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Family Of Kazakh Shot Dead In January 2022 Unrest Fights To Clear His Name

Farhat Omarov (left) and his older brother Maksat
Farhat Omarov (left) and his older brother Maksat

QYZYLORDA, Kazakhstan -- The family of a Kazakh man who was shot dead just hours after giving a speech to demonstrators during nationwide protests in January 2022 is fighting to clear his name.

Prosecutors charged Farkhat Omarov after his death with taking part in mass riots, assaulting police officers, and unlawfully entering a police station.

But in a rare occurrence, a court in the southern city of Qyzylorda recently ruled there were "serious violations" of the law during the probe and ordered a further investigation.

Omarov's brother, Maksat, says the family believes he was the victim of an assault and accuse the police of faking evidence to incriminate him. They want the authorities to drop the charges and open a criminal probe into his killing.

Omarov, 29, was an ordinary family man, according to his relatives. The father of two worked as a trader in the Qyzylorda bazaar and lived comfortably, they say. He owned a house and a car, and was known for helping those in need by buying them food and coal.

In early January 2022, a rally against a fuel price hike in the western town of Zhanaozen spread to the rest of Kazakhstan, including Omarov's native Qyzylorda, a steppe town of some 355,000 people.

Like hundreds of other men and women in Qyzylorda, Omarov joined anti-government protests. He addressed the protesters gathered on Nazarbaev Avenue, speaking about the plight of common people in the oil-rich country and said their situation won't improve until widespread corruption is rooted out.

Just hours later, on January 5, he was shot dead near the city's police headquarters.

Meanwhile, the nationwide demonstrations turned into riots in several places, with groups of people attacking public buildings and businesses -- actions blamed by many on "provocateurs" who were not part of the protests.

According to the government, more than 230 people were killed in the violence and hundreds wounded.

Demonstrators tore a photo of ex-President Nusultan Nazarbaev from a billboard in Qyzylorda on January 6, 2022. (Photo by Yerbolat Alshoqai)
Demonstrators tore a photo of ex-President Nusultan Nazarbaev from a billboard in Qyzylorda on January 6, 2022. (Photo by Yerbolat Alshoqai)

Omarov's family says he went to the police station only to ask the commanders to stop shooting at unarmed protesters.

Prosecutors, however, accuse him of unlawfully entering the station and assaulting police.

According to his family, Farkhat told police officers "not to repeat the Zhanaozen" tragedy, referring to the infamous killing of at least 14 anti-government protesters in the oil-drilling town in 2011.

"My brother hadn't even entered the front yard of the police headquarters. He stood outside the fence with his friends and spoke to police [commander] Zhandos Estaev, who was standing on the other side of the fence," Maksat told RFE/RL.

Both Omarov and Estaev were hit by bullets there. Omarov died at the scene after getting hit by two bullets, one near his heart and the other in his leg.

Estaev, who was hit in the back, "miraculously survived," according to police reports.

Prosecutors said in April 2022 they had opened criminal cases against 24 people who attacked the Qyzylorda police headquarters "more than 10 times" on January 5.

"The terrorists were in a truck and rammed the gate, opened fire with hunting rifles, and set fire to the checkpoint, security cameras, and patrol vehicles," the prosecutor's report said.

Twenty of the attackers, including Omarov, were shot dead at the scene as police were forced to return fire, authorities claimed.

Omarov was initially charged with terrorism. But that charge has since been dropped.

In a preliminary hearing in December, the Qyzylorda court returned the case to prosecutors for more investigation, citing procedural violations during their work.

RFE/RL contacted the Prosecutor-General's Office in Qyzylorda for comments about what happened on January 26. The office confirmed that the case had indeed been returned to them due to "serious violations." But it declined to provide further details, citing the ongoing probe.

'Fake Evidence'

According to the family, the case is based on the eyewitness accounts of five police officers who said they saw Omarov shooting at Estaev. But the wounded commander told investigators he didn't know who had shot at him.

Maksat accuses the officers of using fake evidence. "There is CCTV footage of a young man who is running with a weapon in his hands, and the policemen identified him as my brother. But you can see that he is wearing a completely different jacket -- different color, different style," he said.

The family showed the authorities the jacket Omarov was wearing when he was killed. The jacket is "pierced by a bullet" and bloodied, Maksat said.

The family also argues that Estaev was shot in the back while he was facing Omarov. They say Estaev and Omarov were probably shot by snipers on the rooftop of the police building.

Bullet marks on the wrought-iron fence show the bullets came from inside, not outside of the police station, Maksat said.

In another blow to the prosecutors' case, family friend Talgat Meshitali has given a written statement in which he accused police of providing false evidence on his behalf that incriminated Omarov.

The investigation into Omarov's death continues.

Written by Farangis Najibullah in Prague based on reporting by Ainur Saparova of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

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