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Kazakhstan: Disbelief Shrouds Confession to Mysterious Deaths on Border

After 14 Kazakh border guards and a forest ranger were found dead at a remote border post that burned down high in the Tien Shan Mountains near the Kazakh-Chinese border on May 28, 2012, the Kaznet (Kazakh internet) was rife with speculation on what might have happened, since no official explanation was offered at first. A range of possible culprits were proposed [ru]: Chinese smugglers, Uyghur separatists, or the one missing border guard. Not long after, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev declared that the killings were an act of terrorism, without producing evidence or suggesting who had been behind the incident.

Image of the border post where the deadly incident took place. Screenshot from video 'Na postu Arkankergen vneshnie sily ne zameshany', uploaded June 6, 2012, by Youtube user KTKnews.

The story took another turn on June 4 when the missing border guard, Vladislav Chelakh, 19, turned up alive but in a state of shock. Two days later, Nazarbayev announced that there had been ‘no external factors’ in the assault on the remote border post. An official statement was issued soon, suggesting that the young border guard had confessed [ru] to killing 14 fellow servicemen and a forest ranger.

Private Vladislav Chelakh has reportedly confessed to killing 14 fellow servicemen. Screenshot from video 'Na postu Arkankergen vneshnie sily ne zameshany', uploaded June 6, 2012, by Youtube user KTKnews.

The initial reactions from netizens were ones of disbelief. Psychological pressure or torture have been cites as possible reasons for the young man's confession. Blogger Sabinaway [ru] asks:

Как мог один молодой 19-летний человек завалить 14 пограничников […] и егеря[?]

How could one young 19-year-old guy kill 14 border guards […] and a forest ranger?

While Tvoyavesna comments [ru]:

Уверена на 99%, что он признал свою вину под давлением и в состоянии шока.

I am 99% sure that he confessed under pressure and in a state of shock.

One television newsanchor has quit his job over the issue, saying he could not broadcast the lies in the report.

Others, like blogger Nurlan Bekmurat do believe [ru] the official explanation and point to the brutality of the army to explain how an ordinary young boy turned into a ruthless killer.

Как будет жить дальше это примитивное сообщество, который проводит международные конференции по толерантности и веротерпимости, если любой мальчик этой страны взявший оружие в руки за какие-то полгода превращается в злодея Рэмбо?

How will this primitve society – which organizes international conferences on religious tolerance – live on if any boy in this country who holds a weapon in his hands is transformed into an evil Rambo within half a year?

Blogger Kreich also does not believe the naysayers, and says [ru] torture was not an option for the authorities in this high-profile case:

Количество журналистов которые сейчас ждут возможности сфотографировать Челаха запредельное.

The number of journalists who are now waiting for an opportunity to take a picture of Tchelakh is uncountable

The truth about the incident may well be never found . According to some, truth is not even the most important thing in this story. The controversy over what actually happened is a symptom of a larger problem, says [ru] blogger Attegenai. Trust in the official rhetoric of the government was lost a long time ago, but there is nowhere else to turn as real investigative journalism does not exist in Kazakhstan:

Независимых, умных, смелых, честных, профессиональных журналистов, способных не боясь власть имущих честно выполнять свою работу не видно (по крайней мере на ТВ).

Independent, clever, brave, honest, professional journalists who are not afraid of those in power and who are able to continue reporting honestly are nowhere to be seen (at least on TV).

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