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Brutal Assault Galvanizes Kazakh Public


Astana resident and attack victim Alibi Zhumagulov in an undated photo

Astana resident and attack victim Alibi Zhumagulov in an undated photo

Once again Qishloq Ovozi is graced by the work of Matt Kupfer.

Here, Kupfer looks at the strong reaction of people in Kazakhstan, and further afield, to the brutal beating of a young man in the Kazakh capital:

April 26 was Election Day in Kazakhstan, but another event has electrified the Kazakh public and potentially overshadowed the predictable presidential race: the brutal, near-fatal assault on a young man in Astana.

The story began on April 24, when Astana resident Nurlan Zhumagulov published a post on Facebook requesting urgent help from the public to bring a criminal to justice.

Three days earlier, he wrote, his son Alibi had been invited to a friendly meeting with well-known Astana restaurateur and businessman Kairat Zhamaliev. However, upon arriving at Zhamaliev's apartment, Alibi Zhumagulov discovered that the businessman's intentions were far from friendly. Zhamaliev purportedly demanded that Zhumagulov break off relations with his girlfriend, who had previously dated Zhamaliev. When he declined, the father wrote, Zhamaliev and two of his associates proceeded to subject Zhumagulov to a vicious, drawn-out beating.

The three men reportedly pummeled and strangled Zhumagulov, cut off his ear with a broken bottle, tore his cheek, and jumped on his head, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury. Zhamaliev also reportedly threatened to kill Zhumagulov's father and younger sister and, using a mobile phone, forced Zhumagulov to confess on camera to a series of murders he didn't commit in order to blackmail his family.

Finally, after four hours of torturing Zhumagulov, the three men allegedly deposited him semi-conscious in the street and took his car. Alibi Zhumagulov survived and was eventually brought to the hospital, but that was hardly the end of the story.

After his family pressed charges against Zhamaliev, police placed the businessman under three-day arrest on April 24. But, according to Nurlan Zhumagulov, the police investigators admitted that they were under pressure to release Zhamaliev on bail after three days, even though Alibi Zhumagulov's possessions and blood had reportedly been found in the businessman's apartment. Nurlan Zhumagulov also said he received a phone call from a high-placed government official asking to meet to discuss the situation, but he declined.

"I ask all people who are not apathetic, everyone who has children they love, please spread my message, do not let this monster freely parade around our city!" the elder Zhumagulov wrote, concluding his Facebook post. "While he is at liberty, no one can sleep peacefully."

Alibi Zhumagulov's brutal assault could easily have become just another crime committed in the Kazakh capital -- shocking to those who know about it, but not particularly noteworthy to most people. But Nurlan Zhumagulov's post and disturbing images of his son's disfigured face have galvanized the Kazakhstanis around the world. It is difficult to gauge public response to the Facebook post, as the elder Zhumagulov has now deactivated his profile. However, according to Google's cache of the page, Nurlan Zhumagulov's message was shared over 6,900 times within 10 hours of being published. It also received nearly 1,450 likes and countless comments.

Most, importantly, it appears to have achieved its desired result: the Kazakhstani public has proven to be anything but apathetic to Alibi Zhumagulov's plight, and the authorities are responding.

On Twitter and Instagram, Kazakhstanis used the hashtag #ЖивиАлиби (#LiveAlibi) to express their sympathy and support for Zhumagulov, share images of his brutalized face and what appears to be the blackmail video allegedly recorded by Zhamaliev, and call for justice. Someone even set up a special Instagram account to share images and news related to Zhumagulov's beating. Celebrities in Kazakhstan and even Russia have also joined in expressing support for Zhumagulov, and the famous Russian TV presenter Lera Kudryavtseva stated in social media that she had passed Zhumagulov's story on to Andrei Malakhov, host of the iconic Russian primetime talk show Pust Govoryat (Let Them Speak).

Kazakhstanis have also called on their countrymen to boycott restaurants and businesses belonging to Kairat Zhamaliev, and one of Zhamaliev's business partners reportedly has broken off cooperation with the businessman and his enterprises.

Most significantly, an Astana court extended Zhamaliev's arrest for two months and the criminal case has been placed under the control of Kazakhstan's general procurator and minister of internal affairs. One of alleged accomplices to Zhumagulov's beating has also been arrested, and police are currently searching for a second.

The public response to Alibi Zhumagulov's vicious beating highlights the increasing importance of social media as a force for public good in Central Asia. Countries like Kazakhstan suffer from endemic corruption and authoritarian leadership. Money and connections often prove much stronger than the rule of law. Yet the leaders of these countries are also dependent on public support, as evidenced by President Nursultan Nazarbaev's decision to hold early elections this month, rather than in 2016. By joining together in support of Alibi Zhumagulov, the Kazakhstani public has guaranteed him at greater degree of justice than he would have otherwise have received.

Yet, this public drive for justice also represents a potential threat to Kazakhstan. When justice is dependant on public support, it is far from impartial. Kazakhstan's Internet users have posted a photo depicting Zhamaliev in prison stripes and chains and have labeled Ainur Isina, the woman who was reportedly the motivation for the attack on Zhumagulov, a "whore" and expressed a desire for her to die. When Isina later revealed in an interview that she has a son with Zhamaliev, claimed to be his wife, and advanced a difficult-to-believe alternate narrative that presented Zhumagulov as safely visiting and leaving Zhamaliev's residence with two police officers, the news provoked significant discussion online. The increasing complexity of the case and the rising public anger against Zhamaliev and Isina reveal the danger of leaving justice up to public passions. No one has yet gone to court for Zhumagulov's beating, but the public has already determined who is guilty. While the evidence against Zhamaliev seems quite strong, this is still bad news for impartial justice.

The extraordinary public resonance #ЖивиАлиби is a victory for the Zhumagulov family, but the corruption and failure of the judicial system that it highlights is undoubtedly a loss for all of Kazakhstan.

-- Matthew Kupfer is a writer focusing on Central Asia, Russia, Ukraine, and the former Soviet Union. His work has been published in EurasiaNet.org, the Moscow Times, Eurasia Outlook, and Registan.net. Previously a Junior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, he is currently pursuing an M.A. in Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia regional studies at Harvard University. The views expressed in this blog are his own. You can follow Matthew on Twitter (@Matthew_Kupfer)

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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