Kazakhstan has detained a former defence minister after prosecutors launched a probe against him for failing to fulfil his duties during last month’s violent unrest that killed 225 people, according to a statement by the prosecutor general’s office.
Murat Bektanov, who was sacked by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev last month, faces four to eight years in prison if convicted.
“On February 19, the General Prosecutor’s Office launched a pre-trial investigation against the former Minister of Defense Bektanov Murat Karibayevich on the fact of inaction in his service under Article 452 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan. On February 20, Bektanov was detained and placed in a temporary detention centre on suspicion of committing this crime,” the prosecutor general’s office said on Monday, using the Russian order of the full name including the father’s name at the end.
Tokayev has described the deadliest unrest in the oil-rich Central Asian’s post-Soviet history as an attempted coup, and another senior security official, a former head of the national security committee, has been arrested on charges of treason and abuse of office.
The authorities say they are still investigating the January events; they have named no culprits aside from the former security boss and a few of his deputies.
According to the legislation, under the article “Inaction of the authorities”, failure by an official to fulfil his official duties, which entailed grave consequences, is punishable by imprisonment for a term of four to eight years.
The same actions committed in a combat situation are punishable by imprisonment for a term of five to 10 years.
The unrest began on January 2 in a southwestern oil town against a fuel price increase and spread to the rest of Kazakhstan’s urban centres, morphing into deadly clashes and looting.
Authorities in Kazakhstan have blamed the violence on bandits and international “terrorists” who they said hijacked the protests that saw the epicentre of unrest move to the country’s largest city, Almaty.
Tokayev turned to a Russia-led military bloc for help during the unrest and sidelined his former patron and predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev by taking over the National Security Council.
Troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), an alliance of six former Soviet states, helped calm the violence in the Central Asian country and withdrew.