A court in Kazakhstan has taken the rare step of handing down a death sentence on the man found guilty of embarking on a shooting spree that ended with the death of eight policemen and two civilians.
The sentence is particularly remarkable as the death penalty is formally subject to a moratorium passed in 2004.
Ruslan Kulekbayev on November 2 accordingly became the first person to receive the death sentence in the last decade. The last person to receive the same sentence was Rustam Ibragimov, who was found guilty in 2006 of murdering prominent politician Altynbek Sarsenbayev. Ibragimov’s sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
Kulekbayev’s lawyer, Gabit Kusainov, said there are no plans to appeal.
“The defendant himself didn’t want this and stated that it went against his positions, convictions and the beliefs of Salafism,” Kusainov told the court.
Kulekbayev freely admits to the killings during his rampage on July 18 and has told the court he has no regrets. The motivation for the attack, Kulekbayev told the court during the trial, stemmed from his perception that police were mistreating devout Muslims.
Another five accomplices on trial who did not face charges connected to the mass shooting, but were accused of planning to rob a businessman together with Kulekbayev received jail terms ranging from three to 11 years.
Reactions to the sentencing have been mixed, with many favoring it as a reasonable redress for a crime that shocked the population.
Zagipa Baliyeva, a former minister of justice and a current member of parliament, told Vlast.kz that in the case of a terror attack, which is how Kulekbayev’s killings have been classified, the death penalty is justified.
But others, like prominent lawyer Dzhokhar Utebekov, questioned whether the terrorism label is altogether apposite.
“This is a big step backward. This morning we became the second country in Europe after Belarus where the courts hand down death sentences. This has not happened for 10 years in Kazakhstan,” Utebekov wrote on his Facebook account. “How did they come to the conclusion that Kulekbayev even committed a terrorist attack intended to terrorize the population and that he did not just commit murders against policemen out of vengeance?”
Leading human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis told Novaya Gazeta Kazakhstan that the verdict bore markedly political undertones.
“This is a show from the government through the justice system that we will defend government representatives through the most severe measures if threats are made against their lives. It is a direct threat: all those that touch the security forces and other security officials can expect the death penalty,” Zhovtis said.
Relatives of the killed policemen have come out in full support of the verdict, as have members of parliament. Maulen Ashimbayev, an MP, said that he believed the verdict was fair and that there was no way to justify terrorism.
Ashimbayev acknowledged the moratorium, however, and it is possible that Kulekbayev could yet get a life jail term, pending any changes to the moratorium. For now, Kulekbayev is to be transferred to the Black Berkut regional prison in the Kostanay Oblast, the only detention facility in Kazakhstan available for prisoners serving life sentences.