Opposition politicians, journalists, civic activists and rights defenders gathered in Kazakhstan's commercial capital, Almaty, on February 9 to honor the memory of Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly, an opposition leader who was shot dead execution-style along with two associates 12 years ago.
At a meeting in the Astana Hotel, the activists and politicians discussed Sarsenbaiuly's legacy, his role, and his influence on the political opposition's activities. They said that the human rights situation has deteriorated and civic freedoms have declined since Sarsenbaiuly was killed.
Sarsenbaiuly (aka Sarsenbaev), a former Kazakh ambassador to Russia and information minister, was a co-chairman of the opposition Naghyz Aq Zhol (True Bright Path) party when he, his bodyguard Bauyrzhan Baibosyn, and driver Vasily Zhuravlyov, went missing on February 11, 2006.
They were found dead two days later in the mountains near Almaty, with gunshot wounds to the back of their heads and their hands tied behind their backs.
The slaying of the opposition leader deepened a sense of shock in the Central Asian country three months after another influential opposition politician, Zamanbek Nurqadilov, was found dead with two bullets in his chest and one in his head at his home in Almaty.
The death of Nurqadilov -- a former government minister and Almaty mayor who joined the opposition in 2004 and accused President Nursultan Nazarbaev of corruption -- was officially declared a suicide.
Prominent Journalist's Death
Both politicians were interviewed in July 2004 by prominent independent Kazakh journalist Askhat Sharipzhanov, who was found bloodied and unconscious the same day, with a fractured skull, and died several days later in the hospital.
His death was later declared to have been caused by a traffic accident, but colleagues and opposition politicians said Sharipzhanov's wounds were inconsistent with that finding and rejected it.
Sarsenbaiuly's killing was officially declared to have been motivated by personal enmity. A former chief of staff of the Kazakh parliament, Erzhan Otembaev, was convicted of ordering the slaying and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
However, in 2013, Otembaev's sentence was annulled after Kazakh authorities announced that the case had been sent for review based on newly obtained evidence, which they said indicated that Rakhat Aliev, Nazarbaev's former son-in-law, had ordering the killing.
Aliev, who was deputy chief of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee when the slaying took place and became a fierce opponent to Nazarbaev in 2007, was in self-imposed exile in Europe at the time.
Aliev was later arrested by Austrian officials at the request by Astana that accused him of involvement into the kidnapping and murder of two Kazakh bankers.
In February 2015, Aliev was found hanged in a Vienna jail.
Austrian officials ruled Aliev's death was suicide, but many in Kazakhstan believe he was murdered while in Austrian custody.
With reporting by RFE/RL Kazakh Service. (NOTE: The author of this article is a brother of the late journalist Askhat Sharipzhanov.)