On the anniversary of Qandy Qantar (Bloody January), the Human Rights Alliance for Fundamental Rights mourns the dead, sympathizes with the victims and expresses solidarity with all who seek justice.
The Documentation Center (hereinafter “the Center”) of the Human Rights Alliance for Fundamental Rights, between April 2022 and January 2023, documented 625 cases of human rights violations during or as a result of the events occurred in January 2022; and recorded 13 stories that help to restore the timeline of events.
The Human Rights Alliance plans to release a comprehensive report analyzing human rights violations against international human rights standards in the spring of 2023 when most of the official investigations into cases related to the events, as well as torture investigations, are expected to end. Below is a brief overview of the information collected as of to date.
The Center classified the collected data into in 3 categories: victims of human rights violations, victims of torture (separately) and witnesses of the events. Interviews were conducted with relatives, colleagues, friends, lawyers of the dead and injured, as well as with the victims themselves. One third of the living victims were still in pre-trial detention centers at the time of the first interviews; several people were in custodial facilities, and one was in a temporary detention facility. The rest were free. Some of them were under house arrest, were released on bail or guarantee. The Center obtained informed consent from the interviewees for the use of the information they provided. The interview was conducted using questionnaires specially developed by a team of human rights activists in person, or via telephone or Internet video communication. The interviews were supported by available documentary evidence (photos, videos, scanned copies of documents, etc.).
The database of the Center stores information about the events in 23 settlements, with fatal casualties in 9 of them. Below is the list of places with the largest number of victims.
The highest number of cases was recorded in Almaty. There were 189 interviews with the victims or about them, including 93 interviews with relatives of the deceased; 96 interviews with the wounded, detained, and witnesses of other human rights violations related to the January events.
Immensity of what was happening in Almaty those days is reflected in recollection of eyewitnesses who were questioned by the Center.
One of the eyewitnesses told how on January 5, at about 6 p.m., armed guards of the Presidential residency in Almaty opened fire on protesters:
“Next to the fence stood a Kamaz truck, somewhere behind the akimat, along Timiryazev between Zheltoksan and Furmanov streets, which was on fire. And at that time the intensive shooting began from the direction of the residence, and it went like non-stop. People were shouting, someone ran there, someone ran away from there. I was afraid to go there, because I was afraid that they might shoot me. At some point, the shooting began to really increase, and all the people started running. I got scared and went down the street.”
In Taraz, 59 cases were recorded, including 15 on killings and 44 on other violations. In Taldykorgan, the Center conducted interviews on 48 cases, including 12 on killings and 36 on other violations. In Ust-Kamenogorsk, respondents were interviewed and evidence was collected on 46 cases, including 5 on the killings and 36 on people whose rights were violated. In Shymkent, 43 cases were recorded, with 12 on killings, and 31 on others. In Kyzylorda, 40 cases were documented, including 15 on killings, and 25 on others. In Semey, 36 cases were documented, including 3 on killings, and 33 on other human rights violations. In Aktobe, the Documentation Center recorded 18 cases, with 2 on killings, and 16 on other violations. Other cities and regions mentioned in the interview where there were killed and other victims of human rights violations are Aktau, Atyrau, Almaty region, Bayanaul, Karaganda, Kaskelen, Koshmambet village of Karasai district, Kokshetau, Kostanay, Pavlodar, Petropavlovsk, Stepnogorsk, Uralsk , Ekibastuz.
As of January 2023, the Documentation Center registered 263 killed as a result of the January events and 11 missing. Most of the dead were between 25-35 years of age. Seven of the dead were minors and two were over 65 years old. About 80% of thе deceased died as a result of gunshot wounds.
The highest rate of killings during the January events were registered in Almaty and Kyzylorda region (39% died), Almaty region (mainly in Taldykorgan), Shymkent, Zhambyl region. There were also deaths in the Aktobe region and East Kazakhstan region. Thus, fatal casualties as a result of the January events were registered in 8 regions of Kazakhstan.
One third of the victims of the 625 cases documented to date, according to them or their relatives, were voluntary participants in peaceful rallies and marches (32.8%), that is, they took part in what they thought to be a peaceful meetings; 14.4% were injured without being at the scene at all; 14.8% became unintended participants of the events; the other 14.8% are casual victims. There were also those who, according to their words, were forced to participate in the events (2.1%), as well as those involved for other reasons.
As for the employment status of those affected in the January events, most of them claimed they were employed – 33.5%; others were self-employed – 30.1%. Another 13.8% of the interviewed victims identified themselves as civil activists, 0.2% as human rights activists, and 0.2% as public and political figures. Also, among 3.4%, of our respondents were law enforcement officers, 4.5% – entrepreneurs and 9.1% – students. Among the victims were people with disabilities, doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs and others.
Majority of human rights violations (86.9%) were recorded in the period from 3rd to 10th of January, 2022. With 43.2% of the cases occurring on January, 5. In total, 95.5% of cases of documented human rights violations happened in January. Most of the deaths (93.4%) also fell for these dates – from January 5 to 8.
13.7% of the interviewed victims received gunshot wounds, 0.5% were wounded with knives, 55.6% were beaten, 33.7% were beaten with batons, 5.5% suffered electric shock, 1.6% suffered as a result of the use of special means of mass destruction (stun grenades, etc.). Almost half (45.8%) of the victims (except those who died) were subjected, according to their words or according to their relatives, to torture or ill-treatment, 52.6% indicated that they were subjected to psychological pressure.
According to the materials of the Center, 84.1% of all victims were prosecuted in administrative or criminal proceedings.
At the moment, the authorities of Kazakhstan have discontinued the pre-trial investigation into the deaths of 186 people out of 238 officially killed, including all cases in Shymkent, Taraz, Kyzylorda and Atyrau. In respect of 3 dead civilians, the courts issued guilty verdicts with their release from criminal liability due to death without the right to rehabilitation. With regard to 6 killed, court hearings are underway on the fact of their participation in mass riots.
Information about the casualties of those days is dry and ruthless, as, for example, the story of 33-year-old Almaty resident Zhomart Baitkhanov:
«Killed on January 6, 2022 on Independence Square in Almaty with two shots in the back. They were through-and-through shots to the chest. Zhomart was in the squad that defended the area from marauders. On January 5, he returned home, told his relatives about the events, said that he managed to save the woman from the fire, and the next day he went to the New Square again, but never returned. Zhomart has two bullet wounds – in the neck and in the heart”.
Another story is about 29-year-old Farhat Omarov, who died in Kyzylorda, as told by his mother:
“On January 4, son came home and said that a peaceful rally was held in support of Zhanaozen, for lowering gas prices, and he went to take part in it. He is young, absolutely unarmed, and had no prohibited items, he just wanted to manifest his civic position. He always dreamed of living in a wealthy country where the people’s work is valued. On January 5, a colleague called my son at about 13:30, soon after at about 14:15 he left the house. By evening, at about 20:00, we started looking for him, but his phone won’t answer. Someone called the eldest son and said that Farhat was taken to the hospital. We went there, it was crowded, with lots of wounded. My son was not on the list. I started showing pictures of my son. Then a guy came up, showed me a photo of my son and said that he was in the morgue. The bullet hit his leg and the heart. A tag marked “unknown” was attached to the corpse.”
The circumstances of the death of 18-year-old firefighter student of the Kokshetau Technical Institute of the Ministry of Emergency Situations from near Saryagash Yerlan Ayaz, who died from a gunshot wound in Shymkent, are also unclear. Based on an interview with Yerlan’s mother:
Yerlan is the second among five children; he was a 3rd year student, studied to be a firefighter and had an internship in Shymkent. On January 16, he was supposed to return to Kokshetau. On January 2, Yerlan left home for Shymkent, he wanted to earn some money before leaving and buy clothes for himself. His mother gave him money for clothes. On January 3, they had a telephone conversation, she learned that he got there safely and bought the necessary things. On January 5, Yerlan did not get in touch. His mother was worried about him given the goings-on in the country, and on January 6, as she failed to get through to her son, she started calling his friends and relatives. But no one saw Yerlan. On January 7, together with her son-in-law, she went to Shymkent in search of her son. They searched the hospitals, but with zero result. Then they looked in the morgue and found the body of her son there. He died from a gunshot wound to the chest. On January 8, they buried their son. Then the investigator called and said that her son had died from a gunshot wound. In May, she went to Shymkent to find out what was going on with the case and pick up her son’s phone. She was told that they consider him a suspect, and that Yerlan’s phone and clothes were sent for examination, and that she had to wait to be summoned. The woman was indignant “what a suspect he is, he is only 18, he is a student.” The case against Yerlan Ayaz for participation in an unsanctioned peaceful meeting was closed at the end of August 2022. Who is guilty in his murder is still unknown.
Most of those detained on the spot, were tortured immediately as they were brought to police station, or after the events, according to the testimonies of our respondents, in order to either obtain confessions, or out of revenge or as punishment for participating even in a peaceful meeting.
According to Zhanbolat Zholdasbai, a 47-year-old civil activist, the driver from Aktobe, who received a gunshot wound to the shoulder on January 7 and served 10 days without any medical assistance for participating in an unauthorized rally, the investigators were not interested in the origin of his bullet wound, but wondered why he went to the meeting. Zhanbolat says bitterly:
«I’ve got sufferings and injustice in my own country, on my own land, from my fellow Kazakhs. My pride and honor were trampled on. All we did was to go to a peaceful meeting and demanded our elementary rights».
Darkhan Dusibaev, 29, from Shymkent, did not participate in any meetings, but was tortured. All day on January 5, from the very morning, he unsuccessfully tried to leave Almaty for home in Shymkent. Late in the evening, on the way to the Sayran bus station, Darkhan got into a shootout and was wounded in the stomach, on January, 5 he was administered to the city hospital #7 in Almaty, where he was operated on.
«On January 7, doctors came and said we were discharged, they said that the hospital was surrounded. We could hardly get out of bed not to mention going anywhere. So we stayed in the hospital. On January 10, when I was on a dressing and on a drip, SWAT burst into the hospital, they searched for phones, pulled out catheters. They took all the wounded patients into the corridor. They were beating us with rifle butts, and took us out of the hospital. There were 30-40 people on the street, lying on the ground. We were all undressed. We lay there for about half an hour. Then they stuffed us into paddy wagons, beat us all the way, they brought us by 6 pm to DC-18 (detention center). They beat me there for 3 days, tortured me. Everyone who was called in for interrogation returned beaten, some were poured with boiling water. They asked me where the rally I participated took place, asked whom I killed and whom I robbed. On January 14, there was a court on form of detention, there was a small empty cell, a state lawyer and a judge with a secretary came and announced the decision in five minutes – arrest for 2 months. I said in court that I did not agree with the accusation, I was not at the rally, there were no evidence».
On January 25, Darkhan was released under travel restrictions. He was charged with participation in the riots. The charge was dropped only in August. An unextracted bullet still remains in Darkhan’s body. Darkhan knows nothing about the progress of the investigation into torture and the gunshot wound he received.
Numerous evidences of inaction, and sometimes involvement in the ill-treatment of patients with gunshot wounds, by doctors and hospital staff, mainly in Almaty, have also been documented.
One of the first people released on January 25 from the Almaty DC-18 was a 27-year-old resident of the village of Uzynagash Bakytbek Mukhametuly.
Bakytbek and his sister were wounded on the evening of January 6, when their car came under sudden fire near Republic Square in Almaty. Bakytbek was operated on in city hospital #12. On the evening of January 8, Bakytbek, along with other wounded patients, without objections from the medical staff, was forcibly taken from the hospital and taken to DC-18, where they were held, subjected to torture, without official registration until January 11 or 12. On January 14, the investigating court sanctioned Mukhametuly’s arrest for 2 months on charges of participating in mass riots. The court did not take into account the objections and explanations of Bakytbek about his non-involvement in the riots.
Here are Bakytbek’s memories of doctors’ behavior during the days of his detention in DC-18:
«While I was being held in DC-18, doctors from different city hospitals came and simply pulled out the stitches, hoses [catheters]. If they were told “What are you doing!” they answered “You know”, or insulted the wounded. There were people who had their stitches removed early, because of this, the wounds opened up”.
On January 25, Bakytbek was released under travel restrictions thanks to the efforts of the “Amanat” commission.
B.Mukhametuly says that when he applied to municipal clinics for medical help, doctors refused to help him when they found out that he was injured in January 2022. Somehow, only after 3 days, B. Mukhametuly received a hospital discharge summary from the city hospital #12. The hospital refused to hospitalize him claiming “you can walk, so everything is fine with you.”
The Kazakhstan NGO Coalition Against Torture, which is also a part of the Documentation Center of the Human Rights Alliance, registered 190 reports of torture and other ill-treatment it received at the end of December 2022. These included 46 reports from Almaty, 44 – from Taldykorgan, 33 – from Taraz, 11 – from Kyzylorda, 12 – from Atyrau, 7 – from Shymkent, 7 – from Semey, 6 – from Aktobe, 6 – from Uralsk, 6 – from Ekibastuz, 5 – from Kostanay, 5 – from Ust-Kamenogorsk, Karaganda – 1 – from and 1 – from North Kazakhstan region.
104 out of 190 criminal cases on torture registered by the Coalition, have been terminated, including 33 (out of 33) in Taraz, 31 (out of 46) in Almaty, 11 (out of 11) in Kyzylorda, Shymkent – 6 (out of 7), Uralsk – 6 (out of 6), Ekibastuz – 6 (out of 6), Aktobe – 5 (out of 6), Kostanay – 3 (out of 5), Semey – 1 (out of 6), Ust-Kamenogorsk – 1 (out of 5). In Atyrau region, 1 criminal case involving 18 victims, with Coalition monitoring 8 of the victims, is currently suspended. Most of the cases were terminated either due to lack of corpus delicti or lack of evidence.
In Kyzylorda, all 11 cases were discontinued due to plea bargaining with the accused. At the same time, a member of the Coalition against Torture, the head of the NPM (National Preventive Mechanism) group in Kyzylorda, after visiting the pre-trial detention center there, with participation of the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Republic of Kazakhstan Elvira Azimova, said that signs of torture against 60 people registered by the medical unit of the pre-trial detention center were identified and documented. Ms. Azimova also confirmed this at an online meeting organized by the World Organization Against Torture in Geneva, and answering a question from human rights activists, she said that she had passed this information to the Prosecutor General’s Office. Only 11 criminal cases were initiated out of 60 cases of alleged torture documented by the medical unit, all of which were eventually terminated as a result of plea bargaining with the accused.
In Taraz, all of the 33 torture cases filed there, known to the Coalition, were also dropped. Among them is the case of 45-year-old Kuanysh Ainiyazov.
On January 13, 2022, at about 11 am, Kuanysh, together with his 13-year-old son, was taken from home by police officers and brought to the military unit on Tole-bi street, where the city police were stationed at that time. There Kuanysh was beaten with fists, kicked, with rubber batons on his thighs, kidneys and liver, demanding a confession. According to Kuanysh, six officers dressed as civilians took part in the beating. All this time, his underage son was nearby, who was very scared and asked not to beat his dad. In response to the boy’s requests, one of the officers put a gun to his head and threatened to shoot him. The son was released later that day, and Kuanysh on 15 January. All this time, until his release, he was periodically beaten. On January 19, Kuanysh went to the emergency room. There he was given medical assistance; multiple beatings and a fracture of his left hand were recorded. On February 9, after repeated calls for interrogations, Kuanysh was arrested on suspicion of participating in mass riots and placed in a pre-trial detention center. When Kuanysh was placed in a pre-trial detention center, there were still traces of beatings and the fact of a broken hand. According to Kuanysh, even now he can easily identify those who beat him. Moreover, he knows the names of two of the police officers who beat him, as well as two employees of the prosecutor’s office who were present at that time.
The claim filed by Kuanysh to the prosecutor’s office about the use of torture against him was transferred to the Unit of Internal Affairs (UIA) of the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) of the Zhambyl region. The UIA of Department of Internal Affairs terminated the query without initiating a criminal case “for lack of evidence”. After K. Ainiyazov’s repeated claim, a criminal case was initiated under Article 146 part 2 “Torture” of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
However, at the beginning of May 2022, the case was also dismissed “for lack of evidence”. The response of the General Prosecutor’s Office to Kuanysh Ainiyazov’s complaint about the dismissal of the case on torture states that “the arguments about the misconduct of the employees of the Zhambyl Oblast Police Department, in addition to the testimony of Ainiyazov K. himself, have not been objectively confirmed”.
The investigation ignored the conclusion of the forensic medical examination, which did not rule out “causing injuries to the victim K. Ainiyazov under the circumstances he described” and confirmed that “a closed fracture of the base of the 5th metacarpal bone on the left and bruises of the left shoulder and left thigh in terms of localization and mechanism of infliction correspond to the testimony victim Ainiyazov K.A.” The investigation, however, was satisfied with the testimony of the police officers and their seniors, who claimed that none of them “allowed any misconduct against Ainiyazov K.A”
As of today, according to the Coalition Against Torture, the courts are considering one case of torture in Taldykorgan (against a group of victims and 5 accused police officers) and one case in Almaty
Detailed report on the right to freedom from torture during the January events “We don’t even cry anymore” prepared in cooperation with the International Partnership for Human Rights (Belgium), the NGO Coalition of Kazakhstan Against Torture and L’organization mondiale contre la torture (Switzerland) based on evidences, including the materials of the Documentation Center of the Human Rights Alliance, will be released on January 31, 2023.
Onе person has been convicted to date for the death of civilians as a result of use of firearms: 21-year-old Mark Zlunyaev, a contract employee in the air assault troops in Taldykorgan, who was found guilty of “abuse of power” for the execution of 24-year-old shepherd Yernazar Kyrykbaev, and sentenced to 6 years in prison.
Kazbek Kudaibergenov was sentenced to 17 years in prison in connection with the death of serviceman Madiyar Kaisarov in Kyzylorda. The investigation and sentencing raises many questions, especially on the right to a fair trial and the right for freedom from torture.
Late in the evening on January 9, 2022, Kazybek Kudaibergenov, a 30-year-old resident of Kyzylorda, the father of 3 young children, was taken from his home in Kyzylorda, along with his brother, who had schizophrenia, in front of his family, without explanation. Upon delivery to the city police department, the brothers were also not explained the reasons for their detention. Instead, Kazybek’s brother was beaten on the head, and Kazybek himself was tortured for the next three weeks by beatings, suffocation with a plastic bag, jumping on his wounded leg, forcing him to confess to the murder of a soldier who died during the crackdown on protesters at the Aray City Mall. Tired of beatings and tortures, K. Kudaibergenov tried to commit suicide, but the cellmates, seeing this, intervened and did not allow him to carry out his plan. Due to untimely and improper treatment of the wound, K. Kudaibergen’s leg does not bend, the liver, kidneys, and stomach are disturbed. The wife of Kazybek Kudaibergenov, Inkarim Sultanova, “is ready for anything, for the sake of saving the honest name of K. Kudaibergenov, for the sake of the future of her children.”
These and many other stories collected to date by the Human Rights Alliance Documentation Center appeal to the truth. However, official investigations are moving slowly. Investigations into death and torture, as noted above, are terminated due to the absence of either corpus delicti, or the criminal offense, or due to lack of evidence.
Most of the investigation files are classified, the lawyers of the accused and the accused themselves have no access to them. The accused and their lawyers claim that there hardly were any investigative activities. Most of the accusations appear to be based on footage from street surveillance cameras, service cameras or telephones. Many defendants are afraid that their cases will be reclassified as more serious ones, they and their lawyers had to sign non-disclosure agreements, and therefore they are apprehensive to share information.
Suspects, accused and victims of the January events, despite being free now experience serious health problems due to injuries or as a result of torture, and cannot work or live a minimum normal life.
Everything is aggravated by the lack of publicity about the progress of investigations by the state.
The Human Rights Alliance for Fundamental Rights is pushing for an international inquiry into the events of January 2022. Ten years ago, in 2012, in the wake of the events in Zhanaozen and Shetpe, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay visited Kazakhstan, who noted: “I believe that the reputation of Kazakhstan is extremely damaged by such uncertainty regarding the events that led to the death of so many people. As a consequence, I have recommended to the government that the only way to get credible answers to these questions once and for all, as well as to draw a line under these tragic events, is to allow an independent international investigation into the events themselves, as well as their causes and consequences.”
These words still relevant today, and unfortunately, in connection with the new deaths of our fellow citizens.
Major international organizations also support the demand for an international investigation into the January events in a hybrid format. At a meeting with Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi in February 2022, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, also recalling the events of 2011 in Zhanaozen, said: “Kazakhstan government has a long history of such efforts failing to bring accountability or justice. A hybrid investigation, with international experts joining national investigators, offers the best opportunity for these new investigative efforts to be more successful.”
In an atmosphere of lack of transparency, hopes for restoration of justice are fading, but as long as there are victims of human rights violations and those who are ready to share evidence of what happened, the Documentation Center of the Human Rights Alliance will continue its work and asks to contact us by email Qantar@misk.team, if you have information about the January events.
 The Human Rights Alliance for Fundamental Rights is an association of Kazakhstani human rights organizations, coalitions and individual experts established on January 14, 2022 at the initiative of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law. See Statement on Human Rights Alliance for Fundamental Rights: https://bureau.kz/novosti/zayavlenie-o-sozdanii-pravozashhitnogo-alyansa/
 Joint investigation involving international experts