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Kazakh Authorities Close, Classify Case Of Killing 4-Year-Old Child During Unrest

Aikorkem Meldekhan was shot dead in Almaty in January 2022.
Aikorkem Meldekhan was shot dead in Almaty in January 2022.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Kazakh authorities have closed and classified a high-profile case over the killing of a 4-year-old child during unrest a year ago that claimed at least 238 lives across the country.

Aikorkem Meldekhan was shot dead in Almaty -- most likely by military personnel according to official investigations -- when she and other members of her family were in a car on their way to a grocery store on January 7, 2022. The vehicle was sprayed with at least 20 bullets, also wounding Aikorkem's 15-year-old sister. A forensic investigation concluded that the bullets were shot from firearms used by the military.

Aikorkem's father, Aidos Meldekhan, told RFE/RL on January 6 that he was officially informed a day earlier that the case was closed in late December as "no elements of a crime being committed" were found during a probe into the shooting. Meldekhan added that the case is now classified and there is no way to get access to case materials.

The Meldekhan family’s lawyer, Rafiq Beisebekov, added that the case was also relabeled from murder to "abuse of power," a move the family will appeal.

Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed by Kazakh security forces during a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in January 2022.

With the country in the throes of unrest, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev gave police and military troops the controversial order to "shoot to kill without warning." He justified the order saying "20,000 extremists trained in foreign terrorist camps" had seized Almaty airport and other facilities. No evidence of foreign-trained demonstrators was ever presented.

The order sparked an outcry and Aikorkem's picture turned into an image symbolizing the victims of the crackdown, many of whom were killed -- some as a result of torture -- by police, security forces and military personnel, including troops from the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, whom Toqaev invited into the country "to restore law and order."

In May 2022, a mural with Aikorkem's face and the question: "Sirs, which of you shot me?" appeared on a building in central Almaty, but officials quickly painted over it.

Meanwhile, the Committee of National Security has pressured Aidos Meldekhan to refrain from talking to journalists or from making public statements about his family's ordeal. Fearing for the safety of his family, Meldekhan sent them to an unspecified country.

Kazakh authorities have not identified all victims of the deadly developments from last year's protests, which many in Kazakhstan now call Qandy Qantar (Bloody January).

Kazakh authorities have said that 232 people, including 19 law enforcement officers, were killed across the country during the unrest, while six people were tortured to death while in police custody.

Human rights groups have demanded a thorough international investigation of the violence, providing evidence proving that peaceful demonstrators and others who had nothing to do with the protests were among those killed by law enforcement and military personnel.

Kazakh officials have rejected calls for an international probe.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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