Kazakhstan: Five Police Sentenced for Zhanaozen Shootings
Five police officers have received prison sentences for shooting protestors in Zhanaozen during unrest last December in which at least 16 protestors died, media in Kazakhstan are reporting. The officers, who denied the charges they abused their office, were sentenced on May 28 to between five and seven years for the December 16 shootings. State prosecutors alleged that the officers fired on protestors when they could have used non-lethal force. Prosecutors showed the court video of police shooting fleeing demonstrators in the back.Kabdygali Utegaliyev, former deputy police chief of Mangystau Region, received seven years, the longest sentence. Three other officers (Yerlan Bakytkaliuly, deputy police chief of Zhanaozen; Rinat Zholdybayev, senior operations officer; and Bekzhan Bagdabayev, head of the department for combating extremism) were sentenced to six years. Nurlan Yesbergenov, a senior interrogator, got five years.The sentencing brings the number of police officers who have received jail terms over the deaths to six: The former head of Zhanaozen’s remand center received a five-year sentence over the death of a detainee in police custody. Last week, a group of protestors were convicted on charges related to the violence that hit western Kazakhstan after an industrial dispute in Zhanaozen’s oil sector spiraled out of control. Eleven protestors who rioted in the town of Shetpe were convicted, but six were immediately amnestied and released. Four received prison sentences of between four and seven years; another was given a suspended sentence.The sentencing of another 37 protestors from Zhanaozen who are on trial is due imminently.Tensions have been running high in western Kazakhstan amid accusations from both the police and protestors in the dock that they are scapegoats. Fuelling the controversy, some demonstrators on trial have alleged that incriminating evidence was extracted from them through torture, a charge law-enforcement bodies deny.In a separate but related case, Orak Sarbopeyev, a former mayor of Zhanaozen, went on trial on May 25. He stands accused of embezzling 100 million tenge (around $680,000) intended for the town’s socioeconomic development. The trial of a group of political activists -- including leader of the unregistered Alga! Party, Vladimir Kozlov -- on charges of “fomenting social discord” in Zhanaozen is expected to start this summer.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.