The Kazakh Police Must Be Held to Account

by Joshua Foust on 12/21/2011 · 12 comments

This video was posted, with English subtitles, by K+, a Kazakh- and Russian-language news channel. It shows Kazakh riot police not only shooting protesters in Zhanaozen but then beating them with truncheons after they’ve collapsed to the ground. It is horrifying. There is no other way to describe it.

The police’s conduct is unacceptable. Seeing how the police responded to the wounded — by surrounding them and beating them with sticks — Interior Minister Kalmukhambet Kasymov’s claim that the police “had no choice but to shoot” rings especiall hollow. They clearly had a choice.

The Kazakh government has promised to investigate what happened. This has to result in reprimands and other penalties against the police. Even if they eventually decide the shootings were somehow justified — this happens in the U.S. as well — the beatings are not justified.

Civil unrest is never pretty, and it rarely ends prettily, especially in authoritarian societies. Worse still, the international community has few tools that match the severity of what happened should the Kazakh government prove unable to investigate itself (and in all likelihood that will be true). It’s uncomfortable to say this, but a dozen or two dead protesters is not enough to sever relations with Astana, and the U.S. rarely balks at police brutality in regimes it needs for other objectives. Maybe it should, but there are bigger stakes U.S. policymakers have to worry about, like withdrawing from Afghanistan, that outweigh human rights concerns at this small a scale.

I really hope the victims here can get justice. I’m just not optimistic that they will.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Jake December 21, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Apologies for what’s probably an ignorant question, but I’m guessing this video has enough spatial context clues for the Bad Guys to figure out exactly which apartment–not just the building, but the specific unit–the videographers were recording from, correct? Hope they’re safe, but I doubt they are.

Joshua Foust December 21, 2011 at 12:44 pm

It’s true, they just might. There’s a lot about this we just don’t know yet.

Oldschool Boy December 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Nobody would hold the police responsible because it will be considered as betrayal those who protect the state. It will be a very bad message since lately, in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, role of police forces in Kazakhstan society increased. As for beating with trancheons, it is a normal police practice in the former USSR.

Oldschool Boy December 21, 2011 at 1:14 pm


I do not think this video represents any risk to those who filmed it.
For you, what is going on here looks outrageous but for those who may be reviewing it in Kazakhstan it may tell completely different story. First of all, it shows that the rioters were throwing something as the police and clearly were not obeying police orders. It may be considered as a proof that the policemen were defending themselves. Second, from the video you can see that the police was using only handguns (probably 9mm Makarovs) but no assault riffles or shotguns were used. This again may be somehow justifiable. And as for the truncheon beating – pretty much the standard practice (if you excuse me my cynicism) and nobody will give a damn about it.

Grant December 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm

It would be nice if police across much of the world could be held accountable. Sadly you’ll see this acted out time and time again.

Yerbulan Akhmetov December 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm

No trolling, just an observation..

Once again it strikes me how casual some people speak of US intervention to the internal policy of INDEPENDENT country.
I mean, yes, human rights were violated, but what makes you think that if anyone, US should solve that.

And little off topic

“We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic.” (because clearly he also commited crimes against humanity) – Noam Chomsky on Bin Laden’s death

upyernoz December 21, 2011 at 3:41 pm

who is speaking about u.s. intervention here? sorry, but I don’t see that at all in this post. in fact, foust specifically seems to rule out breaking off relations or the like because there are “bigger things” for the u.s. to worry about.

Don Doherty December 21, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Oldschool Boy,

It is simply not true that “from the video you can see that the police was (sic) using only handguns (probably 9mm Makarovs) but no assault riffles or shotguns were used.” I see one handgun, and it is pulled out after much of the shooting is done. Can you see every gun that is fired in this clip? No. Neither can I. So forget that one.

As for the throwing of rocks as a pretext for the police using live ammunition, that is the kind of thing that makes sense to the IDF, but do you think the Palestinians buy it? So all it shows is that diehard supporters of the regime will see nothing wrong here. It says nothing about how people on the fence will feel.

Moreover, just because something is “standard practice” doesn’t mean it will never change, unless you feel there is something defective about this particular region/nation/people. Beatings like this were standard practice in the US for decades in the black community, but there were riots when video of one such beating emerged.

I continue to hope that civil liberties are extended in this world, even (or especially) in Khazakstan. I like my civil liberties. I feel they are safer the more people on the planet share them.

Oldschool Boy December 21, 2011 at 6:24 pm


I can tell that no assault riffles or shotguns were used not just by seeing or not seeing the weapons themselves. I can see that no assoult riffles were used simply by the reaction of the crowd. I have military experience and I know how weapons work. AK74 or AK74SU that Kazakhstan police uses is much deadlier weapon with the range considerably bigger that that of a handgun and has way higher psycological effect. If the police fired Kalashnikovs the street in front of them would be empty for at least 500 m. And I know that the police did not have shotguns for almost the same reason and also because the police in Kazakhstan, unlike the USA police, do not use shotguns.
I never said that it is alright to beat people with truncheons, I just said that nobody will focus on the truncheon beating when ther is a bigger picture to look at.
Another thing, Don: I do not think that throwing rocks at police is on the list of the civil liberties, or you and I live in completely different worlds. I would like to see you throwing a rock at a US policeman and then justifying it as you civil right.

interested party December 22, 2011 at 6:30 am

It does not matter what type of weapons were used (but your logic explaining how is wasn’t rifles is unsounds OS), the point is that from this footage there is clearly no justification for firing at people who are running away. A stone thrown at 50-100m is not life threatening to a policeman in riot clothing. It does not matter what the provocation was, international law will never accept the use fo lethal force in these circumstances. The only logical explanation for this extraordinary action is that the police got carried away and thought they had the backing of their sponsors.

Pasha December 22, 2011 at 9:55 am

Honestly, is there really a difference between shooting an unarmed man, running away with a 9mm PM or a 5.45mm AKSU-74/AK-74? That is truly splitting hairs. Is it any less onerous for an unarmed man to be killed with a 9mm bullet than with a 5.45 rifle round? In my mind, no. A bullet is a bullet and unarmed is unarmed.

Dr Red Book December 26, 2011 at 1:25 am

“Even if they eventually decide the shootings were somehow justified — this happens in the U.S. as well —”

Joshua, what makes you think that if something happens in US, it can be justified anywhere else?

Shooting at unarmed protesters is no good, we are perfectly clear on that. Police’s conduct needs to investigated and punished, if applicable(this is something that Kazakh government is after currently), but again no one can justify the participants and organizators of these clashes… There are piles of other ways to demonstrate your displeasure.

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