Kazakhstan: assassination of a witness of the Zhanaozen events

  • 24.10.2012
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On the 7th of October, 2012, in Zhanaozen, a 23-year-old orphan Aleksandr Bozhenko, a witness of the tragic events in Zhanaozen was killed. During the trial of 37 oil workers, heretracted his false testimony and made a statement onthe use of torture. According to the official version, the "crime was solved"; however, members of civil society in Kazakhstan state that a "cleanup operation" has begun, directed at the witnesses of the Zhanaozen tragedy of 2011; who are ‘inconvenient’ for the investigative bodies.

The news of the death of one of the most famous witnesses of the Zhanaozen events was made public only after the speech of the human rights defender Galym Ageleuov at a press conference in Almaty on the 15th of October, 2012. At that time, the human rights activist announced that it was not known exactly when he Aleksandr Bozhenko had died, but it was determined that the orphan had spent several days in intensive care. On the same day in some Kazakh media it was reported that a young man was killed in a drunken brawl at a wedding.

In the press release, issued by the Department of Internal Affairs of Mangistau Province, regarding the case of the murder in Zhanaozen it was announced: On the 10th of July, 2012, at 5:20 a.m., Aleksandr Valeryevich Bozhenko, born on the 22th of January, 1989, in Atyrau, place of residence:  Zhanaozen, 'Arai-2' residential district, Street No. 10, house No. 32, was taken by ambulance to the accident and emergency department of the Zhanaozen Central Hospital. The victim was  diagnosed with "closed craniocerebral injury, brain contusion, contused wound in the rightparietal region, 3-level coma", andhe was admitted to the intensive care unit of in the Zhanaozen Central Hospital. On the 11th of October, at approx. 00:30 A.V. Bozhenko, who never regained consciousness, died in the intensive care unit".

According to the official version of the investigative body,"Aleksandr Bozhenko's murder was fully solved":

  • Thus, the prosecutor of the town of Zhanaozen, Marat Toyzhan in an interview given to journalists, announced: "It happened at approx. 3 a.m. on the night of the 7th of October. The story is as follows: Aleksandr Bozhenko was standing near a shop in residential district No. 5. At this time came two 19-year-old boys - Nursultan Tuleshev and Kuat Ryzabekov  to do some shopping. They had an altercation with a saleswoman over a dispute concerning 50 tenge. Bozhenko reprimanded them, expressing his willingness to pay the disputed amount of money (he came into the shopto buy mineral water). Tuleshev and Ryzabekov became angry - they asked, "Who are you?" and said "We too have 50 tenge."They began to beat the man with no other apparent motive than sheer hooliganism, and then put him into their car and dropped him near the Khan Shatyr restaurant. At that time he was still alive... He was taken to the intensive care unit of the town hospital, where he died three days later...";  
  • The statement of the prosecutor of Zhanaozen was confirmed by the Deportament of Internal Affairs of Mangistau Province, and it was clarified that Aleksandr Bozhenko was 'drunk'at the time of the incident; still, evidence to support this,has not been provided. According to the chief of the police of Zhanaozen, this incident had no political motives. Any implication of revenge for his testimonies is also absent: "In the course of the search operations, the crime was solved within 5 days, 2 suspects were identified and arrested (residents of Zhanaozen, both born in 1993, had never been tried before), who gave confessions that they had committed thisactofhooliganism", - the DIA's press release states. 

The official version of the death of Aleksandr Bozhenko was not accepted by the general public as an accurate one - in the media and on internet forums immediate discussions began, which implied that the elimination of the witnesses of the Zhanaozen events who are unconvenient  to the government, had begun.

Let us recall that the 23-year-old Aleksandr Bozhenko, a child  of an orphanage, became famous after giving evidence at the trial on the 'case of oil workers'. On the 24th of April, 2012, when testifying in court, Aleksandr Bozhenko retracted his testimony given earlier and made a statement describing the torture he was subjected to: "I wanted to tell you everything. They made me do this. On the 18th of December I was caught, taken to the police, there I was beaten and tortured... The investigator wrote the testimony for me".

A witness of the Zhanaozen events, Aleksandr Bozhenko was inconvenient and   dangerous to the authorities for several reasons:

  • First, when giving testimony in court, Aleksandr Bozhenko stated that he had heard the policemen say that the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, personally ordered to beat the witnesses in order to make them give a convenient testimony; 
  • Second, Aleksandr Bozhenko's testimony has been frequently used as the most striking example of the use of torture against witnesses and oil workers in the 'case of oil workers'.  At the OSCE conference in Warsaw, human rights defender Galym Ageleuov made public the reports of torture and ill-treatment,  which the investigators and policemen subjected the arrested oilmen to. At the top of the report was the very testimony of Aleksandr Bozhenko. 

The circumstances of the death of Aleksandr Bozhenko cast doubt over the official version of the authorities who claim that hooligans were responsible for the attack. In particular, the following facts raise suspicion:

  • Aleksandr Bozhenko was attacked on the 7th of October, 2012, but the press release in connection with this crime was not released until the 16th of October, 2012, just one day after the death of the witness of the Zhanaozen events became known to the general public; 
  • According to the official version, during the incident on the 7th of October, 2012, Aleksandr Bozhenko was drunk. However, relatives and friends have since confirmed; Aleksandr never drank alcohol due to religious beliefs; 
  • Residents of Zhanaozen doubt the version that the young man at 3 am, "went to the shop to buy mineral water" and "got into a fight" - after the events of December 2011 the locals generally avoid walking the streets at night; 
  • Aleksandr Bozhenko's body was not given to his adoptive parents for a long time. It was explained with the fact that a close relative of his in Russia had been identified, and that it was initially stated that body would have t be transferred to him. 

On the 17th of October, 2012, the day of the funeral of Aleksandr Bozhenko, civil activists held a rally in memory of the deceased in several cities in Kazakhstan and Europe.

According to human rights activist Asel Nurgaziyeva, locals still hold many secrets, which can produce an effect, similar to the reaction to the video footage (the video footage which shows the shooting of civilians during the demonstration in the square in Zhanaozen) of the user under the pseudonym 'saule540'.  The human rights activist who now represents the rights of relatives of the Zhanaozen people who were shot by the police, believes that the murder of Aleksandr Bozhenko may be just the tip of the iceberg: "Aleksandr could have become a key witness in the forthcoming processes related to the revision of the so-called"case of 37 oil workers", in which, undoubtedly,the problem of forcing people to give certain testimonies will be raised. And I am sure that this judicial process will be conducted. Even law enforcement officials understand the situation. Some of them are even resigning from their jobs now."

Civil activists of Kazakhstan are afraid that after the murder of a key witness of the Zhanaozen events, other assassinations may follow. Their fear is based on last year's events, when in August 2011, the leader of the labour union movement of oil workers, Zhaksylyk Turbayev, and the 18-year-old daughter of an activist of the striking workers, Zhansaule Karabalayeva, were killed, and in autumn 2011 a series of armed attacks were carried out against those who supported the strikers or who were standing in the square in front of the Akimat of Zhanaozen. Journalists of the video portal 'Stan TV' who were working on the site, were also severely beaten.

More on this topic: Bozhenko