On December 16, 2011, police in riot gear accompanied by plainclothes officers swept into the western Kazakh city of
In the last year, the government has moved relentlessly and methodically to crush the country’s already limited civic life. Hundreds of locals in Zhanaozen and nearby Aktau were detained, and many of them likely tortured. Thirty-four oil workers were convicted of organizing the riots in a mass trial where detailed allegations of torture were ignored. The government investigation swept up a whole slew of civil society and opposition activists as material witnesses and possible defendants, before settling on Vladimir Kozlov.
Kozlov, leader of the unregistered opposition party Alga, and two codefendants were convicted in October of “inciting social hatred” against the government in order to create conflict in Zhanaozen. Somehow Kozlov—who even in the prosecution’s conspiratorial version of events never distributed or advocated the use of weapons—has become the one responsible for unarmed protesters being shot in the back. His trial, which Freedom House monitored and reported on, was marked by procedural irregularities and built around the testimony of his former fellow activists, many of whom had said they were tortured in their own trials.
The government of
Now the Kozlov conviction is being used to shutter media outlets associated with the opposition across the country on grounds of “extremism.” The verdict held that Kozlov led an “organized criminal group” funded by exiled oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, establishing a guilt-by-association logic that could be used to punish practically anyone engaged in civic or political activism. The outlets that are being closed, like the newspaper Respublika, the online news site Stan TV, and the satellite broadcaster K+, have interacted regularly with all prominent figures in political life or civil society in Kazakhstan. Kazakh human rights activists are talking grimly about their country sliding toward conditions associated with
Even as the government tars the opposition as extremist, it appears at an utter loss to prevent or understand the wave of actual terrorist attacks that have struck
On December 1,