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.