The trial of 12 people on charges related to December’s violence in and around Zhanaozen has ended with 11 found guilty of involvement and one acquitted. Four will serve time in prison.
All 11 are from the town of Shetpe, where one person was shot dead during the violence. At least 16 people died when a six-month-old industrial dispute spun out of control during celebrations for Kazakhstan’s Independence Day in nearby Zhanaozen on December 16.
Six of the 11 were sentenced to two years in prison but were immediately amnestied and released; four received prison sentences of between four and seven years; another was given a suspended sentence.
The release of over half of the defendants may go some way toward calming tensions in the west, where both protestors and police officers are on trial over last year’s turmoil. Nevertheless, activists in Kazakhstan were unhappy with the verdicts and immediately took to Facebook and Twitter to condemn the imprisonments.
Last week one police officer became the first person convicted on related charges: Zhenisbek Temirov, former head of Zhanaozen’s remand center, received a five-year prison sentence over the death of detainee Bazarbay Kenzhebayev following a beating in police custody.
Five more police officers are on trial for shooting protestors. Yet almost ten times as many protestors as police have faced charges: In addition to the 12 from Shetpe, 37 from Zhanaozen are on trial.
Verdicts in the ongoing trials are expected imminently, and tensions have been running high amid accusations from both the police and protestors that they are scapegoats.
Many defendants in the Zhanaozen trial have alleged that incriminating evidence was tortured out of them, but law-enforcement bodies say they have not found evidence to back up those claims.
In a sign of the high tensions in Zhanaozen, the wife of one man on trial was given a two-month suspended sentence on May 21 after distributing leaflets threatening police officers. Tamara Yergazeva was found guilty of obstructing justice.
A group of political activists accused of “inciting social discord” in Zhanaozen, including opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, are expected to go on trial this summer.