Zhanaozen city is reportedly surrounded by Internal Ministry troops in advance of the sentencing of the thirty seven oil workers and their supporters on Monday. Supporters of those on trial are planning further protests in Zhanaozen and Aktau.
Only 3 of the 37 have been cleared of all charges. Twenty one of those on trial were sentenced to either 2 or 3 years in prison, with the sentence suspended or, in a couple of cases, subject to amnesty. Thirteen activists, however, received real prison sentences ranging from three years to, in the case of Roza Tuletaeva, seven years.
Roza, a mother of three children, was one of the leading activists in the oil strike. During the trial she related how she nearly suffocated when bags were put over her head during interrogation and she was beaten with iron rods. She suffered other indignities, which she was too embarrassed to tell the court openly as her friends and relatives were present.
It is widely reported in the international press that the events of 16th December resulted from riots caused by the oil workers after seven months on strike. This is an attempt to shift the blame from the Kazakhstan state. The oil workers had planned a peaceful demonstration on 16th December.
Yet according to his court testimony given during this trial, a senior police officer was dispatched with police troops to Zhanaozen on 14 December. Instead of tear gas, rubber bullets or water cannons, weapons and live rounds were issued. Video footage from the conflict shows police firing into unarmed and peaceful protesters, often shooting people in the back. The government admits 15 people were killed, yet no charges have been lodged against the interior minister, who said he had given the order to open fire.
To avoid blame being directed at the regime itself, the General Prosecutor picked out a number of scapegoats from the local authorities and police to put on trial. Undoubtedly guilty of the crimes for which they were charged, they, nevertheless, have served the role of letting higher up figures off the hook.
Five police officers, charged with “exceeding their authority” by shooting live weapons into the crowd, received sentences of between 5 and 7 years. The Head of the Police prison, where a prisoner was so badly beaten that he later died, received 5 years for “not calling an ambulance on time”! A former mayor and three managers of the KazMunaiGaz company also received sentences of seven years for stealing from the city’s funds and from money that should have been paid by KazMunaiGaz to local welfare funds.
More arrests and torture
Even though these sentences appear strict, they are for crimes that resulted in the death of up to 70 people, the torture and death of protesters while in police custody and the theft of literally billions of tenge from state funds. That similar sentences have been handed out to the oil workers and their supporters indicates that the regime has just been taking its revenge on the workers. None of the workers were carrying arms or can be deemed responsible for violent acts, but on the contrary conducted themselves in a peaceful and disciplined way and ended up as the victims of the police massacre and subsequent regime of terror.
It is now reported that another wave of arrests and torture is taking place. Up to 15 more activists from the oil strike, along with leaders of the opposition political party Alga, are expected to be put on trial for “inciting social discontent” with a possible sentence of up to 12 years. Large numbers of trade union activists from the OzenMunaiGaz company are being called in for questioning, in an attempt to intimidate them from organizing a new strike. Following questioning, one 51 year old activist committed suicide.
However, local trade union activists report that the workers are still determined to protest, whether outside the City mayor’s office or by preparing new strikes in the region. According to one of the local leaders, the next trial is being prepared, not to take revenge for the last strike, but to try and prevent the next one.