One police officer has become the first person sentenced for a role in fatal unrest in western Kazakhstan last December. But the trials of five other officers are sparking almost as much controversy as the proceedings against the protesting oil workers they are accused of firing on.
Zhenisbek Temirov, former head of Zhanaozen’s remand center, received a five-year prison sentence on May 17 over the death of detainee Bazarbay Kenzhebayev following a beating in police custody.
Handing down the conviction days before sentences are passed on the 49 protestors standing trial was a symbolic nod to tensions in the energy-rich town.
But critics say Temirov is just a scapegoat. Those who inflicted the vicious beating on Kenzhebayev have never been found, the critics say, and Temirov was appointed to head the remand center just the day before the violence.
The officer may have “become a scapegoat for all those who tortured, raped and abused the people of Zhanaozen during those tragic days,” wrote activist Galym Ageleuov, who has been observing the trials, on Facebook.
Five more are in the dock, charged with abuse of office (which they deny) for shooting fleeing protestors.
“Our aim was not to shoot at people, it’s not a hunt,” officer Bekzhan Bagdabayev told the court this week, according to Respublika newspaper. Asked if he shot someone, he responded: “No, I’m not a dog.”
The judge riposted by pointing to video of police shooting fleeing protestors, the Guljan news website reported. “It’s obvious from these pictures that nothing’s threatening the life and safety of police,” the judge said. “Why are police officers beating wounded people?” The officers in the dock “were silent, shaking their heads,” said the website.
Astana has pledged a fair, transparent legal process. Certainly, the trials are airing damaging accusations against the authorities.
The 49 protestors on trial have already alleged they are scapegoats. Now at least two police on trial have leveled the same charge, which resonates with civil society activists.
“Society’s been given a candy which we are supposed to swallow and calm down and forget about all the other butchers and rapists,” Ageleuov commented on Temirov’s sentencing.
“The rule of law must be restored and all those who committed crimes against humanity in Zhanaozen must be brought to book, and the fact of torture against the accused oil workers acknowledged,” he wrote.