Human Rights Watch has called on Kazakh authorities to thoroughly investigate all of the deadly shootings of civilians by law enforcement officers during unrest earlier this month in the former Soviet republic's largest city, Almaty.
“There is ample evidence showing that security forces opened fire without any apparent justification and killed at least 10 people. The death toll from the violent crackdown is likely much greater and requires a prompt and effective investigation,” Jonathan Pedneault, conflict and crisis researcher at HRW, said in a statement issued on January 26.
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A peaceful protest in the tightly controlled Central Asian nation's western region of Manghystau over a fuel price hike led to mass anti-government protests across the country and ended with deadly shootings in Almaty.
During the protests, Kazakh authorities switched off the Internet and restricted mobile phone operations for five days.
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev blamed rights activists and independent journalists for "inciting" the protests, which led to the arrest of several reporters in different towns and cities across the country.
Toqaev said in the wake of the protests that "20,000 extremists trained in foreign terrorist camps" attacked Almaty, but he did not provide any evidence to support the claim. As the unrest spread, Toqaev requested help from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Toqaev also publicly said then that he had ordered security forces “to shoot to kill without warning.”
Kazakh authorities have said that 227 people, including 19 law enforcement officers, were killed across the country, but human rights groups say the exact number of people killed during the unrest may be much higher.
"In light of the gravity of the alleged violations, Kazakhstan’s international partners, including the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Kazakhstan is a member, and the European Union should press the government of Kazakhstan to conduct an effective, independent, and impartial investigation into the security forces’ response to the January events, with a view to ensuring full accountability," the HRW statement said.