The retrial in Kazakhstan of a man convicted of the 2006 murder of a leading opposition leader was supposed to fill in blanks left by the initial proceedings. Instead, it reopened old wounds for the victim’s family and raised fresh questions about the fairness of Kazakhstan’s justice system.
In the dock was Yerzhan Utembayev, a former head of the Senate secretariat who was serving a 20-year sentence on charges of contracting the killing of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev. Utembayev at one point confessed his involvement before recanting at the original murder trial in 2006.
On February 3, Utembayev’s sentence was reduced to 13 years after he was found guilty on a lesser charge of accessory to murder, which he dismissed as “hogwash” – and which Sarsenbayev’s friends and family members found hard to swallow. The re-trial was “a tragi-farce playing out on the Kazakhstani stage of the theater of the absurd,” said Tolegen Zhukeyev, a former political ally of Sarsenbayev’s.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.