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BACKGROUND

Public protests

2nd January

On 2 January 2022, a series of public protests commenced in the south-east of Kazakhstan following a decision by Kazakhstan’s Government to deregulate and raise the prices of liquified petroleum gas, an affordable and widely adopted fuel source. The protests quickly spread to other regions, turning violent and resulting in the introduction of a state of emergency.

Protesters notably penetrated and damaged government buildings in the largest city of Almaty. Under pressure, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed the rapid escalation on foreign-backed extremists and the wilful ineffectiveness of the national security establishment.

Five days after the outbreak of protests, President Tokayev announced a “shoot to kill without warning order.”

According to official sources, 230 people died, nineteen of them members of the security forces, and more than 4,500 were wounded or injured in the unrest. Independent sources suggest these numbers are in reality significantly higher.

 

Dismissals

5th January

Former Prime Minister Karim Kazhimkanovich Massimov led Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee from 2016 until his dismissal by President Tokayev on 5 January 2022. The same day, former President Nursultan Nazarbayev was also stripped of his position as chair of the country’s Security Council.

Yermek Sagimbayev, previously head of the State Security Service, replaced Massimov in his position at the National Security Committee, while President Tokayev took over as chair of the Security Council.

Pre-trial investigation

6th January

On 6 January, the National Security Committee launched a pre-trial investigation (see here) into treason, under article 175 of part 1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan. On suspicion of committing this crime, a number of individuals including Karim Massimov were detained. They have since been held incommunicado, and Karim Massimov has been deprived of access to his appointed attorney. A date for his trial has not yet been set. 

Expanded investigation

13th January

On 13 January, the National Security Committee announced (see here) that the pre-trial investigation into Karim Massimov was continuing, with additional investigations opened pertaining to allegations of attempted seizure of power and abuse of power.

International reaction

20th January

On 20 January, the European Parliament passed a motion for a resolution “denouncing the widespread acts of violence that followed the peaceful protests in Kazakhstan that began on 2 January”. It “urged Kazakh authorities to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and immediately release arbitrarily detained demonstrators and activists”.

UK Ambassador to the OSCE Neil Bush issued a statement saying “it is vital those who have been arrested are afforded due process under the rule of law in a timely manner. We understand there are a number of well-known activists who have been detained and we await further information about their status and well-being”.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has since issued a declaration, condemning the Kazakh government’s “disinformation campaign”, human rights violations, and arbitrary detention of thousands of protesters and political prisoners.

Top secret classification

27th January

On 27 January, the National Security Committee confirmed that the criminal case against Karim Massimov and several others had been classified as “top secret”, limiting the details that will be disclosed ahead of an eventual trial.

News of former Deputy Chairman of the National Security Committee Daulet Ergozin’s arrest and pre-trial detention was confirmed on 7 February, with his case also being classified as “top secret” by the authorities.

Petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

8th February

On 8 February, David A. Merkel – a founding pro-bono member of the Board of Trustees of Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, of which Karim Massimov serves as Chair – submitted a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The submission outlines how the arrest and detention of Karim Massimov are politically motivated, and that he is being denied his rights to due process. The available information establishes a sufficiently reliable case that Karim Massimov is being arbitrarily deprived of his liberty and that the continuation of such deprivation constitutes a serious threat to his health, physical or psychological integrity and/or his life.

The petition requests the Working Group to transmit an urgent appeal to the Government of Kazakhstan; to form an opinion pursuant to Resolution 1997/50 of the UN Commission on Human Rights; and to advise Kazakhstan to release Karim Massimov and provide him with appropriate reparations. In the alternative, the petition requests that the Working Group urge Kazakhstan to ensure that Karim Massimov’s human rights are secured.

The UN Working Group has since accepted the petition and, given the serious matters raised therein, applied its urgent action procedure that the petition be dealt with as a priority to ensure the observance of Mr. Massimov’s right to life and to physical and mental integrity.

Not later than 6 June, the Government of Kazakhstan must respond to the allegations of arbitrary detention and human rights infringements relating to Mr Massimov in accordance with the representations of the UN Working Group.

Extension of Karim Massimov's detention

25th February

On 25 February, the Investigative Court of the City of Nur-Sultan in relation to Karim Massimov extended the measure of restraint in the form of detention for up to three months, i.e. until 6 April 2022.

The KNB clarified that it is investigating a criminal case against Massimov and other persons on the grounds of crimes under several articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Further international reaction

7th March

In her update at the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned the “excessive use of force” by the Kazakh authorities in response to peaceful protests. She also deplored the “use of other practices that violate Kazakhstan’s international human rights obligations, including torture and ill-treatment in police detention”.

These grave concerns were echoed by the Swiss delegation to the Human Rights Council, which also called for an independent investigation to examine the alleged human rights violations, as well as a guarantee of rights to due process for those detained.

On 10 March, international non-profit organization CIVICUS added Kazakhstan to its watchlist over concerns regarding the hundreds killed during the protests, the 10,000+ individuals detained in connection with the protests, and widespread allegations of torture.

On 5 March, a legal analysis of the circumstances of Mr Massimov’s detention was published online and carried by European media. Violations of the law committed during the investigative process continue to be recorded.

New allegations

10th March

The National Security Committee announced on 10 March new alleged “indications of corruption” against Karim Massimov, based on supposed evidence of international bribery. This is a work of fiction, intended to publicly smear Karim Massimov’s character as a method of obscuring the truth: that the government has been unable to make any progress in its original legal case against him.

It has now been over two months since Karim Massimov’s pre-trial detention was announced. The authorities have missed their own deadline to provide an update on his situation and appear to have instead decided to launch a disinformation campaign through the media. No information on these new claims has been provided via any legal avenues.

Karim Massimov is understood to still be in the pre-trial detention centre of the National Security Committee. It is not known whether a hearing was held to authorize the extension of his detention beyond the initial two months, as such information remains classified.