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A still image from the video, which was posted on YouTube on December 20
RFE/RL reported last week on the video showing police firing on fleeing protesters in the western Kazakh town of Zhanaozen.

Originally uploaded to YouTube on December 20 by a user called saule540, the video challenges the police explanation of the unrest, which left 15 people dead. The authorities had said that they fired into the air and at the ground, and only in self-defense.

Now the police are looking for the person (or people) who shot the video, purportedly from an apartment window on Zhanaozen's main square. RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports that the regional police chief in the Mangistau district, Amanzhol Kabylov, said that they had located the address but that the residents had not been found and the apartment was empty.

It's another reminder that while the democratization of the ability to bear witness brings substantial rewards (i.e. letting the world know what is going on via the proliferation of smart phones), it comes with substantial risks.
This theme was covered in a report, "Cameras Everywhere," by the human rights organization WITNESS, which discussed ways "to protect and empower those who attempt to expose injustices through video."

As the report noted:
[T]he ease of copying, tagging, and circulating images over a variety of platforms adds a layer of risk beyond an individual user's control. All content and communications, including visual media, leave personal digital traces that third parties can harvest, link, and exploit. The authors argue that their safety will need to be considered "at each stage of video production and distribution.
Beyond tracking people down, there are many ways repressive governments -- or nonstate actors -- can attempt to silence witness testimony. For example, flagging videos for terms of service (TOS) violations on sites like YouTube can result in them getting taken down. (The Kazakh police, according to this report, also claim they are in possession of a video that exonerates them, although it's not yet seen the light of day.)
But looking at reporting by our Kazakh Service, good old-fashioned offline intimidation seems to be the tactic of choice (the video is still up on YouTube).
One reader, who asked that his name be withheld for security reasons, said that he heard that they were searching homes and looking on people's mobile phones, presumably for incriminating videos. RFE/RL can't confirm these allegations, but they are consistent with reports of harassment given to media organizations reporting the unrest and the general climate of fear in Zhanaozen, still under curfew until January 5.
Kazakhstan is a vast country -- and thus the western region is relatively easy to isolate in order to stop news getting out and to stop the protests from spreading. The Internet -- in particular social networks and video-sharing sites -- are a vital bridge between isolated islands of dissent, or potential dissent. (The Internet was mysteriously down in Kazakhstan during the unrest.)
Videos of such atrocities are so vital for opposition movements (Neda is the best-known example) as they create a shared consciousness: they allow people, online and offline, to rally around an image that speaks of brutality and injustice. These images or videos are vital in what Zenep Tufekci has called in building a "visible momentum."

"There is multi-level awareness of other people's views leading to a spiral of action and protest. (I know that you know that I know that you know that we know ...)," Tufekci wrote.
This growth of this shared consciousness (in this case, of state repression grotesquely encapsulated in a short video) is exactly what the Kazakh authorities want to nip in the bud. Even if they're not going from door to door checking people's phones, by holding a press conference saying they're looking for the person who shot the incriminating video they are sending a very strong message to others to think twice before uploading anything.
A still image from the video, which was posted on YouTube on December 20
Kazakhstan's ambassador to the United States says an amateur video showing police in the western Kazakh town of Zhanaozen shooting at unarmed protesters as they flee is "shocking" and that the government is planning an investigation.

Erlan Idrissov made the comments on December 21 at a Washington press conference following several days of protests by striking and unemployed oil workers in the country's oil-rich Caspian coastal region.

The video was apparently taken by a witness from her apartment window near the square where the incident happened. It was posted on YouTube on December 20.

Idrissov intimated that government officials had seen the video and planned to investigate:

"I cannot tell you anything specific of this -- how this came into being, who made the video, et cetera, et cetera," he said. "This is for experts to discuss. The events broke out [on] the sixteenth [of December] and you have this [video] on the twenty first. But one thing for sure is that the government is aware of this coverage and at the very top level it has been ensured that this and other similar facts will be thoroughly investigated."

Idrissov added that, if the video and any other footage like it turned out to be authentic, then "justice will be brought."

Kazakh authorities have said that 14 people were killed in the violence on December 16 and more than 80 wounded. Protesters have said the death toll is much higher, although their claims can not be independently verified.



The video shows protesters and passersby moving away from the police, who are not yet in the frame. Some of the protesters are throwing rocks at the police.

The sound of shooting can then be heard with police officers advancing behind riot shields. Some protesters are shot as they try to flee. After the shooting, one man lies motionless on the ground, while another limps away. Riot police then move in, some of them drawing weapons and beating protesters on the ground.

The Kazakh authorities have defended their use of force against "hooligans," including the decision to use firearms.

Officials have said that the police only shot into the air and at the ground and the resulting deaths were due to ricocheting bullets.

"Given the fact that, despite warning shots, mobs continued to attack the police, in order to protect the lives and health of workers trapped, as well as to prevent the spread of weapons in the hands of thugs, the police were forced to apply their service weapons," Nurdaulet Suindikov, a spokesperson for the attorney-general said on December 17.

President Nursultan Nazarbaev has said that the police acted within their authority under the law.

Witnesses to the unrest have contradicted the authorities' version, claiming that police deliberately shot at protesters.

Although protests have continued in recent days across western Kazakhstan, calm has been restored to the center of the protests, Zhanaozen. There has been a heavy deployment of police and security forces and Nazarbaev has imposed a curfew on the city until January 5, 2012.

Internet and mobile phone services went down on December 16 and were only restored on December 20. The Emergency Situations Ministry said that services were interrupted temporarily due to the disruption of electricity.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the government to restore communications and said, "there is some indication that the government ordered the shut down of at least some mobile, voice, and text services in Zhanaozen."

Written by Luke Allnutt and Richard Solash with reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

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