13 июля 2023
Almas Kaisar, photo by Akbota Uzbekbay

Suppressing the Truth

The "airport hijacking" court case further alienated society from truth and justice

Suppressing the Truth

On 5 January 2022, a group of protesters went to the Almaty airport after learning that Kazakhstan had turned to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) for help. They worried that a Russian military contingent could be flying into the city. By the time they arrived, the police had already left the building.

Together with other people, these protesters were looking for the control tower to demand that they switch off the green light. Once they were told that Russian troops were not flying into the city at that time, they left the airport.

A year and a half later, those five protesters were sentenced to four to eight years in prison for "attacking, as well as seizing the airport" and "participating in, as well as organizing, mass riots." In reality, witnesses said they were not threatened or hurt. The court still found them guilty, as required by the prosecution.

On July 11, the judge quickly read the verdicts and hastily asked for someone to translate the sentence from Russian into Kazakh. At that time, in the courtroom, dozens of people were screaming, showing a banner that read: “The people are not terrorists!”.

Aigerim Tleuzhanova is a journalist and civic activist, Kalas Nurpeisov is a history teacher and civic activist, Nurlan Dalibayev, Yermukhamet Shilibayev and Zhan-Aidar Karmenov are ordinary citizens who were worried about the fate of the country. None of them pleaded guilty.

Perhaps no one expected an acquittal, because as early as 5 January 2023, Prosecutor General Berik Assylov had already said that Tleuzhanova was “a member of an extremist religious organization” and “the mastermind of the airport hijacking.”

Moreover, an acquittal would have hit President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s version of the events: “the capturing of the airport was a key step to ensure the passage of militants to the city,” he had said. Without this, like a house of cards, all other statements about “attacks from outside” would collapse.

The defendants in the case reported, among other violations, the inhuman conditions of their detention and the prosecution offering them deals in exchange for testimony against each other. They said that the investigators deliberately misled them.

The court cases regarding Qandy Qantar seem to have a specific set of goals: to disenfranchise those who came out to protest, to deprive the people of Kazakhstan of truth and justice, and to ban political participation and self-organization without state control. The country's leadership allows no space to heal the collective trauma associated with Qandy Qantar, as well as with many other bloody events in the country's history.

For a year and a half, we have not received a complete list of the victims, along with the circumstances of their death. The population was never shown the results of the investigation, which would reveal the truth about the events. Instead, people who took to the streets because of injustice have been branded criminals and bandits, and the country is left to drown in conspiracy theories.

Until we obtain the truth and achieve justice in the courts, we will remain hostages of those bloody events. We will continue to live in a stunned society, torn apart by internal conflicts.