The controversial trial in Kazakhstan of two prominent civil society campaigners accused of inciting ethnic discord has descended into chaos with proceedings derailed amid angry courtroom scenes and claims the authorities are trying to force a sick man into the dock.
Yermek Narymbayev was rushed to hospital in an ambulance from the courtroom in Almaty on
January 6 complaining of heart problems and high blood pressure, the Respublika-kz.info website reported.
Pictures circulated on Facebook showed a prone and anguished-looking Narymbayev huddled under a sweater on a stretcher being transferred into an ambulance.
Despite claims from supporters that Narymbayev, who has a history of heart problems, may have suffered a cardiac arrest, the activist was later returned to court after doctors declared him fit to stand trial – prompting co-defendant Serikhzhan Mambetalin to threaten a hunger strike in protest, RFE/RL reported.
Furious scenes broke out in the courtroom after the judge ordered Narymbayev back into the dock, video posted on Facebook by journalist Ayan Sharipbayev shows.
“Shame, shame!” Narymbayev’s supporters chanted, rising to their feet and haranguing the judge and prosecutors as the trial descended into chaos.
Earlier in the day, Narymbayev had asked the judge to curtail the schedule of hearings because of his ill health, complaining that it was too intense. “I ask you to slow the pace, I want to live to the sentencing,” Respublika-kz.info quoted him as saying.
Narymbayev and Mambetalin were arrested in October on charges of fomenting ethnic strife in Facebook postings related to an unpublished book written by another anti-government activist, Murat Telibekov. Their trial started in December.
The men deny the charge, which is punishable with a fine or up to 12 years in jail.
Supporters and international human rights organizations say the case is aimed at silencing prominent critics of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
“By arresting Narymbaev and Mambetalin, the police seem more interested in muzzling government critics than in combating actual criminal activity,” Mihra Rittmann of Human Rights Watch said in a statement issued after their arrest.
The trial is due to resume on January 8, but reporters have now been barred from attending hearings.