Open Appeal to the Kazakhstan Authorities

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Kharkiv Human Rights Group have issued the following open letter to the authorities in Kazakhstan regarding the events in Zhanaozen.

We have learned that on 16 December 2011 on the central square of Zhanaozen a peaceful strike by workers of a local company turned into a clash with the police who opened fire on the strikers. The use of lethal firearms was later explained as due to concern for the safety of State property since the demonstrators or unidentified persons acting as provocateurs, had set fire to the local company’s administrative building, the premises of the local administration and hotels.

Straight after this, we understand,, the authorities blocked mobile and Internet links with the town and declared a state of martial law, with journalists not being allowed in.

Ukraine’s human rights organizations are concerned that members of the authorities have used firearms against peaceful citizens holding a demonstration. In accordance with international standards, the life of each individual is of fundamental value and must be protected by the State. The use of firearms by units which are specially trained, armed and have means of defence against peaceful civilians in order to protect property is clearly inappropriate.

We are seriously concerned by the fact that the Kazakhstan authorities have blocked links between the residents of Zhanaozen with the outside world, and are also preventing journalists from getting to the town to cover events. Such behaviour by the authorities creates the conditions for arbitrary rule, abuses and unwarranted violence against the town’s residents. It also arouses well-founded suspicion that official information about the events in Zhanaozen does not reflect the real situation. This is also a cause of immense distress for relatives and close friends living in other cities who, while hearing information about people being killed and injured, cannot find out what has happened to their loved ones.

We call on the government of Kazakhstan to immediately allow independent journalists and representatives of national and international civic organizations into Zhanaozen, and to also remove any obstruction preventing contact between the town’s residents and the outside world. We also call for an independent, thorough and objective investigation to be carried out at once into cases where the authorities have used arms against town residents resulting in death and serious injury.

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