Recent History of Police Killing People in Ex-Soviet Central Asia Countries

You have the right to videotape the police, though as anyone familiar with this site would point out, that hasn’t entirely precluded “authorities” in the USA from harassing those who do. In some other countries, the situation is even more challenging, especially  during situations of social unrest. In the last decade two examples of police crackdowns on protests, in which a number of peaceful people were killed, happened in two ex-Soviet countries in Central Asia, Uzbekistan (2005) and Kazakhstan (2011).


Video of police assault on civil protest in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, 2011

In both countries the governments are very oppressive and the tensions were rising. People were going out to streets – some more aggressive than others. The police response was brutal and deadly, indiscriminately affecting many peaceful individuals, which was followed by weeks of additional government crackdowns and curfews. Finally, in both counties, authorities were trying to diminish number of killed, wounded and bitten and say that all of them were terrorists and criminals.

But there are some differences. One would find hardly any graphic material about what happened in Andijan, Uzbekistan in 2005, where officially 184 people were killed while unofficially several hundred (probably 700-1500) generally peaceful protesters and viewers deceased after government agents sprayed the demonstrators with machine gun fire. What started as a movement against corruption and oppression turned into full-scale protest after many local businessmen were arrested. Some people managed to take over the local jail and release people from there. Government reaction was very brutal. The region was blocked, no media was allowed there. It took a while to calm down people when many were trying to seek justice or to flee to neighboring Kirgizstan.

Uzbek government troops calm down riots in Andizhan with machine guns 2005 copblock
Snapshot of Uzbek government troops preparing to calm down riots in Andizhan with machine guns. 2005

Uzbek government under president Karimov claimed that all protesters were Muslim terrorists and all killings were justified. Most of foreign observers believed neither this explanation, nor official numbers. Many political analytics were saying that Karimov’s regime would fall soon since it is impossible to go on after so many people were brutally killed. Unfortunately, the history showed otherwise. By blocking the region from journalists, authorities managed to hide their wrongdoings out of view of video cameras. Karimov made agreements with Russian president Putin, who loves dictators around the globe. Moreover, the US government also was content to generally ignore the government-sponsored murders, and in return, get a military base to fight in nearby Afghanistan.

The situation in Kazakhstan was similarly awful but there were some important differences: no protesters had guns and some of the local people did use their video cameras.

Corruption and on-going work conflicts between oil workers and administrators led to a big meeting in Zhanaozen in December, 2011. Before too long, some of the protests turned ugly. Fires were set around the city. It led to major police presence, who opened fire at protesters, followed by three weeks of curfew and the torturing of arrested people.

Some were killed by bullets fired by police, others were killed later at police detention centers.

Unlike the incident in Uzbekistan, in Kazakhstan people managed to videotape at least some of events (one may see the 2 minute video piece attached to this article, and there are many more available on the internet). Although president Nazarbaev’s government covered most of its wrongdoings, thanks to this video evidence, at least several governmental murderers were later convicted and sentenced to different terms. Both government and opposition agreed that most protesters were peaceful and that only a couple organized groups of provocateurs were active in setting fires. Yet, it remains unclear who these provocateurs were.

Discussing recent issues with a friend who blogs at CopBlock.org, I was arguing with his position that all honest people should leave US police these days. He is hoping that when only dishonest and violent people will be left in the police, other people will be able to see the corruption of the system and it will lead to quicker positive change. Arguably it doesn’t happen in Uzbekistan after violent murder of hundreds of protesting people by law enforcers. Nor did it happen 80 years ago when Stalin was ruling in that region killing millions, often by false accusation. There, things got much worse before they got any better.

Yes, some people were awakened by such events and saw the evil which the Man was brining. But corrupted law enforcers also sometimes do something good to protect some kind of order, and often they have even better PR and propaganda which may deceive many locals. Also, they are more ready to suppress freedom of the press which farther leads to misleading the public. And finally, they are more ready to turn violent on people and suppress any protest. People are scared to try any change in countries with totally corrupt police. I don’t know how it works in the US, but the staffing of police outfits with such heavy-handed people in those Central Asia countries didn’t lead to quick gain of freedom.

So once again IN WHERE one may be targeted by police even if he is peaceful protester – several aggressive men (sometimes even connected to the government) are often used as an excuse for the crackdown on the whole movement. Moreover, one may be targeted by police even if he is completely apolitical and just happened to be in the town of unrests and imposed police curfew! People are frequently arrested, bitten, tortured or even killed by the very law enforcing personnel which in theory should have protected them.

Right now it is safer in the US, but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen – this country saw revolution, civil war and multiple iterations of large-scale unrest when many innocent people were targeted by those with political power, etc. Hopefully the new taping technologies and self-empowering organizations like Cop Block will at least bring a little bit more accountability for violent people and lower the chance of bloody scenarios.

Yury Polozov

MORE

Andijan Massacre via Wikipedia
Mangystau Riots via Wikipedia


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