Nearly 600 police officers and soldiers have descended into the troubled town of Zhanaozen, scene of riots last December that left 15 protestors dead. Authorities say they are conducting a special law-enforcement operation that will end on August 3, the day after the appeal of 13 civilians serving prison terms over the fatal violence is to be heard.
The regional police HQ said 586 officers, including 300 soldiers, had been drafted for the operation, dubbed “Law and Order,” Kazakhstan Today reported.
The news comes three days after regional police chief Meyrkhan Zhamanbayev denied reports of a troop build-up in the town. Speaking to the local Lada newspaper, he said 200 soldiers were always on duty in Zhanaozen, due to a “shortage” of police officers. It was also “time for the people of Zhanaozen to get used to the soldiers,” since a permanent garrison for 100 troops is being built there.
The Law and Order operation has so far mainly netted petty criminals. But the timing of this zero-tolerance approach suggests that the massive security build-up is related to the hearing of the appeal of 13 jailed civilians from Zhanaozen (who include former oil workers whose industrial action sparked December’s unrest).
An appeal from four protestors from the nearby village of Shetpe who are serving time over the clashes has already been rejected, as has the appeal of five police officers imprisoned for unlawfully shooting protestors.
Amid lingering tensions in Zhanaozen, none of the officials who were accused of the corruption that fuelled Zhanaozen’s socioeconomic decline have been given prison terms. Former mayor Zhalgas Babakhanov received a suspended sentence for abuse of office. His successor Orak Sarbopeyev was acquitted of graft charges in a second trial after the first collapsed amid jury tampering allegations.
Fuelling the sense of political impunity, on July 13 former regional governor Krymbek Kusherbayev, fired in disgrace over the violence, was given a cushy appointment as adviser to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.