Oralgaisha Omarshanova, a 39-year-old investigative reporter for the Astana-based independent weekly Zakon i Pravosudiye (Law and Justice), was last seen in Kazakhstan’s financial capital, Almaty, where she was on a business trip with several colleagues. Her colleagues said they last saw her on the afternoon of March 30, 2007, getting into a jeep, the Moscow-based news agency Regnum reported. Omarshanova directed the paper’s anti-corruption department. In early March 2022, independent local newspaper Vremya and Adil Soz reported that the main suspect in her case, imprisoned crime boss Serik Zhamanayev, had confessed to Omarshanova’s murder.
Four days before her disappearance, Omarshanova had published an article in Zakon i Pravosudiye about ethnic clashes between rival Chechen and Kazakh residents in the Almaty region villages of Kazatkom and Malovodnoye. The clashes, which took place on March 17 and 18, claimed at least five lives, according to local and international news reports. In her article, Omarshanova identified the instigators of the unrest and mentioned their alleged connection to the government and local businesses, promising to write more on the subject in future issues, the Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz reported.
In February 2007, the paper published an investigative report by Omarshanova that exposed the dangerous working conditions of miners in the central city of Zhezkazgan, according to international news reports.
At a press conference in Almaty on April 18, Zakon i Pravosudiye reporter Mukhit Iskakov said that in the weeks prior to her disappearance, Omarshanova had received several threats by telephone warning her to stop her reporting and that she had purchased a rifle to defend herself, the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported
On September 10, 2007, at a press conference organized by Adil Soz and the Union of Journalists of Kazakhstan, Interior Ministry Lieutenant Colonel Baltabek Kuanyshev, who is in charge of the investigation, told journalists that Omarshanova’s disappearance seemed not to be connected to her professional activities. Kuanyshev said Omarshanova may be alive but forcibly kept in captivity by criminals. He did not explain the substance behind these conclusions, though.
On April 4, 2009, police in the Almaty region arrested Serik Zhamanayev, a crime boss also known as “Serik the Head,” on suspicion of abducting Omarshanova. RFE/RL’s Kazakh service, known locally as Radio Azattyq, wrote that investigators said the vehicle Omarshanova was last seen riding in belonged to Zhamanayev, and cited Kazakhstan’s Criminal Police, Sultan Qusetov, as saying that Zhamanayev had been under constant police surveillance but disappeared immediately after Omarshanova went missing. Police had been seeking his arrest since this date, according to reports.
Investigators believed that Omarshanova’s disappearance may be connected to a personal relationship between her and Zhamanayev rather than to her professional activity, these reports stated.
A court subsequently acquitted Zhamanayev of abducting the journalist, according to reports. CPJ was unable to confirm the date of the acquittal.
In early March 2022, Vremya and Adil Soz reported that Zhamanayev, currently serving a 19-year sentence for forming a criminal group, had confessed to Omarshanova’s murder. Citing unnamed sources, Vremya wrote that Zhamanayev had shown investigators the location where he claimed to have buried Omarshanova’s body, which DNA tests confirmed. Zhamanayev confessed because he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had become religious, this report stated.
CPJ called and emailed the Interior Ministry of Kazakhstan via the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for confirmation of Zhamanayev’s confession and a motive for the killing but did not receive a reply. In mid-March 2022, the Almaty Region Police Department promised to respond to CPJ’s request for information about the case by phone but had not done so as of March 31, 2022.
Oralgaisha Omarshanova was also known by her pen name, Oralgaisha Zhabagtaikyzy.