Thursday, July 26, 2012 -
Around 2,000 people picketed a courthouse in the western Kazakh oil town of Zhanaozen Thursday demanding the release of dozens of people handed long jail sentences for allegedly inciting mass unrest among striking oil workers.
The protesters targeted a regular meeting of the regional court held to review the appeal of the 37 men convicted last month for organizing or supporting mass unrest that led to deadly rioting in December, the Kazakh news agency Kursiz.kz reported.
A day earlier, Kazakh police and security forces sealed off the main square of the restive town, where police had killed at least 16 people and injured 100 more during Independence Day clashes.
The seven-month long strike action over pay and working conditions preceded December clashes when police opened fire on the unarmed civilians in Zhanaozen's main square.
Town officials said the additional security presence was to prevent “possible disorders,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported.
Earlier this month, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov was briefly mobbed by dozens of placard-carrying protesters in Zhanaozen as he visited for a meeting with local officials. They demanded authorities release the convicted men.
Also this month, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay waded into the fray by urging Kazakhstan to launch an independent international investigation into the deadly unrest.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev is in London to attend the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics on Friday. During his visit, he has also held a meeting with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has also served as a consultant to the Nazarbayev regime, and is slated to attend a meeting at the Foreign Commonwealth Office later on Thursday.