Killings Excessive Use Of Force In Almaty

Partners Should Press for Investigation into Abusive Response to Protests, Unrest

Kazakh secu­ri­ty forces used exces­sive force on at least four occa­sions, includ­ing lethal force such as shoot­ing at pro­test­ers and riot­ers, dur­ing recent demon­stra­tions and sub­se­quent civ­il unrest, Human Rights Watch said today. An analy­sis of over 80 ver­i­fied videos record­ed between January 4 and 6, 2022, in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, high­lights the urgent need for an effec­tive, inde­pen­dent, and impar­tial investigation.

The worst of the four inci­dents ana­lyzed in the videos led to 10 appar­ent killings, with 19 peo­ple injured. The full toll is like­ly high­er, both in this case and in oth­ers in which secu­ri­ty forces used exces­sive force. On January 15 Kazakhstan’s prosecutor’s office stat­ed that the bod­ies of 225 peo­ple, includ­ing 19 mem­bers of the secu­ri­ty forces, had been deliv­ered to morgues across the coun­try since January 4.

“There is ample evi­dence show­ing that secu­ri­ty forces opened fire with­out any appar­ent jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and killed at least 10 peo­ple,” said Jonathan Pedneault, con­flict and cri­sis researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The death toll from the vio­lent crack­down is like­ly much greater and requires a prompt and effec­tive investigation.”

Protests began on January 2 in Zhanaozen, a west­ern oil town, over a sharp increase in gas prices. By January 4, thou­sands of peace­ful pro­test­ers in oth­er parts of the coun­try had joined in, demand­ing eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal reforms. The gov­ern­ment clamped down on the protests over the next six days, includ­ing restric­tions to inter­net access. Authorities in Kazakhstan have long restrict­ed fun­da­men­tal rights and reject­ed calls for gen­uine reforms.

Human Rights Watch ver­i­fied and ana­lyzed over 80 videos, the major­i­ty of which were record­ed by par­tic­i­pants or wit­ness­es to the events in Almaty between January 4 and 6 and shared on Telegram, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. Nine of them were record­ed by Agence France-Presse jour­nal­ists and one was post­ed online by the Kazakh gov­ern­ment. A local jour­nal­ist sent anoth­er video direct­ly to Human Rights Watch.

By match­ing land­marks in the videos with satel­lite imagery, maps, and pho­tographs, Human Rights Watch iden­ti­fied the loca­tions where the videos were record­ed. To estab­lish a chronol­o­gy, the footage was com­pared with media reports and social media posts, the time of sun­set and sun­rise, and clocks shown in record­ings. For the events on January 6, Human Rights Watch also spoke with three wit­ness­es, a jour­nal­ist and two protesters.

In the first inci­dent, 17 videos record­ed on late January 4 and ear­ly January 5 show peace­ful pro­test­ers walk­ing to and gath­er­ing in Almaty’s Republic Square, close to city hall and the president’s palace. Small groups with­in the crowd appear to be loot­ing from stores on their way to the square. Around 12:15 a.m., short­ly after the pro­test­ers arrived, secu­ri­ty forces forcibly dis­persed them with tear gas, stun grenades, and rub­ber pro­jec­tiles. Afterwards, a crowd began to attack secu­ri­ty forces and set fire to police vehicles.

In the sec­ond inci­dent, a series of 23 videos record­ed between 3 and 5:30 p.m. on January 5, shows that secu­ri­ty forces pro­tect­ing the president’s res­i­dence repeat­ed­ly fired with assault rifles at sev­er­al hun­dred peo­ple out­side the build­ing, includ­ing pro­test­ers and oth­ers hold­ing sticks, shields, and spades. The peo­ple did not appear to be pos­ing an immi­nent threat to secu­ri­ty forces, though one per­son might have been hold­ing a hand­gun. From this footage, Human Rights Watch count­ed at least 10 peo­ple who appear to have been killed and 19 injured, most of them appar­ent­ly by bullets.

That night, in a tele­vised speech, President Kasym-Jomart Tokaev referred to the pro­test­ers and riot­ers as “ter­ror­ist gangs […] who have under­gone train­ing abroad.” He did not elab­o­rate or offer evi­dence for his claims at the time, or since.

In the third inci­dent, a video showed sol­diers shoot­ing live ammu­ni­tion in Republic Square around 10 a.m. on January 6. A pro­test­er who was present at the time said that she and about 150 oth­ers were peace­ful and shout­ed “Don’t shoot” pri­or to secu­ri­ty forces fir­ing into the air. She said one man was injured, which local media also report­ed.

In the fourth inci­dent, between 6 and 6:30 p.m. on January 6, peace­ful pro­test­ers again gath­ered on Republic Square hold­ing a large white ban­ner that read: “We are peace­ful pro­test­ers! We are not the terrorists!”

A pro­test­er present at the time told Human Rights Watch that he saw secu­ri­ty forces fire warn­ing shots pri­or to direct­ing live fire at the pro­test­ers and then ran for his life. The pro­test­er who was on the square ear­li­er and the jour­nal­ist said they had left the square min­utes before but heard the shoot­ing. Witnesses who spoke to the jour­nal­ist said they saw one pro­test­er hit in the head and anoth­er wound­ed in the upper body.

The wit­ness accounts are con­sis­tent with footage in six videos that were record­ed at the time by peo­ple who were flee­ing or hid­ing from the shoot­ing, though none of them cap­tured video of the sol­diers open­ing fire. In one, over 100 gun­fire rounds can be heard. One video showed one man, appar­ent­ly injured, being car­ried by pro­test­ers to a car.

During a tele­vised speech on January 7, President Tokaev said he had ordered secu­ri­ty forces “to shoot to kill with­out warn­ing.” The same day, Human Rights Watch urged the gov­ern­ment to rescind the order because it could lead to unlaw­ful killings.

The gov­ern­ment has sub­se­quent­ly defend­ed the con­duct of secu­ri­ty forces. On January 16 the Almaty police chief, Kanat Taimerdenov, told the media that “in all cas­es, police offi­cers worked accord­ing to the estab­lished pro­ce­dures to ensure the pro­tec­tion of pub­lic order dur­ing peace­ful assem­blies and were not armed.” On January 11 Almaty police said that, in addi­tion to the 19 killed, 176 of its offi­cers had been injured in the unrest.

In addi­tion to oblig­a­tions to pro­tect rights to life and bod­i­ly integri­ty, under inter­na­tion­al human rights law, Kazakhstan has an oblig­a­tion to respect the right to peace­ful expres­sion and assem­bly, includ­ing by ensur­ing that its secu­ri­ty forces are trained and equipped to police demon­stra­tions in rights-respect­ing ways.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials state that secu­ri­ty forces should “apply non-vio­lent means before resort­ing to the use of force and firearms,” and use the min­i­mum nec­es­sary force at all times. Intentional, lethal use of firearms is only per­mit­ted when strict­ly unavoid­able to pro­tect life.

In light of the grav­i­ty of the alleged vio­la­tions, Kazakhstan’s inter­na­tion­al part­ners, includ­ing the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Kazakhstan is a mem­ber, and the European Union, should press the gov­ern­ment of Kazakhstan to con­duct an effec­tive, inde­pen­dent and impar­tial inves­ti­ga­tion into the secu­ri­ty forces’ response to the January events, with a view to ensur­ing full accountability.

The gov­ern­ment should also con­duct an effec­tive inves­ti­ga­tion to iden­ti­fy those respon­si­ble for attack­ing and killing secu­ri­ty force mem­bers, caus­ing crim­i­nal dam­age to pub­lic prop­er­ty, or oth­er unlaw­ful acts. They should be held to account in fair pro­ceed­ings, Human Rights Watch said.

The gov­ern­ment should seek the sup­port of inter­na­tion­al exper­tise and refrain from hin­der­ing inquiries and mon­i­tor­ing activ­i­ties by nation­al and inter­na­tion­al non-gov­ern­men­tal groups, region­al and inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions, and the media.

Should the gov­ern­ment fail to con­duct an effec­tive inves­ti­ga­tion that meets inter­na­tion­al stan­dards, OSCE mem­bers should invoke the Moscow Mechanism, an OSCE inves­ti­ga­tion pro­ce­dure, and UN Human Rights Council mem­bers should address the issues at their next session.

“Dozens of griev­ing fam­i­lies across Kazakhstan are wait­ing for answers from their gov­ern­ment,” Pedneault said. “It should be a pri­or­i­ty for Kazakhstan to restore some mea­sure of con­fi­dence in the rule of law and ensure that all those respon­si­ble for this trag­ic loss of life are held to account.”

For addi­tion­al details, please see below.


The fol­low­ing chronol­o­gy is based on a review of over 80 ver­i­fied videos that were record­ed in Almaty between January 4 and 6, the major­i­ty of which were shared on Telegram, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube, the remain­der filmed by jour­nal­ists. Together with state­ments pro­vid­ed by three wit­ness­es and media reports, they show that secu­ri­ty forces forcibly dis­persed peace­ful pro­test­ers on the night of January 4 and ear­ly morn­ing of January 5, and used lethal force on January 5 and 6, result­ing in seri­ous injuries and deaths.

window.tgpQueue.add('tgpli-64a7dd5b64b34')Wider map of cen­tral Almaty, Kazakhstan. © 2022 Human Rights Watch

Late January 4 and Early January 5 – Incident One

Human Rights Watch ana­lyzed 17 videos record­ed in Almaty on late January 4 and ear­ly January 5 that show the Kazakh secu­ri­ty forces’ unlaw­ful dis­per­sal of peace­ful protests, includ­ing using unnec­es­sary and dis­pro­por­tion­ate force, while a shut­down of mobile inter­net access was being imposed.

Peaceful Demonstrations

A video from AFP, made up of mul­ti­ple clips record­ed around 12 p.m. on January 4, shows a small group of peace­ful pro­test­ers led by Zhanbolat Mamay, a for­mer jour­nal­ist now lead­ing Kazakhstan’s unreg­is­tered Democratic Party, ral­ly­ing in sup­port of the protest move­ment on Almaty’s Republic Square. Security forces are then seen arriv­ing and appear to order them to disperse.

Around 6:30 p.m., users and media began to report restric­tions to mobile inter­net access, which rep­re­sents almost 75 per­cent of online traf­fic in Kazakhstan. Between 7:15 and 7:45 p.m., as media reports describe and a video post­ed to Telegram show, scores of peace­ful pro­test­ers gath­ered by Alatau Theater on the out­skirts of Almaty, head­ing toward the cen­ter, 10 kilo­me­ters away. At around 10 p.m., a group of thou­sands of pro­test­ers is seen in a video post­ed to Facebook walk­ing toward cen­tral Almaty, singing the nation­al anthem.

Security Forces on Republic Square

Human Rights Watch ver­i­fied three videos shared on YouTube and Telegram show­ing hun­dreds of law enforce­ment offi­cers equipped with riot gear, includ­ing shields, hel­mets, and batons, deploy­ing by mid­night on the night of January 4 on Republic Square. Before pro­test­ers arrived, the forces are seen form­ing a cor­don block­ing the entrance to city hall and posi­tion­ing them­selves at the cross­roads of Satpaev and Nazarbayev Streets, on the east­ern end of the square. Seven trans­port trucks and at least 33 police vans sup­port them.

Between 12:05 and 12:19 a.m. on January 5, peace­ful pro­test­ers can be seen fill­ing Republic Square, enter­ing from the west at the cross­roads of Satpaev and Zheltoksan Streets, and gath­er­ing around the Independence monument.

Forced Dispersal of Peaceful Protesters; Unnecessary Use of Force

Fifteen min­utes after the peace­ful demon­stra­tors arrived, about 20 dis­tant det­o­na­tions are heard in a video record­ed from a build­ing over­look­ing Republic Square from the north. Several hun­dred addi­tion­al pro­test­ers are then seen arriv­ing from Zheltoksan Street, rush­ing toward the police cor­don in front of city hall and push­ing their way through the line. The pro­test­ers even­tu­al­ly flanked law enforce­ment offi­cials, who then retreat­ed east to their posi­tion at the cor­ner of Satpaev and Nazarbayev Streets. Within min­utes, a series of loud det­o­na­tions are heard, and a thick cloud of tear­gas smoke can be seen waft­ing west­ward from the law enforce­ment posi­tion, slow­ly engulf­ing the square and protesters.

Between approx­i­mate­ly 12:25 and 12:51 a.m., law enforce­ment offi­cers at the cor­ner of Satpaev and Nazarbayev Streets deployed scores of stun grenades and tear­gas can­is­ters to dis­perse the crowd. A video post­ed to Telegram shows that some pro­test­ers retal­i­at­ed by throw­ing stones and oth­er objects at law enforce­ment offi­cers, but most pro­test­ers remained peaceful.

Tokaev Speech, Rioting, and Retreat by Security Forces

Just as secu­ri­ty forces were force­ful­ly dis­pers­ing pro­test­ers from Republic Square, President Tokaev gave a tele­vised speech, broad­cast short­ly before 12:37 a.m., in which he called for dia­logue but empha­sized that the gov­ern­ment would not fall and that “calls to attack the offices of civ­il and mil­i­tary depart­ments are absolute­ly illegal.”

By 1:05 a.m., law enforce­ment offi­cials had dis­persed all pro­test­ers from Republic Square, but vio­lence erupt­ed in oth­er areas of town, with groups of riot­ers aggres­sive­ly tar­get­ing police vehi­cles and set­ting them on fire.

Around 2 a.m., a video record­ed near Republic Square and post­ed on YouTube showed secu­ri­ty forces aggres­sive­ly con­fronting a group of pro­test­ers who appeared large­ly peace­ful, except for some peo­ple throw­ing stones. The video showed secu­ri­ty forces fir­ing stun grenades and a police­man hit­ting one detainee in the back.

Two videos of an inci­dent that took place before 2:53 a.m. about 700 meters north­west of Independence Monument, near the cor­ner Seifullin and Abay Streets, show hun­dreds of riot­ers chas­ing away secu­ri­ty forces aboard three troop-car­ry­ing trucks and an 8‑wheeled BTR armored vehi­cle with a mount­ed machine gun.

January 5 and Early January 6

Human Rights Watch ana­lyzed over 50 videos record­ed between the late after­noon of January 5 and ear­ly morn­ing January 6 that show gov­ern­ment forces adopt­ing dif­fer­ent secu­ri­ty pos­tures at var­i­ous points, begin­ning with a show of force, fol­lowed by a deploy­ment of unarmed and light­ly equipped troops on foot in the streets of Almaty, only hours after peo­ple had clashed with secu­ri­ty forces.

At 3 p.m., a mixed group of pro­test­ers and riot­ers tried to storm gov­ern­ment build­ings, includ­ing the Almaty city hall and the near­by president’s residence.

Law enforce­ment offi­cers defend­ing city hall appeared to offer lim­it­ed resis­tance, with some secu­ri­ty force per­son­nel cap­tured and severe­ly beat­en. But cadets and police offi­cers deployed at the res­i­dence rapid­ly resort­ed to sus­tained and exces­sive lethal force. In footage from the event, Human Rights Watch iden­ti­fied at least 19 peo­ple who were injured and 10 who appear to have been killed.

Early Morning Deployment of Forces by Republic Square

In an appar­ent gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tion of force cap­tured on video in the morn­ing of January 5, six BPM-97 armored per­son­nel car­ri­ers are seen at the entrance of Republic Square, at the cor­ner of Satpaev and Nazarbayev Streets.

Photographs and video footage pub­lished by, a local news out­let, before 11 a.m. show that mil­i­tary forces wear­ing bul­let­proof vests but not vis­i­bly bear­ing weapons had cor­doned off city hall. A sim­i­lar deploy­ment was report­ed near Almaty’s inter­na­tion­al air­port at the same time.

By mid­day, post­ed anoth­er video show­ing groups of pro­test­ers walk­ing on Raimbek and Tole Bi Streets toward the city center.

Events on Shevchenko Street

Around 2:40 p.m., four videos record­ed from dif­fer­ent loca­tions on down­town Almaty’s Shevchenko Street between Seifullin and Pushkin Streets show a com­pact group of few­er than 300 law enforce­ment offi­cers, in riot gear and equipped with batons and shield, being pur­sued east­ward on foot by a few dozen vio­lent riot­ers, who