their part, and society has become more open — there is more information and more criticism of the authorities,” he told AP.

He also hopes some opposition and independent candidates could be elected. Authorities allow 30% of parliament seats to be allocated from outside party lists.

“Something is happening. Very slowly, and the regime stays very much the same, but change is happening,” he said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
A year after Kazakhstan’s deadly riots, questions persist