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Kazakh Investigator Decries Lack Of Access To Zhanaozen Residents

A shotgun shell from the violence in Zhanaozen in December
A shotgun shell from the violence in Zhanaozen in December
A leading opposition politician has said that the reluctance of the Kazakh authorities to share information is hampering investigations into the violence that broke out in the country's west last month.

Zauresh Battalova, a former parliament deputy and government critic who is a member of the independent public commission looking into the unrest in Zhanaozen, made the comments after visiting the city on January 7 on a fact-finding mission.

She said officials there gave only "very general" information about the events of December 16, when at least 16 people were killed and some 100 injured after long-running protests by striking oil workers turned violent.

Zhanaozen has been under martial law since the violence, but media and outside investigators have said access to residents of the city has been restricted.

Battalova said that Zhanaozen commandant Amanzhol Kabylov, a police colonel overseeing the city during the state of emergency, did not allow the public commission to record him during interviews or to speak with family members of the victims.

People walk past a destroyed stage in Zhanaozen in this still image taken from a video acquired by Reuters on December 16.
People walk past a destroyed stage in Zhanaozen in this still image taken from a video acquired by Reuters on December 16.
"Not only did the commandant immediately forbid us to take photos or use video cameras during a meeting with him, he also wouldn't allow us to use dictaphones," Battalova said. "So journalists traveling with us had to use pen and paper to record the interview."

Battalova said that during the fact-finding mission she noticed a heavy police presence in Zhanaozen and that police officers carrying automatic weapons were checking passengers in every car at checkpoints leading into the city.

Battalova added that police rejected allegations that detainees had been tortured following the unrest but did not allow the public commission members to meet with the detainees or their relatives.

Six different groups -- including the public commission, the government's body composed of civilian volunteers and officials, and several others set up by the authorities are conducting investigations, according to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.

Kazakh authorities earlier said they had asked the United Nations to participate in the investigations. However, according to a spokesman for the office of the secretary-general, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has not yet been invited or requested to help investigate.

National Social Democratic Party co-Chairman Bulat Abilov, another member of the public commission that visited Zhanaozen this weekend, told reporters on January 9 that the commandant had informed them that seven police officers had been arrested in Zhanaozen for seizing mobile phones and cash from local residents.

Civic activist Aizhangul Amirova was reportedly arrested in the regional capital, Aqtau, located about 200 kilometers west of Zhanaozen, on January 6.

Also last week, officials announced that parliamentary elections scheduled for January 15 were canceled in Zhanaozen. The decision was made by the Constitutional Council, which ruled it would be difficult to ensure the safety of voters.

The opposition group Rukhaniyat has called for the elections to be postponed countrywide because of the state of emergency in Zhanaozen. Government officials have said the situation in western Kazakhstan will not affect the elections.

with RFE/RL's Kazakh Service
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