UN Urges Release of Thousands Detained During Kazakh Protests

The U.N. human rights office is calling for prompt, independent, and impartial investigations into the deadly crackdown by Kazakhstan authorities on protests that erupted in the country January 2 over rising fuel prices. Officials in Kazakhstan say dozens of people have been killed over the past week and that some 9,900 protesters have been arrested and are in detention. U.N. human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell says her agency has not been able to verify an official death toll from the protests. “What we expect, and hope is that, of course, as more information comes to light, that we are able to get more complete and reliable figures…into these killings. And that would include, for example, whether unnecessary and disproportionate use of force was made by the security forces,” she said. Under international law, Throssell said, people have the right to protest peacefully and express their opinions. She said people should not be arrested and detained simply for exercising their rights. Throssell said those currently held should be released immediately. The spokeswoman said it is important that Kazakhstan’s ombudsperson be able to visit places of detention to monitor conditions under which prisoners are held. Regardless of what people have done, she said detainees should be allowed contact with a lawyer. “That is a key human rights safeguard that we repeat on many occasions as you know… And it is very important that the people like the ombudsperson in Kazakhstan are able to visit places of detention to prevent any torture and ill treatment, to monitor the situation of detainees,” she said. Throssell said her agency’s regional office in central Asia is monitoring developments in Kazakhstan from its base in nearby Kyrgyzstan. She said U.N. staff will engage with the Kazakh authorities whenever it deems appropriate and is possible. Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Monday claimed the main goal of the recent protests “was to undermine the constitutional order and to seize power.”

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