The trial began in the western Kazakhstan city of Aktobe on October 18 in the case of a mass shooting by a group of local men suspected of links to Islamic extremism.
The 29 men on trial face numerous charges, including terrorism, for the unrest that unfolded on June 5, when eight people, including three soldiers, were shot dead by a group of attackers that had seized weapons from shops stocking hunting supplies.
Proceedings at Aktobe’s specialized inter-district criminal court are taking place under an intense cover of security. News websites have shown images of snipers posted on roofs of building surrounding the court.
The case of the prosecution is vast and comprises 201 volumes of evidence. Almost 50 witnesses are expected to take the stand.
Of the 29 men on trial, nine are accused of direct involvement in the attacks, another 18 are said to have failed to report information about preparations for the violence, while another two are accused of harboring suspected criminals. Eighteen of the attackers were killed in the clashes.
It seems all but certain that the trial will culminate in guilty verdicts — state media has taken to referring to the defendants as “probable terrorists” — but authorities are taking additional measures to convey the impression of transparency, at least at the outset.
While reporters have not been allowed into the courtroom itself for the preliminary hearings, they were able to follow proceedings from a nearby room through a video feed. Almost two dozen cameras were installed inside the courtroom, including some trained on the defendants, to ensure everything is done above board.
While the initial proceedings are being aired in public, the trial itself will — as is standard for terrorism cases — be held behind closed doors.
One person has already been convicted on offenses related to the Aktobe unrest. The director of the Pallada hunting supplies shop, one of the two places where the attackers sourced their guns, was in September sentenced to one year in jail for failing to properly secure the weapons sold on his premises, thereby enabling the violence.
While establishing the identify of the direct perpetrators of the June bloodshed has been seemingly straightforward, teasing out a nuanced and helpful explanation for its causes is going to prove more elusive. Authorities initially tried to link the violence to Syria, although this strand appears to have been quietly abandoned. Anecdotal evidence, meanwhile, suggests radicalization is occurring domestically.
Hearings in the main part of the trial are scheduled to begin on October 24.