On the 2nd of August, 2012, the Appellate court for criminal cases of the Mangistau Province Court in an accelerated procedure, considered the appeals of 13 convicted oil workers, whom on the 4th of June, 2012, the court of first instance convicted for organising and participating in mass riots in Zhanaozen in December 2011.
The whole process was carried out under the presidency of Judge Maksat Beysembayev on the 2nd of August, 2012 and lasted a few hours: from 3:00 p.m. to 5:15 p.m., and on the following day, i.e. on the 3rd of August, 2012, within 15 minutes, the judge announced the position of the public prosecution, and on Monday, the 6th of August, 2012, the decision of the appellate instance was already announced.
The hearing of the Appellate Court was ongoing, but the video and audio recording in the courtroom was only allowed for 5 minutes after the commencement of proceedings. The trial took place in the absence of those convicted, in spite of the numerous petitions filed by their attorneys. The judge explained this decision by the fact that the situation of the defendants cannot worsen as a result of this trial, so there is no need for their presence in the courtroom. In their pleadings, the defendants’ attorneys focused simultaneously on several circumstances, which allowed the application of Article 63 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan (“Probation”) in their clients’ case:
– Firstly, the defendants sincerely repent of their deeds;
– Secondly, they have not been previously convicted;
– Thirdly, the guilt of some of the defendants has not been proven;
– Finally, the majority of those convicted have minor dependents and they are the only breadwinners in the family.
As a result, the Appellate Court did not accept the arguments of the defence, and on the 6th of August it upheld the sentence. This event came as a shock to relatives and attorneys of the defendants, but did not surprise those familiar with all the background of the judicial proceedings connected with the events of 2011 in Zhanaozen.
The term of imprisonment was reduced only in the case of Roza Tuletayeva, a former activist of the strike movement – from 7 to 5 years’ imprisonment. According to her daughter, AliyaTuletayeva, her mother and family members are on the verge of suicide. Aliya appeals to the international civil society with a request for support and help for them: Rosa Tuletayeva still receives threats – only this time the threats do not refer to her torture, but that of her her children. During the trial of ‘incitement of social hatred’ Roza Tuletayeva will be a witness and she will testify against the accused Vladimir Kozlov, Serik Sapargali and Akzhanat Aminov. The investigating authorities are threatening that if she retracts her previous testimony, her children may have problems. Moreover, the activist is being harassed by the same NSC employee, by the name of Erzhan, who tortured her during the investigation in the Zhanaozen case. The daughter of the activist of the strike movement has confirmed that Roza Tuletayeva was forced by threats, to sign a testimony against the politician Vladimir Kozlov, and the authorities are now afraid that she will retract them in court. In the context of the foregoing, the decision of the Appellate Court to reduce the sentence of imprisonment for Roza Tuletayeva can be viewed as blackmail on the eve of the trial on ‘incitement to social discord’.
Earlier, on the 19th of July, 2012, the Mangistau Appellate considered the complaints of convicts in the ‘Shetpe case’, as well as appeals of five police officers involved in the illegal shooting during the dispersal of demonstration in Zhanaozen in December 2011. The court upheld the verdict for 5 Shetpe inhabitants (4 people received prison terms ranging from 4 to 7 years, one received a two years suspended sentence), but slightly reduced the punishment for the police officers– the confiscation of property was abolished.
The most scandalous court cases, taking into account the final result,are probably the trials of former Akims of Zhanaozen:OrakSarbopeyev and Zhalgas Babakhanov. Unlike the convicted oil workers and inhabitants of the Shetpe village, former akims, who are directly responsible for the emergence of a tense social situation in the town, sustained only a minor penalty. On the 22th of June, 2012, Orak Sarbopeyev was acquitted and on the 20th of July, 2012, Zhalgas Babakhanov received two years’ probation. This caused a wave of discontent among the public of Kazakhstan. In order to prevent the potential participation of the inhabitants of Zhanaozen in protest action, additional troops of internal forces were deployed to the town. On the 24th of July, 2012, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Mangistau Province appealed against the acquittal with respect to O. Sarbopeyev, and as a result, he was taken into custody again.
Civil society activists and human rights defenders in Kazakhstan claim that the trial in the case of “the riots in Zhanaozen” is the main link in the “evidence base” for the case against the political leaders for “incitement to social discord in Zhanaozen in 2011”, in which the defendants are, in particular, Vladimir Kozlov, Serik Sapargali and Akzhanat Aminov. Theworld-renowned theatre director Bolat Atabayev, who had been arrested earlier in the case of ‘incitement of social hatred’ and released under pressure from the international community, also participated in the hearing of the Appellate Court. Even before the announcement of the decision, he argued that the court was not going to acquit the convicted oil workers, as this would ruin the public prosecution in the case of ‘incitement to social hatred’: ‘If oil workers are going to be acquitted now, then it’s not going to be possible to judge Kozlov, Sapargali and Aminov, as their case is going to fall apart. Therefore, in order to convict them, oil workers need to be convicted as well”.
On the 8th of June, 2012, almost immediately after the announcement of the decision by the Court of Appeal, the wife of Vladimir Kozlov posted on her Facebook page that the investigating authorities had made a ruling on the limitation of the allotted time period for familiarisation with the materials of the case against Vladimir Kozlov. According to the decision, he was supposed to familiarise himself with the materials comprising 61 volumes by the 7th of August, 2012, after which the case is going to be passed to the court. Aliya Turusbekova and attorney Aleksey Plugov are concerned that the investigation materials could be transferred to the court before Vladimir Kozlov reads them. The work on the familiarisation with materials began only on the 17th of July, 2012. The attorney also noted some cases of hindrance by the administration of prison – for 6 days from the 17th to the 24th of July, 2012 they were not allowed to use technological hardware. Sixty-one volumes of the investigation file were prepared by more than 100 experts for over seven months, whereas the attorney and the politician had to write everything by hand.
There is little hope of a fair trial of the opposition leaders under these circumstances. However, active and conscious participation of the international civil society in the monitoring of the course of events in the Mangistau Province as well as making public statements regarding the cases of violation during the litigation process addressed to the authorities of Kazakhstan can help alter the repressive tone of the governing political elite in the quest for dialogue with the society, especially during the negotiation of a new cooperation agreement with the European Union.