Authorities in Kazakhstan have flexed their muscles in an attempt to rattle their critics, only to produce an anarchic trial that is making martyrs of largely marginal opposition figures.
Security was unusually tight on January 8 at the Almaty court where Serikzhan Mambetalin and Yermek Narymbayev are on trial on charges of inciting ethnic enmity via postings on Facebook. A hearing earlier in the week was suspended when sympathizers disrupted proceedings with cacophonous protests over how the men were being treated.
Concern is intense over Narymbayev’s state of health. He was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance on January 6, before being returned to court to continue the trial against his will, prompting ill-tempered outbursts from the gallery.
Judge Maral Dzharilgasova reacted to the interruptions by closing the courtroom to all but prosecutors, lawyers and public defenders. A video link was provided in a separate room for people wishing to follow proceedings on January 8.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.