Kazakhstan had a long history of social activism and violent oppressive actions taken by the Kazakh government, but the Kazakh movement that took place during April and May of 2016 was different in the way that the government responded to previous protest. The Kazakh government had become known for the use of extreme violence against protesters, including arrests, use of live ammunition, torture, and jailing. The Kazakh government had recently passed a new land law that allowed foreign governments and entities to lease and buy more land in Kazakhstan than was previously legal.
Beginning on August 29, 1949, Soviet officials conducted aboveground nuclear tests at the Semipalatinsk facility in Kazakhstan. More than one million people resided in villages in the Semipalatinsk oblast. In the next oblast, Karaganda, there were two million residents. Until 1963, all tests were above ground and created large, radioactive clouds that engulfed villages in the area, resulting in skyrocketing rates of cancer and other diseases. After 1963, the tests were conducted below ground.