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Fifteen Years After Murder, Slain Kazakh Opposition Leader's Relatives, Colleagues Look For Justice

Activists and relatives at the grave of Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly outside Almaty on February 11.
Activists and relatives at the grave of Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly outside Almaty on February 11.

Relatives, friends, colleagues, politicians, journalists, civic activists, and rights defenders have honored the memory of Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly, a Kazakh opposition leader who was shot dead execution-style along with two associates 15 years ago.

Dozens of people laid flowers and prayed at Sarsenbaiuly's grave outside Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city, on February 11, paying tribute to the late politician.

Sarsenbaiuly's elder brother, Rysbek Sarsenbaiuly, said at the grave that his sibling's murder has yet to be fully investigated.

"We feel Altynbek's absence every day. Although it has never been officially established who was behind his murder, we all know who is responsible for the crime. We want all those involved to be brought to justice. This is not about a revenge. What we want is justice to be served," Sarsenbaiuly said.

Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly (aka Sarsenbaev), a former Kazakh ambassador to Russia and information minister, was a co-chairman of the opposition Naghyz Aq Zhol (True Bright Path) party when he, his bodyguard Bauyrzhan Baibosyn, and driver Vasily Zhuravlyov, went missing on February 11, 2006. They were found dead two days later in the mountains near Almaty, with gunshot wounds to the back of their heads and their hands tied behind their backs.

Late Kazakh opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly
Late Kazakh opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly

The slaying of the opposition leader deepened a sense of shock in the Central Asian country as it came shortly after another influential opposition politician, Zamanbek Nurqadilov, had been found dead inside his Almaty home.

The death of Nurqadilov -- a former government minister and Almaty mayor who joined the opposition in 2004 and accused then-President Nursultan Nazarbaev of corruption -- was officially declared a suicide although his body had two gunshot wounds to the chest and one to the head.

The deaths three months apart of the two opposition politicians came after they were both interviewed by prominent independent journalist Askhat Sharipzhanov in the summer of 2004.

Sharipzhanov himself was found bloodied and unconscious, with a fractured skull, the same day he conducted the interviews -- July 20, 2004 -- and died several days later in hospital.

Sharipzhanov's death was later declared to have been caused by a traffic accident, but colleagues and opposition politicians said the journalist's wounds were inconsistent with that finding and rejected it.

Sarsenbaiuly's killing was officially declared to have been motivated by personal enmity. A former chief of staff of the Kazakh parliament, Erzhan Otembaev, was convicted of ordering the slaying and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

However, in 2013, Otembaev's sentence was annulled after Kazakh authorities announced that the case had been sent for review based on newly obtained evidence they said indicated Rakhat Aliev, Nazarbaev's former son-in-law, had ordering the killing.

Otembaev was released in 2014, but died of an unspecified illness in June 2018.

Aliev, who was deputy chief of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee when the slaying took place and became a fierce opponent to Nazarbaev in 2007, was in self-imposed exile in Europe at the time.

Aliev was later arrested by Austrian officials on the request by Kazakh authorities that accused him of involvement into kidnapping and murder of two Kazakh bankers.

In February 2015, Aliev was found hanged in a Vienna jail.

Austrian officials ruled Aliev's death as suicide, but many in Kazakhstan suspect he was murdered while in Austrian custody.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service
NOTE: The author of this article is a brother of the late journalist Askhat Sharipzhanov.

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