Kazakhstan: Thirteen Still Behind Bars After Zhanaozen Appeal

An appeal brought by former oil workers and protestors jailed over last December’s violence that left 15 people dead in and around Zhanaozen has failed, leaving 13 civilians behind bars.

The judge did drop the longest jail sentence — handed to former oil worker Roza Tuletayeva — from seven years to five. She was a prominent figure in the seventh-month oil-sector strike in Zhanaozen that sparked the violence. Appeals brought by 14 others convicted of involvement in the turmoil (of whom 12 are serving prison terms of three to six years), were rejected.

An appeal from four protestors from the nearby village of Shetpe also serving time over the clashes has already been rejected, as has the appeal of five police officers imprisoned for unlawfully shooting protestors.

As the Respublika newspaper reported last week, tensions had been running high in the troubled town ahead of the hearing. Zhanaozen was flooded with 600 extra police and soldiers before the appeal hearing amid reports that locals were unhappy that former oil workers and protestors were jailed despite claims they were tortured into giving incriminating testimony. Local people are also asking why officials investigated for corruption and accused of fueling disaffection in the town have so far gotten off scot-free.

Particular resentment was sparked by the June 22 acquittal of former mayor Orak Sarbopeyev on graft charges in a second trial after the first collapsed amid jury tampering allegations. But Sarbopeyev now faces a third time in the dock. His acquittal was overturned on August 2, and the former mayor is under arrest again pending a hearing at the Supreme Court. His predecessor, Zhalgas Babakhanov, received a suspended sentence on charges of abuse of office.

Conscious of simmering tensions in Zhanaozen, Astana has treaded carefully with the trials. Most of the 45 civilians convicted (34 from Zhanaozen and 11 from Shetpe) were amnestied or given suspended sentences. No top police brass or senior official has been prosecuted.
Three activists — Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the unregistered opposition Alga! party; opposition activist Serik Sapargali; and former oil worker Akzhanat Aminov — are to face trial later on charges of fomenting the unrest and attempting to overthrow the state.

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