Convictions in Zhanaozen Trial Trample Rule of Law
Freedom House strongly condemns the conviction of 34 defendants accused of instigating riots in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, in December 2011. Based on trial observation and media reports, the proceedings were marred by credible allegations of torture that authorities refused to adequately investigate.
“The proceedings fell far short of accepted standards of due process and fair trial,” said Susan Corke, director for Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “Once again the government of Kazakhstan has refused to uphold its own laws as well as its international commitments.”
Violence erupted in Zhanaozen December 16, 2011, when striking oil workers clashed with police during an Independence Day celebration on the town’s central square. After the initial police contingent fled the square, looters burned several buildings in the center of the town. Security forces regrouped and swept through the town using live fire. Video uploaded to the Internet showed police shooting into crowds of fleeing protesters and beating those who fell. Fifteen citizens died in the crackdown.
Of the 37 defendants accused of “participating in mass riots,” three were acquitted, 16 were given suspended sentences, and five were convicted but immediately pardoned. Thirteen defendants received multi-year prison terms. The outspoken former oil worker, Roza Tuletaeva received the longest sentence, seven years in a prison colony.
During the trial, Tuletaeva and other defendants raised multiple and credible allegations of torture in detention. Allegations included beatings by prison officials, suffocation with plastic bags, sexual assault, and threats to defendants’ families. These allegations were consistent with reports of widespread torture used in the crackdown in Zhanaozen following the December 16 events. Two weeks ago the head of a temporary detention center in Zhanaozen was convicted in a separate case where a citizen swept up in the crackdown died of torture. No other employees of the facility or official figures have been tried for abuse of detainees.
On April 11, the Kazakhstan NGO Coalition Against Torture sent a letter to the General Prosecutor of Kazakhstan asking that an investigation be opened into defendants’ allegations of torture. No response has been received. Although the judge conducting the trial promised that defendants’ allegations would be investigated, the allegations were summarily dismissed after a preliminary investigation by the Interior Ministry.
“The government of Kazakhstan has made a public commitment to ‘zero tolerance’ for torture,” Corke said. “These convictions make a mockery of that commitment. Justice is not determined by the number of acquittals or convictions, but by the fairness and impartiality of the judicial process.”
Kazakhstan is rated Not Free in Freedom of the World 2012, Freedom House’s annual survey of fundamental freedoms, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2012, where it ranked 175th out of 197 countries, and Partly Free in Freedom on the Net 2011.
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