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Police detain protesting oil workers in Astana while, in the city of Zhanaozen, residents take to the streets (protest timeline)


Oil workers that have lost their jobs after their company lost a bid for oil work in the resource-rich Mangystau region of Kazakhstan have begun protesting in the capital and in the southwestern city of Zhanaozen. A special unit of the police’s rapid reaction force has blocked access to the Ministry of Energy building. Police then surrounded protestors in a ring and dragged them into police vans one-by-one. Following these events, thousands of Zhanaozen city residents marched to the local akimat. (In Kazakhstan, an akimat is a regional administrative body of the state.) Oil workers have started a general strike in response. Exclusive.kz is following the situation and is broadcasting live coverage with links to a number of Kazakhstani publications. 

18:50 – In Astana, the operation begins with the removal of protestors from the Ministry of Energy building. Several videos from the event show how police surrounded protestors and forcibly dragged them into police vans. 

19:20 – The Special Rapid Response Unit (SOBR) captured all those who at the building. In addition to the oil workers, the activist Akmarak Zhakibayeva was detained. Zhanar Karimova, a photojournalist with the publication Vlast was also assumed detained after the publication lost contact with her for the last thirty minutes. Police also tried to detain the correspondent Beimbet Moldagali but failed after two attempts. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has not reported further actions taken against the detainees, so it is unknown whether they will be helf administratively liable or released.

19:30 – The publication Vlast confirmed that photojournalist Zhanar Karimova was among the detainees. She had been wearing a vest that marked here as “Press” in addition to her service identification. The police have not commented on the reasoning behind detaining the journalist.

19:45 – Photojournalist Zhana Karimova was released. Later, the International Foundation for the Protection of Freedom of Speech “Әділ сөз” reported that Karimova’s camera had been seized. The detained oil workers and activists were taken to four police stations in Astana. 

20:00 – In Zhanaozen, several dozen residents arrived at the local akimat, demanding the release of the detainees in Astana, according to Lada.kz. 

20:50 – A number of Zhanaozen residents, who came to the square in front of the local akimat is estimated to be in the hundreds. The number of people continues to increase. 

In addition, drillers from the company Burgylau along with civil rights activist Max Bokayev (who is from Atyrau), sent video recordings to President Tokayev, demanding the immediate release of the detained protestors. 

Several oil workers in Mangystau started a general strike in support of the detainees. There are reports of strikes at the following companies: “Burgylau”, “BZhB”, “Kezbi”, “Karakudykmunai”. 

21:30 – In Zhanaozen, the internet is shut off, and telephone connections become worse, reports Radio Azattyk (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s local service).  

22:05 – Law enforcers from one of the military units in Aktau were reported by KazTAG to have shields. In some areas of Zhanaozen, the internet starts working again but is reportedly very weak and mostly accessible through VPN, according to the ORDA.

22:20 – The capital’s police department commented on the detention protestors – only after 3 hours from when the police’s actions were known. The protestors were charged with violating Articles 488 and 667 of the Code of Administrative Relations (the Violation of the Law of the Procedure of Peaceful Assembly and Disobedience to Law Enforcement Bodies). They face receiving a warning, a fine of 103,500 tenge (approximately $230 USD) or a jail term of up 15 days.

Statement from the Astana police: “Since yesterday, a group of employees from a service company in the oil industry have organized an unsanctioned rally in the capital city. Legally, local executive bodies must be notified about mass public events prior to them being held. These assemblies must be held in specifically designated places with measures taken in order to allow essential services for the local population to functional normally. The law on “peaceful assemblies” was violated since protestors did not apply for approval in advance. Furthermore, the rally was held in at a location that is not approved for by local authorities for assemblies. Consequently, a number of organizers and participants of the rally were taken by the police. Violators will be charged with breaking Articles 488 and 667 of the Code of Administrative Offences, which entails receiving a warning, or a fine of equivalent to 30 monthly calculation indices (in Kazakhstan, the monthly calculation index (MCI) is a tool to measure social benefits and/or fines and 1 MCI is currently the equivalent of 3,063 tenge), or a jail sentence of up to 15 days. Their actions will be reviewed in accordance with the law.”

Pro-state media only published news about the events following the released statement by the police press service. Still, they did not report on the events in Zhanaozen. 

22:45 – Vlast reports that approximately 2,000 residents gathered in Zhanaozen’s central square in front of the akimat. The internet was down in the square. Police Chief Bekbol Korganbayev attempted to address the protestors, but Radio Azattyk reported that “the people drove him away”. 

23:25 – Nine protestors in Astana were reported to have avoided being detained, because shortly before the crackdown began, they went to mosque to offer namaz. However, they wrote an appeal in which they promised to look for fellow protestors who had been detained at police stations and be with them, even if they themselves were eventually detained as a result. Some of the free protestors went to the Saryarka police station. 

23:40 – The Akim (head of local government in Kazakhstan) of Zhanaozen Aibek Kosuakov addressed local residents. He stated that the detained protesters were fine, urged his countrymen to be calm during the holy month of Ramadan, and requested that they “do not give into the calls of provocateurs”. Nonetheless, the leader of the city did not address the protestors in person, instead recording a video statement. 

Aibek Kosuakov’s address: “Today, all of you have seen information on social media that our countrymen organized a protest in Astana and were detained by the police. According to representatives of law enforcement agencies, our fellow countrymen are safe. Administrative measures will be taken against them under the current legal framework. The Akimat is taking measures to ensure the creation of new jobs in the city, providing stable employment for unemployed citizens. Preliminary negotiations with protestors have been held in Astana. Those who previously had been working at a company that lost the bid to work in region would be offered a transfer to the company that won bid, with the preservation of working conditions and salaries. However, the offer was rejected. In the holy month of Ramadan, I urge everyone to be calm! Without knowing the essence of the matter, I ask you not to give in to the emotions and demands of the provocateurs, and to not commit any illegal actions.”

23:55 – The press service of the national company KazMunayGas reported that the firms in the Mangystau region, which were previously on strike, had resumed their work an hour after their appeals and are operating normally. 

00:00 – State-sponspored publications released a video in which the leaders of the protesting workers in Astana, Zholmurat Ulykpanov and Nursultan Nurumuly, said that all the detainees were being sent to Mangystau. According to them, the oil workers will solve their problem with the commission of KazMunayGas. They also called on the residents of Zhanaozen not to commit illegal actions and to go home. 

Meanwhile, there are reports that detained workers have not been allowed to see their lawyers. In contrast to the above-mentioned video, the lawyer Akmaral Palmakhanova continues to wait outside a police station as the oil workers have been detained inside for five hours. By law, administrative can last no more than three hours. Police officers who pass by ignore her questions, but Palmakhanova intends to remain there until the protestors held inside are released.

00:20 – Civil rights activist Akmaral Dzhakibayev who had been detained at the Ministry of Energy building, along with protesting oil workers, has been released from police custody.

00:40 – Some of the protesters, who had not been previously detained, arrived at the Almaty police station in Astana. According Vlast, all the workers who originally had been taken to other police stations were also brought there. Presumably, the protestors will be taken to Zhanaozen. The situation in the city itself remains unknown, as internet connectivity is still limited. 

01:05 – Volunteers have brought food for the detained oil workers at the Almaty and Saryarka police stations. The police officers took all the packages and promised to give them to the workers. In four hours, Kazakhstanis had collected 166,000 tenge for the cost of the food.

01:10 – Mark Zvalinsky, deputy head of the criminal police of the Saryarka district police department, confirmed that all the protesters in Astana were being sent to the police department on Obagan street which is the Almaty district police department.

01:20 – The first bus carrying protestors from other police precincts arrived at the district police department. It is not known if the protesters have been held administratively liable nor when they will be able to leave. Civil rights activists posted outside the police station are waiting for answers to these questions from the station commanders and have been shouting “Zhanabil”, which is the name of the lieutenant colonel who promised to give them information, but still has not.

01:40 – In Zhanaozen, people are staying in the central square and will not leave. They intend to remain there until the oil workers’ demands are met and are prepared to spend the whole night there if necessary.

Earlier reports stated that dismissed workers from Zhanaozen, who had demanded stable employment at an oil company, had spent the night in Astana by the Ministry of Energy building. Throughout the night, only the police, the Esil district prosecutor, and the chairman of the Committee of Labor and Social Protection visited them and warned them to remain calm. 

Today, a representative of KazMunayGas came to protestors and offered to begin negotiations. Meanwhile the Minister of Energy, Almassadam Satkaliev released his statement on the situation to the press. Soon after, the protestors formed a negotiating group, though they had initially demanded the presence of representatives from the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Labor. The meeting was held behind closed doors, and journalists were not allowed to attend. The negotiations ended inconclusively. Later, Deputies Majilis Yermurat Bapi, Rinat Zaitov and Maksat Tolykbai met with the protesters and told them: “There is no reason to come and rally every time,” and “There types of issues are solved in offices.” 

Previously, workers have gathered next to the Zhanaozen akimat and have also spent the night there. Protests have been ongoing since the beginning of April.